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Sewer systems are a potentially major source of urban groundwater pollution; water can leak through structural faults (or ‘exfiltration’ — i.e. through fractures or intruding tree roots) and be absorbed by surrounding soil, which can introduce nutrients, suspended solids and microbes into nearby water bodies. Estimating sewer leakage and exfiltration is important for effective management of urban waste-water systems, say the researchers of a new study that explores sewer leakage at the national scale in Germany.
People suffering from COVID-19 — whether symptomatic or not — shed the SARS-CoV-2 virus into their faeces. Consequently, techniques to monitor untreated wastewater for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material are being trialled worldwide to note occurrence across communities. To find out more, Australian scientists implemented a waste-water-based COVID-19 detection technique in the city of Brisbane, Australia, in 2020, to help predict and prevent the spread of the disease.
Once a large-scale low-lying wetland, the fen landscape of the Netherlands is now densely populated and intensively used, including for agricultural purposes; and is facing challenges in the management of its water, soil and space. A study uses the complex environmental challenges of the Dutch fens to test the effectiveness of two types of experiment-based policy approaches over time, considering the value of implementing small and incremental approaches versus synoptic, or radical, changes.
As rates of global pet ownership increase, so too do the environmental impacts associated with pet food. However, these are not well quantified. National assessments differ in how they account for the relative impacts of the animal by-products (ABPs) used in pet food, which, while less impactful than animal products such as meat, milk and eggs, have non-negligible effects on the environment. By assessing ABPs, this study identifies the emissions, land-use and water-use burdens of global dry pet food production.
As the global population increases, the benefits of increased agricultural production are distributed unequally, partly due to inequality in access to water resources. However, even in some countries where hydrological resources are abundant, water is not always readily available for agriculture, due to economic, institutional or infrastructural reasons. A study explores economic water scarcity in agriculture by repurposing an indicator from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and observing the relation between economic water scarcity, agricultural productivity and water use efficiency at a global scale.
Tyre-wear particles, which may account for a large proportion of microplastic pollution, are the focus of a recent review of studies on the environmental concentrations and impacts of non-exhaust vehicle emissions. The review finds that there is no data on the potential risk from ingestion via the food chain, and little information from either long- term monitoring, or on the particles’ ecotoxicological effects.
When emitted into the environment, chemicals pose a threat to water resources depending on their bioaccumulation potential, persistence and mobility in aquatic environments. A study now compares the ‘level of concern’ for substances that are persistent, mobile and toxic (PMT or, if very persistent and very mobile, vPvM) to those that are bioaccumulative rather than mobile (PBT or vPvB); currently the latter are under particular scrutiny from EU chemicals regulation. While previously PMT/vPvM chemicals were not regulated in the EU, a recent strategy document has now focused on establishing substance criteria for PMT which may pose an equivalent risk.
Frozen freshwater lakes provide ice to support human transportation, refrigeration, food harvest and recreation. This ice also influences key environmental factors; crucially, it minimises lake evaporation rates, moderates summer water temperatures and curtails toxic algal blooms. However, freshwater- lake ice cover is decreasing under climate change. A study estimates how many lakes in the Northern Hemisphere will permanently lose ice cover within this century, and identifies those most at risk of becoming ice-free.
Researchers have evaluated the EU’s environmental risk assessment tool for antifouling paint used on leisure boats. Currently, product approval applications can report biocide release rates that have been ‘corrected’ to account for potential overestimation. However, field observations in Swedish waters suggest that these reductions are not accurate and — in order to protect marine ecosystems — should not be used.
The Netherlands’ ‘Room for the River’ programme is recognised worldwide as an example of successful river rehabilitation. With the risk of flooding events rising due to climate change, understanding which interventions can lead to beneficial integrated flood-risk management is vital. This study analyses the mix of interventions (policy instruments) used in Room for the River projects — from contract start to construction finish — to learn from this example.
The Mar Menor coastal saltwater lagoon, in south-east Spain, is the largest such water body in the Mediterranean basin. The lagoon is experiencing a ‘eutrophication crisis’ as excess nutrients - largely nitrates, but also phosphorus and dissolved organic carbon — are washed into the lagoon from its surroundings. A study explores the Mar Menor's nutrient inputs and evaluates the results of a two-step system including a nature-based solution (NBS); an initiative that works with and enhances nature to address societal challenges.
Water bodies absorb the nitrogen released by human activity and must, therefore, be protected against nutrient overloading (or eutrophication), which can cause significant environmental damage. Constructed wetlands (CWs) are widely used as an eco-friendly treatment method for this; however, the efficacy of CWs may be affected by the presence of emerging contaminants in wastewater. This study explores how nano- sized particles of polystyrene plastic (nanoplastics) affect nitrogen removal (denitrification) in CWs.
Increased use of water in the EU (by all users), and climate- related risks associated with water shortage, are rising over time. This study analyses water-use, specifically within the EU agricultural sector, by Member State and crop type — a useful reference source for policymakers and academics.
Researchers have analysed nearly 10 000 river floods in Europe in the past 500 years and have shown that recent patterns of flooding are exceptional in extent. In addition, previous flood-rich periods are often linked to cooler average temperatures, but today’s flooding takes place in the context of warmer air and ocean temperatures. The findings showed that flooding has been extreme in terms of extent, air temperatures and season.
Nanomaterials such as graphene oxide (GO) have potential for a myriad of industrial applications due to their physical, chemical, mechanical and structural properties. However, due to these unique attributes, assessing the toxicity of GO - necessary to meet relevant regulatory requirements - remains challenging. A study now seeks a robust, reliable methodology for evaluating the ecotoxicity of GO, using an alga (Raphidocelis subcapitata) and a shrimp species (Paratya australiensis) to evaluate exposure risk.
At present, droughts are primarily predicted using meteorological forecasts. However, technological developments in hydrological forecasting mean that the latter presents an increasingly promising option. An evaluation for the pan-European region has demonstrated that hydrological drought forecasts (groundwater, river flow) now outperform their meteorological counterparts. This study provides evidence in favour of updating current water-management policy and practice to include dynamical hydro-meteorological models — that combine hydrological and meteorological forecasts — and so minimise future drought impacts.
Researchers have shown how accurate, fine-scale maps of riverine biodiversity can be obtained using a method combining the trace genetic material (eDNA) found in rivers and streams and modelling based on hydrological principles. This non-invasive method can identify biodiversity hotspots to inform their management and conservation and could provide information on locations that are inaccessible (and therefore very difficult to monitor).
As estuaries are particularly sensitive to anthropogenic influence, assessing their ecological status is both challenging and especially important. Eutrophication is a key issue for such areas, with phosphorus (P) being a major driver of eutrophication in aquatic systems. This study explores the spatial and seasonal circulation of various forms of phosphorus in Germany’s Warnow Estuary, which flows into the Baltic Sea, to assess the levels of eutrophication in the estuary and Baltic coastal waters.
Contamination of the marine environment is an issue of growing concern. In the EU, Member States are required to monitor contaminant levels in their marine region, and to support efforts to achieve and maintain the good environmental status of marine waters under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. A study using samples of mussels and fish has explored which chemicals of emerging concern (CEC) are relevant in the German coastal environment and identified a need for greater monitoring of emerging flame retardants and long-chain perfluoroalkyl substances in the North and Baltic Seas.
Many European freshwater bodies are unlikely to meet the 2027 targets of the Water Framework Directive. This Europe-wide study assesses multiple types of freshwater stressor (physical, biological or chemical constraints on an ecosystem) to quantify the frequency, interactions and impacts of these on freshwater plants and animals. By mapping stressors’ effects on scales — starting from single lake or river to an entire basin — such assessment can inform ecosystem management decisions.
Extreme weather events, such as floods and landslides, are becoming more common in European countries due to climate change. After a flood or landslide, five to 15 times the annual waste generated by a community can be disposed of in an affected urban area. This can lead to environmental and health vulnerability in these areas, with high socio- economic costs. This study aimed to find sustainable and cost-effective disaster waste management (DWM) solutions. The scenarios selected, and associated data used, reflect realistic events in Italy.
Understanding the structure and distribution of biotopes — regions of habitat associated with a particular ecological community — is essential for marine conservation and spatial planning. An analysis of an extensive geo-referenced dataset has enabled scientists to estimate the structure, size and distribution of a threatened muddy biotope in the German North Sea, and to visualise the results in map format. This information provides a baseline for evaluating the biotope’s environmental status and contributes essential knowledge for environmental management and policy.
Ballast water in ships is a principal way in which alien species are introduced into new aquatic habitats. Commercial trading ships are, therefore, required to treat their ballast water to meet discharge standards and regulation. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has approved a range of methods for ballast water treatment, such as filtration, ultraviolet radiation and chlorination. A recent study used DNA metabarcoding-based1 analyses to explore the efficacy of the most widely adopted approach — chlorination — finding that it affects zooplankton organisms unequally and may potentially even increase the chances of introduced populations becoming established in new habitats.
