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What marks the Anthropocene?
Plastics will end Life as we knew it
This post looks at the various aspects of human activity that will be seen in the geological record as markers of the Anthropocene. The International Commission on Stratigraphy in their working group on the Anthropocene is looking for the “golden spike” that can be placed in some strata that will mark the definite boundary for the beginning of this era. This term was coined by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000.
According to the Geological Time Scales, we are still within the Meghalayan Age of the Holocene Epoch and the Working Committee is still looking for a definitive body of geological strata that could persevere far into the future in order to declare the Anthropocene to be an actual new age.
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The people on these committees must be city people, in love with cities, or they might be able to notice that when you see a city, this is not what this planet looks like. If all this stacked up concrete and glass garbage does not leave a permanent mark in the geological strata, I don’t know what would. Imagine another ice age and all this broken concrete, glass and twisted metal was pushed into new moraines as the glaciers retreated. Don’t worry, there can’t be another ice age for at least 100,000 years or maybe multiple times that long due to the CO2 levels that humans have injected into the atmosphere, enough to cause 10°C. temperature rise, currently being ameliorated by about 8°C. by aerosols (air pollution). The Working Committee had decided on placing the theoretical “spike” at a level in semi-pristine lake sediments which showed the beginnings of nuclear weapons testing. However, one of the co-founders of the committee resigned over this matter.
A new definitive strata need not be a line as thin as any particular year; human environmental degradation in its worst forms has been going on for about 200 years, a mere blip in geological time. Just how many years went by between the laminated black shales referred to as the Lower (LKW) and Upper (UKW) Kellwasser horizons2? These layers relate to the Late Devonian mass extinction. Mind you, the globe then in no way resembled how it looks today.
But we have gone far enough on a variety of fronts for the present epoch to be embedded in the geological record for all time. This post will be looking at the marks left by various human activities and space exploration, climate, wars, plastics and The Sixth Extinction.
Perhaps around the time of the Second Industrial Revolution in 1870, which followed the First which ended in the middle of the 19th century, the materials and technology were available to begin building structures that were much less susceptible to the forces of nature. The First Industrial Revolution was driven mainly by water power although it included the beginnings of steel-making with the Bessemer process in the mid-1800s by blowing air through molten iron. Reinforced concrete was invented in 1849 by Joseph Monier who built the first reinforced concrete bridge in 1875. With the development of steel and concrete, the monuments to hubris known as cities could proliferate.
Perhaps the most blatant and unnecessary extension of “Progress” in human history, spacecraft launches and re-entry are ruining the atmosphere and leaving a large residue of space junk on the ocean floor, all the way up to the size of the Mir space station, not to mention all the bits that fall on land. And now, the various business proposals to launch thousands of low-earth-orbit satellites simply to provide smart phone coverage world-wide. And besides cluttering up the sky, they will fall down eventually. Besides the massive atmospheric contamination of every launch, there is also metallic pollution forming in the upper atmosphere from “burning up on re-entry.” These metallic aerosols will have an effect on the ozone layer, and not a good effect1.
From the study:
Measurements show that about 10% of the aerosol particles in the stratosphere contain aluminum and other metals that originated from the “burn-up” of satellites and rocket stages during reentry. Although direct health or environmental impacts at ground level are unlikely, these measurements have broad implications for the stratosphere and higher altitudes. With many more launches planned in the coming decades, metals from spacecraft reentry could induce changes in the stratospheric aerosol layer.
Yet the cheerful boosterism from the media with every space achievement carries on. Except for some earth systems satellites, it all must cease immediately.
Will what we’ve done to Earth’s climate be recorded in the fossil record of Earth’s history? Just as certainly as there is a paleo-climate record showing the other times of massively high CO2 levels, our climate record should have an even deeper mark because of its rapidity and strength. It could take possibly multiples of 100,000 years for CO2 levels to subside via normal weathering processes. In Dr. James Hansen’s “Ice Melt” paper, evidence is given to show that both the northern and southern deep-water currents on the oceans are at risk and may shut down soon.
In the Ice Melt6 paper:
“A fundamentally different climate phase, a “Hyper-Anthropocene”, began in the latter half of the 18th century as improvements of the steam engine ushered in the industrial revolution (Hills, 1993) and exponential growth of fossil fuel use. Human-made climate forcings now overwhelm natural forcings. CO2, at 400 ppm in 2015, is off the scale in Fig. 27c. CO2 climate forcing is a reasonable approximation of the net human forcing, because forcing by other GHGs tends to offset negative human forcings, mainly aerosols (Myhre et al., 2013). Most of the CO2 growth occurred in the past several decades, and three-quarters of the 1 C global warming since 1850 (update of Hansen et al., 2010, available at http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/Temperature/) has occurred since 1975. Climate response to this CO2 level, so far, is only partial.
