A Norwegian company’s plan to make ice cubes out of glaciers unsettles some

A tiny coastal town in Norway is about to become home to an ambitious enterprise that will turn a diminishing glacier into a high-end cocktail cooler. Is there cause for alarm?

The Guardian
April 4, 2015

Logo-GuardianGlomfjord, Norway, is a coastal town of 1,120 residents just north of the Arctic Circle. For decades, it was home to a chemical plant that produced ammonia. After it was shuttered in 1993, two Norwegian solar power entrepreneurs saw an opportunity, and Renewable Energy Corporation began making solar panels in the former ammonia plant in 1997. Sadly, lower manufacturing costs in Asia forced REC to move its domestic production overseas, and it closed its doors in Glomfjord three years ago.

Now, a startup company called Svaice is occupying that old factory, and aims to make a very low-tech product – ice cubes – from an abundant (yet diminishing) local resource: glaciers.

Svartisen glacier Photo: Julian G. Albert/Flickr
Svartisen glacier Photo: Julian G. Albert/Flickr

Specifically, the ice would come from nearby Vestre Svartisen, the second-largest glacier in Norway. Since Svaice, led by local businessman Geir Olsen, announced its business plan last year, it has attracted both interest among local government officials eager to support a new local employer, as well as incredulity among people who cannot fathom commoditizing chunks of a glacier that is already receding rapidly.

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Thanks, everyone, but the koalas have enough mittens now

Everyone loves animals in little outfits. But couple that with an environmental campaign and you’ve created an unstoppable craft monster.

The Guardian
January 29, 2015

Logo-GuardianThere is little that is likely to stir readers more than photos of adorable animals dressed up in funny clothes. Add the element of a vulnerable species rescued from the brink of death and destruction and you have clickbait gold.

Such was the case earlier this month when one of the world’s largest animal welfare and conservation charities, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), put out a call for assistance with crafting mittens for koalas whose paws were burned in wildfires across southeastern Australia.

“Our supporters are always asking what they can do to help,” says Josey Sharrad,native wildlife campaigner for IFAW’s Australia chapter. “So [when this wildfire hit] we put a little campaign together and sent it to our supporters and local media and we posted it to Facebook.”

More than 150 media outlets – from The Guardian to Good Morning America, not to mention scores of blogs – posted irresistible IFAW photos of koalas with burned paws wearing cotton mittens. The photos were accompanied by appeals to readers to pitch in and help.

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Visualizing the Stories Data Can Tell

Scientists and technologists are turning numbers about everything from condors to ocean-floor contours into visual representations of environmental issues.

Ensia
December 16, 2014

ensia_logoWe’re living in an era of Big Data, but too often it’s nothing more than a fire hose of numbers and data sets that most would have difficulty understanding. Increasingly, though, entities such as non-governmental organizations, research institutes, academic journals and, most significantly, the U.S. government, are sharing massive stores of data not just for transparency, but also to encourage others to use the data in helpful, innovative ways.

“Lots of government data has always been available, particularly in the environmental area and science, but it hasn’t always been really accessible or easy to find, or in formats that nonscientists understand,” says Jeanne Holm, who serves as evangelist forData.gov — a growing online repository of data from federal, state and local agencies — as well as chief knowledge architect at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Today, open data and open-source software — computer software that is made publicly available for anyone to use and manipulate in any way — is an important part of the process of translating data into something an engaged citizenry can use to shine a light on a wide range of environmental (and other) issues and point to solutions.

Following are some examples of how academics, programmers, NGOs and others are doing just that.

Water

In California, Laci Videmsky, project director with the Resource Renewal Institute and a visiting lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design, is part of a team of designers, hydrologists and developers creating theNew California Water Atlas — a digital upgrade to the California Water Atlas published in 1979 that has been called a “monument of 20th century cartographic publishing.” The vision for the New California Water Atlas, Videmsky says, is as a user’s guide to the state’s hugely complex and overburdened water system. The atlas includes an interactive water-pricing map showing what ratepayers across the state are paying per 100 cubic feet. “We want to provide possible benchmarks for the utilities, so they can see if their pricing is sustainable,” says Videmsky, noting that pricing for water in California is generally low and does not reflect real costs.

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Inside the lonely fight against the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of

In 2011, an ecologist released an alarming study showing that tiny clothing fibers could be the biggest source of plastic in our oceans. The bigger problem? No one wanted to hear it.

The Guardian
October 27, 2014

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Ecologist Mark Browne knew he’d found something big when, after months of tediously examining sediment along shorelines around the world, he noticed something no one had predicted: fibers. Everywhere. They were tiny and synthetic and he was finding them in the greatest concentration near sewage outflows. In other words, they were coming from us.

In fact, 85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibers, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing.

microfiber synthetics
Microfibers found in seawater. Photo: Abby Barrows

It is not news that microplastic – which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines as plastic fragments 5mm or smaller – is ubiquitous in all five major ocean gyres. And numerous studies have shown that small organisms readily ingest microplastics, introducing toxic pollutants to the food chain.

But Browne’s 2011 paper announcing his findings marked a milestone, according to Abigail Barrows, an independent marine research scientist based in Stonington, Maine, who has helped to check for plastic in more than 150 one-liter water samples collected around the world. “He’s fantastic – very well respected” among marine science researchers, says Barrows. “He is a pioneer in microplastics research.”

By sampling wastewater from domestic washing machines, Browne estimated that around 1,900 individual fibers can be rinsed off a single synthetic garment – ending up in our oceans.

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