Energy security in the EU is a priority of the European Commission (EC). However, at present, energy-related policies do not account for the use of water as a resource — and water is becoming increasingly scarce as a result of human activity. This study1 provides a detailed assessment of the water footprint (WF) of the energy sector in the EU and could be valuable in informing future policy to protect against water scarcity, stress and insecurity.
Human settlements exist in many mountainous areas of the world, and related infrastructure is highly exposed to natural hazards such as debris flow and flooding. Mountain forests play a central role in balancing the environment and minimising the risk of such hazards, but this protection is being threatened as canopies are increasingly disturbed (by events both natural, such as beetle outbreaks and trees being uprooted by wind, and anthropogenic, such as forest management). This study sought to quantify the effects of forest cover and disturbance on torrential hazards in the Eastern Alps.
Tackling climate change requires global behaviour change across all sectors of society. Many people, however, struggle to visualise how climate change will impact daily life — something that is key to motivating them to change their behaviour and demand urgent measures from governments and businesses. This new study illustrates how the climate of iconic cities will change in just 30 years by pairing them with other well-known cities that currently have their future climate.
Groundwater is the earth’s largest freshwater resource and is vital for irrigation and global food production. In dry periods farmers pump groundwater to water crops, this is already happening at an unsustainable level in many places — exceeding the rate at which rain and rivers can refill the groundwater stores. This study seeks to identify where groundwater pumping is affecting stream flows and estimates where and when environmentally critical stream flows — required to maintain healthy ecosystems — can no longer be sustained.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a large group of toxic molecules produced by forest fires, industrial processes and the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. The airborne particles containing these molecules are often washed into watercourses, where they can persist. This study uses long-term monitoring data from the Elbe river, Saxony, Germany, to show how changes in PAH sources affect both the concentrations of these chemicals and the corresponding environmental risks. The researchers suggest that controlling PAHs is the best prevention of harm to aquatic and human health.
How can we grow more crops without taking too much water away from freshwater ecosystems for irrigation? A new study indicates that it is possible to double crop production by 2050 without exceeding set limits for water extraction if more crops are grown in regions with higher rainfall and with corresponding shifts in international trade and agricultural management. However, without appropriate safeguards, and if we follow the current business-as-usual scenario, this could come at the ecological cost of converting natural land and forest into cropland. This research provides a ‘first-step’ in analysing potential trade-offs in the global food-trade-water nexus.
Urban water use increases with a population’s average income, finds a study of a stressed river basin in Spain. Consumption also increases with population age, but falls as education levels rise. Such information could help municipal water providers predict future water trends and to develop appropriate measures by which to manage demand. There is huge interest in mining polymetallic nodules in deep-sea environments. These bumpy rocks on the seafloor contain highly valuable materials including manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel and copper.
Over the past two decades, concern has grown globally about the occurrence of anthropogenic organic contaminants in the environment, such as substances used in pharmaceuticals, food production and manufacturing. Many of these compounds are not sufficiently monitored or regulated in groundwater — a critical water resource in Europe. A recent paper proposes an approach to developing the first voluntary Groundwater Watch List (GWWL): an initiative with which to identify, monitor, and characterise substances that have the greatest potential to pollute this water resource.
Low oxygen levels (‘hypoxia’) are a pressing concern for marine and freshwater ecosystems worldwide, and this may deteriorate as ocean temperatures rise. Hypoxia causes stress in organisms, which can cause reproductive impairments that persist across generations — even the offspring that have never been exposed to hypoxia. Previous studies discovered that hypoxia can disrupt sex hormones, resulting in birth defects and affecting reproduction of male fish over several generations. This study shows how hypoxia can also affect female marine medaka (Oryzias melastigma) over multiple generations — and thus may pose a significant threat to the sustainability of natural fish populations worldwide.
Rare earth elements (REEs) are used increasingly often in innovative technologies, causing these elements to enter the natural environment. They can be sourced via deep-sea mining, raising concerns about marine exposure to mining processes and waste products. This study examined how two REEs, lanthanum and yttrium, affected and stressed marine ecosystems, using young marine mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) as indicators of water quality. The researchers determine a parameter known as the ‘predicted no effect concentration’ (PNEC) for La and Y — the maximum environmental level of each of the two elements at which no effect is seen on the most sensitive organisms and which is, therefore, deemed safe for the environment.
River flooding costs billions of euros annually in the EU. When one river floods, others nearby often do so at the same time — extending the overall impact beyond the border of an individual drainage basin. With this in mind, this study analysed the spatial extent of flood events across Europe from 1960 to 2010, using data from the European Flood Database (EFD). The research presents key findings for flood forecasting, risk financing and flood-mitigation policy.
To estimate the losses of wild pollinators across Great Britain, a study mapped records of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species, collected across the country from 1980 to 2013. It found that a third of species decreased, while a tenth increased. On average, the geographic range of bee and hoverfly species declined by a quarter, which equates to a net loss of 11 species from each 1km grid square (with uncommon species more harshly affected), highlighting a significant risk to biodiversity, pollinators, and their ecosystems.
The presence and accumulation of micropollutants1 (anthropogenic trace contaminants) in aquatic environments is an area of policy concern for the EU. In order to better understand how these chemicals enter and are transported within water systems, this study investigated the occurrence and concentration of a broad spectrum of micropollutants across Austria’s water system. Municipal waste-water effluents were found to be the emission pathway with the highest concentrations of some micropollutants. The study also demonstrated that levels of other micropollutants are higher in rivers, atmospheric deposition and groundwater than in waste-water effluents and that these sometimes exceeded environmental quality standards for surface waters.
The presence of plastics in aquatic environments is a growing concern across the EU. This study explored the amount of microplastic particles present in raw and treated water at three water-treatment plants in the Czech Republic. While treated water contained fewer particles than raw1 fresh water, the amount found in treated water was not negligible, and largely comprised tiny particles of <10 micrometres (μm) in diameter. Ways to filter microplastics from potable water must be identified and their risk to humans, sources and routes into drinking water determined, say the researchers.
A recent study helps city planners find the greenest and most effective way of producing renewable energy, crops and water on rooftops. The researchers developed a method for analysing the performance and environmental impacts of different combinations of rooftop rainwater-harvesting-, energy- and food systems. It could aid efforts to promote urban self-sufficiency and a sustainable circular economy, they suggest.
Considering the sustainability of the services provided by an ecosystem could help to overcome management challenges and hit water quality targets defined by the EU, says a new study. By exploring 13 of the ecosystem services (ES) provided by the Venice Lagoon, Italy, the researchers identify factors affecting sustainable and unsustainable patterns of ES provision, and suggest that confined and more open water bodies could benefit from different management strategies.
Silver nanoparticles present in the effluent from waste-water treatment plants could have toxic effects on aquatic organisms, new research suggests. The lab-based study tested the effects of nanoparticle-containing effluent on several crustacean and algae species. The researchers observed that epibenthic crustaceans (those living in or on sediments at the bottom of water bodies) were the most sensitive; notably, a 20–45% higher death rate was observed compared with those exposed to nanoparticle-free effluent.
Researchers have developed an online tool to help water managers find effective ways of tackling eutrophication, an excess growth of weeds and algae that suffocates life in rivers, lakes and seas. They describe the tool as quick and easy to use and understand. Users can compare the likely effects of different strategies for cutting nutrient pollution in surface waters via an interactive map-based system; this is currently available for Sweden and Europe as a whole.
Domestic water saving is important — not only to address water scarcity and drought, but also to save energy and tackle climate change. Water-management strategies are needed to prevent these shortages, and include incentives to change consumers’ behaviour concerning water use. This study examines the design of a behaviour-change system and a linked incentive model to stimulate a sustainable change in water-consumption behaviour.
This study paves the way for better projections of the impact of climate change on plants, including agricultural crops and carbon drawdown. The research shows how an equation used in climate models to represent soil moisture levels is responsible for major variations in estimates of the carbon cycle.
Groundwater pumping and irrigation can disrupt natural atmospheric processes, affect the whole water cycle, and potentially worsen water shortages during heatwaves, a new study suggests. The findings contribute to our understanding of how to manage water resources under future climate change conditions. The study shows how some of the most intensively water managed areas of Europe — such as the Iberian Peninsula — could be affected by extraction of groundwater during years when conditions are especially hot and dry, potentially amplifying water scarcity in already-stressed regions.
Areas of mariculture — where marine organisms are cultivated for food — have been identified as important source areas for the dispersal of invasive alien species (IAS) via artificial floating litter. In order to identify IAS at high risk of dispersal via this method, researchers have analysed fouled anthropogenic litter sampled on beaches in two important European mariculture areas. Overall, the team detected eight aquaculture-related IAS attached to anthropogenic litter. All of these species are well adapted to rafting on artificial surfaces and have high potential to disperse in this way, suggesting that they are suitable candidates for closer monitoring and policy action in the future.
The presence of disinfection by-products (DBPs) in drinking water is an emerging health concern. DBPs come in many classes and are chemically diverse, making them challenging to monitor. Swedish researchers have evaluated a new method for the simultaneous determination of a broader range of DBPs than typically possible using other available techniques. The method uses gas chromatography (a laboratory technique that separates and analyses vaporisable compounds in a mixture), together with a halogen-specific detector (XSD). Having been tested in real water samples from two municipal waterworks in Sweden, the method has been optimised for the simultaneous determination of a wide range of neutral DBPs.
