Posts Tagged ‘nature’

New Tracers Can Identify Frack Fluids In The Environment

Provided by Cheryl Dybas, NSF and Tim Lucas, Duke University

Scientists develop new geochemical tracers, tested at sites in West Virginia and Pennsylvania

Scientists have developed new geochemical tracers that can identify hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment.

The tracers have been field-tested at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania.

“By characterizing the isotopic and geochemical fingerprints of enriched boron and lithium in flowback water from hydraulic fracturing, we can now track the presence of ‘frack’ fluids in the environment and distinguish them from wastewater coming from other sources, including conventional oil and gas wells,” said Duke University geochemist Avner Vengosh, who co-led the research.

“This gives us new forensic tools to detect if frack fluids are escaping into our water supply and what risks, if any, they might pose.”

Using the tracers, scientists can determine where frack fluid contamination has–or hasn’t–been released to the environment and, ultimately, help identify ways to improve how shale gas wastewater is treated and disposed of.

The researchers published their findings October 20 in the journal Environmental Science Technology. Their study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is the first to report on the development of the boron and lithium tracers.

“With increasing exploitation of unconventional oil and gas reservoirs through the use of hydraulic fracturing, it’s important that we are able to assess the extent of hydraulic fracturing fluids entering the environment,” said Alex Isern, section head in NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

“This work is critical as it demonstrates that geochemical fingerprinting provides a powerful tool to differentiate potential sources of contamination and therefore guide efforts to mitigate environmental impacts.”

Adds Nathaniel Warner of Dartmouth College, lead author of the paper, “This new technology can be combined with other methods to identify specific instances of accidental releases to surface waters in areas of unconventional drilling.

“It could benefit industry as well as federal and state agencies charged with monitoring water quality and protecting the environment.”

Hydraulic fracturing fluids–or frack fluids–typically contain mixes of water, proprietary chemicals and sand. Mixtures can vary from site to site.

Drillers inject large volumes of the fluids down gas wells at high pressure to crack open shale formations deep underground and allow natural gas trapped within the shale to flow out and be extracted.

After the shale has been fractured, the frac fluids flow back up the well to the surface along with the gas and highly saline brines from the shale formation.

Some people fear that toxic frack fluid chemicals in this flowback could contaminate nearby water supplies if they’re accidentally spilled or insufficiently treated before being disposed of.

“The flowback fluid that returns to the surface becomes a waste that needs to be managed,” Vengosh explained.

“Deep-well injection is the preferable disposal method, but injecting large volumes of wastewater into deep wells can cause earthquakes in sensitive areas and is not geologically available in some states.

“In Pennsylvania, much of the flowback is now recycled and reused, but a significant amount of it is still discharged into local streams or rivers.”

It’s possible to identify the presence of frack fluid in spilled or discharged flowback by tracing synthetic organic compounds that are added to the fluid before it’s injected down a well, Vengosh said, but the proprietary nature of these chemicals, combined with their instability in the environment, limits the usefulness of such tracers.

By contrast, the new boron and lithium tracers remain stable in the environment.

“The difference is that we are using tracers based on elements that occur naturally in shale formations,” Vengosh said.

When drillers inject frack fluids into a shale formation, they not only release hydrocarbon, but also boron and lithium that are attached to clay minerals in the formation.

As the fluids react and mix at depth, they become enriched in boron and lithium.

As they’re brought back to the surface, they have distinctive fingerprints that are different from other types of wastewater, including wastewater from a conventional gas or oil well, and from naturally occurring background water.

“This type of forensic research allows us to clearly identify possible sources of wastewater contamination,” Vengosh said.

Thomas Darrah of The Ohio State University, Robert Jackson of Duke and Stanford Universities and Romain Millot and Wolfram Kloppmann of the French Geological Survey also co-authored the paper, which was partly funded by the Park Foundation.

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Nature lover scoops the pool for photography competition

CAMIRA amateur photographer Glenys Passier was the big winner in this year’s Ipswich Enviroplan Photographic Competition, taking out the overall winner’s prize, two prize categories, a runners-up award and a special mention for four of her entries.

With more than 1100 entries received this year for the popular competition, the result was a coup for the keen photographer, whose love of nature comes through in her images.

Her winning entry titled Fairy Lamps captured a close-up view of a delicate fungi growing out of an old tree stump, creating its own magical landscape.

