Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
The story: The Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island has been erupting for more than 30 years. This month it intensified and destroyed houses miles from the summit. However, less visible is damage from the volcano known in Hawaii as “vog” — volcanic smog, Allyson Chiu reported for The Washington Post on May 7. When sulfur dioxide in fumes emitted from the volcano reacts in the atmosphere with sunlight, oxygen and other gases, the result is a form of air pollution similar to that given off by sulfurous coal-burning power plants.
The big picture: Besides the environmental impacts of volcanic pollution, Hawaiians could experience immediate health issues. In 2010, researchers found that a local clinic saw “three times as many headaches and twice as many severe sore throats” after Kilauea erupted in 2008. They also found a “six-fold increase in the odds of having acute airway problems,” which are more serious respiratory issues usually requiring immediate breathing treatments or transfer to the nearest hospital for emergency care.
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The story: A new study found that tropical countries, which tend to be poorer and to have contributed less to climate change, are set to disproportionately suffer one of the more severe effects: major swings in temperature, Chris Mooney reported for The Washington Post on May 2. On a per-capita basis, greenhouse gas emissions are far higher in wealthy countries like the United States, but the whole globe warms as a result.
The big picture: The paper’s authors found that in general, the tropics will see a much greater increase in temperature variability. This can cause damage to agriculture and humans, especially if the temperatures swing to a hot extreme. “There has been a lot of debate about how rich countries can help poor countries to adapt, but they have overlooked this aspect — that the impacts of climate variability change might be worse in the poorer countries,” said Sebastian Bathiany, a climate change researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands who led the research.
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The story: On May 9, China launched a satellite that can monitor air pollution from space, Mu Xuequan reported for Xinhua. The technology is the world’s first full-spectrum hyperspectral satellite for comprehensive observation of the atmosphere and land.
The big picture: Wang Qiao, an official from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said the satellite will provide data for China’s environmental monitoring, resource exploration and disaster prevention and mitigation. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) also said in April that it will launch a satellite that will monitor the potent greenhouse gas methane from space. “That’s the kind of data we don’t have anywhere in the world,” said Steven Hamburg, climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. The satellite will be able to pinpoint where the gases are coming from, which will enable officials to decide how to regulate over-emitters.
Read more here.
Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.
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