17 July 2018 The city of Paris, France, is testing its streets for temperature and noise levels in preparation for a road coating that could counter urban heat islands and halve the noise emitted by traffic.
The coating has been engineered as part of the LIFE-funded C-LOW-N ASPHALT project to reflect sunlight and absorb sound. Building works this autumn will spread it over several hundred metres of tarmac on the rue de Courcel, rue Lecourbe and rue Fremicourt, in the centre of one of the largest cities in Europe.
“Authorities picked these roads in part because of their exposure to the sun and their busy traffic, but also because of their dense residential population,” says Kevin Ibtaten, who runs the noise prevention plan for the city of Paris. “Over 20% of our citizens suffer from high levels of noise in their surroundings. It is our second cause of environmental nuisance after air pollution.”
Following the EU environmental noise directive, Paris has introduced measures ranging from pedestrian zones to electric vehicles to cut the clamour of traffic and improve the quality of urban life. As part of these ongoing efforts, French civil engineering firm Colas has formulated coatings to cover city road surfaces with microscopic pores that can absorb up to half the sound emitted on them.
Similar road surfaces are already being used on motorways. Colas has made the structure of this new coating more robust to endure the harsher conditions of inner-city driving. Mr Ibtaten says that the properties added to the material are also extending its benefits to other aspects of the urban environment.
By replacing the dark pebbles used in conventional road coatings with whiter granulates, the C-LOW-N ASPHALT project expects road surfaces to reflect more sunlight, reducing peak temperatures above street level by 2 to 3 °C.
Ornella Zaza, who works with the Paris town hall as part of her doctoral research on citizen participation in the shift towards smart cities, says that dense street layouts tend to trap warm air, giving rise to ‘urban heat island’ effects in which inner-city temperatures can be several degrees higher than the surrounding countryside.
Ms Zaza says that unrelenting heat can cause dehydration and severe health risks. The heat wave that swept across Europe in 2003 caused an excess mortality of 15 000 people in Paris alone.
The C-LOW-N ASPHALT project will study the benefits of spraying the new road coating with non-drinking water during extended periods of hot weather to reduce neighbouring temperatures.
Ms Zaza does not expect the coating alone to solve the challenges raised by urbanisation and climate change. But added to complementary measures such as planting vegetation, creating oases in schoolyards and extending pedestrian areas, it could help alleviate the burden.
13 July 2018 The deadline for the submission of Concept Notes for Integrated Projects (IPs) is in two months’ time (05/09/2018).
Given the reduced number of IP applications, we will be able to provide the same level of assistance to every applicant currently preparing their IP Concept Notes.
Therefore, if you are working on an application for IP in July and August we are offering you the possibility to ask questions about IPs and evaluation criteria and the chance to receive feedback on your project ideas. We would like to reach out to applicants from all the Member States.
If you have any questions, please contact EASME-LIFE-ENQUIRIES@ec.europa.eu. We can assist you by e-mail, schedule a phone or a video conference or organise a meeting in Brussels.
12 July 2018Malta has increased the size of its protected marine areas by more than 650 km2, reaching over a third of its waters, thanks to the project LIFE BaĦAR for Natura 2000. These areas are home to important seabed habitats in both coastal and deep waters.
An additional eight Natura 2000 marine protected areas (MPAs) have been designated for Malta, ensuring the preservation of dozens of newly found marine caves and reefs. The additional sites bring the amount of protected marine area in Malta to more than 4 100 km2.
A lack of data was one of the main obstacles to designating MPAs, especially in deep-sea areas, according to project leader Marie Therese Gambin from the Malta’s Environment and Resources Authority. “The LIFE project overcame these problems by leading expeditions to collect necessary data on the location, range and conservation status of sea caves and reefs,” she says.
The designations offer a “basis for awareness raising and a better appreciation for the marine environment, comprehending further its natural treasures and benefits for our well-being,” adds Ms Gambin. “This will help address the challenges faced in terms of gaining public support for conservation measures and management actions.”
