Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts seeks your highest impact research for our upcoming Themed Issue dedicated to Wildfires – Influence on air, soil and water.
Guest Edited by Alex Chow (Clemson University, USA) and Lu Hu (University of Montana, USA)
Ash and smoke from wildfire and prescribed fires can contaminate soil, air, and water, impacting millions of people worldwide every year. The burn area, frequency, and severity are predicted to continue increasing under a future warmer climate. In addition to the dangers of heat from an active fire, fire smoke emits hundreds if not thousands of air toxins, posing significant threats to public health and wildlife. Ash and fire retardants negatively affect soil and water quality, threatening aquatic biotics, agricultural operation, and municipal water supplies downstream. Long-term changes in vegetation composition and land cover can also alter nutrient cycles, ecosystem function, and even climate.
Despite its significant impacts on the environment, there are still many knowledge gaps on the environmental chemistry of wildfires – from essential and trace elements, heavy metals, nutrients, organic compounds, to pyrogenic and black carbon. Furthermore, studies connecting these chemicals among air, soil, and water are extremely limited. This wildfires-themed issue is to encourage the communication and understanding from atmospheric, soil and water chemistry. Laboratory, field, numerical model, and remote sensing approaches to study the processes and impact of wildfires and prescribed fire on either soil, water, air, climate, or the interfaces among them are welcome.
Upon submission, please add ‘Invited for the Wildfires themed issue’ in step 4 of the submission process. All manuscripts will undergo initial assessment and peer review as per the usual standards of the journal.
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Pieter Bots received their MSc in environmental geochemistry at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and their PhD in environmental mineralogy from the University of Leeds. After this they moved to the University of Manchester for four years and two postdocs in actinide geochemistry. During this time, they worked on uranium and neptunium geochemistry in geological disposal scenarios. In 2016 Pieter joined the University of Strathclyde (in Glasgow, Scotland), on the Little Forrest Legacy Site (LFLS) immobilization project. On this project they worked on Sr and Cs geochemistry at legacy waste sites and how engineering materials impact on their speciation and mobility. Since November 2019, they are a Research Fellow and Co-I on the EPSRC funded NNUF facility: Plasma Accelerators for Nuclear Applications and Materials Analyses (PANAMA).
Read their Emerging Investigator Series article, ‘Emerging investigator series: a holistic approach to multicomponent EXAFS: Sr and Cs complexation in clayey soils’, here: https://doi.org/10.1039/D1EM00121C
Watch their video abstract below:
Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on EXAFS of Sr and Cs. How hasyour research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?
During my PhD my research focussed on the formation of calcium carbonate minerals in marine settings. During this time, I really learned the value of really thinking about the experimental design, but also about the analytical side of research, and that investing time in understanding the basics of the analytical techniques used in my projects has been incredibly valuable. I learned this through having to (re)develop ion chromatography methods for samples with high salinity for my first publication from my PhD. My PhD was also when I was first introduced to synchrotron radiation techniques. During my PhD, I mainly used small angle X-ray scattering techniques to investigate the formation and crystallization of calcium carbonate. Then when I joined the University of Manchester on a project on actinide (uranium and neptunium) geochemistry, I was introduced to contaminant mobility and X-ray absorption spectroscopy techniques. This was also the time that I realised that with XAS techniques, the data analysis is not always very straight forward, and that often you’ll have to think outside of the box in order to get the information you need (which is also true for other techniques, like SAXS and electron microscopy), specifically if the samples are complex and the XAS data represents multiple possible geochemical species. Because of this realisation, I have always tried to use the best, or developing and adjusting existing (data analyses) procedures to get the (geo)chemically most meaningful information. I used all this experience during my postdoc at the University of Strathclyde. For example, my experience in XAS analyses enabled me to get XAS beamtime awarded, at Diamond Light Source, on Sr and Cs geochemistry. Next, to get the most chemically meaningful information out of the XANES and EXAFS spectra I collected during the beamtime, I quickly realised I had to think outside the box again, which led to my publication in the Emerging Investigators series.
