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Concept: Impact assessment

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Indian Himalayan basins are earmarked for widespread dam building, but aggregate effects of these dams on terrestrial ecosystems are unknown. We mapped distribution of 292 dams (under construction and proposed) and projected effects of these dams on terrestrial ecosystems under different scenarios of land-cover loss. We analyzed land-cover data of the Himalayan valleys, where dams are located. We estimated dam density on fifth- through seventh-order rivers and compared these estimates with current global figures. We used a species-area relation model (SAR) to predict short- and long-term species extinctions driven by deforestation. We used scatter plots and correlation studies to analyze distribution patterns of species and dams and to reveal potential overlap between species-rich areas and dam sites. We investigated effects of disturbance on community structure of undisturbed forests. Nearly 90% of Indian Himalayan valleys would be affected by dam building and 27% of these dams would affect dense forests. Our model projected that 54,117 ha of forests would be submerged and 114,361 ha would be damaged by dam-related activities. A dam density of 0.3247/1000 km(2) would be nearly 62 times greater than current average global figures; the average of 1 dam for every 32 km of river channel would be 1.5 times higher than figures reported for U.S. rivers. Our results show that most dams would be located in species-rich areas of the Himalaya. The SAR model projected that by 2025, deforestation due to dam building would likely result in extinction of 22 angiosperm and 7 vertebrate taxa. Disturbance due to dam building would likely reduce tree species richness by 35%, tree density by 42%, and tree basal cover by 30% in dense forests. These results, combined with relatively weak national environmental impact assessment and implementation, point toward significant loss of species if all proposed dams in the Indian Himalaya are constructed. Efectos Potenciales del Desarrollo Hidroeléctrico Actual y Propuesto sobre la Diversidad Biológica Terrestre en el Himalaya Hindú

Concepts: Biodiversity, River, Extinction, Dam, Impact assessment, Hydroelectricity, Himalayas, Environmental impact assessment

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The persistence of chemicals is a key parameter for their environmental risk assessment. Extrapolating their biodegradability potential in aqueous systems to soil systems would improve the environmental impact assessment. This study compares the fate of (14/13)C-labelled 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and ibuprofen in OECD tests 301 (ready biodegradability in aqueous systems) and 307 (soil). 85% of 2,4-D and 68% of ibuprofen were mineralised in aqueous systems, indicating ready biodegradability, but only 57% and 45% in soil. Parent compounds and metabolites decreased to <2% of the spiked amounts in both systems. In soil, 36% of 2,4-D and 30% of ibuprofen were bound in non-extractable residues (NER). NER formation in the abiotic controls was half as high as in the biotic treatments. However, mineralisation, biodegradation and abiotic residue formation are competing processes. Assuming the same extent of abiotic NER formation in abiotic and biotic systems may therefore overestimate the abiotic contribution in the biotic systems. Mineralisation was described by a logistic model for the aquatic systems and by a two-pool first order degradation model for the soil systems. This agrees with the different abundance of microorganisms in the two systems, but precludes direct comparison of the fitted parameters. Nevertheless, the maximum mineralisable amounts determined by the models were similar in both systems, although the maximum mineralisation rate was about 3.5 times higher in the aqueous systems than in the soil system for both compounds; these parameters may thus be extrapolated from aqueous to soil systems. However, the maximum mineralisable amount is calculated by extrapolation to infinite times and includes intermediately formed biomass derived from the labelled carbon. The amount of labelled carbon within microbial biomass residues is higher in the soil system, resulting in lower degradation rates. Further evaluation of these relationships requires comparison data on more chemicals and from different soils.

Concepts: Evaluation, Soil, Environmental remediation, C, Bioremediation, Impact assessment, Extrapolation, Environmental impact assessment

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Life cycle assessment (LCA) was applied to hydrometallurgical treatments carried out using a new portable prototype plant for the recovery of valuable metals from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). The plant was fed with the WEEE residues from physical processes for the recycling of fluorescent lamps, cathode ray tubes (CRTs), Li-ion accumulators and printed circuit boards (PCBs). Leaching with sulfuric acid was carried out, followed by metal recovery by selective precipitation. A final step of wastewater treatment with lime was performed. The recovered metals included yttrium, zinc, cobalt, lithium, copper, gold and silver. The category of global warming potential was the most critical one considering the specifications for southern European territories, with 13.3 kg CO2/kg recovered metal from the powders/residues from fluorescent lamps, 19.2 kg CO2/kg from CRTs, 27.0 kg CO2/kg from Li-ion accumulators and 25.9 kg CO2/kg from PCBs. Data also show that metal extraction steps have the highest load for the environment. In general, these processes appear beneficial for the environment in terms of CO2 emissions, especially for metal recovery from WEEE residues from fluorescent lamps and CRTs.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Zinc, Copper, Impact assessment, Global warming, Electronic waste, Printed circuit board, Cathode ray tube

