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Posts Tagged ‘Environment’


No more plastic in the ocean?

New sustainable tech developed by TAU researchers could free the world of its worst pollutant

According to the United Nations, plastic accounts for up to 90 percent of all the pollutants in our oceans, yet there are few comparable, environmentally friendly alternatives to the material. Now, a new Tel Aviv University study describes a process to make bioplastic polymers that don’t require land or fresh water — resources that are scarce in much of the world. The polymer is derived from microorganisms that feed on seaweed. It is biodegradable, produces zero toxic waste and recycles into organic waste.

The invention was the fruit of a multidisciplinary collaboration between Dr. Alexander Golberg of TAU’s Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences and Prof. Michael Gozin of TAU’s School of Chemistry. Their research was recently published in the journal Bioresource Technology.

Using seaweed as “fuel” for decontamination

“Plastics take hundreds of years to decay. So bottles, packaging and bags create plastic ‘continents’ in the oceans, endanger animals and pollute the environment,” says Dr. Golberg. “Plastic is also produced from petroleum products, which has an industrial process that releases chemical contaminants as a byproduct.

“A partial solution to the plastic epidemic is bioplastics, which don’t use petroleum and degrade quickly. But bioplastics also have an environmental price: To grow the plants or the bacteria to make the plastic requires fertile soil and fresh water, which many countries, including Israel, don’t have. Our new process produces ‘plastic’ from marine microorganisms that completely recycle into organic waste.”


The researchers harnessed microorganisms that feed on seaweed to produce a bioplastic polymer called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). “Our raw material was multicellular seaweed, cultivated in the sea,” Dr. Golberg says. “These algae were eaten by single-celled microorganisms, which also grow in very salty water and produce a polymer that can be used to make bioplastic.

Fighting pollution without using fresh water

“There are already factories that produce this type of bioplastic in commercial quantities, but they use plants that require agricultural land and fresh water. The process we propose will enable countries with a shortage of fresh water, such as Israel, China and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics.”

According to Dr. Golberg, the new study could revolutionize the world’s efforts to clean the oceans, without affecting arable land and without using fresh water. “Plastic from fossil sources is one of the most polluting factors in the oceans,” he says. “We have proved it is possible to produce bioplastic completely based on marine resources in a process that is friendly both to the environment and to its residents.

“We are now conducting basic research to find the best bacteria and algae that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties,” he concludes.

The research was partially funded by the TAU-Triangle Regional R&D Center in Kfar Kara under the academic auspices of Tel Aviv University, and by the Israeli Ministry of Energy and Infrastructures.

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Earth Sciences,Environment

Smartphones may be used to better predict the weather

Data could be harnessed to forecast flash floods and other natural disasters, Tel Aviv University researchers say

Flash floods occur with little warning. Earlier this year, a flash flood that struck Ellicott City, MD, demolished the main street, swept away parked cars, pummeled buildings and left one man dead.

A recent Tel Aviv University study suggests that weather patterns that lead to flash floods may one day be tracked and anticipated by our smartphones.

“The sensors in our smartphones are constantly monitoring our environment, including gravity, the earth’s magnetic field, atmospheric pressure, light levels, humidity, temperatures, sound levels and more,” said Prof. Colin Price of TAU’s Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, who led the research. “Vital atmospheric data exists today on some 3 to 4 billion smartphones worldwide. This data can improve our ability to accurately forecast the weather and other natural disasters that are taking so many lives every year.”

Prof. Price collaborated with TAU master’s student Ron Maor and TAU doctoral student Hofit Shachaf for the study, which was published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics.

Smartphones measure raw data, such as atmospheric pressure, temperatures and humidity, to assess atmospheric conditions. To understand how the smartphone sensors work, the researchers placed four smartphones around TAU’s expansive campus under controlled conditions and analyzed the data to detect phenomena such as “atmospheric tides,” which are similar to ocean tides. They also analyzed data from a UK-based app called WeatherSignal.

“By 2020, there will be more than six billion smartphones in the world,” Prof. Price said. “Compare this with the paltry 10,000 official weather stations that exist today. The amount of information we could be using to predict weather patterns, especially those that offer little to no warning, is staggering.

“In Africa, for example, there are millions of phones but only very basic meteorological infrastructures. Analyzing data from or 10 phones may be of little use, but analyzing data on millions of phones would be a game changer. Smartphones are getting cheaper, with better quality and more availability to people around the world.”

The same smartphones may be used to provide real-time weather alerts through a feedback loop, Prof. Price said. The public can provide atmospheric data to the “cloud” via a smartphone application. This data would then be processed into real-time forecasts and returned to the users with a forecast or a warning to those in danger zones.