At the project’s final event, Malta’s minister for the environment, sustainable development and climate change José Herrera declared the designations a “significant milestone in marine conservation”. He confirmed that the country has surpassed the CBD Aichi target for 2020.
Three new inshore sites are an extension of the area covered by existing coastal MPAs and are home to a range species of conservation interest, including the star coral (Astroides calycularis) the long-spined sea urchin (Centrostephanus longispinus) and the Mediterranean slipper lobster (Scyllarides latus).
The project also led to the designation of two completely new Natura 2000 sites, which contain offshore reefs hosting extensive communities of cold-water corals and gorgonians.
“Conservation objectives for the new sites have been identified, which together with the information collected on existing pressures, will enable the development of effective management measures,” concludes Ms Gambin.
Read more about LIFE's work to protect the marine environment in our brand new LIFE Focus brochure.
9 July 2018The Arturówek Reservoirs in Łódź have long been a place of recreation for the city's inhabitants. "When I was child," says Professor Maciej Zalewski, leader of the EH-REK project, "the reservoirs were a place where you would come to and swim." As toxic algae blooms, harmful for human health, have spread in the intervening years, this prospect has become less appealing and even going for a walk in the area is not as pleasant as it once was, he adds.
EH-REK has changed all that. Led by Łódź University, the LIFE project cleaned up the reservoirs by reducing nutrients feeding the algae bloom and removing bottom sediment. It also planted species that recycle nutrients.
Thanks to its efforts, nearly half of the visitors to the site believe that the water quality is good, compared to barely anyone at the start of the project. Indeed, monitoring shows that the pollution in the water outflow from the upper Arturówek Reservoir was reduced by around 70%, a vast improvement of the 20% that was expected.
The scale of the earthworks carried out was also wider than foreseen. In addition to the three Arturówek Reservoirs, bottom sediments were removed from reservoirs located above Wycieczkowa Street in Łódź. Removing thousands of cubic metres of sediment improves water quality, while the modification made to the Bzura River above the reservoirs increased its capacity to self-purify.
Prof Zalewski was confident that the lowland reservoirs could be restored despite the belief the size of the catchment area would present too great a challenge. A first step to reducing the problem of toxic algae formation, however, was to identify the sources of nitrogen and phosphorus feeding the algae and to calculate the nutrient threshold under which the algae would no longer form, he explains. As well as directly preventing toxic discharges into the water sources, a key clean-up measure is to plant aquatic plants, which remove harmful nutrients.
"The idea was to use ecosystem processes as a management tool,” says the professor. This means gaining a thorough understanding of the processes that determine an ecosystem’s resilience to climate change and other environmental factors in order to control these processes. “My team’s philosophy is that if project is granted, our obligation is to generate more advanced science and solutions than submitted in the proposal" he explains. "EH-REK is demonstrating that progress can be made on a greater scale than previously thought possible."
Another major outcome of the project was the creation of an online tool to support the decision-making of local authorities and to help them select the best practices for water protection in their territories.
By the end of the project, the blooming of blue-green algae had been eradicated from the target sites, making them once again attractive to visitors. Thousands of people, in fact, are now enjoying the clean beach of the largest reservoir during the summer months, and a small restaurant has even opened.
EH-REK is a Best of the Best LIFE Environment project 2016-17
2 July 2018A life-sized trial has shown that tilling soils is not necessary to maintain crop yields, but avoiding it can help tackle climate change.
So-called conservation agriculture has allowed Spanish farmers to match the food output of conventionally ploughed land, while cutting their production costs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and locking more carbon in their soils.
As part of the LIFE+AGRICARBON project, farmers responsible for some 90 hectares of semi-arid land in the Guadalquivir valley of southern Spain stopped tilling half of their fields and shifted local farming techniques to conservation agriculture.
“Instead of growing a single crop, farmers rotated the species planted on each field, and left crop residues after harvests to keep the soil covered all year round,” says Emilio González, manager of the Spanish Association for Conservation Agriculture Living Soils (AEACSV) in Cordoba. As coordinator of LIFE+AGRICARBON, he explains that conservation agriculture involves minimal mechanical disturbance to the soil, covering it with biomass, and diversifying the crop species grown on it.
