The Latest Buzz About Bees


If you are an eco-aware individual, you know that mankind has wreaked all kinds of havoc on this Earth. From climate change to endangered species, the impact of humanity has been, for the most part, not a good thing at all. We all have to admit that we have failed as a species in our management duties.

One might think that a hard-core environmentalist might be an advocate for getting back to basics and living an old-fashioned homesteading lifestyle. Or, perhaps modeling a lifestyle after indigenous people who live in harmony with the nature that surrounds them. Technology and green living don’t seem at all synonymous. But what if we turn the tables on the path humanity has been traveling. What if mankind becomes committed to using technology to save the planet. Can such a strategy work?

Let’s take a look at the example of declining bee populations. The world of drones is offering as a solution replacing bees rather than saving them. They propose to create micro-drones that will become the AI pollinators of the future. Considering that the US lost 44% of its honeybee colonies in 2016, the agriculture industry is ready to embrace this idea. Many wild bee species are teetering on the edge of extinction. But is replacing them with robots a better solution than fostering a comeback of the real deal?

Many farmers think that we have no time to ponder the consequences. They are watching what they believe to be a doomsday scenario unfolding as we speak, er, read. Scientist and researcher, Eijiro Miyako, of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan is poised to become the savior of agriculture. This may be the messiah grateful families offer thanks to as they gather round future dinners tables filled with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, maybe.

At the heart of his invention is a unique gel used in the electro-chemical industry. This ion based gel has long-lasting adhesion that is water-resistant, making it the perfect carrier for pollination duty. After various tests to determine that the gel is safe for use, being exposed to plants, insects and animals, it was time to build a vehicle model.

Miyako’s final design is a tiny, bee-sized drone with four-propellers. Miyako customized it with some horse hair because, after all, bees are fuzzy, too, right? The hair delivers an electrical charge that helps the grains of pollen remain attached.

Next came the big experiment… pollinating some plants. After buzzing a few plants, researchers used a special fluorescent microscope. When the scientists observed the tell-tale glow of pollen in test tubes, they knew they had achieved fertilization success with their pollinating robot.

Now, humans have been self-pollinating plants for some time. But it is incredibly labor intensive and time-consuming. If we become a world without bees, it would be impossible to hand-pollinate enough crops to feed all of humanity. The difference between human pollinators and real bee pollinators is a single person pollinating about 7 trees a day or a 2 million bee colony pollinating 1 million acres of trees. Big difference, huh?

But a pollinating drone is not a one-size-fits all solution. In the real world, there are different bee species for a reason. Each has their own specialty. Bumble bees are great tomato pollinators and leafcutter bees are preferred to pollinate alfalfa crops. On a side note, humans can learn a lesson here about the value of diversity! But, I digress.

And pollinating crops is not the only use being considered by the micro-drones. Instead of embarking on the complexities of replacing bees, which could end up creating a whole other set of environmental problems, an entomologist from the University of Minnesota, Marla Spivak, offers up a novel suggestion. She thinks attempting to create armies of drones of different designs to ultimately replace extinct bee species is too complicated and will take too much time, a solution that may arrive too late in the end, so of no use to save a starving world. Instead, she suggests using drones to perform a necessary job that is currently fraught with risk for bees, delivering pesticides and fertilizers to crops.

Instead of applying these chemicals in a broad spray that affects any insect present, not just bees, use drones for precision application. This can also protect surrounding human and animal populations by reducing vapor drift and runoff that contaminates groundwater resources.

The gringa prefers Spivak’s approach. I don’t think we should just give up on bees. They are here for a reason. And everytime mankind gets too big for his britches, thinking he doesn’t need something as lowly as a bee, it always leads to trouble. We simply must get over ourselves. We are all in this together, even the bees! We all need each other even if we don’t understand the role and contribution each cog in the wheel makes.

