Scientists say ocean seagrasses can be a valuable tool in fighting climate change. But many of these plants are being harmed by pollution linked to human activities such as mining and fishing.
In March, scientists went on an expedition to an area in the Indian Ocean thought to contain the largest field of underwater seagrass in the world. The team collected data to learn more about what affects the health of seagrasses.
Studies have shown that a big benefit of seagrass is that it can store up to two times the amount of carbon that forests do.
If seagrasses can stay healthy and grow, they can remove carbon dioxide, or CO2, from the environment. CO2 is one kind of greenhouse gas that scientists have linked to rising temperatures in Earth’s atmosphere.
The Indian Ocean expedition, led by environmental group Greenpeace, traveled to Saya de Malha near the island nation of Seychelles.
The field of seagrass at Saya de Malha is about the size of the European nation of Switzerland. Because the area is far from coastlines, it has stayed well protected from pollution and digging activities that can harm sea life. The seagrasses are also closer to the surface, meaning they take in more sunlight. This environment provides shelter and rich feeding grounds for thousands of different ocean creatures.
Among those taking part in the expedition were scientists from Britain’s Exeter University. They say they were able to collect some of the first field data on the area’s wildlife, including its little-studied seagrass beds. The team gathered up pieces of grass floating in the water to examine later in the laboratory.
It is not yet known how much carbon is being stored in Saya de Malha. But experts estimate that worldwide, the root systems of seagrasses trap more than 10 percent of the carbon buried in ocean sediment per year.
Dimos Traganos is the lead scientist on a German Aerospace Center project developing software to improve seagrass searches using satellite images and other data. He told Reuters the carbon-storing abilities of seagrass has “massive implications” for worldwide efforts to limit climate change. “We are in such an exciting period,” he said.
Researchers with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimate seagrasses cover more than 300,000 square kilometers. They are spread across all continents except for Antarctica.
The UNEP says that about every 30 minutes, human activity is helping to destroy seagrass areas about the same size of a soccer field. Scientists are now attempting to find out the current state of the world’s seagrasses.
Some areas studied demonstrate the harm that human activities can cause. One study suggested that pollution from mining and damage by fisheries may have helped destroy 92 percent of mainland Britain’s seagrasses over a century. The study was published in March in Frontiers in Plant Science.
This year, Seychelles began looking at its coastal seagrass carbon supply for the first time. And at least 10 countries have said seagrasses would play a part in their climate action plans, the UNEP says.
Seychelles and Mauritius, which have joint control over the Saya de Malha’s seabed, should take steps to count and care for the wealth of seagrasses in the area, said James Michel. He served as president of the Seychelles for 12 years until 2016.
Michel added: “Then we’ll be in a better position to know how to not only preserve it, but also to manage it to ensure that it is protected for the future.”
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
expedition – n. a trip undertaken by a group of people for a purpose
benefit – n. a helpful or good effect
greenhouse gas – n. gases that cause a warming of the Earth’s atmosphere
sediment – n. materials that collect at the bottom of a liquid
implication – n. a result or effect
preserve – v. to keep something safe from harm; to protect
manage – v. to have control of something, such as a business, department, organization, etc.
Have you ever heard of a muon?
A muon is a very small particle similar to an electron. Electrons and protons are parts of the atoms that make up all matter.
Muons were discovered during an experiment in 1936. Until now, most physicists have only been able to study muons for an extremely short period of time: two microseconds. There are one million microseconds in one second.
But scientists are using new technology to study these particles for a longer period of time than in the past. And with that extra time, they think they have made an exciting discovery. By watching the muons, they found that these particles do not behave as predicted.
Scientists have developed a group of expectations, or rules, in the years that they have studied particles that are smaller than an atom. That group of rules is called the Standard Model.
Scientists agreed on the Standard Model about 50 years ago. The Standard Model lets physicists make assumptions about the way extremely small particles move. Over time, experiments have proved that the assumptions of the Standard Model are correct.
However, results of two different recent tests in Europe and America have scientists thinking again about their ideas.
The scientists who work at the research center called Fermilab, near Chicago, Illinois have done 8.2 billion tests with muons. They send them around a 14-meter magnetic track. The special track keeps the muons from disappearing for longer than usual, so they can be studied. The tests showed scientists that the muons were behaving differently than the Standard Model predicted.
In tests going on at a research center near Geneva, Switzerland, scientists crash particles known as “beauty quarks” into each other. The Standard Model says these crashes should produce an equal number of electrons and muons each time. However, researchers looked at data over several years and found 15 percent more electrons than muons resulted from the collisions. They had expected nearly an equal number of both particles.
