A century ago, Panama beat out Nicaragua to snag one of the biggest engineering projects of the age: a U.S.-backed canal that would link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, creating a shorter trade route between East and West. In 2014 — the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal’s completion — Nicaragua made plans for its own interoceanic linkage, which would be triple the length of Panama’s. If completed, the project could break Panama’s long- standing monopoly on the shipping trade in the region — but at a severe ecological price.
Nicaragua has great expectations for the Grand Canal, a US$50-billion, 5-year project to link its Caribbean and Pacific coasts with a 280-kilometre waterway. President Daniel Ortega and other supporters of the canal, who celebrated the start of construction on 22 December, say that it will generate much-needed income for residents of the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Continue reading
In a laboratory on Norway’s fjord-laced coast, Jane Feste bubbles some carbon dioxide gas through a liquid for a crowd of visitors. “I will take an amine—that’s a base—and that will absorb…the CO2. So [that’s] what’s happening out in the plant, just shown for the eye here,” the laboratory technician explains. She’s referring to Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM), the US $1 billion, 350-megawatt power plant and test facility that the Norwegian government and several energy firms built. The assembled journalists cannot seem to decide if they should applaud the spectacle or if they’re witnessing a modern case of the emperor’s new clothes. Continue reading
Researchers from the University of Granada collected mountain lake sediments from Laguna de Río Seco in southern Spain that had accumulated over 10,000 years, trapping deposits from the atmosphere. In these stacks of mud, they found fine layers of lead that reveal millennia of metalworking and migration, and may be the oldest evidence of air pollution in southern Europe. “[The mud] has been capturing the evolution of air pollution from the Neolithic to present times and giving us an idea of the activity of each of the populations that have passed through southern Iberia,” says team leader José Antonio Lozano, “such as the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and more.”
The team dates the first man-made uptick in pollution to between 3,900 and 3,500 years ago, which matches the appearance at nearby sites of coins, weapons, and decorations that, when made, left behind lead by-products. The lead records also attest to a quiet period, when mining moved elsewhere in Iberia, and to a spike corresponding with a period of Roman mining. But all those signals are dwarfed by a more modern surge, which the team attributes to the leaded gasoline in heavy use from the 1950s to the 1970s. The good news, the researchers report, is that present-day lead levels are already below those of the worst Roman deposits.