A study finds 1.8 billion trees and shrubs in the Sahara desert.
- AI analysis of satellite images sees trees and shrubs where human eyes can't.
- At the western edge of the Sahara is more significant vegetation than previously suspected.
- Machine learning trained to recognize trees completed the detailed study in hours.
Why this matters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTkyODg5NX0.O3S2DRTyAxh-JZqxGKj9KkC6ndZAloEh4hKhpcyeFDQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="3770d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3c27b79d4c0600fb6ebb82e650cabec0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Area in which trees were located
Credit: University of Copenhagen<p>As important as trees are in fighting climate change, scientists need to know what trees there are, and where, and the study's finding represents a significant addition to the global tree inventory.</p><p>The vegetation Brandt and his colleagues have identified is in the Western Sahara, a region of about 1.3 million square kilometers that includes the desert, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahel" target="_blank">the Sahel</a>, and the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/subhumid-zones" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sub-humid zones</a> of West Africa.</p><p>These trees and shrubs have been left out of previous tabulations of carbon-processing worldwide forests. Says Brandt, "Trees outside of forested areas are usually not included in climate models, and we know very little about their carbon stocks. They are basically a white spot on maps and an unknown component in the global carbon cycle."</p><p>In addition to being valuable climate-change information, the research can help facilitate strategic development of the region in which the vegetation grows due to a greater understanding of local ecosystems.</p>
Trained for trees<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTk5NTI3NH0.fR-n1I2DHBIRPLvXv4g0PVM8ciZwSLWorBUUw2wc-Vk/img.jpg?width=980" id="e02c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79955b13661dca8b6e19007935129af1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Martin Brandt/University of Copenhagen<p>There's been an assumption that there's hardly enough vegetation outside of forested areas to be worth counting in areas such as this one. As a result the study represents the first time a significant number of trees — likely in the hundreds of millions when shrubs are subtracted from the overall figure — have been catalogued in the drylands region.</p><p>Members of the university's Department of Computer Science trained a machine-learning module to recognize trees by feeding it thousands of pictures of them. This training left the AI be capable of spotting trees in the tiny details of satellite images supplied by NASA. The task took the AI just hours — it would take a human years to perform an equivalent analysis.</p><p>"This technology has enormous potential when it comes to documenting changes on a global scale and ultimately, in contributing towards global climate goals," says co-author Christian Igel. "It is a motivation for us to develop this type of beneficial artificial intelligence."</p><p>"Indeed," says Brandt says, "I think it marks the beginning of a new scientific era."</p>
Looking ahead and beyond<p>The researchers hope to further refine their AI to provide a more detailed accounting of the trees it identifies in satellite photos.</p><p>The study's senior author, Rasmus Fensholt, says, "we are also interested in using satellites to determine tree species, as tree types are significant in relation to their value to local populations who use wood resources as part of their livelihoods. Trees and their fruit are consumed by both livestock and humans, and when preserved in the fields, trees have a positive effect on crop yields because they improve the balance of water and nutrients."</p><p>Ahead is an expansion of the team's tree hunt to a larger area of Africa, with the long-term goal being the creation of a more comprehensive and accurate global database of trees that grow beyond the boundaries of forests.</p>
Perhaps downhill and cross-country skiers don't face the fate of potters, typesetters and saddlers, but their situation is certainly unclear.
Global warming is making it difficult to organize sporting tournaments, but it's an even greater threat to small local clubs. Meanwhile, Big Sport is taking the lead in climate hypocrisy.
An overfished planet needs a better solution. Fortunately, it's coming.
- Cell-based fish companies are getting funding and making progress in offering a new wave of seafood.
- Overfishing and rising ocean temperatures are destroying entire ecosystems.
- The reality of cell-based fish is likely five to 10 years away.