The physicists are excited to be able to question the Standard Model. They think it means an important discovery might be coming in the near future.
However, they say the information from the experiments still requires a lot of study. It will take another one or two years before they can make a firm statement.
David Kaplan is a physicist at Johns Hopkins University. He said if the experiments turn out to be correct, they could upset the world of particle physics.
What the early data show is that there is an unknown particle or force acting on the muons. Aida El-Khadra who works at Fermilab said it would be the first big discovery in this part of physics in about 10 years.
Chris Polly is one of the leaders of the project at Fermilab. He said there could be a “sea of background particles” that have not yet been discovered. He called them: “monsters we haven’t yet imagined.”
Alexey Petrov is a particle physicist at Wayne State University in Michigan. He said the news of the discovery is “tantalizing.”
Both groups doing the experiments want people to understand that their findings need to be confirmed with more tests. In 2011, physicists thought they found something that made them question the Standard Model. They said another particle, known as a neutrino, was traveling faster than the speed of light. But after careful reexamination, they found the result came from loose electrical wiring in the experiment.
Sheldon Stone of Syracuse University is working on the project in Switzerland. Because of the problem in 2011, he said the scientists are being extra careful.
“We’re kind of confident,” about the results, he said. “But you never know.”
I’m Dan Friedell.
Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press wrote this story. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Are you excited by the news about the muons? Tell us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
exciting –adj. causing feelings of interest and enthusiasm : causing excite
assume –v. to think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true
spin –v. to think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true
track –n. a structure that is often circular that lets something go around it in a set path
monster –n. a strange or horrible imaginary creature
tantalize –v. to cause (someone) to feel interest or excitement about something that is very attractive, appealing, etc.
confident –adj. having a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something : having confidence
Governments worldwide are expected to seek more proposals for wind power stations to produce electricity in coastal areas this year.
The new international wind power developments could produce more than 30 gigawatts of electricity. That is almost as much as the 35 gigawatts currently produced around the world. Some industry experts say the business environment for wind power is very competitive.
Several European oil companies including Total, BP and Shell plan to quickly expand their renewable energy businesses. They aim to reduce dependence on oil and gas production to satisfy investors who want long-term business plans that result in less pollution. Many governments are also ordering electricity companies to meet increasingly lower pollution targets.
Big oil companies are entering the renewable power market although it is less profitable than traditional operations. Earlier this year, BP and German company EnBW paid a record price for development rights to two offshore areas that could produce three gigawatts of electricity. The sites are near the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The developers pay a yearly amount before making a final investment decision. The payment for BP and EnBW will amount to almost $1.4 billion made in four yearly payments for rights to the areas.
Offshore wind power developers, Iberdrola, Orsted and SSE all confirmed to Reuters they had unsuccessfully sought the contract.
Some experts say the high fees threaten the cost reductions the industry has gained over the past 10 years. Mark Lewis is with BNP Paribas, a French banking group. He said the recent fee deal would add around 35 percent to project development costs.
BP said the fee was reasonable considering the area of the sites in the Irish Sea. He said they are not in deep water and are close to land. The company said the conditions at the sites will permit shorter, less costly connection wiring.
But, some in the industry have expressed concern. Ben Backwell is chief of the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry group. He said there are not enough projects to meet demand.
“So you are going to create an over-heated market when what we want to see is more opportunities made available,” he said.
Julien Pouget is a renewable energy expert with the French oil company Total. He said the technology is developing quickly. He noted announcements about larger wind turbines. He said the development makes his company hopeful about cost reductions that will make operations profitable.
Britain oversees the development contracts. The country guarantees producers a minimum price for electricity. But because industry costs are falling, the guaranteed price is now the lowest it has ever been: 30 percent lower than in 2017.
Asia and the U.S. are relatively new markets
Britain is the world’s largest offshore wind market. It is estimated that 10 gigawatts of electricity can be produced there.
European countries including Denmark, Poland and France are expected to hold competitive sales of development rights called auctions this year.
In the United States, President Joe Biden wants to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030. There are currently 13 projects in development. They are expected to produce around 9.1 gigawatts of electricity and might begin operation by 2026.
Spanish energy company Iberdrola is already involved in development proposals in the American states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts through its U.S. group, Avangrid. BP agreed to pay $1.1 billion in a deal last year to buy one-half of two U.S. developments from the Norwegian company Equinor.