The release of pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) in waste water from treatment plants (WWTPs) is currently not regulated anywhere in the world, with the exception of a few plants in Switzerland. Yet thousands of PhACs or their by-products — excreted by humans — can be found in waste water and some of these may harm biodiversity when released into waterways. For example diclofenac and oxazepam may have negative effects on aquatic species.
Pollution is the world’s largest environmental cause of disease and premature death. The Lancet Commission on pollution and health brought together leaders, researchers and practitioners from the fields of pollution management, environmental health and sustainable development to elucidate the full health and economic costs of air, water, chemical and soil pollution worldwide. By analysing existing and emerging data, the Commission reveals that pollution makes a significant and underreported contribution to the global burden of disease, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The Commission also provides six recommendations to policymakers and other stakeholders looking for efficient, cost-effective and actionable approaches to pollution mitigation and prevention.
The chemical 1,4-dioxane, a solvent suspected of causing cancer, is very difficult to clean up once it enters the environment. However, hope is offered by recent scientific developments that use plants, bacteria and fungi to decontaminate water resources. Scientists provided a round-up of these 1,4-dioxane bioremediation techniques in a recent analysis.
Available evidence from the last decade, describing the nature, behaviour and effect of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in the environment, has been reviewed. It identified factors that influence ENP distribution and fate and highlighted the existence of significant research gaps which, if filled, would help in understanding the impacts of long-term accumulation of nanomaterials and the changes that occur to them when they are released into the environment.
Personal Care Products (PCPs) are of increasing global concern, as thousands of tonnes enter the environment every year. Similar to persistent organic pollutants (POPs), some substances used in PCPs are toxic, persist in the environment and accumulate in the bodies of organisms that take them in. This study focused on the presence of ultraviolet filters (UV-Fs) (used in PCPs such as sunscreens and cosmetics) in the unhatched eggs of wild birds.
Conventional municipal waste-water treatment processes are based on aeration, which is energy intensive. Now, researchers have developed an alternative waste-water treatment process. In addition to avoiding the use of aeration in favour of filtration/biofiltration and encapsulated denitrification (the application of capsules containing nitrifiers, which convert ammonium into nitrate), the process also uses waste biosolids to generate electrical energy. The process has been tested in a pilot facility and found to require just 15% of the energy required for conventional approaches. Moreover, the process is energy positive, as the biosolids are able to generate more than enough energy to power the treatment plant. If this technology could be scaled up to the municipal level, it could significantly reduce the energy use and environmental impacts of waste-water treatment.
An innovative system for pricing household water is proposed in a new EU-funded study1 researched in the US and UK. The tariff is designed by combining the economic value of water with reservoir storage data, and is intended to cut water usage during times of shortage by charging large-volume consumers a higher rate which increases as water becomes scarcer. The tariff increase subsidises water for other users, whilst also ensuring the system is economically stable. A case study suggests that the tariff could cut water consumption in the city of Valencia by up to 18%.
Water pollution by toxic elements is a major economic and environmental concern, and mercury is one of the most poisonous of the elements to be released into the environment by industry. Mercury exposure can cause severe ill health. Efficient, simple and convenient methods to remove mercury from industrial and other waste streams and drinking water are essential. This study successfully trialled a new technique, using magnetised multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), to remove mercury from waste water.
Tiny polyester fibres, which are washed into rivers, lakes and seas every time we do our laundry could cause more harm to animals than plastic microbeads, finds a new study. The researchers looked at the effect of microbeads and fibres on a small crustacean called Ceriodaphnia dubia, which lives in freshwater lakes. They found that although both types of plastic were toxic, microfibres caused more harm. Both microplastics stunted the growth of the animals, and reduced their ability to have offspring; microfibres, however, did this to a greater degree, and also caused noticeable deformities in the crustacean’s body and antennae.
Scientists have published findings from the largest and broadest survey on sewage resource recovery conducted in Europe to date. Researchers surveyed more than 600 waste-water treatment plants (WWTPs) in Italy, which represent approximately 25% of the country’s total load of treated sewage. The findings provide a comprehensive picture of the current state of sewage resource recovery in WWTPs, revealing that just 40% of plants perform some form of material or energy recovery, and identifying several of the important driving forces behind implementation. This research provides valuable information and insights for policymakers and WWTP managers aiming to improve WWTP sustainability and close the sewage resource-recovery loop.
The presence of organic pollutants in waste water and drinking water can have alarming environmental and public health implications. Current water treatment methods have limitations: they can only remove certain contaminants, to certain extents, and also produce harmful by-products. New and improved methods are required. A recent review paper presents radiation processing as a promising approach, providing strong evidence of its efficacy, efficiency, safety, and feasibility. Focusing particularly on the use of electron-beam processing for the removal of organic pollutants from waste water and drinking water, the researchers present a compelling picture, relevant to stakeholders involved in water treatment and management.
Neonicotinoids are pesticides applied to plants to protect them from insects. The use of neonicotinoids may lead to contamination of aquatic environments through, among other routes, the input of contaminated plant material into waterways. While it is well established that direct exposure to contaminated water endangers aquatic invertebrates, scientists have now published findings indicating that dietary exposure through the consumption of contaminated plant material puts leaf-shredding species at increased risk. The researchers recommend that policymakers registering systemic insecticides (those whose active ingredients are transported throughout the plant tissues) consider dietary exposure, and its potential implications for ecosystem integrity, in addition to other exposure pathways.
A new study has looked at the potential of green infrastructure to compensate for the effects of soil sealing generated by urban development. It investigates how green roofs and permeable paving could contribute to flood mitigation in southern Italy. Using a hydraulic model technique, the researchers found that, in this particular urban case, green roofs were more effective than permeable paving. Policies to promote the adoption of sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) by the private sector could thus prove more effective under certain circumstances, and policymakers should look at ways to promote SUDS where suitable.
A new study has investigated the movement of antibiotic resistance genes between farm animals, soil and water in Finland. The results show that many of these genes are spread from animals to the soil through manure application; however, these genes do not appear to persist in soil. The study suggests that practices that minimise the use of antibiotics, as used in Finland, may lead to lower levels of clinically relevant resistance genes in agricultural soils.
Researchers have developed a new model that highlights how agricultural practices impact on water availability in the wider landscape. The model, AquaCrop-Hydro, could be used to inform agricultural management decisions and policy related to water and land use, to ensure best allocation of water resources. Such tools are not only useful currently, but will be especially important in future in areas where climate change impacts on water availability and affects crop productivity.
Sustainable river management is increasingly informed by hydromorphological stream assessments — evaluations and classifications of stream conditions which account for both hydrological (the movement, distribution and quantity of water) and geomorphological (the processes and forms deriving from the interactions of water and sediment movement) features. In order to provide a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of river character and dynamics, scientists have developed three novel methods. Together, these tools represent a promising technique for conducting collaborative assessment and monitoring of river conditions in Europe.
A new study has, for the first time, estimated total anthropogenic releases of mercury over the last 4 000 years, up to 2010. Overall, the study estimates that a total of 1 540 000 tonnes of mercury have been released; three-quarters of this since 1850, and 78 times more than was released through natural causes over this period. Therefore, human activity has been responsible for a significant level of contamination, and this inventory can be used to inform and assess mitigation measures. The publication coincides with the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the new EU Mercury Regulation1, which prohibits the export, import and manufacturing of mercury-added products, among other measures.
Constructed wetlands serve as a cost-effective and multi-purpose option for storm-water treatment in urban landscapes, offering flood protection as well as wildlife habitat. However, a new study shows that when nearby land use includes industry, wetlands can accumulate high levels of pollution and potentially become toxic to wildlife. This new piece of research offers important insights for the planning and management of wetlands.
UV treatment does not always turn hazardous water pollutants into harmless substances. Recent lab tests suggest that the toxicity of the antibiotic linezolid to microorganisms appeared to increase post-treatment. This research did find, however, that UV treatment successfully reduced the antimicrobial activity of four other antibiotics tested, plus four artificial sweeteners.
The growing human population and a shift to more resource-intensive habits and behaviours are increasing the demands on global ecosystems. Natural capital is a way to describe Earth’s natural assets, including soil, air, water, and living things, existing as complex ecosystems, which provide a range of services to humans. Depleting and degrading these reserves may irreversibly reduce the availability of benefits to future generations. This In-Depth Report presents an overview of ideas, debates and progress so far in natural capital accounting, in particular in accounting for ecosystems and their services.
New technology that makes energy capture from waste water and re-use of grey water possible can contribute to energy- and resource efficiency — but the widespread application of such technology requires a new, collaborative approach, shows a new study. Taking radical innovation in urban water systems beyond the pilot stage will require cooperation between a variety of stakeholders, suggest the findings of expert interviews and workshops.
Mercury is a heavy metal that is well known for being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and normal pressure. It is also a potent neurotoxin with severe global human health impacts. It can be converted from one form to another by natural processes, and, once released, actively cycles in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years before being buried in sediment. This In-Depth Report from Science for Environment Policy summarises the latest scientific studies and research results on mercury pollution in the global environment.
