This Week on Earth: February 4-11


Hedgehog Plight in the UK

Hedgehog numbers in the United Kingdom have fallen by about 50 percent since 2000. Studies show that the animals are disappearing faster in rural areas, as hedgerows and field margins are lost to farming.

The creation of larger fields has resulted in the loss of hedges, which means fewer nesting sites and less protection for hedgehogs.

BBC reports that the current hedgehog population in England, Wales, and Scotland stands at one million, an alarming drop from 30 million in the 1950s.

However, there is some hope for hedgehogs in urban areas.

David Wembridge, surveys officer for the conservation charity, “People’s Trust for Endangered Species,” stated that there is an indication hedgehog numbers have levelled in the past four years.

People in the UK are encouraged to put out wet cat and dog food for hedgehogs, and providing more hedgerows and scrubby areas for the animals to nest in.


Massive Amounts of Mercury Discovered in Permafrost

We’ve known for a while that the Arctic permafrost, when thawed, releases carbon which exacerbates climate change, but researchers have discovered another effect that is potentially very dangerous. This thick frozen layer of soil also contains a large reserve of mercury that could be released, in addition to the carbon.

The Scientific American reported study results that show the Arctic permafrost holds about 793 gigagrams of mercury, the equivalent of about 23 Olympic swimming pools. This, combined with the amount of mercury stored in the active layer of soil above the permafrost, adds up to a total of 1,656 gigagrams.

Between 20 and 99 percent of the near surface permafrost is predicted to thaw by 2100. The effects of this thawing are extreme.

The mercury could be washed into the Arctic Ocean and circulate throughout the global marine system or it could escape into the atmosphere and then travel to other parts of the planet. Either way, mercury can be converted into a toxic form dangerous to most living things.

Experts like Noelle Selin, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agree, saying this is proof that climate change succeeds in making a lot of other environmental issues much worse.


Rainfall Brings Hope to Cape Town Residents

This past Friday, the residents of Cape Town, South Africa, rejoiced when the forecasts proved true and rain fell.

The drought-hit city has been trying to conserve water every chance they can get. In January, local authorities cut residents’ water allowance to 50 liters per day. This is enough for a short shower and one toilet flush each day, and just one load of laundry a week.

People took Friday’s rainfall as a chance to store some extra water for day-to-day activities.

However, it is unlikely Cape Town has seen the last of their water struggles-- there is still a very real chance the city will run out of water.

Although “Day Zero” has been moved to May 11 from its previous projected date in April, this was not caused by the rainfall, but by farmers around the city using less water.