In Asia, Japan plans to develop up to 10 gigawatts of offshore wind electricity by 2030. The country plans to expand that amount to 30 to 45 gigawatts by 2040.
Iberdrola bought Japanese developer Acacia Renewables last year. It said it expects to take part in the sales in Japan.
However, experts warned that new areas cannot expect high prices for development rights, also called seabed leases. And they cannot expect to offer price guarantees as low as Britain’s. Backwell of the Global Wind Energy Council said the industry in Asia and in the U.S. is still developing.
He said: “Each region has to build up its own industry and skills before they can expect to see the most competitive prices.”
I’m Caty Weaver. And I’m Alice Bryant.
The Reuters news agency reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
gigawatt –n. a unit of power equal to one billion watts; a watt is a measure of energy
offshore –adj. in the ocean away from the coast
opportunity –n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done; a chance to do or gain something
turbine –n. an engine that has a part with blades that turn because of pressure from water, steam or air
minimum –adj. the lowest possible amount
Cooking can be tricky when you can not find the ingredients you normally use to make a meal. Many people face that very problem in Cuba, where the COVID-19 crisis has worsened food shortages in the country.
But now, they can find help just a computer link away on the Facebook page “Recipes from the Heart.” Cuban Yuliet Colón is one of the page creators.
Colón guides Cubans on how to use the foods available to them to make the meals they love. She can help users make a sweet treat with the eggs they happen to find, or replace the pork called for in a recipe with whatever meat is at the market. She even knows how to substitute beans in Cuban rice dishes with peanuts.
Recipes from the Heart shares information on how Cubans can cook the foods they are likely to find at the market or through a government program.
“I love Master Chef Spain, but where do I get liquid nitrogen in this country?” joked Colón. Liquid nitrogen is used to make special ice cream on the Master Chef Spain television show.
Colón is a 39-year-old mother of two. She and other cooks launched the Facebook page in June. It now has more than 12,000 members, many of them in Cuba. Cubans are just starting to use social media due to improved internet speeds.
COVID-19 stopped people from visiting Cuba, which badly damaged the economy. Former President Donald Trump also increased sanctions on the country. Now, there are food shortages. The gross domestic product decreased by 11 percent in 2020.
Long lines became normal last year. The year 2021 opened with government economic reforms that effectively raised both prices and pay, but not at the same rate.
Colón last week visited a food store and stood in line for 40 minutes. She was finally able to buy a few vegetables.
She used them to cook a food she called “Cuban-style pisto manchego.” It is mostly made with vegetables. She received a lot of praise from her Facebook group.
These days, things every Cuban needs come and go without warning. One day there is toothpaste, then it disappears. Another day there is soap.
Different kinds of food appear and disappear as well.
Sometimes potato disappears, prompting Cubans to turn to yucca, another root vegetable.
Recipes from the Heart has become a home for ideas on how to cook chicken when it is the only meat in the store.
“There are a lot of shortages”, said Colón in the small kitchen of her house. She is preparing her “pisto manchego.” She photographs her cooking and then uploads the images.
She added a bit of fresh herbs she took from a relative’s small garden.
She likes to make tasty sweet things, but explains that it is hard to find the needed eggs and milk.
The internet has led to an increase in food services including cooking and transporting meals. Cubans can share information on WhatsApp or Twitter about what stores have food or other goods.
Such social media sites are also influencing government officials to be accountable. For example, a government factory recently provided a frozen food that sometimes exploded during cooking. Many cooks protested about the problem online. So the government was forced to provide answers to the Cuban press.
Colón also uses the internet to talk to her mother, who helps pay for its cost. And, she often adds a few family stories to her recipe posts.
“The kitchen is my happy place,” she said.
I'm Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
ingredients - n. one of the things that are used to make a food,
sanctions - n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country
gross domestic product – n. the amount of a country's entire earnings
herb – n. a plant or a part of a plant that is used as medicine or to give flavor to food
kitchen – n. a room in which food is cooked
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Las Vegas city officials have found that a lot of grass is useless.
The plant is never laid on, played on or even stepped on. The grass is only there to look nice.
The city in the American state of Nevada is built in a desert. And officials have found that there are 21 square kilometers of useless grass.
Now, Las Vegas is trying to become the first place in the country to ban that kind of grass often seen between streets, in housing developments and in office parks.
It is estimated that useless grass makes up 40 percent of all the turf in Las Vegas and it needs a lot of water to survive. Grass needs four times more water than dry climate plants like cactus or succulents. By tearing out the grass, the city could reduce yearly water usage by 15 percent.