Our analysis paints a very different picture than IPCC (2013) for continuation of this Hyper-Anthropocene phase, if GHG emissions continue to grow. In that case, we conclude that multi-meter sea level rise would become practically unavoidable, probably within 50–150 years. Full shutdown of the North Atlantic Overturning Circulation would be likely within the next several decades in such a climate forcing scenario. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise, and the attendant increases in storms and climate extremes, could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”
https://thebulletin.org/2023/04/faster-than-forecast-climate-impacts-trigger-tipping-points-in-the-earth-system/ By David Spratt | April 19, 2023
“To Understand and Protect the Home Planet,” by James Hansen 27 October 2023 https://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2023/HomePlanet.2023.10.27.pdf
“Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios” Luke Kemp, Chi Xu, Joanna Depledge, and Timothy M. Lenton, Edited by Kerry Emanuel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; received May 20, 2021; accepted March 25, 2022, Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, August 1, 2022 Vol. 119 (34) e2108146119 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2108146119
Prudent risk management requires consideration of bad-to-worst-case scenarios. Yet, for climate change, such potential futures are poorly understood. Could anthropogenic climate change result in worldwide societal collapse or even eventual human extinction? At present, this is a dangerously underexplored topic. Yet there are ample reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe. Analyzing the mechanisms for these extreme consequences could help galvanize action, improve resilience, and inform policy, including emergency responses. We outline current knowledge about the likelihood of extreme climate change, discuss why understanding bad-to-worst cases is vital, articulate reasons for concern about catastrophic outcomes, define key terms, and put forward a research agenda. The proposed agenda covers four main questions: 1) What is the potential for climate change to drive mass extinction events? 2) What are the mechanisms that could result in human mass mortality and morbidity? 3) What are human societies' vulnerabilities to climate-triggered risk cascades, such as from conflict, political instability, and systemic financial risk? 4) How can these multiple strands of evidence—together with other global dangers—be usefully synthesized into an “integrated catastrophe assessment”? It is time for the scientific community to grapple with the challenge of better understanding catastrophic climate change.
“As we indiscriminately extract our water resources, damage nature, and pollute both Earth and space, we are moving dangerously close to the brink of multiple risk tipping points that could destroy the very systems that our life depends on,” said Dr Zita Sebesvari, at UNU’s Institute for Environment and Human Security. “We are changing the entire risk landscape and losing our tools to manage risk.”
“Fossil fuels remain the most effective way to produce the massive amounts of energy needed to create and support the manufacturing, commercial transportation, and industrial sectors that drive modern economies,” the report said. ExxonMobil is investing more money to increase oil and gas production than any other company in the U.S., according to its website.
Zhi Li et al, Recent acceleration in global ocean heat accumulation by mode and intermediate waters, Nature Communications (2023).Zhi Li et al, Recent acceleration in global ocean heat accumulation by mode and intermediate waters, Nature Communications (2023). https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-42468-z
Huguenin, M.F. et al, Drivers and distribution of global ocean heat uptake over the last half century, Nature Communications (2022) https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-32540-5, https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41561-023-01296-y
Xiangli Wang et al, Spatial pattern of marine oxygenation set by tectonic and ecological drivers over the Phanerozoic, Nature Geoscience (2023).
“The anthropogenic salt cycle.” Sujay S. Kaushal, Gene E. Likens, Paul M. Mayer, Ruth R. Shatkay, Sydney A. Shelton, Stanley B. Grant, Ryan M. Utz, Alexis M. Yaculak, Carly M. Maas, Jenna E. Reimer, Shantanu V. Bhide, Joseph T. Malin & Megan A. Rippy Nat Rev Earth Environ (2023), https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s43017-023-00485-y Published: 31 October 2023
“Increasing salt production and use is shifting the natural balances of salt ions across Earth systems, causing interrelated effects across biophysical systems collectively known as freshwater salinization syndrome. In this Review, we conceptualize the natural salt cycle and synthesize increasing global trends of salt production and riverine salt concentrations and fluxes. The natural salt cycle is primarily driven by relatively slow geologic and hydrologic processes that bring different salts to the surface of the Earth. Anthropogenic activities have accelerated the processes, timescales and magnitudes of salt fluxes and altered their directionality, creating an anthropogenic salt cycle. Global salt production has increased rapidly over the past century for different salts, with approximately 300 Mt of NaCl produced per year. A salt budget for the USA suggests that salt fluxes in rivers can be within similar orders of magnitude as anthropogenic salt fluxes, and there can be substantial accumulation of salt in watersheds. Excess salt propagates along the anthropogenic salt cycle, causing freshwater salinization syndrome to extend beyond freshwater supplies and affect food and energy production, air quality, human health and infrastructure. There is a need to identify environmental limits and thresholds for salt ions and reduce salinization before planetary boundaries are exceeded, causing serious or irreversible damage across Earth systems.”
