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News Archive » 2014

Here you will find all articles that have been published in the weekly Science for Environment Policy News Alert.

Browse archives by year and month below.

Mediterranean ozone levels fall in rural areas, but rise in cities

Air pollution legislation has led to reduced ozone pollution in rural areas in western Mediterranean countries; however, levels in urban and suburban areas are still increasing, new research concludes. This suggests that ground-level ozone, linked to human health issues as well as environmental damage, has the potential to become a more significant air quality issue than previously believed, the researchers say.

Industrial pollutant melted European glaciers

Industrial emissions of black carbon were responsible for the retreat of the glaciers in the European Alps that marked the end of the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’, according to a new study. The researchers explain how black carbon deposits could have caused glaciers to melt more rapidly from the mid-19th century and suggest that human activities were already having a visible influence on the climate before the effects of carbon dioxide were evident.

Air quality in Europe: pollution levels have dropped, but health concerns remain

Some progress has been made towards improving air quality in Europe with levels of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and benzene all falling substantially in recent years, a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) concludes. However, threats to human health and ecosystems remain, and urban citizens' exposure to high levels of particulate matter (PM) and ozone are a particular concern.

Should critical levels of plant ozone exposure be lower?

‘Critical levels’ of ozone exposure for plants, above which significant adverse effects may occur, are currently calculated by examining ozone's impacts on only a small number of species. However, researchers have now compared this measure with a new approach which examines all species in a group, and defines the critical levels as the concentration at which 5% of species are affected. These critical levels, which may be more suitable for semi-natural ecosystems, are stricter than current standards.

Plastic litter in the marine environment: key issues and possible solutions

International agreements to reduce plastic use are needed to address plastic litter in the marine environment, as well as increased public awareness of the problem, according to scientists at a workshop on the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive held in Italy in 2013. The issues discussed at the workshop have been summarised in a recent research paper.

Fracking research needs to consider the bigger picture

Studies on fracking too often focus on its technical aspects, and not the wider environmental, economic and regulatory context needed for political decision-making, according to a review of existing research by a US researcher. The review provides a framework for understanding these complex issues that could benefit the fracking debate and decision-making about fracking more widely.

Global water consumption increases frequency and intensity of low flows in rivers and streams

Human water consumption has increased the frequency and intensity of periods of abnormally low flow in streams, new research suggests. The frequency of these events increased by 30% globally, largely due to use of water for irrigation, the researchers conclude.

Framework to aid decisions on translocating species threatened by climate change

A new framework to help decide whether to translocate species that are threatened by climate change has been developed. The framework provides a simple method of assessing different strategies and ensuring that limited budgets are used effectively.

Better integration of temporary rivers into the Water Framework Directive

Improvements to EU water policy have been proposed in a recent study, to help ensure that temporary rivers and streams in the Mediterranean are adequately protected in line with the goals of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). The researchers suggest new classifications for river types, and highlight the importance of distinguishing between natural and human-derived causes of intermittent water flow.

Pesticides may affect all stages of aquatic life

Ecotoxicity tests that are used to understand the impacts of chemical pollutants on aquatic organisms and ecosystems could be improved by including all life stages of the test animals. These are the conclusions of a study by Belgian researchers, who found that the apparent absorption of some pesticides by the dormant eggs of water fleas may have negative effects on the invertebrates' later survival and reproduction, although the development and hatching of the eggs are not affected.

Rising CO2's impacts on marine ecosystems and the people that rely on them

The world's ocean ecosystems will suffer warming, increased acidity, low oxygen and reduced primary food supply as a result of rising CO2 and this is likely to have dramatic environmental and social impacts, a new study concludes. It predicts that the most vulnerable low-income countries, where 870 million people are dependent on marine ecosystems, would be affected if CO2 emissions are not tackled.

Adaptation is a cost-effective way to protect against river flooding caused by climate change

The socio-economic costs and benefits of adaptation to river flooding caused by climate change have been assessed in a new study. According to the study, adaptation measures could save €53.1 billion every year in flood-related losses across Europe by 2080.

Predicting fish species' decline before it's too late

An early warning system to predict the overfishing of individual species, far in advance of severe population decline, has been developed by researchers. The ‘eventual threat index’ was applied by the researchers to historical data on tuna and billfish populations, and accurately predicted their current declines as early as the 1950s.

The value of acknowledging societal costs of N2O emissions

Calculating the costs of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions to society as well as business is vital to understand the true economic gains of reducing N2O emissions, new research suggests. Increasing nitrogen use efficiency by 20% by 2020 could bring global annual benefits to the climate, health and environment worth US $160 (€118) billion, the researchers conclude.

Commuting study reveals the factors affecting sustainable transport use

Factors influencing people's decisions about how they travel to work are highlighted in a new study on commuting in Europe. Key findings include: cycling rates increase with the length of a city's bicycle network and public transport use rises with a city's population and GDP per capita. Based on the findings, the researchers propose policy measures for reducing the number of car journeys.