Las Vegas may be known to the outside world for its partying, casinos and excess. But officials say community residents have strongly supported saving water.
The city is asking the Nevada state legislature to ban useless grass. California temporarily banned grass watering during an extremely dry period several years ago. But no state or large city has tried to permanently ban watering some kinds of grass.
Justin Jones is a commissioner in Clark County. He said the ban will not change people’s lives very much.
“To be clear, we are not coming after your average homeowner’s backyard,” he said. But grass in the middle of a highway is, in his words, “dumb.”
“The only people that ever set foot on grass that’s in the middle of a roadway system are people cutting the grass,” Jones said.
Jones said some communities oppose the ban. But after years of campaigns for better water use, there has been a cultural change.
In 2003, the Southern Nevada Water Authority banned developers from planting grass in front of new homes. It also offered homeowners $30 for each square meter of grass they tear out. But fewer people are now using the program.
Water usage has increased in southern Nevada by 9 percent since 2019. And last year, Las Vegas went a record 240 days without major rainfall.
The Colorado River provides much of Nevada’s drinking water. The river also supplies Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Mexico.
The river could lose more water as climate change affects it. Arizona, California and Nevada are expected to have their amount of river water cut in the future.
Water officials in other dry cities said water usage needs to be reduced. But they fear the reaction to reforms like the ones in Las Vegas if their communities do not accept them.
Cynthia Campbell is the water resources adviser for the city of Phoenix in Arizona. She said trees and grass combat “urban heat islands:” areas in cities that can get dangerously hot.
She said there might come a point when city restrictions get too severe for some residents.
“They’ll say, ‘This is the point of no return for me,’” Campbell said. “For some people, it’s a pool. For some people, it’s grass.”
Colby Pellegrino is the director of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. He does not know if the plan to ban grass will spread to other cities.
But, he said, “every community that relies on Colorado River water,” will have to make changes.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Sam Metz and Ken Ritter reported this story for the Associated Press. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
turf- n. - the upper layer of ground that is made up of grass and plant roots
casino –n. a building or room that has games of chance that people play for money
excess- adj. an amount that is more than the usual or necessary amount
backyard- n. an area of grass behind someone's house
Even before the COVID-19 health crisis, many American colleges and universities started to reconsider the value of tests like the SAT and ACT.
Standardized tests have been criticized for many years. Some education experts argue that they only show how well a student takes tests instead of how much they have learned.
International students and students who did not grow up speaking English have struggled with these tests in the past. Because of this, some universities ended their test requirement.
Research from the company that creates one of these tests, ACT Inc., shows that the number of test-optional schools increased by 200, to over 900, from 2014 to 2019.
But when large group activities, such as testing events for students, were canceled in 2020, even more colleges became “test-optional.” This means they do not require, but will still accept, standardized test scores in students’ applications.
As a result, many colleges that are known to be highly selective in their admissions policies received more applicants than usual.
A recent story in the Washington Post newspaper said the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, known as MIT, had 66 percent more applicants in 2021 than it did in 2020. The University of California at Los Angeles, UCLA, received 28 percent more.
The research by ACT Inc. showed that many schools will continue their test-optional policy after the coronavirus health crisis ends.
Eric Hoover writes about college admissions for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He said colleges will continue to consider test scores. But test-optional policies should help students who struggle with tests.
“If you're someone who doesn't love taking tests and you feel like tests are not the best representation of who you are as a student and what your potential is, then I think it's fair to say that the world's getting a little kinder and gentler for the many, many, great students who for whatever reason just don't fare as well on the ACT or the SAT, those kind of standardized tests.”
Earlier this year, VOA spoke with Kidist Bekele, a student from Annandale High School in northern Virginia. She was born in Eritrea and only recently came to the U.S.
VOA spoke to her again to ask about test-optional applications. Bekele said she had taken the SAT before the pandemic and was not happy with her score of 1120 out of a possible 1600. She was planning to take the test again, but it was canceled. She was glad that colleges considered her whole record and did not disqualify her because her score was lower than she hoped.
“I know a lot of people that are really good with school, have a good GPA, but still don’t do good on the ACT. I think it’s all about using time and test-taking skills.”
She was accepted to a number of universities and is currently considering George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech. All three schools were test-optional and she did not send her score.
Bekele said she moved out of English as a Second Language classes two years ago. But she still had trouble with some of the reading parts of the tests.
“The writing was easier than the reading, but the reading was very hard,” she said. “For people like me, it’s not a good representation of what people do in school.”