Regardless of which duty Miyako’s drones fulfill in the future, farmers will still be using them. And that means a critical job of the future lies in the drone industry. Whether someone is in on the manufacturing aspect or is a micro-drone pilot, young students of today who invest their time and efforts in drone technology will be setting themselves up for a future career that is not only lucrative, but might just help to save the world. And that’s the greatest kind of job to have.

Source: NPR

Image Credit: Dr. Eijiro Miyako

Video Credit: Science Magazine

papayaTreeNursery

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Save A Tuna, Save The Oceans


(Originally posted 1/18/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Did you know that you don’t have to be a scientist or marine biologist to help our world’s oceans be healthier? Did you know that you can contribute to saving our planet by adjusting your menu and texting? Sounds crazy but the gringa is for real. Virtually everyone can play a role in making our ocean’s healthier.

First of all, change your protein menu. Take a look in your pantry. How many cans of tuna are in there? A 2016 industry report reported that 75% of tuna is destined for canneries. That little can of scrumptiousness that you love to use for delectable salad and sandwich fixin’s is seriously overfished. According to top conservation data, the remaining stock of tuna in our oceans is at serious risk. Does that really matter? I mean, there’s lots of other kinds of fish in the sea. So what if tuna disappears and becomes extinct. How much harm could that really do in the grand scheme of things?

Actually, too little tuna is a very bad thing, indeed, for the health of the oceans. They are not just commercially valuable, their value is even greater when left in their natural habitat to do what they are supposed to do. Tuna likes to migrate. They are the largest ranging fish in the sea. As they travel throughout the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, onward to the Eastern Pacific and through the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, they have important work today along their routes.

Their number one job is to eat other fish. They are at the top of the food chain. As for Bluefin Tuna, their size and speed means they have very few enemies. Except for humans, of course. Without tuna swimming about and doing their job of eating enormous amounts of herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, etc., these fish populations would explode. If they became out of control, devastating cascade effects would occur in the Atlantic Ocean, effects that could reach as far as the Mediterranean and Gulf of Mexico. The entire food chain of the world’s oceans would be out of whack.

So, just as the world needs balanced fish populations in the ocean, how about helping out by having a balance represented in the tins on your cupboard shelves? Instead of having half a dozen cans of tuna, how about two tins each of tuna, anchovies, and herrings? How easy is that?

As for monitoring your local harbor, beach, or even rivers and streams that eventually feed into the ocean, many conservation groups make it easy for everyone to play a part. Take, for example, the wild antics of the marine mammal protection group that serve on the Sea Shepherd. You can text them alerts of marine mammal trouble and receive updates on their activities.

Students at Duke University have created their own textbook devoted to ocean conservation. The information is primarily for awareness and education purposes. Sharing this information, however, is the first step any person must take in order to become an ocean hero. So why not download The View From Below and become an ocean conservation activist simply by texting and sharing?

If you are serious about getting involved, here are some mobile apps that can really let you get your feet wet with marine conservation:

  • California Tidepools: Recreational users have access to a database to raise awareness about tidepool marine life.
  • Marine Debris Tracker: Report trash along any coastline or waterway.
  • Whale Alert: If you see the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, alert mariners so they can avoid the possibility of a collision.

So, the gringa has given you your mission and your marching orders:

  • Mission:  Save the world’s oceans.
  • Orders:  #1. Adjust the inventory of your pantry. #2. Get connected.

Now, carry on!

Sources:

Conservation Magazine

Pew Trusts

www.conservation.org

Marine Stewardship Council

National Geographic

Sea Shepherd

Duke University

California Tidepools

Marine Debris

Whale Alert

Image Credit:  National Geographic

Fitbit For Wolves


(Originally posted 1/16/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Nature and technology, they are not mutually exclusive passions. In fact, our planet may now be facing challenges that will require a marriage of the two in order for nature to be protected, restored and preserved. Whether it be strengthening endangered species populations or protecting habitat, nature lovers who may see the advances of civilization as a threat, might now experience an ideological dilemma. Because it is technology that must be used to save that which naturalists love.