There being no civilization on this planet, the dominant species continues to use War as its principle policy tool. The making of war hit its paradigm in the 1940s with the development and (totally evil) use of the atomic bomb. To develop these bombs required the operation of nuclear reactors, under the guise of providing power. But the big takeaway from the reactors is plutonium, for bomb-making. The driving fissionable fuel for the reactors is 235U (uranium-235) but that is only about 4% of the fuel, the remainder being 238U. That isotope takes on neutrons to become 239U which becomes 239P (plutonium-239). Remnants of nuclear reactors after societal collapse will be visible in Earth’s historic record for ages. For a reminder, look at the Abandoned City of Pripyat, Ukraine:
“On April 26, 1986, the No. 4 reactor of Chernobyl Nuclear Station exploded. The town closest to the reactor was Pripyat, a city of 49,000 that was one of the most beautiful and luxurious cities in the Soviet Union. When the reactor exploded, the entire city was forced to completely evacuate in just three hours; three decades later, the ghost town is a freeze-frame of the Soviet Union in 1986.”
Yes, no nuclear bombs have been dropped since 1945, but there are indelible marks on the planet from that singular madness of the male mind - nuclear testing. And we remain a push of a button away from Nuclear Winter. Use of nuclear weapons is a constant threat supposedly as “deterrence,” but sooner or later, some madman will wish to see his hypersonic multi-warhead missile get utilized. And a nuclear winter will leave its mark in Earth’s history, just as the Chicxulub bolide impact did 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs.”
“The test ban treaty at 60: How citizen action made the world safer.” By Robert Alvarez, Joseph Mangano | August 4, 2023, https://thebulletin.org/2023/08/the-test-ban-treaty-at-60-how-citizen-action-made-the-world-safer/
“Post-‘Oppenheimer,’ what we should do to dismantle the nuclear Doomsday Machine” By Ivana Nikolić Hughes | July 21, 2023 https://thebulletin.org/2023/07/post-oppenheimer-what-we-should-do-to-dismantle-the-nuclear-doomsday-machine/
“A foul and awesome display” By Kenneth T. Bainbridge, July 17, 2023 https://thebulletin.org/premium/2023-07/a-foul-and-awesome-display/
“Canadian reactors that “recycle” plutonium would create more problems than they solve” By Jungmin Kang, M.V. Ramana | May 25, 2023 https://thebulletin.org/2023/05/canadian-reactors-that-recycle-plutonium-would-create-more-problems-than-they-solve/
And the “great powers” continue to develop and update their nuclear arsenal:
“Dealing with a debacle: A better plan for US plutonium pit production.” By Curtis T. Asplund, Frank von Hippel | April 27, 2023 https://thebulletin.org/2023/04/dealing-with-a-debacle-a-better-plan-for-us-plutonium-pit-production/
“Nuclear Notebook: Chinese nuclear weapons, 2023” By Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda, Eliana Johns, March 13, 2023 https://thebulletin.org/premium/2023-03/nuclear-notebook-chinese-nuclear-weapons-2023/
“No justice is possible without studying the injustices of nuclear weapons” By Mari Faines | February 2, 2023 https://thebulletin.org/2023/02/no-justice-is-possible-without-studying-the-injustices-of-nuclear-weapons/
“Nuclear Notebook: United States nuclear weapons, 2023” By Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda, January 16, 2023 https://thebulletin.org/premium/2023-01/nuclear-notebook-united-states-nuclear-weapons-2023/
“Nuclear injustice: How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows the staggering human cost of deterrence.” By Franziska Stärk, Ulrich Kühn | October 26, 2022 https://thebulletin.org/2022/10/nuclear-injustice-how-russias-invasion-of-ukraine-shows-the-staggering-human-cost-of-deterrence/
Do have a look at this one, very important: https://thebulletin.org/2022/10/nowhere-to-hide-how-a-nuclear-war-would-kill-you-and-almost-everyone-else/
"An excellent example of the collective insanity of humanity is the dissemination of plastics into a biosphere which requires that all matter be continuously recyclable in the closed-loop system of Life." (quoting myself from 2013)
Monday, November 13, 2023 is an important meeting regarding a treaty on plastics, being held in Nairobi, to produce a draft treaty. Will the plastics industry keep obstructing progress on this issue?