What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
I am very happy that during my career so far I have always such an approach that values the analytical as well as the experimental side of research, including thinking outside of the box. At most places, this has been valued and given me the opportunity to collaborate many academics from different research fields like geoscience, chemistry, physics, environmental and even archaeology. This now means that my research plans are relatively broad; and have a wide range of research ideas in mineralogy and geochemistry which I am developing and writing up as research proposals. Hopefully I will be able to submit soon.
One of these proposals is on the mineralisation of phosphate biominerals through biomimicry and how different mechanisms of mineral formation impact on contaminant (U, Sr, Pb) mobility. At the moment, I am excited about collaboration (as Co-I) with a colleague at the University of Strathclyde; we have two RWM funded PhD students starting soon on the hydrothermal aging of cement, and how (we analyses for) the mineralogical and geochemical changes impact on the microstructural characteristics and the longevity of cement, how such materials will behave in geodisposal settings to keep radioactive wastes safe for generations to come.
In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field ofresearch?
There are two very important questions that I think are very important in my area of research. The first is that we really need to understand the dynamics and reversibility of mineralisation processes and the mobility and geochemistry of contaminants in the environment at a fundamental level in order to develop evidence-based engineering strategies based on mineralisation processes, for example, to deal with contaminated land or for waste water treatment. For example, many bioremediation strategies rely on biomineralisation. Much effort has been made into the microbiology side of biomineralisation, but the mineralisation process itself is still a so-called “black box”, even though the mechanisms of mineral formation impact the stability of the mineral phases, and the mechanisms of contaminant sequestration (including how stable or reversible is the sequestration). In my opinion, understanding such dynamic processes is essential in determining whether such biomineralisation processes can actually be utilised within environmental engineering strategies.
The second is that in most research to date, we tend to only investigate one or possibly two contaminants at the same time. While real wastes, waste water and contaminated environments, will almost never be dominated by a single (type of) contaminant. The behaviour and geochemistry of contaminants in such more complex environments can change drastically due to the presence of other contaminants and this is rarely simply the sum of the behaviour of the contaminants separately, so it is important to try and understand the geochemistry and speciation of such different contaminants and different types of contaminants (e.g. heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, microplastics, nanoparticles), and how their geochemistry and mobility changes in the presence of different contaminants, such as through competition for surface complexation sites, or potential mobilisation of heavy metals by microplastics.
What do you find most challenging about your research?
What I find most challenging in research, but also most rewarding, is working with people. It can be frustrating when collaborators, supervisors or students are non-responsive or even dismissive or biased. But when the communication works well (especially after initial struggles), it is incredibly rewarding to see something beautiful come out of it, like a student getting better (or more surprising) results than expected, a research project that is successful, a mentee getting offered a postdoctoral position, or former supervisors or students saying that they can’t wait to collaborate more.
Scientifically, it is trying to make sure that whatever I do has environmental implications. We can never mimic nature in the lab 100% accurately, and there are many different variables in the environment that can impact on the process we’re trying to investigate. So we need to make sure that we design the experiments and analyses in such a way that we will actually investigate and analyse the processes we intend to investigate, that we’re able to understand/determine the variables that impact on these processes, and make sure that all of this is relevant to the processes in the environment or any environmental engineering strategy. Also, there are so many analytical techniques with specific requirement for the samples. For example, with EXAFS, the concentrations of specific elements needed for valuable information are generally at least one order of magnitude higher compared to environmentally relevant concentrations. So, we need to be careful generalising results at such elevated concentrations to draw overarching environmental conclusions (which is why I included experimental results on trace concentrations in my paper in the Emerging Investigator series).
In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?
As a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee of the European Association of Geochemistry, I am heavily involved in this year’s virtual Goldschmidt conference (4-9 July). For Goldschmidt, I am organising an early career workshop on “Hidden Histories – Towards Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Geoscience” and the Diversity and Inclusion session. Outside of all the amazing science and DEI talks/sessions, I’ll be hanging around on Spatial Chat for socialising and networking opportunities, but also to be approachable as member of the DEI committee.
After this, I will present at the virtual XAFS2021 conference (11-13 July). Though, I’m not sure yet how present I can be for any of their social events as the conference will be held in the Eastern Australian time zone.
How do you spend your spare time?
