Weekly Environmental News: May 5 – May 11, 2013

This week in environmental news: atmospheric carbon dioxide levels; the impending insect invasion in the Northeastern U.S.; GMOs from Monsanto; and the potential of smart phones.

Carbon dioxide levels continue to soar

Average daily levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide passed an urgent milestone on Thursday, reaching 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. Levels of CO2 haven’t been that high since the Pliocene, a time when the Earth was warmer and sea levels were much higher.  While some countries have already adopted target emission levels in the hopes of slowing global warming, the two greatest producers of  COemissions – the U.S. and China – have refused to sign on. Since the industrial revolution, CO2 levels have increased over 40 percent.

Insect swarms abound 

Every 17 years, the periodical cicadas known as Brood II (one of 15 broods in the United States) emerge from the ground to molt, mate, and die – all within a two week period.  Their coinciding life cycle is a survival strategy – safety in numbers – and predators easily kill those that deviate and emerge off-schedule. A National Geographic Society sponsored mapping project  aims to collect and share data on reported cicada sightings.

On the other side of the globe, 500 billion locusts are swarming over Madagascar, devouring vegetation and putting millions at risk for food shortages and malnutrition as a result of reduced crop yields.

Creative Commons Image “Soybean Aphid” courtesy of pennstatenews on Flickr.

Creative Commons Image “Soybean Aphid” courtesy of pennstatenews on Flickr.

GMOs under review

The Department of Agriculture has delayed approval of two groups of genetically modified crops from Dow Chemical and Monsanto, on the basis that their introduction will increase the use of two herbicides (2,4-D and dicamba), which the crops are designed to resist.  Although many farmers and environmental groups are concerned about environmental impacts related to herbicide-drift, the Department of Agriculture maintains that the review is focusing on plant pest risk.

Is that a weather station in your pocket?

 With the launch of a new app for Android phones, smart phone sensors could contribute to crowd-sourced weather reporting, already in existence on sites such as the UK’s Weather Observation Website.

(The top image is a Creative Commons image “17-Year Periodical Cicada – Brood XIII (Magicicada sp.)” courtesy of Jason Stumr 72 on Flickr.) 

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