The study may lead to better monitoring and predictions of hard-to-predict flash floods. “We’re observing a global increase in intense rainfall events and downpours, and some of these cause flash floods,” Prof. Price said. “The frequency of these intense floods is increasing. We can’t prevent these storms from happening, but soon we may be able to use the public’s smartphone data to generate better forecasts and give these forecasts back to the public in real time via their phones.”

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Toward New Respect for Animals

TAU’s newly expanded Legal Clinic for Environmental Justice and Protection of Animal Rights is first in Israel to promote the humane and just treatment of animals under the law

In 2003, a landmark decision of the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the force-feeding of geese and ducks for the production of foie gras represented cruelty to animals and was therefore in violation of the law. The progressive ruling led to the banning of the practice.

Now, with animal rights issues a growing area of engagement in Israel, TAU’s Environmental Justice Clinic at the Buchmann Faculty of Law, operating since 2001, has expanded its scope to the protection of animal rights and welfare. The new clinic integrates both theoretical studies and practical legal work in the rapidly developing field of animal law, advocating for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves and are entitled to dignity, compassion and a life free from suffering.

The Clinic works to broaden the definition of animal law within the legal community, with the aim of making law and justice in Israel more effective in protecting animals. Its work will be complemented by the course in Animal Protection Law being taught this academic year at the Buchmann Faculty with the generous support of the Jeremy Coller Foundation.

As a pioneer of clinical legal education in Israel, the eight legal clinics of the Elga Cegla Clinical Law Programs deal with hundreds of cases relating to human rights; Holocaust survivors and the elderly; worker’s rights; refugee rights; criminal justice; housing; the environment; and class action.

The Animal Rights Clinic, the first of its kind in Israel, operates under the academic supervision of Vice Dean of Law, Prof. Issi Rosen-Zvi, and the clinical instruction of attorneys Dr. Eran Tzin and Amnon Keren. Students participating in the clinics earn academic credit while gaining valuable experience in litigation in a range of rights issues.

The Clinic examines issues such as the philosophical and social justice concepts of animal liberation, animal protection laws and policies, and the intersection of animal and environmental protection in the spheres of biodiversity, wildlife and conservation and the impact of livestock farming.

“Our students engage in eager, at times heated, discussions, reflecting the complex and multifaceted nature of the subject. The discussions demonstrate the vague spectrum which animals inhabit in human lives, as sentient beings caught somewhere between property and products, to best friends and cherished members of the family,” says Prof. Rosen-Zvi.

On the practical side, the Clinic is currently involved in three projects. First, through collaboration with the Class Action Clinic, they have taken action against one of Israel’s largest meat producers, who has been exposed time and again for animal cruelty. In a second case, the Clinic is filing an injunction against one of Israel’s major egg producers, with the objective of ending the intensive confinement of hens kept in battery cages, a field in which regulatory authorities have consistently failed to take action.

The third project is a research initiative, carried out with the US-based Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), concerned with developing the legal status of animals and attaining the recognition that animals are entitled to certain fundamental rights, such as bodily liberty and bodily integrity. As part of this collaboration, the Clinic held a conference in April 2018, “Unlocking the Cage – Recognizing Animals as Legal Persons,” the first of its kind in Israel. The keynote speaker was attorney Steve Wise, Founder and President of NhRP and one of the world’s preeminent legal scholars in the field of animal rights. As the Clinic moves towards exploring the possibilities and challenges of filing further petitions, it hopes to instigate a profound change for animal protection in Israel.

“Animal protection organizations are the guardians of animal rights in Israel, and the Clinic sees itself as a connecting force between social activism, the law, and academic discourse,” says Clinic attorney Amnon Keren.

TAU Clinics promote social change

In fulfilling its mission to advance legal and social change for people of all religions, ethnicities, nationalities, races and genders, the Clinics have argued landmark cases and reformed governmental policies and legislation by drafting bills.

The Criminal Justice Clinic brought about the establishment of the National Public Defender’s Office in Israel in 1995. The Human Rights Clinic has successfully fought for the rights of the LGBT and transgender community in their struggle for equality.

The Workers’ Rights Clinic provided substantial legal support and infrastructure for the establishment of a new, independent general trade union. The Holocaust Survivor’s Clinic provides legal consultation and representation in court and in medical committees on a wide range of issues. One of its numerous achievements included increasing compensation for survivors.  

These are just a few of the countless achievements of the clinics in the last two decades, with the most significant being educating students to advocate and promote social justice values through hands-on, practical and experiential clinical legal education, empowering future agents of change.

Featured image: TAU law students on a field trip. Credit: Dan Rosenthal

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Environment,Honours & Awards

A prince to the rescue

A nature enthusiast and an environmental activist, Albert II, Prince of Monaco will visit the campus and meet with TAU researchers

If you were disappointed not to get an invitation to the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan, you’ll now get your chance to meet a real, genuine prince at the TAU campus. Albert II, Prince of Monaco, who cares deeply about the environment in general, and marine ecology in particular, will meet senior TAU officials and students when he receives his honorary doctorate this week. Brush up on your French and come greet the prince in person!