In his book A Poison Like No Other5 Matt Simon does a deep probe into the problems of microplastics and nanoplastics. This is not a long book so you should read it. Plastics don’t go “away,” they keep breaking down into smaller and smaller particles. The term “microplastics” is not quite right, that size starts at 5 mm and smaller; this should be called granules, down to about 0.5 mm, then below that microplastics followed by nanoplastics. As size diminishes, they can attract and accumulate chemicals, besides the over 10,000 compounds that are additives to plastics and metals such as lead. They get so small that they can enter plant and animal body systems and can even pass through the blood-brain barrier. Some of the chemicals added to plastics or chemicals they pick up in the environment, when entering cells, can disrupt cell function including damaging the genes in reproductive cells (eggs, sperm) that will affect every following generation. Did you know that there are only three cell divisions between generations? A fertilized egg divides once, making a two-celled embryo, the divides again, making a four-celled embryo, the divides the third time making an eight-celled embryo. One of those eight cells becomes your reproductive organs.
Then there’s the problem with tire dust which is yes, another plastic, a synthetic rubber. A tire is basically one molecule, that’s why it is so resistant to microbial breakdown. According to the Poison book, there is an additive mixed into the rubber that gradually seeps out to keep a wax-like coating on the tire to reduce ozone damage. This is N-(1,3 dimethylbutyl)-N’-phenyl-p-phenylenediamine with the nick name 6PPD which becomes 6PPD-quinone. This has been found to kill coho (King) salmon when road run-off enters rivers, but it doesn’t kill chum salmon. There are about 13 billion pounds of tire-wear emissions every year, world-wide.
Did you know that there is so much polyethylene made that there are ethylene pipelines? It takes a lot of ethylene gas to condense into plastics. And the petrochemical industry fully expects to triple plastics production by 2060. Besides human dependency upon the energy slaves of fossil fuels, plastics have assisted the explosion of human population by providing fiber and material for clothing for over 60% of the population, similar to the over 40% of the population that are here by the miracle of manufactured nitrogen fertilizers (made with fossil fuel energy).
A report in phys.org/news3 which relates to a study in Hazardous Materials4 shows how aged microplastics can absorb common chemicals such as pharmaceutical and personal care products. This is not good news since these tiny particles can travel great distances and get into bodies of water, soils and be incorporated into animal and plant tissue.
“A dataset of organic pollutants identified and quantified in recycled polyethylene pellets” By: Eric Carmona, Elisa Rojo-Nieto, Christoph D. Rummel, Martin Krauss, Kristian Syberg, Tiffany M Ramos, Sara Brosche, Thomas Backhaus, Bethanie Carney Almroth https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352340923008090?via%3Dihub
Plastics are produced with a staggering array of chemical compounds, with many being known to possess hazardous properties, and others lacking comprehensive hazard data. Furthermore, non-intentionally added substances can contaminate plastics at various stages of their lifecycle, resulting in recycled materials containing an unknown number of chemical compounds at unknown concentrations. While some national and regional regulations exist for permissible concentrations of hazardous chemicals in specific plastic products, less than 1 % of plastics chemicals are subject to international regulation. There are currently no policies mandating transparent reporting of chemicals throughout the plastics value chain or comprehensive monitoring of chemicals in recycled materials.
The dataset presented here provides the chemical analysis of 28 samples of recycled High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pellets obtained from various regions of the Global South, along with a reference sample of virgin HDPE. The analysis comprises both Target and Non-Targeted Screening approaches, employing Liquid Chromatography-High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry (LC-HRMS) and Gas Chromatography-High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry (GC-HRMS). In total, 491 organic compounds were detected and quantified, with an additional 170 compounds tentatively annotated. These compounds span various classes, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, plastic additives.
The results highlight the prevalence of certain chemicals, such as N-ethyl-o-Toluesulfonamide, commonly used in HDPE processing, found in high concentrations. The paper provides a dataset advancing knowledge of the complex chemical composition associated with recycled plastics.
Commenting on this study:
In a study, published in Data in Brief, led by Bethanie Carney Almroth, plastic pellets from plastic recycle plants in 13 different countries in Africa, South America, Asia and Eastern Europe were found to contain hundreds of chemicals, including numerous highly toxic pesticides.
There are few regulations on chemicals in plastics, and international trade in plastics waste complicate this issue.
In a correspondence published in Science researchers from the University of Gothenburg, IPEN, Aarhus University, and the University of Exeter noted that,
"The hazardous chemicals present risks to recycling workers and consumers, as well as to the wider society and environment. Before recycling can contribute to tackling the plastics pollution crisis, the plastics industry must limit hazardous chemicals."
More than 13,000 chemicals used in plastics with 25% classified as hazardous. Scientists state that "no plastic chemical [can be] classified as safe."
Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth brings a clear message to next week's meeting in Nairobi: "Numerous studies show that hazardous chemicals can accumulate even in relatively close-loop plastic recycling systems. We need to rapidly phase-out plastic chemicals that can cause harm to human health and the environment."