The public value of including scientific information in groundwater protection policies

The public places a high value on the use of scientific information, especially regarding climate change, in the management of groundwater resources, a case study in Finland indicates. This suggests that incorporating scientific research into management policies is likely to have the support of stakeholders in the region.

Nutrients in streams can mask toxic effects of pesticides on aquatic life

Moderate levels of nitrogen in streams and rivers can make it difficult to assess the effects of pesticides on aquatic wildlife, because nutrients mask the pesticides' impacts, according to recent research. This highlights the importance of considering nutrient levels when developing measures to protect aquatic ecosystems.

A vegetarian diet can help reduce water consumption across Europe

Different European regions have very different diets and environmental conditions, meaning their water consumption varies widely. Despite this, switching to vegetarian diets in keeping with regional variation would substantially reduce water consumption in all areas, a new study concludes. Where people choose to eat meat, adopting a healthy diet low in oils and sugar will also reduce water consumption, although to a lesser degree.

‘Chemical footprint’ in development

A measure of ‘chemical footprint’ is being developed by researchers to assess the environmental impacts of the toxic chemicals released by the production and consumption of goods. The methodology, based on life cycle and risk assessment, is also designed to be linked to the resilience of ecosystems to chemical exposure.

Droughts and floods slow economic growth

Droughts and floods can significantly damage economic growth, recent research has found. A 1% increase in the area affected by drought can slow a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 2.7% per year and a 1% increase in the area experiencing extreme rainfall can reduce GDP growth by 1.8%, according to the study. Investments in water security could help reduce this negative economic impact, say the researchers.

Surveyed professionals feel local authorities should have more influence in urban density

Density in the urban environment can encompass a multitude of factors such as population or dwelling density or the density of green areas. A new study surveyed professionals regarding how decisions on urban density are made, and has revealed that many feel that developers make most of these decisions, but that local authority planners should have more influence.

Bicycle commuting improved by town-wide cycling initiatives

Investment in cycling initiatives, such as creating new cycle lanes or providing training, can increase the number of people who routinely cycle to work, a new large-scale study in the UK suggests. Town-wide cycling initiatives seemed to be particularly successful when they included workplace measures such as bike lockers, showers and cycle parking.

Natura 2000 sites well connected across borders in Germany, Italy and Spain

Connectivity between protected areas is vital for safeguarding many animals and plants. New research has shown that Natura 2000 sites are well connected across provincial borders in Germany, Italy and Spain. This is the result of strong coordination from central governments combined with good regional cooperation, the study’s authors conclude.

Batteries in Germany exceed new EU toxic metal limits

Levels of toxic metals in batteries were not immediately reduced in line with new limits imposed by EU regulations, according to a survey from Germany. The study focuses on concentrations of toxic metals contained in batteries sold in Germany in 2010 and 2011, but its authors say the results are relevant to other EU countries.

Increasing aridity will disrupt soil nutrient cycles in global drylands

The drying of soils under global warming could disrupt the balance of nutrients in large areas of the Earth’s land surface, according to new research. The study focused on ‘drylands’ – arid areas with low levels of rainfall – which support over 38%% of the world’s population. Such nutrient imbalances could diminish the provision of ecosystem services, such as food production and carbon storage, the researchers say.

Urban habitats as a refuge for biodiversity: A case study in Greece

Cities located in biodiversity hotspots can provide valuable refuges for a wide range of plants, a recent study suggests. Of the 379 plant species and sub-species recorded in the city of Ioannina, Greece, 27 were of conservation interest. Town planners can ensure that cities play an important role in supporting regional biodiversity when designing future urban developments, the researchers say.

The effects of nuclear power cooling systems on the critically endangered European eel

A case study in Sweden has shown that critically endangered European eels are being lost when they are sucked into the local nuclear power station’s cooling system. A process to pump the eels back into the sea could be beneficial to this species, the researchers conclude.

Case studies from Greenland, Poland and the Ukraine on levels of banned flame retardants

Certain chemicals that were once used as flame retardants are now banned in the EU, but can remain in the environment. A new study adds to our limited knowledge regarding the presence of the chemicals polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) in humans. The study suggests levels in Polish and Ukrainian men are lower than in those living in the US and Greenland.

Biodiversity protection in the Netherlands

Two thirds of natural areas in the Netherlands suffer from at least one of four key environmental pressures including nitrogen pollution, drying, acidification and habitat fragmentation, a new study suggests. Possible solutions to enable the country to meet its commitments under the EU's biodiversity targets include moves towards sustainable farming and reduction of nitrogen outputs, the researchers conclude.