When I moved to Glasgow for my job at the University of Strathclyde, I wanted to make sure I met people that had no connection to my work. So I decided to get back into arts, and I joined a life drawing class in Glasgow. Since the pandemic, I have also been drawing outside of class more, for example during walks/hikes. For the rest, I enjoy sewing my own shoulder bags and face masks, and I enjoy playing games, both board games (with friends) and computer games.
Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?
Besides the geo- and chemical sciences, the only thing I’ve always been interested in is the arts, both performing arts and visual arts (drawing/painting). When I was still at college, I was even thinking about going to theatre school, but I opted for earth sciences instead. So, if I were not a scientist, I’d probably be in the arts.
Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early careerscientists?
Advice is almost always given based on the advice givers’ own experiences and how they succeeded (and their impression that because they succeeded in that way, everybody should), this is specifically true for unsolicited advice. In my case, as a genderqueer and gay man, such advice usually involved advice on how I should not be myself / how I should change to “fit in” instead of how I should “shine” or “stand out” as myself. So trying to follow such advice actually was completely counterproductive, and even aggravated mental health issues. The only advice that I have been given and found truly helpful with whatever I was trying to achieve was to “just be myself” or variations of that advice.
So, based purely on my own experiences, my advice would be to not listen to advice that doesn’t make you smile or that doesn’t make you feel you can do it (because you can do it, and you’re perfect the way you are).
Finally, two small observations from having worked at several academic institutes and with many students, postdocs and academics. In research, you hardly ever get the results you want or expect, but you always get the results you deserve. With this I mean that if you pay attention to all the experimental results (specifically the results that make no sense), the input from your supervisors or collaborators, and try to understand what the data you produce actually mean, and then refine the experiments or the analytical approach, you will get a lot more out of the research and are a lot more likely you’ll discover something completely new. The second observation is that, often you can design an experiment or research program in a way that it will appear to prove your hypothesis (even if the hypothesis is wrong), because of this, what I think would be a much more interesting and useful approach is to try and disprove your hypothesis.
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We are delighted to announce that we have expanded the Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts Editorial Board and are very pleased to introduce the newest members of the team.
These Editorial Board members join the rest of the team adding expertise in topic areas such as environmental health & (eco)toxicology; atmospheric chemistry; environmental organic chemistry; interfacial environmental science and much more.
About the new team members
Katye Altieri’s research interests include air pollution in coastal cities, the impact of human activities on surface ocean biogeochemistry, and studying the remote marine atmosphere of the Southern Ocean.
Ludmilla Aristilde’s research group employs a combination of experimental and theoretical approaches to gain insights into the biological and chemical mechanisms that control environmental organic processes, towards predicting natural carbon cycling and innovating engineered carbon recycling.
Amila de Silva’s expertise areas are fate, transport and disposition of organic contaminants in the environment; she uses a combination of field and lab experiments to discern their ecological risk based on persistence, bioaccumulation, toxicity and long range transport potential.
Beate Escher’s research interests focus on mode-of-action based environmental risk assessment, including methods for initial hazard screening and risk assessment of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, disinfection by-products and persistent organic pollutants with an emphasis on mixtures.
Mingliang (Thomas) Fang’s research includes applications of mass spectrometry methods to identify emerging organic contaminants, measure human exposure, and assess potential health effects. Bioassays and omic technologies are also employed for risk assessment and identifying toxicity mechanisms.
Weihua Song’s research interests are in the area of Environmental Chemistry, particularly the occurrence, transformation, and fate of emerging contaminants in aqueous environments.
We welcome all these new members to the Editorial team of ESPI. They join the existing team of Kris McNeill, Delphine Farmer, Marianne Glasius, Helen Hsu-Kim, Matt MacLeod, Desiree Plata, Paul Tratnyek and Lenny Winkel, with expertise covering all areas of the journal scope as shown in this illustration. Their breadth of expertise illustrates the breadth of research that we welcome to the journal.
Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts publishes high quality papers in all areas of the environmental chemical sciences, including chemistry of the air, water, soil and sediment. We welcome your future submissions to the journal in any of these topic areas and would be delighted to hear from you if you are interested to submit to us.
We also offer a range of Open Access solutions to comply with your funding requirements and maximise the visibility of your research. More details can be found at rsc.li/oa
This event will be held virtually on September 13-14, 2021, where you can expect to hear the latest research news and
discoveries about the environmental chemistry of emerging environmental contaminants and their management. Virtually reconnect with old colleagues, and meet new friends from around the world while discussing your exciting research and ideas together as a community.