The approach is controversial. Óscar Veroz, a colleague of Mr González from AEACSV, says that, for generations, Spanish farmers have tilled their land and let it breathe in efforts to make it more fertile. Recent research suggests that this time-honoured tradition actually releases water, carbon and microorganisms from the soil that are crucial for growing healthy crops.
“We put the theory to the test,” says Mr Veroz. “This is the first LIFE project in which conservation agriculture has been monitored on such a large scale – and the results have exceeded expectations.”
When compared side-by-side with conventional farming techniques in the Guadalquivir valley, non-tilled land produced the same amount of food as neighbouring plots but required 20% less energy to farm.
“Farmers save fuel, time and money because they no longer need heavy machinery to plough their land,” says Mr Veroz. Considering the number of tractors operating across Spain, this equates to more than 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions avoided each year.
The environmental benefits run deeper than energy savings. Conservation agriculture also stores more carbon in the undisturbed soil, preventing erosion, retaining water and sequestering greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Initial estimates suggest that the untilled fields locked up to 30% more carbon in their soil than the land conventionally farmed around them. This trend is set to spread across Spain and the rest of the EU as the LIFE+AGRICARBON project shares its findings.
Spain is among the frontrunners of conservation agriculture. A semi-arid climate and exposure to drought make its agricultural sector brutally competitive and press local farmers to continuously find solutions for cutting costs.
And as global temperatures rise, lessons from the Guadalquivir valley become ever more useful to farmers further north. The LIFE project has already addressed global audiences at UN Climate Change conventions in Paris and Marrakech.
5 July 2018Six brown bear cubs were born in the Catalan Pyrenees in 2017, thanks in part to the actions of the PirosLIFE project. This took the total brown bear (Ursus arctos) in the Pyrenees to around 45 individuals - offering a real lifeline to Europe’s largest surviving large carnivore in this area of Spain and France.
Four females gave birth to a total of eight cubs in the Pyrenees in 2017. Three mother bears, called Caramellita, Isil, and Plume, gave birth to the six Catalan cubs; having two each. The female Chataigne bore her two cubs in France. The new cubs confirm an upward trend in the brown bear population over recent years.
“In the last four years, 2014 to 2017, there have been 17 litters and 31 cubs born,” says Santiago Palazon, technical director of PirosLIFE.
Brown bears are free to roam an area of 4 900 km2 in the Spanish (Catalonia, Aragon and Navarra) and French Pyrenees. However, the core population is located in the central zone, specifically in Catalonia.
The project’s brown bear tracking team use 39 camera traps across the mountain range to monitor the bears. These are triggered automatically, and by 2018 they had captured nearly 2 000 images and 120 videos of the bears. For example, last year PirosLIFE released a video showing two cubs in the L’Alt Pirineu Natural Park in Catalonia climbing a tree; one unexpectedly descended head first.
PirosLIFE is keeping track of the genealogy of the Pyrenean brown bears (see chart). The first bears were reintroduced in 1996: two females called Ziva and Mellba, and the original male Pyros from Slovenia. In 2006, another four females (Palouma, Francka, Hvala, Sarousse) and a male (Balou) were introduced.
The new cubs are descendants of these founder bears. Concerning their mothers: Mellba’s offspring Caramelles gave birth to Caramellita, Isil and Plume; while Chataigne’s mother is Hvala. “Most cubs are offspring of Pyros, who is now surely dead,” adds Mr Palazon.
PirosLIFE is consolidating the brown bear population in the central Pyrenees by reintroducing animals from different locations, linking up habitats suitable for bears, and developing coordinated actions to support their coexistence alongside humans.
The project has promoted a range of preventive measures to minimise the impact of bears on activities such as beekeeping and livestock rearing, including putting electric fences around beehives and using guard dogs. PirosLIFE found that grouping herds to enable livestock to be kept under permanent surveillance was a particularly effective method for pastures in areas frequented by brown bears.
Finding effective solutions for bear-human coexistence is vital for securing wider acceptance of the growing bear population in the Pyrenees.