Pesticides responsible for bee poisoning: new screening technique proposed

A technique that can detect the array of pesticides bees might be exposed to has been developed in Poland. The simplicity, speed and small sample sizes required for screening makes this technique an improvement over other methods, say the researchers behind its development.

Acid mine drainage effectively remediated by natural wetlands

Natural wetlands can provide effective long-term remediation of contamination from abandoned mines, new research suggests. The study examined a natural wetland receiving water from a copper mine in the UK, and showed that the water’s acidity and levels of toxic metals were significantly reduced once it had passed through the wetland.

Black carbon pollution from megacities and effects on global air quality

Air pollution from the world’s megacities not only has local impacts, but can spread to remote regions of the world. Recent research has highlighted, for example, that megacities are a source of black carbon pollution in lowest kilometre of atmosphere in the Arctic, with European megacities contributing more than others.

Effective climate change mitigation in the form of seagrass restoration projects

Seagrass restoration projects could effectively mitigate climate change, capturing up to 1337 tons of CO2 per hectare after 50 years, new research suggests. If a carbon tax system was in place, the researchers add, these schemes would likely provide returns at least equal to the initial investment needed, assuming the tax was set at an appropriate level.

Underground wastewater disposal in the US linked to increase in earthquakes

The number of earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater in the central and eastern US has increased significantly in recent years, from about 21 a year between 1967 and 2000, to over 300 between 2010 and 2012. Most of this increase seems to be linked to the deep injection of wastewater in underground wells, according to a recent review of seismic activity.

Green walls’ economic sustainability assessed

Costs of installing, maintaining and disposing of some green wall systems may outweigh the value of some of their benefits for householders, a recent study suggests. While the researchers omitted some of the wider social benefits, they found that reductions in heating and air conditioning costs, longevity of green walls and increases in property values did not compensate for their costs. The researchers suggest that government incentives to lower set-up costs could significantly increase the walls’ economic sustainability.

New tool to aid decision-making in sustainable consumption

Researchers have developed a new tool to help policymakers access and use data regarding the environmental impacts of consumption and production. Using the EUREAPA tool, decision makers can analyse data from a range of perspectives and create scenarios to understand the implications of changes in consumption and production.

Ecological Footprint highlights human pressures on biodiversity

The concept of the Ecological Footprint can be used to illustrate the balance between the use of a natural resource or an ecological service and its availability. According to a new study, the Ecological Footprint could be valuable as an indicator to help track progress towards the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Economic hardship in Greece has increased wood burning to keep warm in winter

Air quality in the Greek city of Thessaloniki has worsened during the recent economic crisis, as residents burn more wood and other types of biomass to keep warm. A recent study has found a 30% increase in the concentration of fine particle (PM2.5) emissions associated with wood smoke from residential heating in 2012 and 2013, with implications for the health of local residents.

New ecosystem service accounting method developed and applied on the ground

The use of important ecosystem services, such as carbon storage or hunting, can be estimated through ecosystem accounting methods, a new study demonstrates. The researchers tested models that could help policymakers to understand the capacity of ecosystems to generate ecosystem services, and how these services are used over time.

Bee-friendly agri-environmental schemes need diverse habitats

Diverse agri-environmental schemes which combine flowering crops with semi-natural habitats, such as grasslands and hedgerows, will be best for bees, new research suggests. The researchers examined the foraging behaviour of honey bees, bumblebees and other wild bees and found that all bees used semi-natural habitats, which were particularly important for wild bees, in addition to crops, such as sunflowers.

Aircraft noise at night may lead to long-term health impacts

Exposure to aircraft noise at night for more than 20 years could increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to research conducted around six European airports. Risk also increased for those constantly exposed to road traffic, but this may have been caused by air pollution rather than noise.

Plastic pollution measured in Mediterranean seabirds

Endangered Mediterranean seabirds are suffering from ingestion of plastic litter, a recent study has shown. Overall, 66% of 171 seabirds studied were found to have plastic fragments in their stomachs and the critically endangered Balearic shearwater was among the worst affected.

Social marketing to improve community-level green behaviour

A community-level initiative in the UK has successfully used social marketing techniques to encourage participants to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. On average, participants reduced their emissions footprint by 2 tonnes every year. Based on the initiative, the authors of this study propose a framework to guide future community engagement.

Crayfish plague detection: new techniques tested

Crayfish plague, spread by invasive North American crayfish, is currently devastating native European populations. However, while the disease is commonly diagnosed on the basis of diseased animals, free-living infective spores can contaminate water bodies. In the first study to test detection techniques for this disease in natural waterways, researchers found that invasive signal crayfish release low levels of plague spores, allowing it to spread undetected.

Waste's environmental impacts measured with new method, but better data needed

Life-cycle indicators to monitor selected waste streams' impacts on the environment have been developed by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). These are presented in a recent study which describes a method for analysing waste's impacts using these indicators. The study also reveals the need for better statistics and more detailed categorisation of waste streams to effectively inform decision making in waste management.