The removal of arsenic from water using a brown seaweed (Sargassum muticum), coated with iron hydroxide, has been tested in a recent study. Under optimal pH conditions, the method removed 100% of the arsenic, indicating the viability of this method for treating contaminated water.
A new study shows that run-off from de-icing road salts can affect freshwater aquatic ecosystems by increasing certain types of plankton. The study is the first to compare effects of the most popular road salt, sodium chloride, with the effects of alternative salts and additives used to increase de-icing efficiency. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend that magnesium chloride and salt additives are used cautiously near water bodies.
Researchers have analysed the ability of two organic nanomaterials to remove the heavy metal chromium from water. In the laboratory, the nanomaterials successfully took up around 95% of the chromium. Further work is needed to confirm the feasibility of using these nanomaterials to purify water in real-world conditions.
The pathways for removal of dissolved phosphorus within biofiltration systems have been examined in a new study. Over 95% of phosphorus was removed over the study period, with the majority of phosphorus stored within plants. The researchers say the findings demonstrate the value of using suitable plant species within biofiltration systems to treat polluted water.
Engineering at the nanoscale brings the promise of radical technological development — clean energy, highly effective medicines and space travel. But technology at this scale also brings safety challenges. Nano-sized particles are not inherently more toxic than larger particles, but the effects are complex and vary based on particle properties as well as chemical toxicity. This Report brings together the latest science on environmental safety considerations specific to manufactured nanoscale materials, and some possible implications for policy and research.
Municipal wastewater is a major source of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment. Results from a recent study suggest that collecting and treating urine separately from other forms of sewage could be a cost-effective way to reduce the harmful effects of pharmaceuticals on the environment, while also providing a source of nutrients for fertilising agricultural crops.
Water-supply planning that considers the preferences of multiple stakeholders under uncertain and variable future conditions are more robust than planning decisions based on historical conditions, a recent study has stated. Using the Thames river basin in the UK as an example, the researchers present a new computer-modelling approach to assess which combinations of water-management measures best secure future water supply under a wide range of possible future conditions.
Reusing waste water for non-drinking uses in decentralised plumbing networks may improve the efficiency of water supply in urban areas, a new study has found. Modelling this approach in San Francisco, researchers found that, depending on the local geography, a decentralised water supply could lead to energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from water treatment of around 30%. Improvements in emerging water-treatment technologies are likely to lead to further savings, which could help increase the efficiency of urban water supply.
Natural water-retention measures, which ‘keep the rain where it falls’, have great potential to be used as part of flood-risk management plans. But their benefits for downstream urban areas can bring costs to the upstream agricultural areas where they are installed, a recent analysis explains. The researchers behind this analysis suggest that we need new and/or improved policies and institutions to oversee the trade-offs and benefits for agriculture and flood management, and a better scientific understanding of the measures’ likely impact on urban flood risk.
Traditional, high-nature-value (HNV) grasslands are at risk of being abandoned by farmers in the future — in turn, risking the wildlife they support, warns a new UK study. Farmers interviewed by the researchers had weak motivations to protect grasslands, as they felt that financial incentives for conservation are low and that traditional management practices are inconvenient. More dialogue between farmers and conservationists could be part of the solution, the study suggests.
A new framework has been developed to assess how effective Flood Emergency Management Systems (FEMS) are in Europe. Examining FEMS in five European countries, this study highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing systems and makes recommendations for improving their effectiveness, particularly in relation to institutional learning, community preparedness and recovery.
The world could experience the highest ever global sea-level rise in the history of human civilisation if global temperature rises exceed 2 °C, predicts a new study. Under current carbon-emission rates, this temperature rise will occur around the middle of this century, with damaging effects on coastal businesses and ecosystems, while also triggering major human migration from low-lying areas. Global sea-level rise will not be uniform, and will differ for different points of the globe.
Traces of animals’ DNA in the environment, known as environmental DNA (eDNA), can be monitored to paint a picture of biodiversity, new research shows. This study used eDNA to assess biodiversity in an entire river catchment in Switzerland. Importantly, the eDNA technique allowed the researchers to detect both aquatic and land-based species in river water, making it possible to assess biodiversity over a broad scale.
Combinations of antibiotics used in veterinary medicine could harm the growth of algal communities when they pass into water bodies from treated livestock, according to recent European research. Algae play vital roles in ecosystems by cycling nutrients and producing energy from photosynthesis; veterinary use of antibiotics should, therefore, be monitored in the environment, including for any biological impacts on algal species, the study recommends.
Landfill leachate is the liquid that seeps through or out of waste deposits in landfill sites. EU regulations, such as the Landfill Directive1, have significantly reduced the volume of leachate produced, a study on leachate management in Ireland has found. Leachate, mainly from younger landfills in Ireland is, however, stronger since implementation of the legislation, and the researchers say the future treatment of leachate under stricter environmental protection regulations will continue to be a long-term concern for landfill operators and regulators.
A range of legislation, including the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), is designed to ensure the ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GES) of EU seas by 2020. Researchers have assessed the MSFD in relation to existing maritime policies, concluding that coordination between directives is important to achieve GES.
Long-chain perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are persistent chemicals with proven toxic effects. This study estimated the emissions and concentrations of two such chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in 11 of Europe's most populated river catchments. Estimated emissions were lowest in the Thames and highest in the Rhine, while the EU environmental quality standard for PFOS was exceeded in all rivers. This study provides a picture of PFAAs contamination in rivers across Europe, and makes recommendations for achieving reductions.
Up to 90% of consumed drugs enter the environment. This may have negative effects on wildlife, especially when the drugs take long periods to break down. This study assessed the breakdown of sulphonamides — a class of antibacterials — in samples from two rivers in Poland. The results showed that sulphamethoxazole, a common veterinary antibiotic, was the most persistent and that various factors inhibit degradation, including low temperatures, heavy metal pollution and low pH.
Many toxic pesticides have been banned by the EU, however some can remain in the environment for many decades. Aquatic invertebrates are particularly vulnerable to pesticides, which can alter their feeding behaviour, growth and mobility. New research has found that persistent pesticides can increase toxicity in streams by up to 10 000 times compared to the residues of currently used pesticides. The researchers recommend these be taken into account when calculating overall toxicity.
The impact of ocean acidification — caused by increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dissolving in sea water — on Atlantic cod larvae has been assessed in a new study. The researchers estimate that, under scenarios which might be reached at the end of the century, ocean acidification could double the mortality rate of cod larvae, reducing replenishment of juvenile fish into cod fisheries to 24% of previous recruitment.
Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide, able to kill a broad range of plants ('weeds') that compete with crops. This study used a validated method to assess its presence in 10 German estuaries that lead to the Baltic Sea. All but one was contaminated with glyphosate, and all were contaminated with its metabolite AMPA. The researchers recommend risk assessments for these chemicals in the Baltic Sea and other marine environments.
Researchers have assessed how changes in production efficiency and dietary patterns can combine to ensure food supply whilst minimising the global environmental impact of food production. The gain in the production efficiency of agriculture was found to be insufficient to meet future food demand whilst preventing additional environmental burdens, if dietary trends continue to grow based on GDP. Changing consumption patterns, including switching to less resource-demanding diets, would contribute towards ensuring future food security whilst preventing further increases in agriculture’s environmental burden. Reducing terrestrial animal production offers significant advantages, but alternative diets can also present environmental and production trade-offs.
Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) could be made better for biodiversity and local people with the help of two new evaluation methods presented by a recent study. The methods, which assess the value of SuDS sites for wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, recreation and education, are described by the study’s authors as cost-effective, quick and reliable, and could help designers plan and retrofit SuDS that are wildlife-friendly and socially inclusive.
Sources of biocidal active substances (BAS) in common household products have been assessed in a new study from Germany. These could potentially be released into wastewater and may be toxic to wildlife and humans. The main household sources of BAS were found to be washing, cleaning and personal-care products, which together accounted for over 90% of the observations of BAS in the products found in homes surveyed by the researchers.
A method for assessing urban neighbourhoods’ resilience to flooding has been presented in a recent study. The method identifies features of urban landscapes that contribute to three elements of flood resilience: resistance, absorption and recovery. In a German case study, the tool shows that the features which make a waterfront neighbourhood of Hamburg more flood resilient include high bridges, open public spaces and flood-protected basements.
A species of mussel has been used to investigate the connectivity of two marine protected areas (MPAs) along the central Portuguese west coast in a new study. The chemistry of mussel shells was used to trace the dispersal routes for larval mussels, demonstrating that the Arrábida MPA is an important source population in the area.
Researchers have shown that in the Baltic Sea the abundance of common fish species, used as an indicator of ecosystem health, is influenced by climate-related oceanic conditions at a local scale, such as sea temperature. The researchers suggest, therefore, that the environmental status of coastal fish communities in the region should be assessed and managed at a local scale.
