Maps show species threat ‘hotspots’ to make connection between consumers, impacts
The things we consume, from iPhones to cars to IKEA furniture, have costs that go well beyond their purchase price. What if the soybeans used to make that tofu you ate last night were grown in fields that were hewn out of tropical rainforests? Or if that tee-shirt you bought came from an industrial area that had been carved out of high-value habitat in Malaysia?
Unless you buy sustainably sourced food or goods, however, it can be hard to know just how consumer purchases affect species — until now. Daniel Moran from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and his colleague Keiichiro Kanemoto from Shinshu University in Japan have developed a technique that allows them to identify threats to wildlife caused by the global supply chains that fuel our consumption. They’ve used this technique to create a series of world maps that show the species threat hotspots across the globe for individual countries.
Their article describing this effort has been published online in Nature Ecology & Evolution this week.
6803 species considered
The researchers calculated the percentage of threat to a species in one country due to consumption of goods in another, with a focus on 6,803 species of vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered marine and terrestrial animals as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and BirdLife International.
One way to see how the hotspot maps work is to look at the effects of US consumption across the globe.
For terrestrial species, the researchers found that US consumption caused species threat hotspots in Southeast Asia and Madagascar, but also in southern Europe, the Sahel, the east and west coasts of southern Mexico, throughout Central America and Central Asia and into southern Canada. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was that US consumption also caused species threat hotspots in southern Spain and Portugal.
Connecting environmental problems to economic activity
Moran says making the connection between consumption and environmental impacts offers an important opportunity for governments, companies, and individuals to take an informed look at these impacts — so they can find ways to counteract them.
“Connecting observations of environmental problems to economic activity, that is the innovation here,” he said. “Once you connect the environmental impact to a supply chain, then many people along the supply chain, not only producers, can participate in cleaning up that supply chain.”
As an example, he said, government regulators can only control the producers whose products cause biodiversity losses and deforestation in Indonesia.
But if the EU wanted to look at its role in causing those problems in Indonesia, they could look at the maps produced by the researchers and see what kind of impacts EU consumers are having on that country, and where those impacts are located — the hotspots”.
The EU “could decide to adjust their research programmes or environmental priorities to focus on certain hotspots in Southeast Asia,” Moran said. “Companies could also use these maps to find out where their environmental impact hotspots are, and make changes.”
NTNU is the second largest of the eight universities in Norway, and, as its name suggests, has the main national responsibility for higher education in engineering and technology. In addition to engineering and the natural and physical sciences, the university offers advanced degrees in other academic disciplines ranging from the social sciences, the arts, medicine, architecture and fine art.
NTNU’s overall budget in 2011/2012 was 673 million euros, most of which came from the Norwegian Ministry of Education. Funding from the Research Council of Norway (NFR) totaled 82 million euros, a decrease from 2010/2011 of 4.4 percent.
The university is home to three of 21 Norwegian Centers of Excellence. These are the Centre for Ships and Ocean Structures, the Centre for the Biology of Memory and the Centre for Quantifiable Quality of Service in Communication Systems. The Centre for the Biology of Memory is also one of four Kavli Neuroscience Institutes.[In 2012 Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg opened the Norwegian Brain Centre as an outgrowth of NTNU’s Kavli Institute one of the largest research laboratories of its kind in the world.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Robots – our new underwater astronauts – September 29, 2015
- Norway can be Europe’s green battery – July 12, 2015
- Fighting climate change – with cement – June 14, 2015
- The robot that learns everything from scratch – June 11, 2015
- Hybrid vessels will soon be on the market – June 2, 2015
- Legal ban on LSD and magic mushrooms ‘against human rights’, say scientists – March 14, 2015
- Cheaper silicon means cheaper solar cells – October 23, 2014
- Turning humble seaweed to biofuel – October 18, 2014
- Low-carbon electricity future is clean and feasible – October 10, 2014
- Revisiting LSD as a Treatment for Alcoholism – August 24, 2014
- Breakthrough method for making Janus or patchy capsules – May 26, 2014
- Better solar cells, better LED light and vast optical possibilities | nanowires – April 14, 2014
- Passive houses save lots of energy – April 13, 2014
- Breakthrough in biofuels from wood
- Fighting fat with Botox
- Super sunscreen from fjord bacteria
- Designer droplets open new possibilities
- Fit in twelve minutes a week
- Photovoltaics beat biofuels at converting sun’s energy to miles driven
- New material may replace silicon
- 50-Year-Old Can Be Every Bit as Fit as Someone 30 Years Younger, but Exercise Is Key
- Thwarting Cyber Criminals
By controlling a mix of clay, water and salt, Norwegian and Brazilian researchers have created nanostructures that might help boost oil production, expand the lifespan of certain foods or that could be used in cosmetics or drugs.
You’ve seen sauce or mayonnaise that separates, or a slippery layer of oil that forms on top of skin cream. Oil and water generally stay separate. It is actually hard work to keep water droplets or oil droplets stable in a substance called an emulsion.
Processed food, medicine and enhanced oil recovery from oil reservoirs all face this challenge. And while a substance called an emulsifier can also be used to keep an emulsion stable, many industries also have the opposite challenge—keeping oil separated from water.
Jon Otto Fossum, an NTNU physicist, has previously worked with controlling the behavior of clay and oil drops using electricity, a find that was published in Nature Communications in 2013. Now he’s branching out into salty water, oil and clay.
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In this latest effort, Fossum led an international group that created two different types of clay-based nanostructures on an oil droplet in water simply by fine-tuning the salinity of the water around the drop. The find was published in an open-access online journal published by Nature called Scientific Reports.
The find builds on two well-known properties of clay in water.
Clay particles repel one another in water that does not contain salt. In this case, the clays form the same kinds of nanostructures that are found in glass materials.
In contrast, clay particles in saline water tend to aggregate and form a kind of gel consisting of a nano-network of clay particles.
“It is possible to design small particles of clay with a micrometer thin gel on an oil droplet in water by fine tuning the salinity of the water around the oil drop,” said Fossum.
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Mechanical strength important
Fossum said the find shows that there are micrometer-thick gel structures formed at specific salt concentrations in water with sufficient mechanical strength to prevent oil droplets in emulsions from merging with one another. Until the team’s research, no one had observed glass or gel nanostructures in nanofluids at fluid-fluid interfaces.
The ability to create micrometer-thick gel structures by controlling salt concentrations could be used to improve the amount of oil recovered from oil reservoirs, Fossum said, or might be able to improve the lifetime of specific food products. The structures might also find a use in medicines or cosmetics, he said.
The international team behind the research is drawn from NTNU, Norway’s largest university, and from Pontifica Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), and Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP), two of Latin America’s top universities.