Plastic litter can pass on pollutants and chemical additives to marine wildlife

New research has provided the first conclusive evidence that microplastics ingested by marine wildlife can transfer toxic pollutants to their tissues. The researchers studied lugworms fed on PVC particles contaminated with either widespread marine pollutants or plastic additives and found that these 'earthworms of the sea' absorbed the chemicals into their gut tissue, which reduced their ability to perform essential functions.

Bee pollination improves crop quality as well as quantity

Bee pollination improves the shape, weight and shelf-life of strawberries, contributing a staggering €1.05 billion to the European strawberry market per year, new research suggests. By blocking bees from a set of plants, the researchers demonstrated the substantial effects of bee pollination on the quality of the fruit.

What makes consumers buy alternatively-powered vehicles?

Better fuel economy, lower emissions and longer driving ranges are important factors for people considering the purchase of alternatively-powered vehicles (APVs), new research suggests. The German study also found that people would consider paying more for an APV if they could enjoy vehicle tax exemptions, free parking or bus lane access.

High gold prices drive expansion of mining activity in the Amazon forest of Peru

Gold mining areas in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest expanded from under 10 000 hectares in 1999 to over 50 000 hectares by 2012, and now destroys more forest than agriculture and logging combined, new research has shown. Using high-resolution satellite imaging, researchers estimated gold mining areas to be twice as large as estimated by previous studies, which did not include the combined effects of thousands of small, mainly illicit, mining operations.

Concrete and asphalt's green credentials could be improved through changes to production

Concrete and asphalt's environmental impact could be reduced by over a third through changes to manufacturing processes and the use of alternative raw materials, according to research. A scenario study based on life cycle analysis has indicated that using alternative types of cement in concrete and producing asphalt at lower temperatures could substantially improve the green credentials of these two common building materials.

Black smoke pollution may have ‘medium-term’ delayed effects on mortality rates

Increased black smoke pollution was associated with increased mortality rates almost a month after exposure in a recent study. The researchers studied death rates in relation to pollution concentrations over a 22-year period in the city of Glasgow, UK, and found significantly higher mortality rates among residents at 13-18 and 19-24 days after increased exposure to black smoke.

Fire patterns in Spain under a changing climate

A recent study has found that fire regimes have changed in Spain over the past 42 years. The pattern of changes has affected the number of fires and burned area, reflecting a changing climate and environmental conditions, such as land use changes caused by a population shift from rural to urban areas, and modern fire suppression activities.

A change in diet and reduction in food waste can help achieve sustainable land use

The land use associated with food imports to Germany outweighs that of exported food, leaving the country with a 'land debt', new research suggests. However, reducing the amount of animal products in the diet and minimising food waste could enable the country to achieve a positive land balance, the researchers conclude.

Lugworms harmed by marine microplastic pollution

Microplastic pollution impairs the heath of the marine worms that help maintain sediments for other creatures, new research suggests. This study shows that the energy reserves of lugworms living in sediment contaminated with microplastic particles were reduced by up to 50%.

New consumer app scores protein products for sustainability

A smartphone app has been designed to help shoppers choose more environmentally-friendly protein-rich products, namely meat, vegetarian alternatives, eggs and dairy products. The methods and data used to measure these products' lifecycle environmental impacts are presented in a recent study.

Measuring the impacts of the Nitrates Directive on nitrogen emissions

The EU's Nitrates Directive has led to significant decreases in nitrogen pollution in Europe, a new study suggests. Modelled scenarios with and without implementation of the Directive showed that it had resulted in a 16% reduction of nitrate leaching by 2008. These improvements could be further increased as implementation becomes stricter, the researchers conclude.

Health ratings for urban environments provided by new software

New software has been developed to rate the health risks of different activities in the urban environment, for example, cycling or driving in different areas of a city. 'CENSE' is based on a variety of different pollutants and environmental health hazards encountered in urban environments and may provide a useful tool for urban planning and improving residents’ quality of life, its developers say.

Invasive alien species' impacts on ecosystem services: new tool to assess risks

Researchers have developed a new risk assessment scheme for invasive alien species that not only predicts their direct effects on biodiversity, but also their impacts on ecosystem services. Furthermore, the scheme allows sources of uncertainty in a species’ impact to be identified, and can be applied to a range of different species.

Rising energy demands could see the energy sector's water footprint increase by 66%

Increases in global energy requirements could lead to a rise in the energy sector's water footprint of up to 66% in the next 20 years, new research suggests. As part of a sustainable future, any energy mix must enable a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, some renewable sources, such as biofuels and large-scale hydropower, have large water footprints, a factor which must also be considered in energy policies, the researchers say.

Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas help safeguard vulnerable seabird

Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) provide important habitats for the yelkouan shearwater, a species of conservation concern, new research concludes. The study examined the behaviour of the birds at sea and found that they used MPAs extensively as foraging grounds.

Biological recovery may lag behind chemical recovery in acidified Swedish lakes

Acidification of water bodies can have substantial impacts on aquatic wildlife, and even after chemical conditions improve, biological recovery may lag behind. A study of Swedish lakes shows that, although their chemical quality has improved as a result of international reductions of acidifying emissions, biological recovery has been much slower in some lakes.

EU's eco-management scheme shows positive long-term impacts

Standards for environmental management, such as EMAS and ISO 14001, aim to help organisations become more sustainable, but they have received little evaluation. A new Italian study is the first to quantitatively compare the impacts of these two standards. Its results suggest that EMAS's stipulation that organisations must report their ongoing performance may bring sustained environmental benefits in the longer term.

Reducing chemical pest control to prevent unintended poisoning of birds

Use of the rodenticide bromadiolone to control water voles in France may also result in population declines of the near-threatened red kite, a new study suggests. The researchers propose a range of alternative forms of controlling vole populations, limiting the need for environmentally-damaging poisons.

Loss of wild pollinators could substantially reduce soybean yields

Pollination by wild insects and honey bees improves soybean yield by 18%, new research has indicated. This equates to an extra 331.6 kg of seeds per hectare, boosting the value of the global crop by €12.74 billion. Encouraging insect pollination could therefore reduce the destruction of natural ecosystems to make way for soybean cultivation, the researchers say.

Urban planning could change driving behaviour

Car use could be reduced through careful urban planning, according to the results of a new German study. By combining data on driving behaviour and high-resolution satellite imagery, the researchers show how patterns of land and car use are connected.

Birds could provide a simple means of identifying high nature value farmland

New research from central Italy shows that high nature value farmland in the region can be accurately identified by the presence of just four bird species. Once such groups of species have been identified for different regions, they can provide a quick and inexpensive tool for assessing the ecological value of farmland, the researchers say.

Indoor pollution modelled to inform policy on home insulation

Increased insulation in homes could reduce ventilation and lead to greater exposure to indoor air pollution, a new study suggests. This, in turn, could affect health. The researchers modelled exposure to fine particles, which indicated that insulating half the homes in Greece by 2020 could lead to a 6% increase in adverse health effects. Sources of indoor air pollution should be reduced as far as possible and, failing that, sufficient airing is key, they recommend.

The effects of climate change on seafloor ecosystems

Ocean warming driven by climate change will reduce the amount of food reaching marine life on the seafloor, a recent study suggests. This would result in a 5.2% global reduction in seafloor biomass by the end of the 21st century and biodiversity hotspots, such as cold-water coral reefs, will be particularly badly affected, say the researchers.

Equality is key to effective climate change adaptation

Climate change adaptation measures could improve the security of some groups of society at the expense of others, a new study concludes. Climate change adaptation policies should be based on genuine democracy and investment must be fairly distributed, to ensure that all at-risk groups benefit equally, its authors recommend.

Green spaces can have positive, long-term effects on mental health

Moving to an area with good access to green spaces has a positive, lasting effect on residents' mental health, new research suggests. The study shows that people who move to greener areas report considerably improved mental health three years after leaving their previous neighbourhood.

Nitrogen pollution models reviewed

Computer models can be powerful tools when developing policies to address nitrogen pollution from agriculture. In a new study, researchers have made recommendations regarding the best design and use of these models to aid the effective implementation of European legislation on nitrogen.

Land use change influences European weather systems

The reduction in summer storms in the western Mediterranean could be partly caused by land use change on coasts and mountain slopes, a new study reports. This lack of storms causes water vapour to build up above the region and may lead to heavy rainfall and flooding in central Europe.

Stepping stone patches of habitat help reduce effects of fragmentation

The importance of 'stepping stone' patches of habitat for biodiversity has been underestimated, a new study suggests. The researchers developed a new connectivity model, which better captures the effects of stepping stones on species movement.

Disease risk predicted by new climate change adaptation tool

A tool to calculate the risk of food and waterborne diseases under current or future climate change conditions has been presented in a recent study. Free to use, the online tool can help guide climate change adaptation, such as improvements to water management, by estimating the likelihood of contracting four diseases under a range of environmental conditions.

Local food collectives: what role should public authorities take?

Local food systems, such as vegetable box schemes or farmers' markets, can encourage sustainable consumption. However, authorities must take care before becoming too involved in such citizen-led initiatives, because these collectives may be wary of government intervention, a new study suggests.

Green technology transfer promoted by emissions standards - even in absence of trade

China does not export cars to Europe, yet it has adopted the Euro emissions standard for vehicles. A recent study argues this is because international standards can encourage foreign investors to share advanced technical knowledge with companies in developing and emerging economies – thus bringing a package of environmental and economic benefits. In China’s case, its car industry is now better prepared for future trade in a global market, thanks to this strategy.