Future of Food: This genetically engineered salmon may hit U.S. markets as early as 2020<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="466fe20063a2292a48789f370c04ea13"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bco7rPyKwec?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While cell-based beef is getting all the press, companies like BlueNalu recently raised $24.5 million in funding. The San Diego-based start-up <a href="https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/story/2019-12-25/lab-grown-fish-just-got-real-san-diego-startup-shows-off-first-slaughter-free-yellowtail#:~:text=A%20San%20Diego%20foodtech%20startup,many%20researchers%20only%20dream%20of" target="_blank">extracts</a> muscle cells from an anesthetized fish, treats the cells with enzymes in a culture, places the mixture in a nutrient solution in a bioreactor, spins it all around in a centrifuge, and finally 3D-prints the new concoction into the desired shape.</p><p>The goal isn't to perfectly replicate a fish that you'd find on ice in your local market. No brain, skin, organs, or even possibility of consciousness are in this creature. In a strange twist, this makes cell-based seafood a potential food source for vegetarians and vegans, since the Adam fish can be returned to the waters unharmed. </p><p>One current solution to overfishing—fish farms—comes with it a host of problems, including the proliferation of sea lice, which have a tendency to escape the porous boundaries to infect wild fish. Bonus: with cell-based fish, you won't run into any issues with mercury or <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/microplastics-soil" target="_self">microplastics</a>. </p><p>What you'll (hopefully) purchase is a good-tasting product, which has thus far been elusive. BlueNalu CEO, <a href="https://apnews.com/5327a2c3a8e74adab0cc63d5994ffc72" target="_blank">Lou Cooperhouse</a>, is confident his company's product will eventually meet standards set by your taste buds. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our medallions of yellowtail can be cooked via direct heat, steamed or even fried in oil; can be marinated in an acidified solution for applications like poke, ceviche, and kimchi, or can be prepared in the raw state."</p>
Photo: aleksandr / Shutterstock<p>There are barriers, of course. As with pluripotent meats, cell-based fish are expensive. A spicy salmon roll produced by the start-up, Wildtype, <a href="https://singularityhub.com/2020/09/16/this-startup-is-growing-sushi-grade-salmon-from-cells-in-a-lab/" target="_blank">cost $200</a> to make. It's going to take a while for the price to drop and consumer demand to rise; estimates are five to ten years.</p><p>Another issue is indicative of solar power and wind energy trying to cut in on Big Oil: the seafood industry doesn't want to lose its profit margin. Of course, like oil companies, Big Seafood is betting on a finite resource. The sooner they realize that, the better. </p><p>Then there's production, which is where education comes into play. Former BlueNalu Chairman Chris Somogyi tries to <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/05/05/720041152/seafood-without-the-sea-will-lab-grown-fish-hook-consumers" target="_blank">demystify</a> the laboratory process. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We aren't using CRISPR technology. We aren't introducing new molecules into the diet. We're not introducing a new entity that doesn't exist in nature. The approval will be about whether this is safe, clean and are the manufacturing processes reliable and accountable."</p><p>If there's an ick factor to cell-based fish, remember that most processed foods are already created in laboratories. There are no Oreo trees or ketchup plants to harvest. </p><p>For now, these start-ups and others like them will have to figure out how to create non-energy-intensive and cost-prohibitive solutions for spinning up seafood inside of a petri dish. Novelty alone will create enough demand to get them going, as <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/04/beyond-meat-bynd-q2-2020-earnings.html#:~:text=Net%20sales%20rose%2069%25%20to,since%20many%20are%20temporarily%20shuttered." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">precedent</a> in the lab-grown meat industry shows. </p><p>The reality is that we need to go down this path. There are too many humans and not enough resources. While we can hope (as David Attenborough does in his <a href="https://www.netflix.com/title/80216393" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new Netflix documentary</a>) that national governments will create more no-fish zones, there's no guarantee that will happen. We need science to win this one. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Modern crops have been optimized for a lot of things, but not for climate change.
- Growers are struggling to protect their crops from failure as conditions change due to global warming.
- Modern crops lack the fortifying genetic diversity of their ancestors.
- Scientists publish a new guide for strengthening crops through the reintroduction of wild-variety traits based on the latest science.