“Flame retardant chemicals can cause serious health risks – and they only slow fire by a few seconds” by Martin Sharkey, Nov 15, 2023 https://theconversation.com/flame-retardant-chemicals-can-cause-serious-health-risks-and-they-only-slow-fire-by-a-few-seconds-214658
“A Fish Tale: A Century of Museum Specimens Reveal Increasing MP Concentrations in Freshwater Fish” By: Hou, Loren, Caleb D. McMahan, Rae E. McNeish, Keenan Munno, Chelsea M. Rodman, Timothy J. Hoellein (2021) Ecological Applications 31(5) https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.2320
“Plastic is pervasive in modern economies and ecosystems. Freshwater fish ingest microplastics (i.e., particles <5 mm), but no studies have examined historical patterns of their microplastic consumption. Measuring the patterns of microplastic pollution in the past is critical for predicting future trends and for understanding the relationship between plastics in fish and the environment. We measured microplastics in digestive tissues of specimens collected from the years 1900–2017 and preserved in museum collections. We collected new fish specimens in 2018, along with water and sediment samples. We selected four species: Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass), Notropis stramineus (sand shiner), Ictalurus punctatus (channel catfish), and Neogobius melanostomus (round goby) because each was well represented in museum collections, are locally abundant, and collected from urban habitats. For each individual, we dissected the digestive tissue from esophagus to anus, subjected tissue to peroxide oxidation, examined particles under a dissecting microscope, and used Raman spectroscopy to characterize the particles' chemical composition. No microplastics were detected in any fish prior to 1950. From mid-century to 2018, microplastic concentrations showed a significant increase when data from all fish were considered together. All detected particles were fibers, and represented plastic polymers (e.g., polyester) along with mixtures of natural and synthetic textiles. For the specimens collected in 2018, microplastics in fish and sediment showed similar patterns across study sites, while water column microplastics showed no differences among locations. Overall, plastic pollution in common freshwater fish species is increasing and pervasive across individuals and species, and is likely related to changes in environmental concentrations. Museum specimens are an overlooked source for assessing historical patterns of microplastic pollution, and for predicting future trends in freshwater fish, thereby helping to sustain the health of commercial and recreational fisheries worldwide.”
“Temporal Archive of Atmospheric MP Deposition Presented in Ombrotrohic Peat” By: Allan, D.S., S. Allen, G. LaRoux, A. Simmonneau, D. Galop, V.R. Phoenix (2021) Env. Sci. and Tech. Letters 8 https://doi.org/10.102/acs.estlett.1.00697
“All aquatic species in river mouths are contaminated by microplastics”, says new report by Autonomous University of Barcelona https://phys.org/news/2023-11-aquatic-species-river-mouths-contaminated.html and https://www.uab.cat/doc/10_DATOS_MICROPLASTICS_EN https://jpi-oceans.eu/ecological-aspects-microplastics
“Large Plastic Debris Dumps: New Biodiversity Hot Spots Emerging on the Deep-Sea Floor” By: Xikun Song*, Mingxin Lyu, Xiaodi Zhang, Bernhard Ruthensteiner, In-Young Ahn, Guido Pastorino, Yunan Wang, Yifan Gu, Kaiwen Ta, Jie Sun, Xi Liu, Jian Han, Caihuan Ke, and Xiaotong Peng, Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2021, 8, 2, 148–154 Publication Date:January 5, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00967 https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00967
Macroplastic debris recorded in the Mariana Trench and accumulated on some deep-sea canyons worldwide has aroused great public concerns. Large plastic debris dumps found in canyons of the Xisha Trough, South China Sea have become hot spots for deep-sea pollution, with 1 order of magnitude higher abundance than in other investigated canyons. Here we adopted an integrative specimen-based approach to examine macroplastic items from large debris dumps in the Xisha Trough and comparative items from continental shelves with rare macroplastics. On the investigated items, we found an epibenthic ecosystem with relatively high species diversity, comprised of 49 mm-sized fungi and invertebrate species dominated by scyphozoan polyps and brachiopod juveniles according to inhabiting density. These large dumps are functioning as new biodiversity hot spots hosting endemic species like soft corals or aplacophoran molluscs, providing a spawning habitat for gastropods and even specialized parasitic flatworms, and can be inferred as potential scattered regional sources releasing deep-sea coronate jellyfish. We hypothesize that macroplastics can boost population extension of sessile and some free-living (Mollusca) invertebrates and affect the deep-sea benthic-pelagic coupling process. The baseline of associated organisms needs to be set up and monitored in more canyons, where debris is transported to and accumulated at the highest density.