Sustainable agriculture with profitable farming and biodiversity conservation

A framework to combine economically viable agriculture with effective biodiversity conservation has been described in a recent study. According to the researchers, their approach provides a simple guide designed to help planners and farmers achieve sustainable agriculture.

Individual non-methane VOCs have large impacts on human health

Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) can have damaging effects on human health. New research has now revealed that only three substances out of a large number of NMVOCs are responsible for almost all damaging effects on human health. Air pollution policies should be designed to target these substances specifically, rather than overall NMVOC emissions, the researchers recommend.

Sustainability drivers identified for smaller businesses in European protected areas

Tourism businesses operating in protected conservation areas in Europe engage in a high number of sustainable practices, a recent survey of over 900 small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) reveals. Reasons for their sustainable behaviour include cutting costs, improving company image and lifestyle choices.

What are the health costs of cadmium contamination in fertilisers?

The health impacts of consuming food that has been grown using cadmium-contaminated fertilisers are an increasing concern. New Danish research has estimated that the annual monetary cost of these impacts is €15.53 per km2 of agricultural land treated with mineral fertilisers. This cost rises to €37.04 per km2 if pig manure is used.

Warming boosts plant growth, but reduces species diversity

Wetland biodiversity may fall under climate change, a new study suggests. The researchers' experiments indicated that, overall, plant growth in wetlands will be boosted, but a small number of plant species well suited to the warmer conditions will out compete other species. However, climate change's effects on biodiversity may be less severe if plants are able to move to cooler locations, towards the poles.

Eels can be used to help monitor water’s ecological quality

The European eel could act as an indicator of the ecological quality of aquatic environments, according to a new study. The research suggests that new pollution limits could be developed based on levels of pollutants in eel muscle, with the aim of improving the ecological quality of water under the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Organic farmland benefits biodiversity over the long term

Biodiversity on organic farms is, on average, 34% higher than on conventional farms, according to a recent study. The researchers used data from a large number of studies to show that this figure has remained stable over the last 30 years.

New ozone-depleting chemicals found in the atmosphere

Four ozone-depleting gases, previously undetected in the atmosphere, have been found by new research. The work suggests that more than 74 000 tonnes of these human-made substances have been released since 1978, and that two are continuing to accumulate in the atmosphere. However, it is not yet known where they come from.

Largest Antarctic ice sheet more sensitive to ocean warming than previously thought

The largest ice sheet in the world, the east Antarctic ice sheet, may succumb to climate change faster than thought, according to recent research. Warming ocean currents, triggered by shifting wind patterns, could accelerate melting of the ice sheet, leading to a rise in sea levels, say the researchers.

Carbon nanotubes could be released by plastic as it degrades

Carbon nanotubes (CNT) could be released into the environment as the plastic they are embedded in degrades, a new study suggests. The research found that general wear combined with exposure to UV light and moderate humidity would expose CNTs, posing a potential threat to human health.

Green taxes can boost the economy

Green taxes could boost economic growth and reduce the 'cash-in-hand' untaxed shadow economy, according to new research. The study modelled green taxes' effects on Spain's economy and suggests the revenue from these taxes would increase economic activity and employment if it was used to reduce income tax.

Electric car schemes in Berlin and Paris: sustainable mobility approaches compared

Two shared electric car schemes, in Berlin and Paris, have been examined by a recent study. Although both schemes are progressive, Berlin's takes an 'inter-modal' approach to encouraging sustainable mobility, because it integrates electric cars into the wider public transport system. The scheme in Paris, however, focuses on cars as the main form of transport.

Water management and spatial planning's resilience to climate change: key proposals

Eight key features for increasing the climate change resilience of water management and spatial planning projects are presented by new Dutch research. These include: focusing on the long term, integrating the projects with other sustainability measures and encouraging stakeholder participation.

European flooding costs could increase almost five-fold by 2050

Extreme and catastrophic floods in Europe, such as those seen in 2013, currently occur approximately once every 16 years, but this may increase to once every 10 years by 2050, according to new research. The study also suggests that annual average economic losses caused by extreme floods could reach almost five times higher than 2013 values.

Early-flowering crops may increase bumblebee numbers for late-flowering crops

Planting early-flowering crops, such as oilseed rape, boosts the numbers of bumblebees available to pollinate late-flowering crops, such as sunflowers, according to recent research. Carefully managing the timing and coverage of flowering crops in the landscape could therefore ensure pollination services and increase yields, say the researchers.

Wood burning in London undermines low traffic emissions' gains

Particulate matter (PM) emissions from domestic wood burning in London are higher than the PM reductions achieved through London’s Low Emission Zone, finds a new study. The research suggests that increases in wood burning could risk undermining policies aimed at meeting EU PM10 targets.