The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) is using SMART collar technology to track and study wolves. The gray wolves of Denali National Park and Preserve are sporting canine-customized “Fitbit” type collars so scientists can study how they patrol their territories, raise their pups, and hunt. Is such expense worth the investment? Can the world live without gray wolves? I mean, sure, it would be a sad thing if they ceased to exist but are they important enough to invest great time and expense to preserve their existence?

In 1978 the gray wolf was listed as a threatened and endangered species in 48 U.S. states. This has occurred due to man shooting, trapping or poisoning them virtually into oblivion. This, despite the fact that there are no known accounts of gray wolves attacking humans in modern history and occurrences of attacking livestock have been extremely rare. And, in such cases, by law the government has to reimburse farmers and ranchers for any livestock loss. Why, then, has man targeted the gray wolf with such hatred and violence? Who knows. But the gringa thinks we owe the gray wolf an apology. But do we owe the species the effort and expense of re-populating the country with gray wolves?

We do. A world without wolves is an eco-system out of balance and possibly doomed to failure. Let’s face it, although most naturalists are lovers of the peacefully co-existing grazers like white-tail deer, the reality is that predators are just as important if we want to keep herds of white-tail deer healthy.  And wolves do so much more than that.

In Yellowstone National Park a cascade of devastating effects followed the eradication of wolves in the mid-1920s. Elk populations became over-abundant which caused habitat damage due to overgrazing. This affected streams through erosion as groves of native trees and shrubbery were over-browsed. As the waters became more shallow, they warmed. The result was that many native fish species disappeared or became extremely scarce. As the trees and shrubbery declined, so did the native bird and beaver populations.

One species that did thrive with the disappearance of wolves were the coyotes. Too many coyotes meant fewer gophers and rodents. And, as coyotes glutted on small animals, other mid-level predators, like foxes and raptors, began to decline. With wolves missing from the eco-system, the animals who dine on the leftovers of their kills had to migrate elsewhere. Yellowstone also saw declines in the number of eagles, ravens, and even bears.

So what is life like without wolves? Decimated grasslands and tree copses, shallow rivers and streams, lots of coyotes and deer and little else. And, eventually, even the deer and coyotes will decline due to health problems related to over-population.

The good news is that mankind can right such wrongs with the right use of the right technology. In 1995 a program re-introduced wolves to areas of the American West. The results are dreams come true for every naturalist. The ecological balance was restored. Rivers and streams were re-shaped. Songbird populations blossomed. Trout and other fish flourished. The entire landscape of Yellowstone was re-structured into a healthier version, resembling its former self.

SMART collars deliver knowledge to researchers about wolf behavior, physiology, movements and interaction with ecology. This information can be used to develop better conservation measures. Developed at the University of California, Santa Cruz, these collars provide GPS information, 3D movement data, and distinct signatures for each wolf like acceleration, sleeping and eating habits. The metabolic rate of each animal can be calculated so that researchers know how many calories an individual wolf needs to consume for the expenditures made in activity. Scientists are even able to measure their oxygen levels. The information collected is answering questions such as what was the cause for an incident of pack starvation in Denali.

Saving wolf populations is just one piece of the save-the-planet puzzle. If you are a naturalist, the key to success in your mission may very well lie in technology that you might have typically been hesitant to embrace. The gringa sees the superheroes of tomorrow as being able to live in a tent as well as able to design and use sophisticated electronic equipment. Tomorrow’s planetary saviours need to study STEM disciplines as much as they need to study agriculture and wildlife.

Sources:

Pegasus Foundation

National Park Service

US Department of Agriculture

Living With Wolves

Sustainable Human

Image Credit:  National Park Service

A Curious Green Partnership


With all of the terror related events that have recently occurred in France, one wouldn’t think that France and Iran would be synonymous with the word partnership. Well, the gringa tells her dear readers to think again. Once again the sophistication of the French people  and the deeply philosophical nature of Iranians have resulted in both nations magnanimously spanning cultural differences that should be an example for all of us to follow. We would do well to emulate their motives as well, committing to save this planet and the human race from extinction.

