Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hawaiian shearwaters have a bellyful of plastic marine debris

Not just seabirds: An entangled Hawaiian monk seal.  Credit: NOAA.

Laysan albatross chicks have been found dead with their bellies stuffed with bits of plastic, and a new study shows that Kaua`i-based Newell’s and wedge-tailed shearwaters face similar threats.

Worse, the amount of plastic found in the seabirds is increasing over time.

“On Kaua‘i…50.0 % of Newell’s…and 76.9 % of wedge-tailed shearwater … fledglings necropsied during 2007–2014 contained plastic items in their digestive tract, while 42.1 % of adult wedge-tailed shearwaters had ingested plastic'

That is one conclusion of the paper, “Plastic ingestion by Newell’s (Puffinus newelli) and wedge-tailed shearwaters (Ardenna pacifica) in Hawaii.” It was published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution  Research by Elizabeth C. Kain, Jennifer L. Lavers, Carl J. Berg, Alexander L. Bond and AndrĂ© F. Raine. 

The researchers also found that “For both species, the frequency of plastic ingestion has increased since the 1980s with some evidence that the mass and the number of items ingested per bird have also increased.”

In fact, hundreds of marine species are threatened by plastic, which can mimic natural food sources, or be mistaken for food by seabirds, turtles, squids, fish, oysters, seals and others. 

The researchers in this paper looked at the stomach contents of seabirds killed by predators or collisions in the 2013-2014 nesting season. The results were compared with a study done in the 1987 season on Kauai, when 11 percent of the birds were found to have eaten plastics. For Newell’s shearwaters, that represents nearly a five-fold increase over  a quarter century.

In both the Newell’s, a mountain-nesting bird, and the wedge-tailed shearwaters, which nest near the shore, the predominant color of ingested plastic was white.

Both adults and fledglings had plastic in their guts. Since fledglings receive all their food regurgitated by their parents, the parents are presumed to have been delivering plastic-laced meals to their young.

“Plastic ingested by seabirds has been shown to block and take up space in the digestive tract, contributing to dehydration and in some cases starvation,” the authors wrote.

There is also suggestion in the scientific literature that the plastic can release chemical pollutants into the bodies of the birds, they said.

“The amount of plastic in the oceans is increasing and poses an increased risk of entanglement, ingestion, and thus morbidity and mortality for marine life,” the authors wrote.

National Geographic last year had a story that suggested that every seabird on the planet has or shortly will have a plastic ingestion issue.

That story references this study, which makes the point that “this threat is geographically widespread, pervasive, and rapidly increasing.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016

Sunday, October 16, 2016

There's an electric car in your future--and sooner than you think

A hot red Tesla S. Credit: Tesla

Electric cars represent a fraction of the number of vehicles on the road, but that’s changing—and indications are it’s soon to be changing a lot faster.

EV sales are picking up every month, according to

And if they're not quite increasing at an exponential rate, they are increasing real, real fast.

In January 2014 plug-in car sales were about 15,000 globally. 

By January 2015 it was close to 25,000. 

And by January of this year 40,000.

By the middle of 2016, it was approaching 70,000 plug-in cars sold every month. 

In these examples the sales include pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

Those stats are from the consulting firm EV-Volumes, which says growth in the plug-in market is expected to be 57 percent higher in 2016 than 2015. It says that globally, about 60 percent of the plug-ins are pure electric and 40 percent hybrid.

By September 2016, Hawai`i had more than 4,700 electric vehicles, 27 percent or more than 1,000 more than the year before. The state had more than 22,000 hybrid cars, up 6.5 percent from a year before.

China is the biggest player in the electric vehicle field, followed by Europe, then the U.S. and Japan. 

This Forbes article cites a figure estimating 450,000 electric car sales in China in 2016.

Europe is an interesting area. The Netherlands sees electric vehicles reaching almost 10 percent of every car sold. Holland is pushing to reach 100 percent electric car sales by 2025.

Indeed, all of Europe is pushing hard to increase the numbers, with both subsidies for electric car buyers and aggressive goals. Germany is talking about requiring 100 percent of new cars to be electric by 2030. 

The car manufacturers have gotten the message. More and more of them are offering electric cars. Nissan says it expects 20 percent of its 2020 production to be emission-free. 

The push is not only to push electric vehicle sales directly, but to push back against polluting cars. Paris has banned the weekday use of cars built before 1997. The theory: they don’t have engines that are as efficient as those built during the past 20 years, and they don’t have the same pollution control equipment. 

"We know that the major source of pollution in Paris is traffic. Sixty-six percent of nitrogen dioxide and fine particles come from road traffic. And we know it's old cars that spew out the most toxic fumes. That's why we are progressively going to get rid of them,” said Christophe Najdovsky, the Parisian deputy mayor for transport and public space.

If you’re in the market, know that the list of plug-in cars is a long one these days. In mid-2016, according to EV-volumes, Nissan Leaf led the market, following closely by Tesla’s Model S. Then come BYD’s Tang and Qin models, Chevy Volt, SAIC Roewe E550, Mitsubishi’s Outlander, Renault’s Zoe, BYD’s e6, BMW’s i3 and Tesla’s Model X—and more than a dozen others.

You may not recognize some of those names. BYD is a Chinese car manufacturer. SAIC is a British-Chinese company. 

Another sign that the industry is maturing: None of the cars on the list is a golf-cart looking thing. They’re all sedans or SUVs.

For early adopters, the idea that their hot new EV looks just like your father's sedan could be a problem. But the industry isn't just going for early adopters any more. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016