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Risk assessment (RA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) are two analytical tools used to support decision making in environmental management. This study reviewed 30 environmental assessment case studies that claimed an integration, combination, hybridization, or complementary use of RA and LCA. The focus of the analysis was on how the respective case studies evaluated emissions of chemical pollutants and pathogens. The analysis revealed three clusters of similar case studies. Yet, there seemed to be little consensus as to what should be referred to as RA and LCA, and when to speak of combination, integration, hybridization, or complementary use of RA and LCA. This paper provides clear recommendations toward a more stringent and consistent use of terminology. Blending elements of RA and LCA offers multifaceted opportunities to adapt a given environmental assessment case study to a specific decision making context, but also requires awareness of several implications and potential pitfalls, of which six are discussed in this paper. To facilitate a better understanding and more transparent communication of the nature of a given case study, this paper proposes a “design space” (i.e., identification framework) for environmental assessment case studies blending elements of RA and LCA. Thinking in terms of a common design space, we postulate, can increase clarity and transparency when communicating the design and results of a given assessment together with its potential strengths and weaknesses.

Concepts: Scientific method, Risk, Evaluation methods, Qualitative research, Case study, Impact assessment, Life cycle assessment, ISO 14000

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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of livestock production systems is often based on inventory data for farms typical of a study region. As information on individual animals is often unavailable, livestock data may already be aggregated at the time of inventory analysis, both across individual animals and across seasons. Even though various computational tools exist to consider the effect of genetic and seasonal variabilities in livestock-originated emissions intensity, the degree to which these methods can address the bias suffered by representative animal approaches is not well-understood. Using detailed on-farm data collected on the North Wyke Farm Platform (NWFP) in Devon, UK, this paper proposes a novel approach of life cycle impact assessment that complements the existing LCA methodology. Field data, such as forage quality and animal performance, were measured at high spatial and temporal resolutions and directly transferred into LCA processes. This approach has enabled derivation of emissions intensity for each individual animal and, by extension, its intra-farm distribution, providing a step towards reducing uncertainty related to agricultural production inherent in LCA studies for food. Depending on pasture management strategies, the total emissions intensity estimated by the proposed method was higher than the equivalent value recalculated using a representative animal approach by 0.9-1.7 kg CO2-eq/kg liveweight gain, or up to 10% of system-wide emissions. This finding suggests that emissions intensity values derived by the latter technique may be underestimated due to insufficient consideration given to poorly performing animals, whose emissions becomes exponentially greater as average daily gain decreases. Strategies to mitigate life-cycle environmental impacts of pasture-based beef productions systems are also discussed.

Concepts: Animal, Cattle, Meat, Pasture, Heat transfer, Livestock, Impact assessment, Life cycle assessment

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A new approach for quantifying the net environmental impact of a ‘community’ of interrelated products is demonstrated for consumer electronics owned by an average U.S. household over a 15-year period (1992-2007). This consumption-weighted life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology accounts for both product consumption (number of products per household) and impact (cumulative energy demand (MJ) per product), as analyzed using a hybrid LCA framework. While many individual devices have reduced impacts over time (on a ‘per product’ basis), increased usage, introduction of new technologies, and growing product consumption creates a net increase on a ‘per community’ basis. The net energy impact of the U.S. community of household electronics is significant, nearly 30% of the average annual fuel consumed by a passenger vehicle in 2007. The analysis points to a large contribution by legacy products (cathode ray tube televisions and desktop computers), due to historically high consumption rates, although impacts have begun to shift to smaller mobile devices. This method is also applied to evaluate prospective intervention strategies, indicating that environmental impact reduction can be achieved by strategies like lifespan extension or energy efficiency, but only when applied to all products owned, or by transforming consumption trends towards fewer, highly multi-functional products.

Concepts: Vacuum tube, Diode, Electronics, Impact assessment, Life cycle assessment, Electronic engineering, Cathode ray tube, Industrial ecology

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The interest and activity in measuring and reporting the impact of publicly funded health and medical research has grown rapidly in recent years. Research evaluation typically relies on researchers for much of the information for an impact assessment. However, the acceptability and feasibility of this activity among health researchers is unknown. The aim of this study was to understand the role and opinions of cancer researchers in the growing area of impact evaluation activity, to inform the logistics of a sustainable program of impact evaluation.