“Microplastic fragmentation by rotifers in aquatic ecosystems contributes to global nanoplastic pollution” by: Jian Zhao, Ruyi Lan, Zhenyu Wang, Wenli Su, Dongpo Song, Runze Xue, Zhuomiao Liu, Xia Liu, Yanhui Dai, Tongtao Yue & Baoshan Xing Nature Nanotechnology (2023) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41565-023-01534-9
The role of aquatic organisms in the biological fragmentation of microplastics and their contribution to global nanoplastic pollution are poorly understood. Here we present a biological fragmentation pathway that generates nanoplastics during the ingestion of microplastics by rotifers, a commonly found and globally distributed surface water zooplankton relevant for nutrient recycling. Both marine and freshwater rotifers could rapidly grind polystyrene, polyethylene and photo-aged microplastics, thus releasing smaller particulates during ingestion. Nanoindentation studies of the trophi of the rotifer Chitinous mastax revealed a Young’s modulus of 1.46 GPa, which was higher than the 0.79 GPa for polystyrene microparticles, suggesting a fragmentation mechanism through grinding the edges of microplastics. Marine and freshwater rotifers generated over 3.48 × 105 and 3.66 × 105 submicrometre particles per rotifer in a day, respectively, from photo-aged microplastics. Our data suggest the ubiquitous occurrence of microplastic fragmentation by different rotifer species in natural aquatic environments of both primary and secondary microplastics of various polymer compositions and provide previously unidentified insights into the fate of microplastics and the source of nanoplastics in global surface waters.
"We show for the first time the ubiquitous fragmentation of microplastics by rotifers," says Jian Zhao, professor of environmental science and engineering at the Ocean University of China and the paper's lead author.
"This is a newly discovered route to produce and generate nanoplastics in both freshwater and seawater system worldwide, in addition to well-known physical and photochemical fragmentations. This finding is helpful for accurately evaluating the global flux of nanoplastics. In addition, it is known that nanoplastics can not only be potentially toxic to various organisms, they can also serve as carriers for other contaminants in the environment. Furthermore, the release of chemical additives in the plastic can be enhanced during and after the fragmentation."
"Our work is just the first step," adds Xing. "We need to look at other organisms on the land and in water for biological fragmentation of microplastics and collaborate with toxicologists and public health researchers to determine what this plague of nanoplastics is doing to us."
“Moving from symptom management to upstream plastics prevention: The fallacy of plastic cleanup technology” by: Melanie Bergmann, Hans Peter H. Arp, Bethanie Carney Almroth, Win Cowger, Marcus Eriksen, Tridibesh Dey, Sedat Gündoğdu, Rebecca R. Helm, Anja Krieger, Kristian Syberg, Mine B. Tekman, Richard C. Thompson, Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, Anish Kumar Warrier, Trisia Farrelly https://www.cell.com/one-earth/fulltext/S2590-3322(23)00497-9 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2023.10.022
“Atmospheric nanoparticle growth” by:Dominik Stolzenburg, Runlong Cai, Sara M. Blichner, Jenni Kontkanen, Putian Zhou, Risto Makkonen, Veli-Matti Kerminen, Markku Kulmala, Ilona Riipinen, and Juha Kangasluoma, Reviews of Modern Physics (2023) 95, 045002 – Published 9 November 2023 https://dx.doi.org/10.1103/RevModPhys.95.045002
“Long-distance atmospheric transport of microplastic fibres influenced by their shapes” By: Shuolin Xiao, Yuanfeng Cui, Janice Brahney, Natalie M. Mahowald & Qi Li Nature Geoscience volume 16, pages 863–870 (2023) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-023-01264-6
“Microbial hitchhikers harbouring antimicrobial-resistance genes in the riverine plastisphere.” By: Vinko Zadjelovic, Robyn J. Wright, Chiara Borsetto, Jeannelle Quartey, Tyler N. Cairns, Morgan G. I. Langille, Elizabeth M. H. Wellington & Joseph A. Christie-Oleza (2023) Microbiome 11, 225 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-023-01662-3 163 references
“The widespread nature of plastic pollution has given rise to wide scientific and social concern regarding the capacity of these materials to serve as vectors for pathogenic bacteria and reservoirs for Antimicrobial Resistance Genes (ARG). In- and ex-situ incubations were used to characterise the riverine plastisphere taxonomically and functionally in order to determine whether antibiotics within the water influenced the ARG profiles in these microbiomes and how these compared to those on natural surfaces such as wood and their planktonic counterparts.”
“We show that plastics support a taxonomically distinct microbiome containing potential pathogens and ARGs. While the plastisphere was similar to those biofilms that grew on wood, they were distinct from the surrounding water microbiome.”
So what would the record of the Anthropocene look like millennia from now?