Living on a couple of acres in the leafy suburb of Camira, Ms Passier said her passion for photography started with capturing images of her pets and bird photography.

“I just take photos when the opportunity arises,” she said. “The camera is never too far from me and I just keep both eyes open.

“I don’t often get the opportunity to photograph fungi but I just noticed these tiny bumps coming up on an old chinese elm tree stump and the flowers were just so dainty and the colour was unreal.”

Matthew Watson was named overall student winner for Golden Wings.

Judged over eight categories, the competition also highlighted stunning work from students including Indooroopilly State High School student Matthew Watson who was named the overall student winner for his work titled Golden Wings.

Environment and Conservation Committee chairwoman Heather Morrow said the competition was getting bigger and better each year.

“From over 1100 entries, 69 have been presented with an award or an honourable mention, and all will be up for the People’s Choice award, decided by the public,” Cr Morrow said.

“Whether it’s natural landscapes, flora, fauna, or the Bremer River, entrants have captured the natural beauty of Ipswich in surprising and creative ways.”

Winners were announced this week following lengthy deliberations by photographers Grace Yu and Greg Harm.

Winning entries can be viewed at and at an exhibition at Riverlink Shopping Centre from tomorrow until November 6 where you can vote for your favourite entry for the People’s Choice award.

Grace Gardner won the Primary School category for Spring in Bloom.

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UConn’s Teale Lecture Series on Nature and the Environment to feature Author …

Author and Photographer Julie Campoli, of Terra Firma Urban Design, will give a talk entitled “The Importance of Being Urban: Density and the Green City” for the University of Connecticut’s Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series on Nature and the Environment. The talk will take place on Thursday, October 30, 4 pm at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, Konover Auditorium, at UConn. The lecture is free and open to the public.

For twenty-five years Julie Campoli practiced land planning and urban design in the state of Vermont, working with non-profits, municipalities and state agencies to steer growth into a more efficient and contextual pattern. Her firm, Terra Firma Urban Design specializes in street design and site planning for affordable housing, emphasizing the infilling of existing neighborhoods. More recently, she has focused on building flood resiliency in riverside downtowns. Her work includes creating photographs, maps, simulations, graphics and other tools to help people understand the relationship between design concepts and real places.

The Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series brings leading scholars and scientists to the University of Connecticut to present public lectures on nature and the environment. The lectures are open to the public and do not require registration. For additional information please call 860.486.4460 or visit

Copyright © 2014, Hartford Courant

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Which animals are nearly extinct?

At 34, Suni had managed to reach the same age as his father before him, and it is not considered a particularly premature age to go. But while there was great relief that this “gentle giant” hadn’t fallen prey to poachers, news of his death on Friday has catastrophic implications: there are now only six of this particular subspecies of rhino in existence. Even more worryingly, Suni was considered to be the last breeder. The only other male, Sudan, who is also at Ol Pejeta, is too old and weak to mate.

“It came as a huge surprise – we always thought Sudan would be the first one to go. Suni was in really good shape,” says Ol Pejeta’s Elodie Sampéré, on the phone from Kenya. “It was a big shock to everybody. Suni was very cool, he had a really good personality and was playful. The rangers that looked after him on a day-to-day basis are just distraught. We all are.”

Four rhinos had arrived at the conservancy in 2009, travelling by plane and truck, where it was hoped the animals would breed (the main reason for their decline is that they are targeted by poachers, who sell their horns to Asia to be used in traditional Chinese medicine, despite their having no proven medicinal benefits whatsoever). So far, unfortunately, reproduction just hasn’t happened.

So what now for the future of the northern white rhino? Can it be brought back from the brink of extinction?


Sampéré tells me that the world’s leading experts are meeting this week to discuss how best to deal with this latest blow. She suspects that the main objective will now be to create a hybrid species, mating a female northern white with a male southern white. As she says: “Having a hybrid rhino is better than not having one at all.” And while artificial insemination is a possibility, it is hugely expensive and so far has proved unsuccessful.

So it means that the three rhinos at Ol Pejeta (Sudan and two females, Najin and Fatu) make up half the entire subspecies. (There are also two females in San Diego, while one lives in the Czech Republic.) With such few companions, they are now considered among the loneliest animals on the planet.

Final countdown: fewer than 100 vaquitas remain (AP)

Other species that have few friends include the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, of which there are just four that we know of. There are thought to be only 30 Amur leopards roaming the east of Russia. Fewer than 100 vaquitas, a type of mini porpoise, remain. Around 100 Seychelles sheath-tailed bats. I could go on and on, the figures are grim. There are far too many casualties to mention.

