Tag: Earth Sciences

Our Planet in the Hands of Academia

TAU to launch a multidisciplinary research center on climate change with the aim of finding practical solutions to the global crisis.

Tel Aviv University will soon launch the multidisciplinary Center for Climate Change Action, with the aim of finding practical solutions to the global crisis. The new center, the first of its kind in Israel, will operate in the framework of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and will cover the subject from all angles, utilizing the knowledge, resources and capabilities of all faculties on campus (engineering, medicine, the exact sciences, life sciences and earth sciences, law, the social sciences, humanities, and the arts). The center will collaborate with representatives from industry, academia and government, in Israel and around the world, in an effort to develop technological solutions, raise public awareness, promote legislation and regulations, and more. Furthermore, the center will support the development of new and existing projects, award scholarships to students, develop a fellowship program, fund mentorships and advanced training programs, and launch an accelerator in collaboration with industry representatives. In addition, the center will publish annual position papers and organize international conferences.

“The time has come to find solutions”

Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University: “Tel Aviv University is a partner in the need for all humankind to deal with the dangers of global warming and climate change. Confronting this challenge requires a view from many perspectives: technological, social, moral, economic, sociological, legal and more. The huge variety of disciplines at Tel Aviv University allows for such a broad view. This new multidisciplinary center that will deal with climate change joins the several multidisciplinary centers we have established in the last two years at the university, including the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, the Center for Combating Pandemics, and the Center for Quantum Science and Technology.” The center will be headed by Prof. Colin Price, Head of the university’s Department of Environmental Studies, who explains that “Basic research is important, but since we already know that there is a problem with global warming, and we know what causes the problem, the time has come to find solutions, from every perspective and every discipline. There are technological solutions that will come from engineering and the exact sciences, but there are also solutions that will come from regulation, public policy, and even psychology. After all, you don’t need modern technology to mobilize public support for action, and without this support, technological solutions will not be implemented. The Center for Climate Change Action will be a cross-campus collaboration, with partners in high-tech, industry, government and civil society.” According to Prof. Price, the main goal of the research center, and of humanity in general, is to first and foremost address the source of the problem, namely the greenhouse gases that humans emit into the atmosphere, and to meet the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as defined by the UN. “We have a total of 30 years to find solutions and reach a global balance, and there are still a lot of problems to solve,” adds Prof. Price. ”A good example of this is solar energy. It’s cheaper to generate electricity from solar energy today  than from a power plant that uses fuel, coal or even natural gas, but the solar energy must be transported to people’s homes, the electricity generated must be stored at night, that is, in batteries, and you need infrastructure to carry the energy to population centers. We need to invest in finding practical solutions today, in order to avoid the gloomy forecasts of tomorrow.” Prof. Colin Price: “We have a total of 30 years to find solutions and reach a global balance, and there are still a lot of problems to solve.”

Care for A Glass of Tel Aviv Air?

TAU study shows atmospheric water vapor in the city is suitable for drinking.

The best things in life are allegedly free, and a first-of-its-kind study in the world conducted at Tel Aviv University supports this belief. Researchers have found that nature’s very own champagne, generated from the air in the heart of an urban area, the city of Tel Aviv, complies with all of the strict drinking water standards set both by the State of Israel and by the World Health Organization. Have we finally found a solution to the global drinking water scarcity?

Like the Air that We Breathe

The constantly growing global shortage of clean drinking water requires thinking outside the box – and developing new technologies for producing potable water. The Earth’s atmosphere is a vast and renewable source of water, which may be an alternative drinking water resource. Our atmosphere contains billions of tons of water, 98% of which is in a gaseous state – that is, water vapor.

The study was conducted by a team of experts from the hydrochemistry laboratory at the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University, led by graduate student Offir Inbar and supervised by Prof. Dror Avisar, Head of TAU’s Moshe Mirilashvili Institute for Applied Water Studies. Also participating in the study was Watergen’s research and development team, Prof. Alexandra Chudnovsky, and leading researchers from Germany. The study’s results were published in two leading journals: Science of the Total Environment and Water.