This month the Environment Minister of France, Segolene Royal, met with Iran’s equivalent of the same office, Massoumeh Ebtekar, leader of the Environmental Protection Organization of Iran. They have outlined a schedule of projects that should bloom to fruition by February of next year.

Both officials will be touring Iran for three days. Topping the list of places to visit in Iran is lake Orumiyeh in the northwest. This saltwater lake, the largest of its kind in Iran, is a UNESCO heritage site. Over the past twenty years it has shrunk by almost 90%. This has been caused by a combination of un-sustainable farming methods, the construction of dams and the effects of climate change.

They will be joined in their tour by influential businessmen from the energy industry representing companies that specialize in environmentally aware renewable energy. These companies focus on water conservation, minimizing the impact of pollution and designing structures that are energy efficient.  Of particular mention is the leader of the multinational company, Engie.

Engie’s claim to fame is that of an energy company that desires to make a difference throughout the world. Operating in the fields of electricity and natural gas, they seek to manage dwindling natural resources responsibly and create innovative technologies that could render use of non-renewable natural resources obsolete.

France chose to partner with Iran because they believe that the two nations are facing similar energy and climate challenges. Although French officials see this as a great opportunity for the two nations, French bankers are not so keen on the idea. It seems the financial movers and shakers in France have not caught up with the decision of July 2015 when the world lifted sanctions that had been upon the nation of Iran. That’s understandable considering that bankers are just trying to decipher the complicated mess of laws and rules that would govern a financial venture in Iran. The gringa totally understands wanting to cover your own patootie.

However, even if the environment department heads of France and Iran get impatient for funds to flow, the gringa trusts in the ingenuity and passion of the French to discover a solution. There has even been mention of turning to Italy for financing. But what exactly do they want to use all that money for?

The funding will be used to help each nation come into compliance with the decisions of the international climate accord that was signed in Paris by many nations last year. Paris and Iran want to work together to create two thriving green economies. The gringa wants to know just what the heck a green economy is.

Well, the United Nations has been using the term “green economy” since 1989 when a United Kingdom group of environmental economists wrote a blueprint presenting their case for sustainable development, or so one would think from the title of their work “Blueprint for a Green Economy”. The short tome actually contains no reference at all to what a green economy is. The world is left scratching its head as to the meanings of authors David Pearce, Anil Markandy and Edward B. Barbier.

It isn’t until, in 1991 and 1994, the same authors released sequels to their original greenless blueprint of green economies that mankind finally discovered what the heck they were trying to tell us. When all three are read together, these are the conclusions to be drawn:

  • By changing economies, countries can change the world’s climate condition for the better.
  • Purposeful action must be sponsored by world leaders to develop sustainable energy.
  • Governments must lead rather than wait on the private sector.
  • Economics and environmental policy must become intertwined in order to solve the problems of a global economy and entire world population threatened by the effects of climate change.

What forward thinking France and Iran are displaying. Their actions may very well be the catalyst for a shift in economic thinking and how countries approach climate change initiatives. It is not uncommon for a country to get an economic bail-out when suffering from a financial crisis. The movement of the future may very well be “green stimulus packages” offered by the United Nations as well as individual countries that can afford to help others. The gringa is feeling hopeful.

Sources:

www.al-monitor.com

www.france24.com

www.engie.com

sustainabledevelopment.un.org

Image Credit: tse1.mm.bing.net

 

Allow Me To Introduce You To JAXA


Who is JAXA? JAXA is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and they have been very busy. In 2010 JAXA was disappointed when their orbiter “Akatsuki”, which, in  English, means “dawn”, failed in its mission to orbit Venus. However, JAXA is not one to give up. The agency kept at it for five years and finally, in December, accomplished its mission.

Now that Akatsuki is orbiting Venus its cameras are transmitting a steady stream of images. One orbit cycle takes about thirteen and one-half Earth days. JAXA is tweaking its orbit path to eventually get its orbit cycle to nine Earth days. That will result in Akatsuki being closer to Venus which will improve the clarity of the images it sends back to JAXA.