EMCON 2021 will cover all aspects of emerging contaminant research while emphasizing cutting edge and novel research on microplastics, biomolecules, roadway runoff, transformation products, ecotoxicology, advanced mass spectrometry and other new analytical techniques, and new emerging contaminantsas conference themes.
You can expect scientific talks, a virtual poster session (with five poster prizes supported by the RSC’s Environmental Science journals), a round of lightning talks, ‘what went wrong in lab’ stories and opportunities for informal meetups. Pre-recorded content will allow both synchronous and asynchronous attendance and interaction.
We are delighted to announce that Amila De Silva has joined the Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts Editorial Board!
Amila De Silva is a research scientist in the Government of Canada in the Water Science Technology Directorate located in Burlington, Ontario. She received her PhD in environmental chemistry from the University of Toronto in 2008. Her expertise areas are fate, transport and disposition of organic contaminants in the environment. In addition to the discovery of new contaminants with advanced analytical chemistry, Amila uses a combination of field and lab experiments to discern their ecological risk based on persistence, bioaccumulation, toxicity and long range transport potential. Amila holds adjunct Professor appointments at the University of Toronto and Memorial University.
This themed collection, Guest Edited by Rose Cory and Kerri Pratt (University of Michigan), showcases studies on chemical processes in sea ice, snow, glaciers, ice sheets and permafrost soils. This includes atmospheric chemistry (atmospheric aerosols and trace gases) biogeochemistry (chemical weathering and organic matter chemistry) as well as laboratory, field and modeling studies.
Atmospheric chemistry is understudied in the Cryosphere, cold regions of the Earth that are seasonally or continually covered with snow and ice, yet these regions represent areas of significant climate change. Snow and sea ice are sources and sinks of atmospheric trace gases and aerosols, with impacts on surface albedo, cloud formation and properties, air quality, and meltwater. The critical need to understand air-ice interactions in these cold regions is exemplified by the emerging international activity The Cryosphere and Atmospheric Chemistry (CATCH), supported by IGAC and SOLAS, which aims to facilitate atmospheric chemistry research within the international community, with a focus on natural processes specific to cold regions of the Earth. This ESPI collection includes results of recent laboratory and field studies of the interactions between the snow, ice, and overlying atmosphere, described by Kirpes et al., Ruggeri et al., Hullar et al., and Hara et al.
An outstanding CATCH question surrounds the locations, kinetics, and mechanisms of reactions on and within snow grains, as this knowledge is required to understand and simulate air-ice interactions. Hullar et al. present a laboratory study of the photodegradation of guaiacol in solution, ice, and at the air-ice interface, showing that photodegradation rate is faster within liquid-like regions in ice and especially at the air-ice interface and therefore cannot be approximated by bulk solutions. This work further demonstrates the uniqueness of reactions occurring on snow and ice surfaces in cold regions and the need for future study, both in the field and through fundamental laboratory studies.
The cryosphere contains about twice the amount of carbon found in our atmosphere, in the form of organic carbon locked away in a deep freeze in permafrost soils (perennially frozen ground). As permafrost soils warm and thaw, the organic carbon in these soils decomposes into the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Release of CO2 and CH4 from thawed permafrost soils will raise global temperatures beyond what our fossil-fuel-based carbon emissions would do on their own. For example, current models predict a loss of permafrost that could raise global temperatures by an additional 0.3 to 0.4 °C by 2100; a feedback called Arctic Amplification of climate change.
However, there is much uncertainty in these models because the processes that control the decomposition of permafrost organic carbon to CO2 and CH4 remain poorly understood. The papers in this collection help to reduce uncertainties by studying processes that decompose permafrost organic carbon to CO2 or CH4. For example, in thawed soils, microbially-mediated redox reactions convert organic carbon to CO2 or CH4. These redox reactions depend on the availability of electron donors and acceptors in soils, which in turn, vary by landscape position and hydrology (Philben et al.). Redox reactions in permafrost soils also control the availability of nutrients like phosphorous, that in turn will help regulate the potential of these soils to store or release carbon as they thaw (Herndon et al.).