Wind Flavored Water

Offir Inbar explains that this is the first study in the world to examine air pollution through its effect on drinking water generated from the air. No filtration or treatment system was installed in the device used in the study; the water that was produced was the water that was obtained from the air. The researchers performed a wide range of advanced chemical analyses of the water, and found that in the vast majority of cases, including during different seasons and at different times of the day, the water extracted from the air in the heart of Tel Aviv was safe to drink. In addition, with the help of a variety of innovative technologies for monitoring the composition of the atmosphere and by applying advanced statistical methods, for the first time the researchers were able to quantitatively link the process the air goes through in the days leading up to the point of water production and the chemical composition of the dew.

 

Tel Aviv –  a source of clean drinking water?

Offir Inbar explains: “The study showed that wind direction greatly affects water quality. When the wind comes from the desert, we find more calcium and sulfur – residues of desert dust aerosols – in the water. When the wind comes from the direction of the sea, we find higher concentrations of chlorine and sodium. We also found that the distant sources of the air, prior to when it reached the point of water production, can be identified in the water. Thus, water produced from air coming from the Sahara region differs in composition from water produced from air coming from Europe.”

Water quality is also affected by anthropogenic pollution from transportation and industry. “Using advanced methods, we found a direct link between the concentrations of ammonia, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide in the air and the concentration of their decomposition products in water,” says Inbar. “We found low concentrations of copper, potassium, and zinc in the water, which probably come from manmade pollution.

Minerals Should be Added

The chemical link we found between the meteorological parameters and the composition of the water makes it possible for the first time to study the atmosphere using water extracted from it. This link allows us to know what minerals should be added to water extracted from air in order to provide people with quality drinking water. In general, we found that potable water from air does not contain enough calcium and magnesium – and it is advisable to add these minerals to the water, just like they are added to desalinated drinking water in some countries.”

A significant portion of the water we drink in Israel today is desalinated seawater – a solution which Inbar says is only a partial solution, and not one that can provide drinking water to the vast majority of the world’s population. “In order to desalinate seawater, you need a sea. The sea, however, is not accessible from every place in the world,” says Inbar. “After desalination, a complete infrastructure must be built to carry the desalinated water from the waterfront to the various towns, and large parts of the world don’t possess the engineering and economic means for that. Water from the air can be produced anywhere, with no need for expensive transport infrastructure and regardless of the amount of precipitation. From an economic perspective, the higher the temperature and humidity, the more cost-effective the production of water from the air is.”

Devices for generating water from the air that include water purification and treatment systems are already in use in a lot of countries, and provide quality drinking water to people living in distressed areas. “The concern in this case was that water produced from air in the heart of an urban area would not be suitable for drinking. We have proved that this is not the case,” Inbar concludes. “We are currently expanding our research to other areas in Israel, including the Haifa Bay and agricultural areas, in order to investigate in depth, the impact of various pollutants on the quality of water extracted from the air.”

 

Featured image:Offir Inbar enjoys a glass of Tel Aviv atmosphere derived water in the lab

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Fighting Pollution With Seaweed

Coastal seaweed farms can help fight environmental damage.

Nitrogen is a common fertilizer for agriculture, but it comes with an environmental and financial price tag. Once nitrogen reaches the ocean, it disperses randomly, damaging various ecosystems. As a result, the state local authorities spend a great deal of money on reducing nitrogen concentrations in water, including in the Mediterranean Sea.

A new study by Tel Aviv University and University of California, Berkeley suggests that establishing seaweed farms in areas where freshwater rivers or streams meet the oceans, or so-called “river estuaries”, significantly reduces nitrogen concentrations and prevents pollution in marine environments.

As part of the study, the researchers built a large seaweed farm model for growing the ulva sp. green macroalgae in the Alexander River estuary, hundreds of meters from the open sea. The Alexander River was chosen because the river discharges polluting nitrogen from nearby upstream fields and towns into the Mediterranean Sea. Data for the model were collected over two years from controlled cultivation studies.

The study was headed by doctoral student Meiron Zollmann, under the joint supervision of Prof. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences and Prof. Alexander Liberzon of the School of Mechanical Engineering at The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, Tel Aviv University, and was conducted in collaboration with Prof. Boris Rubinsky of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. It was published in the prestigious journal Communications Biology.

“My laboratory researches basic processes and develops technologies for aquaculture,” explains Prof. Golberg. “We are developing technologies for growing seaweed in the ocean in order to offset carbon and extract various substances, such as proteins and starches, to offer a marine alternative to terrestrial agricultural production. In this study, we showed that if seaweed is grown according to the model we developed, in rivers’ estuaries, they can absorb the nitrogen to conform to environmental standards and prevent its dispersal in water and thus neutralize environmental pollution. This way, we actually produce a kind of ‘natural decontamination facility’ with significant ecological and economic value, as seaweed can be sold as biomass for human use.”