As the climate becomes more volatile, managing the risk of flooding has never been more important. This study proposes a new framework for evaluating how flood risk is managed by governments, which is applied to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the system in England. The researchers say their approach can help to improve flood-risk governance and could be applied to other countries as well as other types of hazard.
The importance of seagrass meadows in supporting fisheries has been highlighted by a new study in San Simón Bay, a Natura 2000 site in Spain. The research also demonstrates the benefits of stakeholder involvement in developing management plans to balance conservation with the use of natural resources.
Micropollutants — small, persistent and biologically active substances — are found in aquatic environments all over the world and can have negative effects on plants, animals and humans. The EU recently adopted a ‘watch list’ of potential priority substances, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals and personal care products that need to be monitored to determine their environmental risk. A new study reviews data on their worldwide occurrence and options for their removal from wastewater, and from surface and groundwater used to produce drinking water.
Researchers have developed a new approach to hierarchise pesticides based on their risk to or via the aquatic environment, which has been implemented in the Pinios River Basin of Central Greece. The analysis indicated that a number of pesticides were found in concentrations that could cause negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems. The results provide detailed information to inform decisions regarding the monitoring of pesticides in the Pinios River Basin and outline an approach that could be used in other watersheds.
Coastal areas are under threat of pollution from a variety of marine activities. This study focused on pollution caused by a range of activities with no specific discharge point (diffuse pollution) in three areas — a European harbour, marina and industrial area — by measuring biological responses in mussels. The researchers say biomarkers are useful for assessing diffuse contamination and comparing pollution between sites.
Ocean-energy technologies — which harvest renewable energy from the sea — will have a significant role to play in a future low-carbon society. A recent life-cycle analysis of different ocean-energy devices has found that life-cycle environmental impacts are caused mainly by the materials used in the mooring, foundations and structures. Improving the efficiency and lifespan of the devices, as well as improving mooring and foundations and deploying devices further out at sea, will help to further reduce the life-cycle environmental impact of ocean-energy systems, according to the study.
Azole fungicides are active ingredients in a range of pharmaceutical and personal care products, and are also used in agriculture. This study reviewed the sources, presence and risks of these compounds in the environment, finding evidence of toxic effects on aquatic organisms. The researchers provide directions for future research and warn caution should be exercised until more toxicity data becomes available.
Personal care products (PCPs) are a diverse group of products, including toothpaste, shampoo, make-up and soaps. The number and use of these products has increased over recent decades, generating concern about their impact on the environment. This literature review analysed over 5 000 reports of environmental detection of 95 different chemicals from PCPs. The analysis reveals toxic levels of PCP chemicals in raw and treated wastewater, and in surface water. The researchers recommend treatment methods focusing on antimicrobials, UV filters and fragrance molecules.
Worldwide, programmes have been implemented to protect water quality from human pressures, often using ecological indicators as a method of evaluation. An eight-year study of a Portuguese estuary has found that indicators based on multiple measures of fish communities, such as the number and relative abundance of resident and migrant species, reflect human pressures on these transitional waters and could improve the implementation of water protection programmes.
Researchers have analysed the policy response to the 2013–2014 flooding of the Somerset Levels and Moors in the UK. Analysis of media coverage and interviews with stakeholders revealed how local pressure promoted dredging — a policy that had fallen out of favour with the national Environment Agency (EA). Although dredging was eventually readopted by the EA, there remain uncertainties over its long-term viability due to funding constraints and debates over its effectiveness.
After the 2002 floods in Germany — the country’s most economically damaging natural hazard — efforts were made to develop a more integrated system of flood management. A recent study has reviewed how those measures helped Germany to cope with the more recent floods of 2013, highlighting developments in early-warning systems and consideration of hazards in urban planning. The researchers also discuss areas for improvement, including citizen engagement and cross-border collaboration.
A new methodology for mapping the global distribution of drought risk has been proposed, which should provide guidance on which locations should be further assessed to improve drought preparedness and management policies.
Chemicals are everywhere and new substances are regularly being introduced to the market. However, only some pose a risk to the environment. How do we decide which of them to monitor? A new study using a database of chemicals found in fish in the Baltic Sea has assessed which chemicals are commonly monitored. The researchers suggest that monitoring is biased towards known, already regulated hazardous chemicals, and recommend changes to address other chemicals.
Throughout Europe and beyond, the delivery of flood risk management (FRM) is increasingly being seen as the shared responsibility of governmental actors and citizens. However, a new study, which explored the viewpoints of stakeholders in a flood-prone part of Belgium, found that citizens see FRM mainly as the government’s responsibility.
A recent study has analysed research on implementing the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in Europe and identified a number of research gaps that could be filled. For example, some countries, such as Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, have not been well studied and more research on the experiences of such countries would build up knowledge on the implementation of the WFD across Europe.
Droughts can have far-reaching environmental, social and economic impacts. A new study has assessed how drought is managed in six areas of Europe using a new evaluation framework. Their evaluation identified policy gaps and makes recommendations for risk management. A key recommendation is to evaluate responses and management after each drought to identify good practices and strengthen drought management in the future.
Weathering of treated wood and other construction materials can lead to the release of chemicals into the environment. Researchers have investigated the release of biocides from wood and roof paints, demonstrating that the amount of water in contact with exposed surfaces is a key factor in determining the level of active chemicals released. The study provides guidance for testing biocidal products in line with the European Biocidal Products Regulation.
Human activities have caused phosphorus to accumulate in soils and water bodies, creating a legacy that could last for decades, new research shows. A study of three major river basins highlights better sewage treatment facilities and reduced fertiliser use as key reasons for an overall decline in phosphorus levels in the Thames River basin, UK, since the late 1990s.
Algal (cyanobacterial) blooms are a major threat to marine and freshwater ecosystems, as well as to human health. This study investigated a way to reduce numbers of harmful cyanobacteria using freshwater crustaceans. Data from a large Swedish lake show that this approach can be effective but is best used alongside other methods, such as nutrient reduction.
As global temperatures continue to warm, sea-levels are expected to rise, increasing the risk of saltwater inundating wetlands in low-lying coastal areas. A study in Wales, UK, describes how rising sea levels will result in a shift from a wetland rich in plant diversity to one dominated by saltwater and mud in 200 years’ time.
Water policies at European and French national levels have led to a clear improvement in the water quality of the River Seine, a new study has found. A significant reduction in phosphate and ammonium pollution and increasing oxygen concentrations are evident. However, nitrate concentrations are still higher than the recommended level for good freshwater status, despite substantial reductions of surplus nitrogen in agricultural soils over the past few decades. The researchers recommend strengthening current agri-environmental management measures to help the river to return to a fully healthy status.
Agricultural run-off can contain pesticides, sediment particles and nitrates and is a major threat to the health of the sea. Although there are policy frameworks to reduce run-off water, they often don’t clearly explain how to maximise benefits. A new study provides an economic framework that prioritises methods based on their cost-effectiveness, which could help policymakers to reduce the pollution of marine ecosystems.
‘Adaptive co-management’ could help water managers cope with future shocks and unpredictability brought by climate change, according to a recent study. They identify five conditions for policies that would create an enabling environment for this management approach, which include the need to account for water’s ecological functions, and for stakeholders to learn from each other.
Assessing threats to biodiversity is necessary for effective spatial planning and balancing sustainable development with conservation. This study details a fine-scale assessment of the effect of a range of threats to coastline habitats within a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Mediterranean Sea. The study provides an example of how local-scale assessments can contribute to national conservation policy.
Constructed wetlands are used in many countries as green infrastructure to treat waste water, but may also be biodiversity hotspots, a new study suggests. This study reports on a constructed wetland in an urban area of Italy, which increased the number of plant taxa — including several plants of conservation concern — by over 200%. The researchers say the ability of constructed wetlands to enhance biodiversity could support local development.
Oestrogens are ‘female’ hormones that can enter the aquatic environment after excretion by humans and animals, causing ‘feminisation’ of male fish. This study carried out a risk assessment for oestrogen-like endocrine disruption in the UK in the 2050s, based on likely changes to the human population, river flows and temperature. The authors found that risk is likely to increase under future conditions and recommend further research to assess whether improving sewage treatment could reduce oestrogen pollution.
Fish and shellfish farming are facing a new era of expansion in Europe. What are the environmental implications of this, and how can the sector expand sustainably? Watch the video produced by Science for Environment Policy about how aquaculture could develop in greater harmony with environmental goals.
Wastewater sludge is widely used to remove toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from soil, and yet the mechanisms underlying this process remain unclear. A new study reveals the extent of PAH removal following different treatments, and could provide a useful resource for those looking to diminish the effects that these pollutants have both on people and on the environment.
Widespread use of antibiotics has led to pollution of waterways, potentially creating resistance among freshwater bacterial communities. A new study looked for antibiotic resistance genes in a river basin in Spain, revealing that wastewater discharges can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance in streams and small rivers.
Research has found evidence for recent contamination of Lake Como, northern Italy, with chemicals banned in the EU since the 1970s. Levels of DDT and PCBs in sediment, aquatic microorganisms and fish were examined. The results suggest glacial meltwater as a source for renewed DDT contamination and show recent contamination of fish above safe levels. The findings demonstrate the need for continued monitoring of persistent organic pollutants in European waters.