Agriculture changes improve lake water quality

Changing agricultural management practices can significantly improve water quality, according to a long-term study. The researchers found that in a US lake the total amount of suspended sediment fell, and water clarity increased as a result of multiple integrated practices implemented to reduce runoff in the surrounding area. These included introducing buffer strips of vegetation and planting trees.

Public acceptance of restrictive policies influenced by their location

Local context may have more influence over public acceptance of restrictive policies, such as road tolls and parking fees, than factors such as age, gender or education, a new study suggests. The researchers analysed public reaction to Norwegian policies used to reduce car use and found that there were three aspects of local context that were particularly important: local urban development policies, sense of local identity, and public understanding of the problems.

Large-scale conservation partnerships: challenges and successes identified

Conservation partnerships that span geographic, biological and administrative boundaries are needed to deal with many global environmental problems. However, there are challenges to managing these complex, large-scale programmes that involve many partners and stakeholders. A new study examines the nature of these challenges and identifies the factors that lead to partnership success.

Spatial assessment and ranking of relevant environmental contaminants

A risk-based tool built using multi-criteria decision analysis has been developed to rank environmental contaminants, giving each a level of concern. It can be used by decision makers to prioritise areas for further assessments, based on expected human health impacts.

Bathing water disease risk may increase under climate change

Climate change may increase the amount of pathogens entering bathing waters in some areas, finds a new study. The research, carried out in a lagoon in the Baltic Sea, found that, although higher temperatures can reduce microorganism populations, this is likely to be outweighed by contamination due to runoff caused by increased rainfall. The authors are currently developing a system for alerting local authorities and the public to potentially hazardous bathing water.

Climate adaptation: Can vulnerable countries cope with the costs of extreme weather?

Following extreme weather events, many countries are unable to afford the costs of providing relief to communities and repairing infrastructure, a new study suggests. The researchers estimate that providing relief on a global scale for events which recur every 10 to 50 years would cost US$3.3 billion (€2.37 billion) annually.

Sea turtle by catch: Atlantic at-risk areas located

Nine areas in the Atlantic where leatherback turtles are at higher risk of bycatch have been identified in a recent study. To help protect this important species less damaging fishing practices could be used in these areas, the study concludes, and some could be candidates for marine protected status.

Green and cool roofs could eliminate the Urban Heat Island effect

The urban heat island (UHI) effect can be completely offset by using 'cool' and 'green' roofs, finds new research from the US. However, the study also found that different roofs may affect rainfall and energy demand, and that their efficiency varies with location.

Has the WEEE Directive affected the price of electric and electronic goods?

The price of electrical and electronic equipment has risen by an average of 2.19% since the implementation of the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, new research suggests. Researchers investigated products across 27 EU Member States, with the increases in price reflecting the fact that the consumer is bearing at least part of the cost of e-waste disposal.

Semiconductor and aluminium industries underestimate greenhouse gas emissions

Emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) tetrafluoromethane (TFM) and hexafluoroethane (HFE) reported by industry accounted for only around half actual levels measured in the atmosphere between 2002 and 2010, new research reveals. The semiconductor and aluminium production industries, the two main sources of these gases, have reported success in their voluntary efforts to control these emissions. However, this does not match ‘top-down’ atmospheric monitoring, the researchers say.

Producing environmentally friendly biodegradable plastics from vegetable waste

Using vegetable waste to produce bioplastics can provide sustainable alternatives to non-biodegradable plastic, new research has found. The biodegradable plastic developed for this study, produced using parsley and spinach stems, cocoa pod husks and rice hulls, have a range of mechanical properties comparable to conventional plastics which are used for products from carrier bags to kitchenware and computer components.

Erratum
This article was amended 10.12.14 to give more information about the nature of trifluoroacetic acid.

Hydraulic fracturing consumes the largest share of water in shale gas production

An average shale gas well in the Marcellus formation will use around 20 000 m3 of freshwater over its life cycle, new research suggests. In total, 65% of this is directly consumed at the well site and 35% is consumed further along the supply chain

Rising temperatures and acidification in the oceans spell danger for shark populations

Increasing temperatures and rising ocean acidification could reduce the health and survival of young sharks, new research has shown. Bamboo shark embryos incubated under ocean temperatures and acidity predicted for 2100 showed survival rates of 80% compared to 100% survival under present-day conditions. Once hatched, survival measured at 30 days was only 44% for those under predicted climate change conditions, again compared to 100% for those experiencing current temperature and acidity.

Soil erosion study brings ecosystem services approach into regional planning

How best to integrate the ecosystem services concept into regional planning? A recent study provides a practical example for an area in Germany that is faced with an increased risk of soil erosion under climate change. Researchers used a decision-support system incorporating ecosystem services to show that measures to reduce soil losses could also support a number of other services.