Quoting Mark Twain, “It is difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future,” but here goes…
Look for the definite beginnings of a layer of plastics residue in ocean sediments, lakes and land areas. That plastics layer gradually builds up, containing ever more remains of plants and animals. And all this is on top of the present under-sea human trash: sunken ships, containers of nuclear waste, undersea cables, fallen satellites and other trash that flows into the oceans. Remember this - the plastics issue - micro and nano-plastics, is orders of magnitude (note the plural!) more disastrous than the climate catastrophe. The toxic effects of plastic particles entering all life forms will radically hasten the Sixth Extinction. No, “we” will NOT survive this - this development of plastics was the great Fatal Mistake of the ages. It cannot be undone - you cannot set up huge machines to remove and sequester plastics from the environment. It is not a problem, it is not a predicament like global warming, it is an unmitigated disaster.
That is, if someone doesn’t first push the button that sets off nuclear war.
If you want to put that theoretical “spike” somewhere, don’t pick a place, rather pick a date: 1950, since “no microplastics were found in fish before 1950.” That is also the approximate time when CO2 levels in the atmosphere began an exponential increase which continues to this date in spite of numerous climate conferences.
Have I just written the worst doom-scroll ever? Possibly. But apparently it takes almost a strike by a meteorite on each person to bump them out of their city-life routine and take a look at what is left of Earth around them. Or is this even possible? Do we actually have free will? What exactly binds people into their small little worlds? Aren’t we supposed to be the smart ones (Homo sapiens)? Perhaps these issues can be solved in the Great Mindshift. Yet people keep trying to revert to “normal” - even every level of junior sports teams has their own World Cup, meaning more flying around the world; just more alleviation of human boredom. And more “Olympics” are planned every year. It all has to stop! Don’t ask: “What gives you hope?” You can not entertain “hope” without engaging in some kind of mental disconnect between what is really happening and the tunnel vision of your little routines. The reality is that THERE IS NO HOPE as long as War is the main tool in the foreign-relations toolbox. First of all, there ARE no “foreign” relations, unless you know some alien beings - we are ALL TOGETHER on this little spaceship-Earth and should make that concept our mission. Every day that war starts or one continues is a TOTAL failure of human society. It CANNOT go on for another day! When and only when that issue is permanently resolved then we can go on to address a thousand other important tasks. Life depends on it!
Even after the coming mass extinction, after the plastics mess finally settles into stratigraphic layers and radiation reduces to a normal background, life forms will again begin inhabiting this planet. But in the present age, if humans continue to be a rogue species and refuse to live in harmony with other life, then the forces of Nature must eliminate this parasite.
Meanwhile, any day the Sun comes up (no nuclear winter) is a good day, so enjoy each one. Try to live a simpler life and absolutely reject any further attempts at “Progress,” we have had too much of that already.
"We must beware of needless innovation, especially when guided by logic." ~ Winston Churchill
1) “Metals from spacecraft reentry in stratospheric aerosol particles” Daniel M. Murphy (https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8091-7235) (email@example.com), Maya Abou-Ghanem (https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1417-8937), Daniel J. Cziczo (https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1851-8740), and Xiaoli Shen, Edited by Mark Thiemens, University of California, San Diego, CA; received August 3, 2023; accepted September 7, 2023, Published by EARTH, ATMOSPHERIC, AND PLANETARY SCIENCES, Vol. 120 | No. 43, (120 (43) e2313374120) October 16, 2023 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2313374120
2) “Precisely dating the Frasnian–Famennian boundary: implications for the cause of the Late Devonian mass extinction” L. M. E. Percival, J. H. F. L. Davies, U. Schaltegger, D. De Vleeschouwer, A.-C. Da Silva & K. B. Föllmi (2018) Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 9578 (2018) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-27847-7
3) “Predicting potential problems of persistent plastic particulates” by Singapore University of Technology and Design, OCTOBER 20, 2023 https://phys.org/news/2023-10-potential-problems-persistent-plastic-particulates.html
4) “Predicting adsorption capacity of pharmaceuticals and personal care products on long-term aged microplastics using machine learning” By: Jingjing Yao, Haipu Li, Hui Ying Yang (2023) Journal of Hazardous Materials, Volume 458, 2023, 131963 ISSN 0304-3894, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhazmat.2023.131963. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304389423012463
5) “A Poison Like No Other - How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies” by Matt Simon ISBN: 9781642832358 Pub Date: October 2022 https://islandpress.org/books/poison-no-other https://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/1642832359/
