Scientists Suggest an Environmentally Conscious Way to Deal With Land Mines: Blow Them Up

Raul Arboleda, AFP/Getty Images
Raul Arboleda, AFP/Getty Images

Land mines left over from conflicts can have disastrous consequences for the environment. Most of these bombs contain volatile TNT, and when these chemicals are released they contaminate the surrounding soil and water, poisoning the plants and animals that depend on those natural resources [PDF]. A lot of time and money is invested in deactivating leftover land mines in a clean and safe way, but new research published in PLOS ONE suggests that bomb squads may be better off blowing them up.

As Gizmodo reports, the study, conducted by Australian and Scottish researchers, shows that detonating land mines ends up causing less harm to the environment than deactivating them and removing them from the ground. At first this might seem counterintuitive: How can a large explosion do less damage to the environment than a bomb that never goes off? But the violent impact of the bomb is ultimately what allows for cleaner soil.

When a land mine is detonated, that explosion disrupts the surrounding soil, causing it to become loose and porous. The new air pockets in the dirt leave room for bacteria to squirm through and consume pollutants, a process called bioremediation. Researchers found that the site of a detonated land mine had lower levels of TNT after six weeks than the site of a deactivated one, thanks to greater activity from these toxin-munching bacteria.

Previous research had mainly examined the effect of detonation on the exterior of soil aggregates. This study is the first to investigate the effects of landmine blasts on the soil's interior structure, and the findings could lead to better methods of bioremediation in polluted sites, the authors note in the study.

Land mines are a major threat in areas touched by war. There’s still no one technique used by bomb squads to sniff them out (drones and rats are just a couple of the tools currently in play), but when they are located, the new research may change the way these explosives are handled.

[h/t Gizmodo]

New Study Reveals 'Hyper-Alarming' Decline of Rainforest Insect Populations

iStock/jmmf
iStock/jmmf

Climate change is decimating yet another vital part of the world's ecosystem, according to a startling new paper. Rainforest insects are dying off at alarming rates, according to a new study spotted by the The Washington Post. In turn, the animals that feed off those insects are decreasing, too.

In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a pair of scientists from the Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York and the National Autonomous University of Mexico studied populations of rainforest arthropods (an invertebrate classification that includes insects and spiders) in the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. They compared the number of insects lead author Bradford Lister found on trips in 1976 and 1977 with the number he and co-author Andres Garcia found on trips they took between 2011 and 2013.

Lister and Garcia used nets and sticky traps to collect insects on the ground and several feet above the ground in the forest canopy. They dried these captured bugs and measured the mass of their haul against the mass of insects found in the 1970s, finding that the modern net sweeps captured only an eighth to a fourth of the insects captured in the '70s. The mass of insects captured by sticky traps on the ground declined by 30 to 60 times what they were a few decades ago. They also tracked populations of lizards, frogs, and birds that live off those rainforest insects, finding that those populations had declined significantly, too, at levels not seen in other rainforest animals that don't rely on insects for food.

Tropical insects are particularly vulnerable to climatic changes, since they can't regulate their body temperature. During the time of the study, average maximum temperatures in El Yunque rose by almost 4°F (2°C). The warming climate is "the major driver" of this decline in arthropod populations, the study authors write, triggering a collapse of the forest food chain.

The paper has other scientists worried. "This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read," University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who wasn't involved in the research, told The Washington Post, calling the results "hyper-alarming." Other studies of insect populations have found similarly dire results, including significant declines in butterflies, moths, bees, and other species. One recent study found that Germany's flying insect populations had decreased by as much as 75 percent in the last three decades. Scientists don't always attribute those population losses directly to warmer temperatures (habitat loss, pesticide use, droughts, and other factors might play a role), but it’s clear that insect populations are facing grave threats from the modern world.

Not all insect species will be equally affected by climate change, though. While we may see a sharp drop in the populations of tropical insects, scientists project that the number of insects in other regions will rise—leading to a sharp increase in crop-eating pests in some parts of the world and broadening mosquitos' geographical range.

[h/t The Washington Post]

Florida Waffle House Is Giving Away Free Food to Hurricane Michael Victims

Barry Williams/Getty Images
Barry Williams/Getty Images

If your community has been hit by a hurricane and you want an idea of how it's coping, check your local Waffle House. The southern chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and only closes under extreme circumstances. The restaurant so rarely pauses its operations that FEMA has been using something called the Waffle House Index to gauge the severity of natural disasters since 2004. Now a Waffle House in Panama City, Florida, has shown that even a Category 4 storm isn't enough to shut it down for good.

After closing due to Hurricane Michael earlier in October, the Florida Waffle House set up a food truck in its parking lot to hand out free food to community members, ABC 7 reports. "We are giving out free food curbside until 6pm. #ScatteredSmotheredandRecover," the chain tweeted on Monday, October 15, along with a picture of its truck parked beneath a beat-up sign. Waffle House later tweeted that the truck would return to the same spot at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 16.

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle on October 10 and swept through the southern U.S., killing at least 19 people and leaving thousands without power. The Gulf Coast received the brunt of the storm, but Waffle House has reported that, along with its Panama City location, the Lynn Haven, Florida, restaurant is running on a generator and back open for business.

[h/t ABC 7]

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