When there were only three male Mangarahara cichlids (a Madagascan fish) believed to be left, an appeal by London Zoo to find some female companions for them resulted in an additional 18 being discovered, which is about the only encouraging story around.

And who can forget the rarest creature of all, the aptly named Lonesome George, who until his death in 2012 wandered the Galapagos Islands, the only Pinta Island tortoise in existence?

Lonesome George before his death in 2012 (EPA)

“A species can become biologically extinct even when a few individuals remain,” says Will Travers, the president of Born Free. “Put in crude terms, the chances of individuals meeting up and procreating becomes just too infrequent to sustain the species. It’s impossible to put a number on this, but the northern white rhino may have reached the point of no return.”

It might well be too late for them. But, encouragingly, Sampéré says that one of their female rhinos mated with a southern white male just last week, meaning a hybrid might be a possibility. So, fingers crossed, we’ll be hearing the pitter-patter of, well, not so tiny feet soon.

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Fashola urges Lagosians to protect environment

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has called on the people of the state to support the government’s efforts in curbing flood and ensuring safety of the aquatic habitat.

Fashola also enjoined residents to maximise the benefits inherent in nature to their advantage and for the well-being of the state.

The governor, who was represented by his Special Adviser on the Environment, Dr. Taofeek Folami, and the Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Tunji Bello, made this remark on Saturday, at the State House, Marina, during the 2014 Walk for Nature event themed ‘Small Island Developing States: Focus on Coastal Areas’.

The event, which was marked in partnership with Nigerian Conservation Foundation, was aimed at encouraging and promoting healthy living among Lagosians.

He said, “This offers us another opportunity to focus on our environment and rededicate ourselves to its sustainability. It is high time we had a rethink and reviewed our strategies towards the management of coastal and marine issues, realign our implementation plans and partnership as well as redirect our efforts towards new set of goals.”

In his address, Bello stated that Lagos as a coastal city was beset with several challenges such as illegal land reclamation and sand mining activities which had threatened sustainability of the coastlines.

He said illegal dredging had caused surges and flooding in some parts of the state.

He identified other environmental consequences of dredging as physical alterations, destruction of coastal habitats, flooding and pollution. He urged Lagosians to support the government in preserving nature by embracing the message of the Walk for Nature programme.

He added, “When we walk for nature, we get closer to nature, we reduce vehicular emissions which contribute to global warming; as more vehicles will stay off roads, we experience world class bird watching, learn about the varied habitats, understand the management effort needed to develop and discover more about nature through our lively interpretation.”

The commissioner, however, noted that the government was committed to ensuring a proper management of environments and called on people to complement the government’s efforts

He said, “To encourage walking and stem the climate change challenge, the state government had created several walkways on major roads in Lagos, in addition to greening and landscaping of open spaces.

“We are making steps to restore scattered wetlands in the state by promoting their identification and mapping.

“We should, as a way of life, engage in exercising, either within our immediate environment or register with clubs in order to keep fit.”

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Volvo: Environment Prize-Winner Uses Satellites to Reveal Human Impact



The 2014 winner of the Volvo Environment Prize, Professor Eric Lambin, is a remote sensing pioneer using advanced data collection and satellite images to understand land use and the influence of humans on the planet.

Satellites catch sweeping images of Earth, every hour, day and night. Eric Lambin, who divides his time between Stanford University in California, and Université Catholique de Louvain in his native Belgium, has for decades developed methods of analyzing these satellite images by linking them to socioeconomic data. By doing that, he and his research colleagues can track land use changes on the impact of trade and demand for biofuels or food crops. His research has focused on trying to bridge two disparate communities – remote sensing scientists and human ecologists.

This technique, sometimes called the people-to-pixels approach, can, with faster computers and improved data, make it possible for businesses, NGOs and governments to better monitor in almost real-time environmental impacts from human activities.

A world without forests would challenge life on earth. Deforestation was earlier mostly perceived as a result of population growth. In his research, Professor Lambin has demonstrated that it is not as simple as that. In reality there are intricate and complex patterns, even cascade effects of human activities that affect the forests and other natural resources. Eric Lambin points to statistics showing successful reforestation in Vietnam.