Concepts: Evaluation, Evaluation methods, Academic publishing, Research, Impact assessment, Educational assessment and evaluation, Social research, Program evaluation

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On-farm production of hay and high-protein-content feed has several advantages such as diversification of on-farm cultivated crops, reduction of off-farm feed concentrates transported over long distances and a reduction in runoff during the winter season if grown crops are perennial. Among those crops cultivated for high-protein-content feed, alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is one of the most important in the Italian context. Nevertheless, up to now, only a few studies have assessed the environmental performance of alfalfa hay production. In this study, using the Life Cycle Assessment approach, the environmental impact of alfalfa hay production in Northern Italy was analyzed. More in detail, two production practices (without and with irrigation) were compared. The results show that alfalfa hay production in irrigated fields has a better environmental performance compared to non-irrigated production, mainly because of the yield increase achieved with irrigation. In particular, for the Climate Change impact category, the impact is equal to 84.54 and 80.21kgCO2/t of hay for the scenario without and with irrigation, respectively. However, for two impact categories (Ozone Depletion and Human Toxicity-No Cancer Effect), the impact of irrigation completely offsets the yield increase, and the cultivation practice without irrigation shows the best environmental performance. For both scenarios, the mechanization of harvest is the main environmental hotspot, mostly due to fuel consumption and related combustion emissions. Wide differences were highlighted by comparing the two scenarios with the Ecoinvent process of alfalfa hay production; these differences are mostly due to the cultivation practice and, in particular, to the more intensive fertilization in Swiss production.

Concepts: Agriculture, Irrigation, Impact assessment, Alfalfa, Environmental impact assessment, Arable land

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Due to the increasing environmental burdens caused by dramatic economic expansion, eco-efficiency indicating how efficient the economic activity is with respect to its environmental impacts has become a topic of considerable interest in China. In this context, Economic Input-output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) and Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) are combined to assess the environmental impacts and eco-efficiency of China’s 26 economic sectors. The EIO-LCA results indicate that Electricity Production and Supply sector is the largest net exporter in energy usage, CO2 emission and exhaust emission categories, while Construction sector is the largest net importer for five impact categories except for water withdrawal. Moreover, Construction sector is found to be the destination of the largest sector-to-sector environmental impact flows for the five impact categories and make the most contributions to the total environmental impacts. Another key finding is that Agriculture sector is both the largest net exporter and the greatest contributor for water withdrawal category. DEA results indicate that seven sectors are eco-efficient while over 70% of China’s economic sectors are inefficient and require significant improvements. The average target improvements range between 23.30% and 35.06% depending on the impact category. Further sensitivity analysis reveals that the average sensitivity ratios vary from 7.7% to 15.7% among the six impact categories, which are found to be negatively correlated with their improvement potentials. Finally, several policy recommendations are made to mitigate environmental impacts of China’s economic sectors and improve their eco-efficiency levels.

Concepts: Evaluation, Economics, Sustainability, Impact assessment, Environmental impact assessment, Economy, Industrial ecology, EIOLCA

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Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) play a critical role in agricultural production and cause many environmental disturbances. By combing life cycle assessment (LCA) method with the mass balance principle of substance flow analysis (SFA), this study establishes a nutrient-derived environmental impact assessment (NEIA) model to analyze the environmental impacts caused by nutrient-containing substances of agricultural production in China during 1978-2015. The agricultural production system is composed of crop farming and livestock breeding, and the environmental impacts include energy consumption, global warming, acidification, and eutrophication. The results show all these environmental impacts had increased to 8.22*109 GJ, 5.01*108 t CO2-eq, 2.41*107 t SO2-eq, and 7.18*107 t PO43–eq, respectively. It is noted the energy consumption and the climate change caused by the crop farming were always higher than those from livestock breeding, which were average 60 and two times, respectively. While the acidification and the eutrophication were opposite after 1995 and 2000, even they were similar. This was mainly due to the high N application including synthetic N fertilizer (from 1.33*109 GJ to 2.08*109 GJ), applied manure (from 4.94*108 GJ to 5.65*108 GJ) and applied crop residue (from 2.94*108 GJ to 5.30*109 GJ), while the synthetic N fertilizer was controlled and the livestock expanded rapidly after 1995. Among the sub-categories, the three staple crops (rice, wheat, and maize) contributed greater environmental impacts, which were about two to 10 times as other crops and livestock, due to their high fertilizer uses, sown areas and harvests. While the oil crops and fruit consumed the least energies because of their much lower fertilizer-use intensities. Pig and poultry especially pig also caused obvious effects on environment (even 20 times as other livestock) because of their large quantities and excretions, which emitted much higher N2O and P loss resulting in much higher climate change, acidification and eutrophication than other livestock. Then the study proposes the nutrient management in agricultural production by considering crop production, livestock breeding and dietary adjustment, so that some valuable experiences can be shared by the stakeholders in other Chinese regions.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water pollution, Nitrogen, Harvest, Phosphorus, Impact assessment, Global warming, Environmental impact assessment