Hoover, the education writer, noted that universities use test scores for reasons other than deciding who gets in. They use them as a way to find out which students to recruit and as a way to decide to whom they might offer financial aid.
Bekele said she understands test-optional schools may still use test scores to make a choice between one student who submitted a score and one who did not.
“They might choose that student even though it was a test-optional school. It would definitely be recognized,” she said.
Zoe Coyle is from Cleveland, Ohio. She will start her first year at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts in the autumn. Tufts was test-optional, but she still sent her scores. Her high school’s advisor told students to do that. “If we didn’t,” she said, “then it would be telling the school that we were below average.”
She said test-optional admissions give students who are outstanding at something other than academics the confidence to send applications. She spoke about her friends who wanted to study music and theater in college. They chose not to send their scores.
Coyle said she sees how test scores can help colleges choose students, but she is pleased that they are making scores less important.
“It does feel like notes from teachers and personal essays are way more important, and it kind of feels like colleges are leaning into that more. And for some colleges, COVID kind of gave them the opportunity to take bigger steps in that direction, which I guess is one of the few benefits of COVID.”
ACT Inc. said about 30 percent more schools put a test-optional policy in place in 2020. Whether they continue that policy may depend on how the current group of college students perform.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Do you think colleges that switched to test-optional admissions in the last two years should stay that way? Tell us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
optional –adj. available as a choice but not required
potential –n. a quality that something has that can be developed to make it better
fare –v. to do something well or badly
standardized –v. things that are similar and consistent
disqualify –v. to stop or prevent (someone) from doing, having, or being a part of something
recruit –v. to find suitable people and get them to join a company, an organization, the armed forces, etc.
tuition –n. money that is paid to a school for the right to study there
confidence –n. a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something
note –n. a short letter
essay –n. a short piece of writing that tells a person's thoughts or opinions about a subject
lean in –v. to give your time or effort in order to do something or make something better
And now Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English.
On this program we explore words and expressions in American English. Today, you might want to roll up your sleeves. We are going to get our hands dirty!
Figuratively, that is.
Playing in mud is a popular activity for many children all around the world. What child doesn’t love mixing just the right amount of water and dirt to get the perfect mud?
If you want to go farther, you can make mud pies! Shape the mud into circles and then decorate them with little sticks and stones, flowers, and leaves – basically any small item you find on the ground.
Or perhaps making mud pies is not your thing. Maybe just digging in the mud is more your speed, or to your liking.
The feel of mud in your hands can be good for adults too. In fact, many people pay a lot of money for face and body mud treatments.
Maybe that is one reason people like to garden or make things from clay. You must get your hands dirty.
And that is our expression for today.
"Getting your hands dirty" is a useful expression. And it has two very different uses.
The first one is for honest, hardworking people. If I am willing to get my hands dirty, it means I am willing to do the hard work of a project myself. I do not give the dirty work to others.
Now, that “hard work” could deal with actual dirt or it could just mean the hard parts of a project. It just means that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do whatever hard work is needed to finish a job.
For example, let’s say my good friend is running for mayor. There is a lot of hard work needed to win an election. So, I help gather signatures to get her on the election ballot. I walk around neighborhoods and pass out information to hundreds of voters. She does too. She is not afraid to get her hands dirty and neither is her team of volunteers. When she wins, she thanks us all for our hard work.
Okay, now it is four years later. My friend has been in office and has become very powerful. In fact, you could say that power has gone to her head. She is not thinking clearly … or legally when she asks me to do her a favor.
That brings us to the other way we use the expression “get your hands dirty.” This way is for dishonest people.
Let’s imagine that my friend, the Mayor, calls me into her office and asks me to do something for her – something illegal. She wants me to ask a building developer for money for her re-election campaign. In return she will give him some city business.
She promises me that nothing will happen. But she simply can’t risk getting her hands dirty. I tell her that I really can’t risk going to jail. I also tell her that we are no longer friends.
And that is the end of this Words and Their Stories!
Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.
Anna Matteo wrote this for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.
Words in This Story
figuratively – adv. used with a meaning that is different from the basic or literal meaning and that expresses an idea by using language that usually describes something else
decorate – v. to make (something) more attractive usually by putting something on it
thing – n. something (such as an activity) that makes a strong appeal to the individual
speed – n. someone or something that appeals to one's taste
clay – n. an earthy material that is sticky and easily molded when wet and hard when baked
roll up your sleeves – idiomatic expression
signature – n. the name of a person written by that person
ballot – n. a ticket or piece of paper used to vote in an election
favor – n. a kind or helpful act that you do for someone