Profitable and Environmentally Friendly

“Our model allows marine farmers, as well as government and environmental bodies, to know in advance what the impact will be and what the products of a large seaweed farm will be – before setting up the actual farm,” adds Meiron Zollmann. “Thanks to mathematics, we know how to make the adjustments also concerning large agricultural farms and maximize environmental benefits, including producing the agriculturally desired protein quantities.”

“The whole world is moving towards green energy, and seaweed can be a significant source,” adds Prof. Liberzon, “and yet today, there is no single farm with the proven technological and scientific capability. The barriers are also scientific: We do not really know what the impact of a huge farm will be on the marine environment. It is like transitioning from a vegetable garden outside the house to endless fields of industrial farming. Our model provides some of the answers, hoping to convince decision-makers that such farms will be profitable and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, one can imagine even more far-reaching scenarios. For example, green energy: If we knew how to utilize the growth rates for energy in better percentages, it would be possible to embark on a one-year cruise with a kilogram of seaweed, with no additional fuel beyond the production of biomass in a marine environment.”

“The interesting connection we offer here is growing seaweed at the expense of nitrogen treatment,” concludes Prof. Golberg. “In fact, we have developed a planning tool for setting up seaweed farms in estuaries to address the environmental issue while producing economic benefit. We offer the design of seaweed farms in river estuaries containing large quantities of agriculturally related nitrogen residues to rehabilitate the estuary and prevent nitrogen from reaching the ocean while growing the seaweed itself for food. In this way, aquaculture complements terrestrial agriculture.”

Featured image: The cultivation reactor that was used as the base of the model

Microplastics Increase Toxicity of Organic Pollutants by a Factor of 10

May cause severe damage to our health.

Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic that are found almost everywhere: in wells, soil, food products, water bottles, and even in glaciers at the North Pole. A new study by Tel Aviv University researchers found that in a marine environment, microplastics encounter environmental pollutants that attach to their surface and increase their toxicity by a factor of 10, which may cause severe harm to the environment and human health.

The study was conducted by Dr. Ines Zucker of the School of Mechanical Engineering and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University, together with Ph. D. student Andrey Eitan Rubin. The study was recently published in the prestigious journal Chemosphere.

‘Magnets’ for Environmental Pollutants

In the study, the researchers examined the entire process that the microplastic undergoes, from the interactions it has with environmental pollutants to the release of the pollutants and the creation of increased toxicity.

The researchers found that adsorption of those organic pollutants to the microplastics increases toxicity by a factor of 10 and may also cause severe impact on humans who are exposed to contaminated food and drink.

“In this study we showed that even very low concentrations of environmental pollutants, which are non-toxic to humans, once adsorb to the microplastic result in significant increase in toxicity,” says Dr. Zucker. “This is because microplastics are a kind of ‘magnet’ for environmental pollutants, concentrating them on its surfaces, ‘ferrying’ them through our digestive tract, and releasing them in a concentrated form in certain areas – thus causing increased toxicity.”

 

From left to right: Ph. D. student Andrey Eitan Rubin, Dr. Ines Zucker and Dr. Amit Kumar Sarkar

Not Just a Remote Problem

Ph. D. student Andrey Eitan Rubin adds: “For the first time we are presenting a complete ‘life cycle’ of microplastics: from the moment of their release into the environment, through the adsorption of environmental pollutants and up to their joint toxicity in humans.”

“The amount of waste dumped into the ocean every year is enormous – the best known example is the plastic island in the Pacific Ocean, which has an area 80 times larger than the State of Israel.”

This is not just a remote problem. The researchers’ preliminary monitoring data show that Israel’s shores are among the most polluted with microplastic waste. “Each of the microplastic particles secreted in these areas has tremendous potential for harm, as they serve as an effective and stable platform for any pollutant that they may encounter on their way to the human body,” warns Rubin.

                                                                                                                   “This is another painful reminder of the dire consequences of polluting the marine and terrestrial environment with hazardous industrial waste, which has unfortunately been saturated with plastic in recent decades. The dangers are not theoretical but are more tangible than ever. Although there is a great deal of awareness of this problem, the preventive measures in the field are still far from imprinting a significant mark,” concludes Dr. Zucker.

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