Modern day royalty

Albert II, the son of Princess Grace and Prince Rania III, was crowned Prince of Monaco in April of 2005. After his father, Prince Rania III, helped better the economy of Monaco, introduced a new constitution and established its status, his son was given the opportunity to devote time and resources to matters he loved. Ever since his youth he was drawn to nature, and in 2006 he became the only ruler of the country to visit the North Pole and set up a fund to protect the environment and raise awareness of global sustainability. In addition, he serves as an advisor to Orphans International, an organization that works to educate orphaned and abandoned children.

From Tel Aviv to Monte Carlo and back

Tel Aviv University and the Principality of Monaco cooperate in various fields. The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation aims to establish cross-border cooperation and introduce new activities in high priority areas, including the Earth’s poles, developing countries and the Mediterranean basin.

Last December, a delegation from Tel Aviv University, led by President Joseph Klafter, arrived in Monaco for a gala event on environmental issues, smart city development and ecology, in cooperation with Prince Albert II, in which the issues discussed were high on the agenda of both countries. Alternative energy sources, protection of biodiversity and stopping the alarming phenomenon of desertification by wise management of water resources, among other topics.

Albert II, Prince of Monaco with Prof. Joseph Klafter, President of TAU
Albert II, Prince of Monaco with Prof. Joseph Klafter, President of TAU

Honorary Doctorate

On June 12, an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University will be awarded to Prince Albert II. He will participate in a series of events and will meet with senior officials and researchers at the university as well as students.

“The title is given to the prince in recognition of his deep commitment to protecting the environment for future generations, promoting cooperation in solving problems of climate, water and ecological diversity, his warm ties with the Jewish community in Monaco, and his longstanding friendship with Israel and the Jewish people,” said Prof. Klafter.

The ceremony will take place on Tuesday June 12th, 2018, at the Porter Building for Environmental Studies, at 19:00.

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Could ships be unsuspecting hosts of invasive species?

Half of the marine vessels passing along the Mediterranean coast of Israel carry damaging ascidians, TAU researchers say

Invasive ascidians — sac-like marine invertebrate filter feeders — are nuisance organisms that present a global threat. They contribute to biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and impairment of ecosystem services around the world.

A new Tel Aviv University study finds that ships play an unknowing but dominant role in introducing and dispersing these tough-shelled non-indigenous organisms into new environments. The research showed that these marine invertebrates hitch a ride on half of all the marine vessels passing through Israel’s Mediterranean coast.

The research was conducted by Mey-Tal Gewing, of TAU’s Department of Zoology and led by Dr. Noa Shenkar, also of TAU’s Department of Zoology and of The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and Israel National Center for Biodiversity Studies. It was published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Hitching a ride

“These organisms are well known in the US and Canada,” Dr. Shenkar said. “In Israel, they are passing through the Suez Canal, latching onto ropes and the bottom of the ship. They’re filter feeders, so they cover and clog every surface they latch onto, creating a lot of drag for the ship and damaging marine biodiversity in their new environments. They’re a major threat to our coasts and are very costly to ship owners.”

The researchers inspected 45 vessels pulled from the sea and cleaned in various shipyards around Israel. They investigated both commercial and military boats, finding that the military vessels, which undergo maintenance every six months, were actually more prone to ascidian invasion. Commercial ships are cleaned every two years by law.

“Military vessels are cleaned every six months but are not being properly cleaned for these invasive species,” said Dr. Shenkar said. “These species hide on the sea chest, under the bottom of the boat. Maintenance for commercial ships is much more thorough, including repainting and hosing down every nook and cranny of the vessel.”

Dr. Shenkar recommends that all areas of the boats be checked. Boat owners should use the same paint for the bottom of the boat but use silicon-based paint, to which larvae can’t attach, to cover areas such as the seachest.

They also found a correlation to seawater temperatures. “As temperatures rise, so too do the ascidians’ numbers,” said Dr. Shenkar. “We recommend conducting maintenance before the warm season begins. Early detection and rapid response are essential when a new potential nuisance species is discovered.”

Discovery of new species in the region

In the course of their research, the scientists also discovered a Caribbean species new to the region. This suggests that the monitoring of marine vessels can serve as an effective tool for the early detection of non-indigenous ascidians.

“Our research is an example of the great cooperation that needs to exist between academia and commercial interests to form a realistic recommendation related to what is actually happening in the field,” Dr. Shenkar said.

The researchers are currently working with policymakers in Israel and the EU to tailor environmental protection measures that would ward off non-indigenous ascidians.

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