6) “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2°C. global warming could be dangerous.” James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Paul Hearty, Reto Ruedy, Maxwell Kelley, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Gary Russell, George Tselioudis, Junji Cao, Eric Rignot, Isabella Velicogna, Blair Tormey, Bailey Donovan, Evgeniya Kandiano, Karina von Schuckmann, Pushker Kharecha, Allegra N. Legrande, Michael Bauer, and Kwok-Wai Lo, Received: 11 June 2015 – Published in Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss.: 23 July 2015 Revised: 17 February 2016 – Accepted: 18 February 2016 – Published: 22 March 2016 Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 3761–3812, 2016 https://acp.copernicus.org/articles/16/3761/2016/acp-16-3761-2016.pdf
Zhi Li et al, “”Recent acceleration in global ocean heat accumulation by mode and intermediate waters” Nature Communications (2023). https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-42468-z
Huguenin, M.F. et al, “Drivers and distribution of global ocean heat uptake over the last half century” Nature Communications (2022) https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-32540-5
Xiangli Wang et al, “Spatial pattern of marine oxygenation set by tectonic and ecological drivers over the Phanerozoic,” Nature Geoscience (2023). https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41561-023-01296-y
Other reports on plastics:
“Microfiber Pollution in the Earth System” By: Jianli Liu, Qiang Liu, Lihui An, Ming Wang, Qingbo Yang, Bo Zhu, Jiannan Ding, Chuanyu Ye & Yuyao Xu, Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, Volume 260, Article number: 13 (2022) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s44169-022-00015-9
“Spectroscopic Investigation of Increased Fluorescent Intensity of Fluorescent Dyes When Adsorbed onto Polystyrene Microparticles” Hiroshi Aoki, Masaki Torimura & Hiroshi Habe, Analytical Sciences volume 37, pages773–779 (2021) https://link.springer.com/article/10.2116/analsci.20SCP22
“Implication of microplastics on soil faunal communities — identifying gaps of knowledge “ Bas Boots, Emerg Top Life Sci (2022) 6 (4): 403–409. https://doi.org/10.1042/ETLS20220023 https://portlandpress.com/emergtoplifesci/article-abstract/6/4/403/231749/Implication-of-microplastics-on-soil-faunal
“Micro and nano-plastics, a threat to human health?“ By: Sarah Bastyans; Simon Jackson; Gyorgy Fejer, Emerg Top Life Sci (2022) 6 (4): 411–422. https://doi.org/10.1042/ETLS20220024 https://portlandpress.com/emergtoplifesci/article-abstract/6/4/411/232185/Micro-and-nano-plastics-a-threat-to-human-health
Nature.com/Comment/ 06 November 2023 Nature 623, 250-252 (2023) doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-023-03425-4
“‘Oceans are hugely complex’: modelling marine microbes is key to climate forecasts” Microorganisms are the engines that drive most marine processes. Ocean modelling must evolve to take their biological complexity into account. by Alessandro Tagliabue
“Model projections that account for marine microbial processes with better accuracy and greater confidence are crucial to climate forecasts. They can be achieved only by breaking down disciplinary silos.”
https://thebulletin.org/2023/11/species-protections-lag-behind-climate-driven-declines/ by Chad Small, Nov 3, 2023
“The Arctic and the future Arctic? Soundscapes and marine mammal communities on the east and west sides of Svalbard characterized through acoustic data” by Samuel M. Llobet, Heidi Ahonen, Christian Lydersen, Kit M. Kovacs, Research Department, Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø, Norway. Front. Mar. Sci., 26 October 2023, Sec. Marine Biology, Volume 10 - 2023 https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2023.1208049 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2023.1208049/full
“Currently, Arctic marine mammal populations are facing multiple climate change related stressors simultaneously, including loss of habitat, competition from temperate species shifting their distributions northward, as well as increased levels of exposure to diseases and parasites and increased levels of noise.”
“Borealization of the Arctic Ocean in Response to Anomalous Advection From Sub-Arctic Seas” By: Igor V. Polyakov, Matthew B. Alkire, Bodil A. Bluhm, Kristina A. Brown, Eddy C. Carmack, Melissa Chierici, Seth L. Danielson, Ingrid Ellingsen, Elizaveta A. Ershova, Katarina Gårdfeldt, Randi B. Ingvaldsen, Andrey V. Pnyushkov, Dag Slagstad, Paul Wassmann https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2020.00491/full
Advection of Atlantic and pacific waters is affecting the Arctic Ocean in multiple ways including salinity, nutrients and heat content.
“100 years of anthropogenic impact causes changes in freshwater functional biodiversity,” by: Niamh Eastwood, Jiarui Zhou, Romain Derelle, Mohamed Abou-Elwafa Abdallah, William A Stubbings, Yunlu Jia, Sarah E Crawford, Thomas A Davidson, John K Colbourne, Simon Creer, Holly Bik, Henner Hollert, Luisa Orsin - eLife (2023). https://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.86576
“This research shows that if we fail to protect biodiversity, much of it could be lost forever."
“We observed that the freshwater community assemblage and functionality changed over time without returning to its original state, even if the lake partially recovered in recent times. Insecticides and fungicides, combined with extreme temperature events and precipitation, explained up to 90% of the functional biodiversity changes.”
This is a very important study into all aspects of human degradation of fresh-water habitats. Well worth your reading time!
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