The European anchovy is one of the most important small pelagic fish in the Adriatic Sea, but the size of the stock can fluctuate year on year. This study aimed to investigate the link between anchovy catch and winter circulation patterns in the North Adriatic sea. The findings show that oceanographic conditions during winter determine anchovy abundance. Prediction of these conditions could help to guide sustainable fisheries management in the region.
The impact that national energy sectors have on international freshwater resources has been demonstrated in the first global study of its kind. The analysis of 129 countries showed differences between countries and sectors in their reliance on international freshwater resources. For example, although the petroleum industries of North America and China are similar in magnitude, the North American industry consumes three times as much international freshwater. Demands from economically developed countries on less economically developed countries, which may have pre-existing water-scarcity issues, compound these problems and complicate the creation of policies that ensure both water and energy security.
Soil erosion in Italy could be reduced by 43% if Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) were fully adopted, a recent study has found. Reducing soil erosion would also increase soil organic carbon stocks, particularly on cultivated sloping land.
Constructed wetlands can remove disease-causing bacteria from wastewater, but their performance is highly dependent on the systems they use, a new study shows. Researchers reviewed results from a wide range of studies on constructed wetlands and found that combining different approaches increased removal of bacteria. However, further research and improvement of wetland systems is required to produce water that is safe for reuse.
The frequency and severity of flooding is expected to increase in the future. This study explored how these changes will affect rivers, in terms of structure as well as animal and plant life. The authors discuss the management implications of their findings and highlight areas for future research, including developing early warning systems for threats to ecosystems.
Researchers have developed a new tool for assessing and predicting the damage caused by droughts to crop yields and hydroelectric energy production. The tool could provide useful information to policymakers, helping them develop drought management practices to improve food and energy security and adapt to climate change.
Researchers have recommended that fish from some sections of the River Po and the River Lambro, one of the Italian River Po tributaries, should not be eaten due to high levels of some endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the river sediments and fish. This recommendation is based on an extensive update regarding pollution levels of such substances in the rivers.
Dense urban environments have significant resource-saving potential and serve as good platforms for climate change mitigation. This study reviewed an initiative to improve use of energy and water in Rotterdam, highlighting factors important for success including exchanges in close geographic proximity and private-sector participation.
To assess the risk posed by metals in the aquatic environment, Biotic Ligand Models (BLMs) were developed, and are now considered suitable for use in regulatory risk assessments. This study reviews the advantages of BLMs and BLM-based software tools, providing examples from across the EU, and offers recommendations for their widespread implementation.
Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of worldwide food production and is facing a new era of expansion in Europe. What are the environmental implications of this, and can the sector expand sustainably? This Future Brief presents an overview of research into aquaculture’s impacts, and considers how it could develop in balance with environmental goals.
The emissions of two perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) into the Danube River Basin have been estimated in a test of four different hypotheses regarding the factors affecting those emissions. The results were used to simulate water concentrations for comparison with measured data. The researchers found that incorporating wastewater treatment information and wealth distribution alongside population data can improve the accuracy of emissions estimates.
Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) — responsible for the biological activity of drugs — have been widely found in the environment, yet the precise sources and relative importance of emissions via wastewater are not quite clear. This study assessed emissions from three health institutions in Germany — a hospital, a psychiatric hospital, and a nursing home — and found their contribution was low compared to that from households. However, more research is needed to understand the environmental effects of neurological drugs, emissions of which were in some cases relatively high.
A methodology for assessing ‘chemical footprints’ has been developed by researchers to evaluate human pressures and the impact of chemicals released by the production and consumption of goods. The study integrates a life-cycle approach with different methodologies, such as those developed in the context of environmental risk assessment and sustainability science, with the aim of assessing the extent to which chemicals impact on ecosystems beyond their ability to recover (i.e. surpass planetary boundaries).
Environmental risk assessment is challenging because of the complexity of the physical and ecological systems around us. Natural disasters, the spread of dangerous substances, ecosystem changes leading to food and health security issues, and the emergence of new materials, new events and new knowledge make it essential to update our understanding continually, to be able to identify threats and opportunities for timely action. This Thematic Issue presents some collaborative and integrated paths towards forward-thinking assessment and management of environmental risks.
Increasing population, overconsumption and technological development have depleted many of the world’s natural resources, with profound impacts on the environment. This study applies the concept of criticality, which determines whether a resource may become a limiting factor to future development, to water.
Environmental specimen banks (ESBs) first emerged in the 1960s and are now essential to environmental management across the globe. ESBs sample and archive environmental specimens and can be used to identify the distributions of chemicals within ecosystems and trace their exposure over time. This study uses the German ESB to illustrate their potential for chemicals monitoring in the EU.
Intersex fish, in which male reproductive tissues become ‘feminised’, are increasingly being identified. This effect has traditionally been attributed to birth-control medications. This study exposed fish to a widely prescribed anti-diabetic, metformin. Male fish developed female sexual characteristics and reproductive rate decreased, which suggests that metformin may be a non-traditional endocrine-disrupting compound.
The BIOAMBIENT.ES project is the first human biomonitoring programme to estimate levels of environmental pollutants at national level in Spain. This study reports its findings on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), chemicals that are ubiquitous in the environment. The results will help to establish reference values, identify highly exposed populations and evaluate effectiveness of policies.
Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of flooding. This study reviewed damage mitigating measures at local, regional and national scales, and suggests that approaches including both spatial planning and private precautionary measures (such as building adaptations) are important for integrated risk management.
Straw from previous harvests can be used to help increase crop yields and improve the efficiency of water use in arid regions, finds a new study from China. By testing different techniques to improve water efficiency, the researchers found that the most effective method involved using straw to cover the soil when growing maize and wheat together in the same growing season.
Water scarcity is an important cause of low crop yields worldwide. Yields could be significantly improved by focusing attention on unproductive water losses and improving retention of plant-available water in soils, and particularly the largely unexplored interactions between soils and roots. A new review of scientific literature sets out key soil management measures for crops under drought conditions.
Comprehensive data analysed in a new study show how extensive rainfall can erode soils across the EU and Switzerland, revealing that Mediterranean regions have the highest risk for erosive events and floods. The resulting dataset can also be used for disaster planning and relief.
Nutrient leaching, the movement of plant nutrients from soil to water, can have negative effects on aquatic ecosystems due to eutrophication, which reduces the oxygen available in water, causing species and habitat loss. Ecological Recycling Agriculture (ERA), which is based on ecological principles and integrates crop production and animal husbandry, may limit this effect. This study investigated the impact of ERA on agricultural fields in Finland, showing that the practice can reduce nitrogen leaching and may help to achieve agricultural nitrogen-reduction targets.
Worsening soil erosion in north-western Europe may be the result of a switch from traditional dairy farming to cash crops. However, even if all dairy farming ceased, reductions in runoff of up to 76% could be achieved if best agricultural practices are employed, at a cost of approximately €45 per hectare for the first three years, new research from the Austreberthe watershed in France suggests.
Small field wetlands are a simple and effective way to reduce soil erosion and nutrient pollution, recent research suggests. The authors adapted Norwegian designs for the UK environment and created a series of small rectangular lakes on the edges of agricultural fields. After three years, the wetlands had prevented tonnes of soil from leaving the land, and helped alleviate some of the nutrient run-off that would have affected neighbouring waterways.
In the face of substantial evidence that modern land use management practices have increased runoff at the local scale, a new study reveals changes in local land use management practices can reduce the risk of local flooding. However, there is little evidence so far that these local increases in runoff culminate in large-scale flooding effects. To address this lack of evidence, the researchers present a model that maps the downstream rate of flow back to its source areas.
Land use changes over the last century in the Mediterranean area may be sparking shifts in weather patterns locally, across Europe, and around the globe, suggests a new study. The findings bring to light new complexities that can be integrated into climate models and predictions.
Thematic Issue 52
Land use changes over time have altered relations between soils and water cycles throughout the world. Soils have been lost and degraded, and the closely interlinked processes of soils and water have become an urgent issue for European policymakers. This Thematic Issue aims to provide a review of new research into the links between soil and water issues in Europe, including a message that the soil-water links must be considered at their proper spatial scales.
Marine diesel contains sulphur compounds, which generate sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution and acid rain. Ships can use mitigating technologies to reduce their SOx emissions, but these can also have a negative environmental impact. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced stringent legislation to control these, aspects of which are incorporated into EU policy. This study examined the implications of the IMO’s policy and recommends a number of design solutions to help ships comply.
Urban waterways can provide foraging opportunities for a range of bat species. However researchers have found that bats in the UK are negatively affected by high levels of invasive plant species and urban development near waterways. The researchers highlight the value these often disregarded urban spaces can have for ecosystems, and suggest ways to improve the biodiversity of waterways.
A pilot cloud-based learning platform that brings together multiple datasets, models and visualisation tools has been developed with the engagement of numerous stakeholders throughout the design process. This tool could lead to informed decisions about flood risk at the local level. These types of tools and frameworks are effective ways of facilitating better decision making.
