Science  28 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6055, pp. 440

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  1. Laundry Lint Collecting in Oceans

    The infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the poster child for detritus in the ocean. But microscopic plastic fibers from synthetic fabrics are also a pollutant worth watching, according to a 1 November study in Environmental Science and Technology.


    Nearly 2000 polyester fibers can float away from a fleece sweater in one wash cycle, the study reports. That synthetic lint likely makes its way through sewage treatment systems and into oceans around the world. Ecologist Mark Browne of University College Dublin and his team recruited colleagues on six continents to scoop sand from 18 beaches. Nearly 80% of those filaments, they found, were made of polyester or acrylic, compounds common in textiles. The researchers traced the fibers to sewage dumped into the ocean: Synthetic lint was relatively common in both treated wastewater and in ocean sediments from sites where sewage sludge had been dumped.

    There is no direct evidence that the fibers harm marine life, but other studies have found that microplastics in the ocean absorb pollutants such as DDT. And Browne's own work has shown that filter-feeding mussels will consume tiny plastic particles, which then enter the animals' bloodstreams and even cells.

  2. Bleak Prospects for Avoiding Dangerous Global Warming

    Reining in greenhouse gas emissions in time to avert serious changes to Earth's climate will be at best extremely difficult, according to a study published online 23 October in Nature Climate Change. Current goals for reducing emissions fall far short of what's needed, the study suggests.

    The study merges model estimates of greenhouse gas emissions through 2100 with calculations of climate response. Climate scientist Joeri Rogelj of ETH Zurich and colleagues found 193 model simulations in the published literature that keep global warming below 2°C at the lowest cost. The researchers then fed the full range of emissions from the scenarios into a simple climate model to estimate the odds of avoiding a dangerous warming.

    The results suggest challenging times ahead for decision makers. Strategies that are both plausible and likely to succeed call for emissions to peak this decade and start dropping right away; they should be far less than half of current emissions by 2050. Only three of the 193 scenarios examined would be very likely to keep the warming below the danger level, and all of those require heavy use of systems that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as carbon sequestration.