“It seemed like a success story. But when we looked at all the data and compiled all information locally and nationally, we discovered that use of wood had simply shifted to imported wood, increasing deforestation in neighbouring Cambodia and Laos.”

This type of research is vital in planning for a transition to sustainability and is a focus area for this year´s Volvo Environment Prize laureate. Eric Lambin adopted the people-to-pixels approach as young doctoral student in Sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-1980s and has expanded it throughout his career.

In the words of the Jury, “Eric Lambin has successfully bridged social, geographical and biophysical disciplines in order to advance the global understanding of land use change and what it means for human wellbeing”.

Besides his academic research Eric Lambin is also reaching out to broader audiences. His most recent book, “An Ecology of Happiness”, asks us to take a look at the impact of nature on ourselves, rather than the conventional approach of discussing human impact on the planet. The natural world, he argues, is essential for human wellbeing and pleasure-seeking. Preserving nature is not only good for a portfolio of ecosystem services; it is essential for us in order to be happy.

Eric Lambin is professor at the Earth Life Institute and School of Geography, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium and at Environmental Earth System Science, School of Earth Sciences and Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, California.

The Volvo Environment Prize was founded in 1988 and has become one of the world’s most prestigious environmental prizes. It is awarded annually to people who have made outstanding scientific discoveries within the area of the environment and sustainable development. The prize consists of a diploma, a glass sculpture and a cash sum of SEK 1.5 million and will be presented at a ceremony in Stockholm on 26 November 2014.

For more information about the 2014 laureate and the Volvo Environment Prize:

October 20, 2014

For more information about the Volvo Environment Prize and this year’s winner, please contact Jury Chairman Professor Will Steffen, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, e-mail:

Phone: +61 2 6125 4588

For more stories from the Volvo Group, please visit

The Volvo Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of trucks, buses, construction equipment and marine and industrial engines. The Group also provides complete solutions for financing and service. The Volvo Group, which employs about 110,000 people, has production facilities in 18 countries and sells its products in more than 190 markets. In 2013 the Volvo Group’s sales amounted to about SEK 270 billion. The Volvo Group is a publicly-held company headquartered in Göteborg, Sweden. Volvo shares are listed on Nasdaq Stockholm. For more information, please visit or if you are using your mobile phone.

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Nature Fest teaches attendees about environment

TEMPLE — Earth, wind, fire and water were the broad areas of learning available during the Central Texas Nature Fest on Saturday at Bend of the River in Temple. If you only visited four of the 50 exhibitor booths, you could roll seed balls, fold origami pigeons, cast for plastic fish and learn the benefits of prescribed land burning.

“This accounts for science for a whole semester,” Linda Lindberg, of Temple, said of the Nature Fest. She home-schools two of her children, Theresa, 9, who was at the event, and Andrew, 10, who was away on a canoeing trip.

Her daughter, Rebecca, 17, a senior at Holy Trinity Catholic High School, also was at the event.

Rebecca said she was impressed by the water-cycling booth.

“I didn’t realize the water stays in the ocean a long time,” she said.

Organized by the Central Texas Master Naturalists, the event drew exhibitors from all over the state and had about 140 volunteers on hand, said Zoe Rascoe, of Temple. She was hoping for 1,000 people to attend.

Mike Fuller, a Temple native who lives near Fort Worth, brought his daughters, Ruth, 10, and Lauren, 7, to the Texas prairies booth. Phillip Quast, program director for the Native Prairies Association of Texas, talked about preserving natural lands and showed the girls how to make seed balls. They mixed clay, compost, seeds and water with their hands.

“It’s squishy,” Ruth said.

The clay helps bind everything together and keeps the seeds — a mixture of seeds of native plants — from blowing away, Quast said.

The girls made balls about the size of a dime and put them in plastic bags.

At home, they’re supposed to let them dry out, then take them out where no one mows the grass, Quast said.

Ursula Nanna, of Harker Heights, angler education area chief for the Master Naturalists, said they were teaching six “docks” at the Nature Fest: fishing safety, knots and tackle, baits and lures, casting, marine debris and fish habitat. She said age was not a factor.

“We’ve had kids 2½ years old who wanted to cast,” she said. “As long as you can stand, you can cast, and you can fish. It’s just wonderful to see how happy it makes people to fish.”

Doug Phillips, of Austin, a private land biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was promoting the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

“We use fire as a tool to help restore our ecosystems,” he said.

Fire helps to manage the brush and invigorates the grass, Phillips said.

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