Venus is a hot, volcanic planet that is about the same size as Earth. And, when I say hot, the gringa means hot enough to melt lead. Akatsuki will gather data on the weather and atmosphere of this steamy planet. Scientists are interested in the volcanoes.

JAXA operates all missions with the purpose to help create a safe society that can utilize space. The agency seeks to be a leader in technology and have technology used wisely for the benefit of society. The Japanese believe that as humans evolve, happiness should increase. JAXA is inspired to overcome the difficulties facing mankind. They intend to act responsibly to meet the expectations society has for the work the Agency performs. The slogan JAXA operates under is “Explore to Realize”.

JAXA desires to contribute to the well being of all people on Earth through their research and development. They believe this can be achieved by improving quality of life, providing safety and security, developing sustainable methods for living, and expanding the knowledge of all peoples.

JAXA was established in October of 2003. The following Spring the agency successfully performed its first series of flight tests for their Stratosphere Stationary Platform. Since their first successful test flights, JAXA has continued to perform successfully. Just a few of their many accomplishments throughout the years:

  • July, 2005, the agency launched “Suzaku”, an X-ray astronomy satellite.
  • July through August of 2005 Japanese Astronaut Souichi Noguchi joined the NASA Space Shuttle “Discovery” mission.
  • December, 2005, JAXA made history with the first EVER optical inter-satellite communication between Optical Inter-orbit Communications Engineering (OICETS) and the Advanced Relay and Technology Mission “ARTEMIS” of the European Space Agency (ESA)
  • 2006-2007, successfully launched eight different space vehicles
  • March, 2008, Astronaut Takao Doi served aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Endeavor” on mission to attach Experiment Logistics Module-Pressurized Section (ELM-PS) of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • June, 2008, Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide served aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Discovery” on mission to attach Pressurized Module (PM) and Remote Manipulator System of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to the ISS.
  • July, 2009, Astronaut Koichi Wakata attached Exposed Facility of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to ISS. First Japanese Astronaut to complete a long-stay mission and returned home aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Endeavour”
  • December, 2009, Astronaut Souichi Noguchi served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS, completed long-stay mission, returning to Earth June, 2010
  • June, 2011, Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS and returned to Earth November, 2011
  • July, 2012, Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS, returning to Earth November, 2012
  • November, 2013, Astronaut Wakata served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS. March, 2014, Astronaut Wakata became first Asian commander of ISS. Returned to Earth May, 2014

JAXA has big plans for 2016. It expects to launch the Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter (MMO) after it successfully completes a round of tests performed by the European Space Agency (ESA). It will launch from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

It is also committed to being an active world partner in resolving the many issues humanity must resolve that are related to climate change. JAXA will use the ALOS-2 satellite to monitor and collect data related to deforestation. All data will be available to everyone worldwide through open access on the Internet.

JAXA aims to develop a tracking system for tropical forests. JAXA will be joined in its efforts by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and many private corporations. By constantly monitoring worldwide forest loss, the agency hopes that this initiative will lead to successful conservation solutions. A public access website should be up and running by March, 2017 and will be updated every six weeks with the latest findings.

Goals are to restrain illegal logging and conserve forests that are critical to help reduce the effects of climate change. During 2009-2012 Brazil was cooperating with monitoring efforts. Over 2,000 incidents were revealed and action was taken that helped reduce the destruction of forests by forty percent. It is clear that this effort and mission JAXA is undertaking is a significant contribution to the future security of humanity by helping to minimize the effects of climate change.

With agencies like JAXA looking out for the interests of people all over the world, the gringa is confident that this place we all call home has a future where there is great hope. The international cooperation of so many space agencies is an inspiration that we can become a global community where our differences are not obstacles, but, rather, strengths. Because the gringa thinks the world would be a very boring place if we were all alike.

Source & Photo Credit: www.global.jaxa.jp