A framework on the effects of environmental change on human migration has been developed by researchers. It makes clear that environmental change can influence migration directly but also indirectly through impacts on economic, social and political factors. The framework can be used to guide further research, evaluate policy options, or develop predictions for migration under global change, say the researchers.
Links between environmental changes and migration are extremely complex. This Thematic Issue presents key pieces of research examining the causes of environmental migration and identifying policy options for Europe in dealing with forced and voluntary relocations. The sources also examine the current state of human rights for environmental migrants and how much evidence currently exists for action at local and regional levels.
The economic viability of wastewater reuse projects could be better determined using methodology from a new study. The authors developed a five-step cost-benefit analysis framework to assess a planned wastewater reuse project within the catchment of the Yarqon River, in Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area, Israel. It was found that the scheme could have a net present value of $4.83 (€4.34) million per year. The authors highlight the relevance of identifying external as well as internal economic, social and environmental costs of such projects.
Halogenated nitrogenous disinfection by-products (N-DBPs) in water increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics, new research shows. The study found that a strain of bacteria which can cause disease in humans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, increased its resistance to a range of different antibiotics by an average of 5.5 times after the bacteria were exposed to chemicals which form as by-products of common water treatment procedures. The results highlight the risks to public health which these currently unregulated by-products may cause.
Reducing plastic carrier bag consumption in different EU Member States requires different approaches and combinations of measures, according to a new study. The authors studied consumption and littering levels across Europe in relation to national plastic bag consumption reduction policy options, and found that there is not one specific solution for both of these factors, nor a single solution that can be used in all Member States. They suggest a holistic approach and additional research into consumer or stakeholder behaviour is needed.
Cyanobacteria — often referred to as blue-green algae — are found in water bodies around the world and can produce toxins with potential health risks. This US-wide study found a significant positive association between cyanobacterial bloom coverage and death by non-alcoholic liver disease. The researchers say their study suggests some evidence of a potential health risk and should be used to generate further investigation into the health impact of cyanobacteria.
The economic benefits of the ecosystem services provided by constructed wetlands far outweigh the costs of maintaining them, new research has confirmed. Analysis of a wetland that treats the third largest lake in Florida, US, shows that it provides ecosystem services worth $1.79 (€1.64) million per year, against costs of less than half that figure.
Despite tap water being freely available and safe in many countries, bottled water is widely consumed around the world. This has negative effects on the environment, including water wastage and pollution. This study assessed beliefs about purchasing bottled water and tested three strategies to change behaviour, showing that combining persuasive information and social pressure can create the most positive intentions to reduce consumption.
Oil spills at sea can be catastrophic events, with oil and discharged toxins, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, threatening marine wildlife and coastlines, damaging healthy ecosystems and harming livelihoods. A recent study found that using dispersants moderately decreased the number of cod eggs and larvae affected by spills off the Norwegian coast.
Reliable data regarding marine debris pollution in the Black Sea are lacking. This study provides the first account of the abundance and types of litter floating in the north-western part of the Sea. This information will help to develop effective solutions for marine litter in the region and therefore to achieve the EU objective of ‘Good Environmental Status’ by 2020.
Aeration is an effective means of eliminating antidepressants from landfill leachate, a new study finds. The concentrations of five different drugs were reduced by this treatment process, which could be an effective means of tackling the growing problem of pharmaceutical infiltration into aquatic environments.
The fragmentation of brown trout (Salmo trutta) habitat indirectly affects the threatened freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), a new study has shown. Dams and weirs, which affect the migration of the fish, also have a knock-on effect on the mussels, because they rely on brown trout during the larval stage of their lives.
The English Channel (La Manche) is one of the world’s busiest sea areas, and management of it is a challenging task. This study reviews governance across the Channel, finding poor integration between countries, sectors, policies and research. The study also considers management in terms of the ecosystem approach and suggests that linking research between the UK and France could be key to improving marine governance.
Loss of satellites providing rainfall data could have a negative effect on global flood management, according to new research. However, this could be mitigated by improved international co-operation and the use of more modern satellite technology, the authors say. The study examined the consequences for flood management of the loss of four of the existing 10 dedicated rainfall measuring satellites.
Controls on pharmaceutical production in the EU should be changed to guard against the spread of antibiotic resistance, protect wildlife and improve transparency in the industry, a team of scientists from Sweden and the UK recommends. The scientists propose 10 changes to the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of pharmaceuticals.
The contamination of hazardous substances in estuaries can have negative effects on biodiversity. Using experimentally supported indicators, this study analysed the environmental risks posed by 22 different contaminants in UK estuaries and coastal waters, finding that substances banned over 20 years ago continue to persist in the marine environment.
Plastic pollution in the ocean is a growing problem. This study, which is the first to investigate the presence of plastic debris in large pelagic fish in the central Mediterranean Sea, found that over 18% of fish had ingested plastics.
Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and severity of flooding in coming years. For more effective flood alleviation, this study recommends schemes that consider the social impact of floods as well as the economic damages.
Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) are a viable means to reduce global energy demand, a new study suggests. However, in response to the drop in energy costs for the household due to better energy efficiency, people may begin to consume more energy than they otherwise would. These so-called ‘rebound effects’ can undermine emissions reductions, the study says, and it proposes approaches that could lessen these impacts.
The risk of eutrophication as a result of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Europe’s freshwaters fell by 22% in lakes and by 38% in rivers between 1985 and 2011, new research has shown. The researchers analysed data across 88 European river basins using a new statistical approach which could be used to help identify factors which increase eutrophication risks.
The EU Water Framework Directive1 requires policymakers to consider the management of water e.g. in rivers, lakes and streams, at the scale of the river basin, but can wastewater treatment systems be managed at the same scale? To help policymakers answer this question, a team of Spanish researchers have created a method for assessing the integrated operation of wastewater treatment plants in a river basin. Uniquely, the method considers both local and global environmental factors and an economic assessment.
Supplementing declining salmon populations with fish from other, genetically distinct populations may not be the best method of conservation, according to a recent study. The researchers found that for certain salmon populations in France such introductions resulted in offspring with lower body weight and length, possibly worsening their decline.
Microbes found in groundwater may be resilient to periods of drought. A new study measured the enzyme activity of microbes, which shows whether they are alive and active, in a groundwater well. No significant difference in enzyme activity was found between those microbes that had experienced drought for four months and those that had not.
Ireland's national agri-environment scheme can reduce nitrate leaching from beef farming, shows a recent study. Nitrate leached at an average rate of 17.3 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) on studied plots which complied with the scheme. This compares with 63.1 kg/ha on intensively farmed plots. The programme can therefore help Ireland meet requirements of the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Nitrates Directive, the researchers suggest.
Biodiversity is declining in freshwater ecosystems across the globe, a new study has shown. The researchers created a mathematical model, called GLOBIO- aquatic, which builds a picture of the threats to the biodiversity of rivers, lakes and wetlands that are posed by a variety of human activities. The most crucial of these are land-use changes, nutrient and chemical pollution, and disturbances to the water cycle — which could be from infrastructure such as dams, or from climate change. The authors hope that the model will help policymakers identify regions which are most at risk from these pressures.
Brown trout (Salmo trutta) embryos exposed to oestrogen during development hatched earlier, grew more slowly and had a lower heart rate than unexposed individuals, according to a recent Swiss study. These findings may indicate that oestrogen pollution in some European rivers is contributing to the decline of wild populations of such species.
Concentrations of three pharmaceuticals (ethinylestradiol, oestradiol and diclofenac), have been mapped in a recent study of European rivers. The researchers predict that levels of ethinylestradiol, a contraceptive and hormone replacement drug, could exceed the WFD's suggested environmental quality standards in 12% of the total length of Europe’s rivers
How do we safeguard both water quality and quantity? This brief looks at the best ways to recycle and re-use water, the latest water treatment technologies, and innovation within water governance itself.
Water shortages in water stressed regions can be alleviated by building large infrastructures, such as water transfer systems or saltwater desalination plants, which increase the supply of water. However, a new study, which compares the environmental impact of water supply alternatives in a region of Spain, concludes that reducing water use, rather than increasing supplies, is a more sustainable solution.
Phosphorus in sewage and manure could be more available to crops than previously thought, suggests new research. The study found that some forms of sewage and manure treatment provided plants with more phosphorus than conventional inorganic fertilisers.
More adaptive approaches to planning could help policymakers deal with deep uncertainties about the future of our planet. Researchers have developed a method for adaptive planning which they suggest could protect against failure when future predictions turn out to be inaccurate. They illustrate their approach using the case of water management in the Rhine Delta region of the Netherlands.
The health of almost half of all European freshwaters is at risk from organic chemical pollution, finds new research. The study, a continental-scale risk assessment of the potential effects of toxic organic chemicals on freshwater ecosystems, based its conclusions on data for over 200 pollutants measured at 4000 monitoring sites across Europe.
Untreated wastewater from the baker’s yeast industry can be used to irrigate crops without negatively affecting the chemical quality of the groundwater beneath, recently published research concludes. Although the wastewater increased concentrations of some groundwater contaminants in an area with a high water table, these levels would not pose a risk to human health even if this water was used for drinking.