The problem with domestication<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ3NjU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzA2MDc2NX0.T41B0nuT0RnVyd_oFrmcCQMf6ZT6FpG2Gmrx9TCZ-mI/img.jpg?width=980" id="e86ad" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="19f58b1f2f0ba8c2295c824ff73514a5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="plants" />
Credit: Markus Spiske/Unsplash<p>"When plants were domesticated," <a href="https://www.port.ac.uk/news-events-and-blogs/news/scientists-help-reboot-50-years-of-plant-advice" target="_blank">says</a> Dr. Perez-Barrales, one of the study's authors, "they were artificially selected for a specific desirable trait. Artificial selection and farming have led to quality improvements in foods such as meat, milk, and fruit. However, over hundreds of years, there has been a negative impact to this process — a reduction in plant genetic diversity."</p><p>This lack of diversity could spell doom for crops as the conditions in which they grow are impacted by climate change. Scientists believe that a plant's natural genetic makeup, which evolved in response to its surrounding conditions, makes it more likely to be able to continue to adapt. Domesticated crops may lack such flexibility.</p><p>According to Dr. Perez-Barrales, "Climate change is altering the way crops behave." Unfortunately, she adds, "Crops have lost so much genetic diversity they are less able to adapt and respond to climate change. Scientists are now looking at wild crop relatives to see what traits can be improved to make crops better adapted to the current environmental challenges."</p><p>This revisiting of crops' ancestors is very much on the mind of the new study's authors.</p>
A break from past practices<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ3NjU2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDIyMTEyOX0.vW6NyWC1Ey0uKeNKbBzcV99cyUEwECUpIwjOR-0Z09Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="e3743" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="70f3d0885d71401c00ba9329a6b480c5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="farmer spraying fields" />
Credit: ittipon/Shutterstock/Big Think<p>The researchers began with a re-visiting of <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/1218252?seq=1" target="_blank">guidelines</a> published in 1971 to see how they might be modified. Says Perez-Barrales, "The classification developed in the early 1970s needed to be updated, and in effect rebooted, to integrate this modern information."</p><p>The study's lead author <a href="https://www.kew.org/science/our-science/people/juan-viruel" target="_blank">Juan Viruel</a> of Kew Garden explains, "With this information we can better select the wild species to improve our crops. It is an invaluable checklist for plant breeders and will help production of crops in a more sustainable way."</p><p>Those earlier guidelines also endorse the use of pesticides, now understood to harm fauna and leave fields toxic. The new study suggests a more benign, forward-looking way to deal with pests, says Perez-Barrales: "An alternative for plant breeders is to use wild crop relatives and use the natural genetic variation in those species that protects them against the natural enemies."</p>
An example: linseed<p>To explain the type of guidance offered in the new study, Perez-Barrales offers linseed as a case in point:</p><p>"Some crops have just a few closely related species, whilst others might have a hundred or so," she says. "For example, linseed has more than 150 related species, and the challenge is how do we select the relevant traits and from what wild relatives? In answering this question, we realized that we needed to learn more from the biology of the species, which can only be done by using modern classification developed using the latest science."</p><p>Perez-Barrales continues:</p><p>"There may be a demand to grow linseed, for example, in countries at different latitudes. Linseed (<em>Linum usitatissimum</em>) was domesticated in the Middle East 10,000 years ago, and we can grow it in England because it naturally captured genes from pale blue flax, <em>Linum bienne</em>, allowing the crop to grow in northern and colder environments. My research looks at the natural variation in flowering of wild <em>Linum</em> species to see if we can use it to improve linseed. That way the right genes can be selected and introduced into the crop, something that plant breeders do regularly. These new guidelines will help plant breeders become more sustainable and efficient. We believe it is the future of farming."</p>
We're in an era of 'megafires'.
A headline that reads 'The Worst Year in History for Wildfires' should be a shocking and dramatic statement. Instead, it's in danger of becoming a cliché, a well-worn phrase, an annual event.