Regional air pollution improvements have global health benefits

Reductions in emissions of fine particle air pollution can prevent premature deaths, not just locally, but also in countries thousands of kilometres away, new research illustrates. The transcontinental study examines the effects of reducing air pollution emitted from Europe, North America, South and East Asia by 20% and shows that, for example, reductions in the EU would mean 3700 fewer premature deaths in the other three regions every year.

Shifts in Mediterranean fish farming increase pressure on wild fish stocks

Fish farming in the Mediterranean has increasingly shifted from producing fish such as grey mullet, which are herbivores near the bottom of the food chain, to species such as sea bass, which are predators. This ‘farming up’ the food chain requires wild fish to be caught to provide feed. A return to farming fish lower in the food chain would use marine resources more efficiently, a new study says.

Alder tree decline in Europe: how does climate affect the spread of damaging pathogen?

Milder winters under climate change could increase the extent of alder tree (Alnus glutinosa) decline in Europe due to the increased spread of the pathogen Phytophthora alni, a recent study has found. However, this may be offset by hotter summers, which reduce the severity of the disease.

Decommissioning is a significant part of nuclear power’s GHG impact

The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced during the decommissioning phase of nuclear power plants may have been underestimated in previous assessments, new research suggests. The study estimated that the decommissioning process for a German plant resulted in 1 651 265 tonnes of CO2 (or equivalent) emissions, or 0.825 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne of waste. While the researchers acknowledge that impact is highly dependent on the unique characteristics of each decommissioning project, these results raise questions as to whether this phase has been accurately assessed in earlier research.

Citizen engagement with national policy: energy project shares its experiences

Ensuring successful public engagement in policy can be difficult. Four key challenges – communicating complexity, providing balanced information, creating space for deliberation and accessing broader values – are highlighted by a new study. Its authors show how they dealt with these challenges in a UK programme, designed to gather public views on the future of national energy policy.

Deadly effects of particulate matter pollution shown in French study

Particulate matter (PM) pollution has a significant effect on death rates in French cities, a new study shows. The research confirms the short-term impacts of PM10, but also sheds new light on the effects of smaller particulates: PM2.5 and PM10-2.5. Its results could help inform public health advice, the authors propose.

Wider gaps between cycle paths and traffic reduce active commuters’ air pollution dose

Setting cycle and footpaths further back from the road can significantly lower the amount of air pollution that cyclists and pedestrians inhale, suggests new research. While wide gaps are not always practical, the study shows that even small increases in distance could substantially reduce the dose of pollution.

What influences motorists’ intentions to switch to electric vehicles?

What drives people to behave in more environmentally friendly ways? A new study explores factors that affect Dutch motorists’ intentions to switch to electric vehicles. The authors found that they could reliably predict the intention to switch by applying a theoretical framework—Protection Motivation Theory—based on perceptions of the threat of environmental damage.

Unconventional shale gas and oil: overview of ecological impacts

Research findings on the wildlife and habitat impacts of unconventional shale gas and oil developments in the US have been collated in a new review. Its authors stress the importance of collecting data on local ecosystems before such developments begin, to allow changes in nature be tracked and aid on-going improvements to management.

New tool to aid evidence-based decisions on how to eradicate alien species

A new tool to help environmental managers make faster, more evidence-based decisions on how to eradicate alien aquatic species has been developed. The tool is a statistical model based on over 140 management case studies in the scientific literature. Packaged as a user-friendly computer program, it allows different management options to be easily compared.

New ‘bird-washing machine’ dramatically improves survival of birds caught in oil spills

Oil spills can decimate seabird populations. Some birds can be saved, if the oil is washed from their feathers in time; however, this long process is stressful for the birds and requires numerous volunteers. Researchers have now developed a ‘bird-washing machine’ which reduces the washing time from two hours to four minutes. When trialled on oiled birds rescued from the Caspian Sea this resulted in a substantial increase in survival: 88.5% survival after seven days compared to 50% survival with current washing techniques.

Greater efforts to reduce ammonia emissions needed to meet air pollution targets

Levels of particulate matter (PM) in the atmosphere are linked to ammonia emissions. However, reducing ammonia emissions only as far as targets set out by the Gothenburg Protocol will not necessarily ensure compliance with EU PM limits, according to a new study. Greater reductions in ammonia emissions would reduce the number of days when PM limit values are exceeded, the researchers found.

Is it safe to eat the fish you caught yourself? Contamination of fish in the Czech Republic

Mercury contamination of some wild fish species in areas of the Czech Republic may put anglers’ health at risk, a new study suggests. The research showed that EU-wide and Czech national regulatory limits for mercury were exceeded in at least one analysed sample at 63% of the sites surveyed. However, contamination levels varied substantially between locations and species, the researchers say.