Britain’s freshwater ecosystems are on the brink of an invasional meltdown, a new study concludes. Examining 23 freshwater species from south-east Europe, researchers investigated whether individual species in the group would ‘pave the way’ for others, resulting in a rapid increase in establishment of invasive species. The results showed that 76% of the interactions between the species were positive or neutral, highlighting the possibility of severe consequences for Britain’s freshwater ecosystems.
Anti-depressant drugs can affect the behaviour of wild animals in ways which may reduce their survival, new research has shown. The researchers fed half a group of starlings fluoxetine (commonly produced as ‘Prozac’) at concentrations they would be likely to encounter in the wild, if they fed on invertebrates contained in the waste water at treatment plants. Those fed the anti-depressant showed reduced feeding rates compared to the rest of the group, possibly putting their survival at risk.
Farmers in one of Europe’s most water-stressed regions would be willing to pay double the current amount for irrigation water in order to ensure a reliable supply, new research from Spain suggests. The study also shows that they appear unsupportive of new policies proposed by the researchers, such as water markets and tighter controls on groundwater pumping, which could help enable a guaranteed supply of water.
Unusually warm or cool Pacific sea surface temperatures, known as El Niño and La Niña, can be used to reliably predict anomalies in flood risk for river basins that cover 44% of the Earth’s land surface, a new study has shown. The researchers also quantified overall flood damage by combining information on flood risk with estimates of damage to economies and numbers of people at risk. This could help improve flood disaster planning, they say.
Nutrient pollution in The Netherlands is falling as a result of national and EU policies, new research has shown. However, many waters still routinely fail to meet environmental quality standards. The study, which focused on the headwaters of 167 rivers where agricultural fertilisers are the main cause of pollution, showed that up to 76% of these did not meet water quality standards.
A low cost, low energy method to disinfect water using electricity has been developed by researchers by combining carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and silver nano-wires with existing materials. The technology has the potential to be used in portable disinfection devices in developing countries.
Back in 1999, a group of scientists predicted how changing air pollution levels would affect the acidity of lakes and rivers in Europe in 2010 using a computer model. A follow up study has now gathered actual measurements of these waters to see if the predictions came true. The observations show that most of the rivers and lakes did recover from acidification, as forecast by the model, and demonstrate the model’s value in predicting future water chemistry, the authors say.
Wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, has been chemically analysed in the most comprehensive study of its kind to date. The researchers found that produced water from three US fracking sites contained a diverse array of chemicals including toxic metals such as mercury and the carcinogens toluene and ethylbenzene. However, a group of harmful chemicals, ‘polyaromatic hydrocarbons’ commonly found in mining and coal extraction wastewater, were absent.
A drug used to treat parasite infections at fish farms can contaminate the surrounding environment and threaten local wildlife, a new study shows. Following a week-long treatment at a Norwegian salmon farm, the authors found concentrations of an anti-sea-lice drug that were high enough to kill some crabs, shrimps and lobsters. However, they suggest the drug is not likely to pose a risk to humans.
A step-by-step approach to planning cost-effective river restoration is outlined in a new study. The study describes a method that compares different combinations of restoration measures and could be useful in helping decision-makers meet ecological objectives on limited budgets.
Contamination of drinking water in areas close to several fracking sites in the Marcellus and Barnett Shales, USA, is caused by structural problems leading to wells leaking natural gas into aquifers, a new study suggests. The researchers measured trace amounts of chemicals, called noble gases, which formed signatures of the sources of gas contamination in over 130 samples. These findings suggest that, rather than coming from natural sources, such contamination in the area of the investigation is an engineering problem to do with the wells themselves, the researchers say. They stress the importance of ensuring the structural integrity of the wells, which can be done in an affordable manner.
Wastewater emptied from commercial fishing boats is an overlooked source of marine pollution, a new US study shows. The researchers suggest that this type of pollution should be given further consideration when assessing the overall environmental impact of fishing, as it may pose a risk to human health and marine life.
Flood management could be improved by including socio-demographic information in the assessment of flood risk, suggests new research. The research combined traditional flood risk assessment with information on the ‘social vulnerability’ of people living in flood risk areas. The results show that there are almost twice as many people of high social vulnerability (e.g. low-income or elderly) in flood risk areas of Rotterdam as low social vulnerability people.
Models that predict how nitrogen from the air is deposited in the sea could be useful in predicting algal blooms. Based on the knowledge that excess nitrogen increases algal growth rates, researchers simulated nitrogen deposition in the North Sea and suggested that, using predicted weather data, it might be possible to adapt this approach to predict algal blooms.
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.
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
By 2070, there may be insufficient water for irrigation to ensure yields and profitability for some crops currently grown in northern Germany - if the IPCC´s worst case climate change scenario becomes a reality - new research warns. To reduce future demand for water under a changing climate, the study suggests that farmers grow different crops and change their management practices.
Citizens in countries surrounding the Baltic Sea would be willing to contribute financially towards long-term management of eutrophication, according to a recent study. Furthermore, most would like to see the Baltic Sea managed as a single whole, rather than only improving their local coastal area.
Hypoxia – low levels of dissolved oxygen – can cause genetically female fish to develop into males, new research has found. Hypoxia in aquatic environments is often the result of eutrophication, which is caused by pollution from human activities. The findings suggest that hypoxia could cause fish populations to collapse, with consequences for entire ecosystems.
Human activities are threatening river ecosystems in the Mediterranean. Recent research in south-east Spain has highlighted the need to assess biodiversity and the ecological condition of river ecosystems at both basin-wide and local scales. The researchers say this will provide a better assessment of river ecosystems, aiding management decisions.
The Baltic Sea is likely to be warmer, lower in oxygen and more acidic in the future, warn Swedish scientists in a recent study. Current strategies for managing the Sea will need to change if they are to meet marine protection objectives.
Policies to manage marine ecological quality can be improved by combining economic and ecological concerns, finds a new study. Using this integrated perspective, researchers developed a model which identified the most cost-effective options for reducing nutrient pollution in the Baltic Sea within a 40-year time-span. The total cost of meeting the commonly agreed targets is estimated to be €1,487 million annually.
From rising seas to fiercer and more frequent storms, climate change effects are putting increasing pressure on coastal populations and ecosystems throughout Europe. Human activities, such as farming and land-use changes, are already in conflict with ecosystems. However, linking ecosystem services with social preferences in coastal land-use management can lead to more sustainable resource planning, finds a new study. The researchers developed guidelines for a participatory climate change adaptation process, which integrates the social effects of adaptation measures with the ecosystem services that they affect.
Small, artificial wetlands can reduce river pollution by trapping soil and nutrients swept off agricultural land by rainfall, a recent study finds. The researchers recommend that they are used as a back-up option to soil management measures also designed to reduce runoff into rivers.
Funding for scientists, planners and inspectors should be available before any shale gas development begins, a new review recommends. As revenue for such staff is often provided by the development itself, planning, which is vital to provide immediate environmental protection as well as monitoring long-term impacts, is neglected. The researchers also advocate the use of 'adaptive management' as a decision-making framework for this complex issue.
The impacts of climate change in the Black Sea region are likely to affect agriculture in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, new research suggests. The number of days of plant growth was reduced in these countries as a result of reduced precipitation, increased temperatures and low capacity for irrigation to supplement water needs. A strong legal framework is necessary to deal with conflicting future demands for water, say the researchers.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination in catfish in Italian rivers has been found to exceed EC limits, a new study has found. Benz[a]pyrene, which can potentially cause cancer, was found in all samples and in 9% exceeded limits set in EU food safety legislation. Heavy road traffic and inadequately treated wastewater are the most likely cause of these high levels of PAH pollution, say the researchers.
Public participation is an essential part of integrated water management. In a recent study, researchers following the development of a UK catchment management plan found greater cooperation between land managers and environmental regulatory bodies as a result of a participatory process.
Pieces of plastic litter outnumber fish larvae in the Austrian Danube River, new research has found. This is worrying, as some fish are likely to mistake the plastic for the prey they would normally feed on. This litter may also contribute to marine pollution; the researchers estimated that at least 4.2 tonnes of plastic debris enter the Black Sea via the Danube every day.
Synthetic oestrogens in wastewater from contraceptive pills can have effects on fish reproduction and survival that worsen over several generations, new research has found. The study suggests that some fish populations may not be able to recover from levels of oestrogen pollution found in many freshwater environments.
The world's first full-scale artificial wetland designed to treat both sewage effluent and mine wastewater has been found to continuously remove high levels of pollutants, a recent study concludes. Treating both types of wastewater at the same time proved to be highly beneficial because they contain pollutants which are more easily removed when mixed together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Climate change will substantially increase the severity and length of droughts in Europe by the end of the century, according to new research. The study showed that some European countries could experience a reduction in river flow of up to 80% by the 2080s.
Pollution from agricultural pesticides can present a serious threat to aquatic ecosystems. Researchers have now developed a guide to identify the most appropriate measures to reduce pesticides entering waterways. It focuses on reducing pesticide entry via spray drift or runoff.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.