As permafrost soils thaw, organic carbon in the soil dissolves and flows into the many lakes across the Arctic landscape. As evidence mounts that arctic lakes are strong sources of greenhouse gases from the cryosphere to the atmosphere, more questions emerge about the timing and drivers of these gas fluxes. The paper by Eugster et al. is the first to show that while gas fluxes vary during the ice-free season and across years, no large episodic events associated with spring ice-off or other mixing events occurred over 6 years of continuous eddy flux measurements in a deep arctic lake. However, that may change in the future, as more permafrost organic carbon flows into lakes.
Gagne et al. showed that permafrost organic carbon is rapidly converted to CO2 once exposed to sunlight. Exposure of permafrost organic carbon to sunlight in lakes is inevitable as permafrost soils thaw and export this ancient carbon into increasingly ice-free waters. And, Ward and Cory show that our concerns don’t stop with the complete oxidation to CO2. Soil organic carbon is also partially oxidized by sunlight, which in turn controls its susceptibility to complete oxidation to CO2.
Finally, the interactions between permafrost soils and receiving lakes are featured in a synthesis paper by Burpee and Saros, highlighting key knowledge gaps on the feedbacks between loss of the cryosphere on land and in water.
With permafrost loss already under way across the Arctic, we need more research in this area of cryosphere chemistry to predict the Arctic Amplification of climate change and impacts on society. A 2016 Scientific American article by John Berger summarized it best: “The faster these gases emerge from the permafrost, the less carbon human society can release and still keep global temperatures from rising far above the aspirational temperature targets set by the Paris accord.”
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An algal bloom is a rapid increase or accumulation in the population of algae in a water system. It can break the balance of an aquatic ecosystem and hence threaten the quality of drinking water. Therefore it’s really important that we are able to develop reliable models to predict algae growth and the effects this would have on access to safe drinking water. Having that in mind, Nie and co-workers suggest new prediction and control models for algal blooms in the urban section of the Jialing River, one of the tributaries of the reservoir and home of more than 8 million people.
Fig. 1 – Comparison between CAA and related parameters.
Enzyme activity has been shown to be useful as early indicator in algal blooms. Algae growth is usually accompanied by a high nutrient concentration, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus being the most abundant elements. Whereas there are a number of studies relating N and P to algal blooms, studies with C are far outnumbered. The enzyme responsible for taking inorganic carbon sources into the algae cells is the carbonic anhydrase (CA). It catalyses the transformation of aqueous HCO3– into CO2, which is then transferred into the cells by diffusion to be transformed back into HCO3– that will later be used in the process of carbon fixation. Measuring the carbonic anhydrase activity (CAA) is cheaper, faster and more accurate than other techniques used to predict algal blooms. However, as such a complex process, it is necessary to link CAA to other micro parameters, which then should give a good starting point for predicting and controlling algal blooms.
This study, based on the urban section of the Jialing River, investigated the different form of carbons, water temperature, flow velocity (V), pH, CO2 concentration, CAA and algal cell density and the relations between these factors. The data was collected in four different sites alongside the river from December 2013 to October 2014.
After analysing all these parameters, Nie and colleagues found the following correlations between them, CAA and algal cell density (Fig. 1 and 2).
Fig. 2 – Comparison and fitting between algal cell density and related parameters.
Nie and colleagues could determine whether an algal bloom would occur based on the conditions of algal cell density. The threshold for algal blooms was set in 0.2 x 106 cells per L. Considering the positive correlation between the density of algae and CAA, the threshold for algal blooms was set in 0.650 EU per 106 cells and 0.864 EU per 106 cells. This means that when algal density is increasing and CAA is higher than 0.650 EU per 106 cells, an algal bloom will occur. On the other side, if CAA is lower than 0.864 EU per 106 cells and algal density is decreasing, the algal bloom will disappear.
Algal blooms are caused by multiple factors thus the combination of multiple parameters is necessary for a reliable and efficient model. To improve the method credibility, the following equation was identified as the monitoring model for the whole year:
The identification of a control period is paramount to prevent an algal bloom. These researchershave also identified a model based on CAA that is able to predict algal cell density during the key control period, February to March: