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NASA’s new Venus rover has FEELERS to keep it out of deep holes

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nasas new venus rover has feelers to keep it out of deep holes

NASA has unveiled a new rover design that could be used to help explore the surface of Venus.

Nicknamed the ‘Venus Feelers,’ the rover was developed by an Egyptian architect and designer named Youssef Ghali.

Ghali submitted his design as part of NASA’s ‘Exploring Hell’ contest, which was an open call for experimental new rover designs capable of surviving hellish conditions on the surface of Venus. 

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NASA has unveiled a new experimental Venus rover design, called Venus Feelers, which was selected as the winner of it's 'Exploring Hell' design contest

NASA has unveiled a new experimental Venus rover design, called Venus Feelers, which was selected as the winner of it's 'Exploring Hell' design contest

NASA has unveiled a new experimental Venus rover design, called Venus Feelers, which was selected as the winner of it’s ‘Exploring Hell’ design contest

Ghali’s design focused on a tri-wheel ‘feeler’ structure attached to the front of the rover, which help detect large rocks or deep holes to help keep the rover from becoming stuck in rocky or uneven terrain. 

Ghali will be awarded $15,000 for his submission, while NASA engineers will take his design and look at ways to integrate it into a future iteration of their own designs for a Venus rover, according to a report in Engadget.

The feelers are shaped like overgrown fidget spinners and will roll across environmental obstacles that are 14 inches (35cm) or smaller. 

When they sense something taller than 14 inches, they’ll automatically trigger the rover to stop and look for an alternate route. 

The feelers will also be able to measure the depth of holes using the same 14-inch threshold to stop the rover and keep it from becoming stuck.  

Venus Feelers was designed by Egyptian architect and designer Youssef Ghali, featuring a 'feeler' housing that attached to the front of the rover to detect potential obstacles

Venus Feelers was designed by Egyptian architect and designer Youssef Ghali, featuring a 'feeler' housing that attached to the front of the rover to detect potential obstacles

Venus Feelers was designed by Egyptian architect and designer Youssef Ghali, featuring a ‘feeler’ housing that attached to the front of the rover to detect potential obstacles

The feelers can cross rocks and other obstacles 14 inches (35cm) or less without issue but rocks or other obstacles larger than 14 inches will cause the rover to stop and search for a new path

The feelers can cross rocks and other obstacles 14 inches (35cm) or less without issue but rocks or other obstacles larger than 14 inches will cause the rover to stop and search for a new path

The feelers can cross rocks and other obstacles 14 inches (35cm) or less without issue but rocks or other obstacles larger than 14 inches will cause the rover to stop and search for a new path

The rover’s wheel width will allow it to cross gaps narrower than 20 inches (50cm), and the feelers will also sound the alarm if they detect a gap larger than 20 inches and deeper than 14 inches.

The Venus Feelers will also come with a ceramic spring suspension system built with a weighted pendulum attachment that will help it maintain balance on slopes with uneven terrain.

The surface of Venus is one of the most challenging environments NASA will have targeted for exploration. 

Venus Feelers can also detect holes and will stop the rover if it detects a hole deeper than 14 inches. If the hole is narrower than 20 inches (50cm), however, the rover's wheels will be able to cross without falling in

Venus Feelers can also detect holes and will stop the rover if it detects a hole deeper than 14 inches. If the hole is narrower than 20 inches (50cm), however, the rover's wheels will be able to cross without falling in

Venus Feelers can also detect holes and will stop the rover if it detects a hole deeper than 14 inches. If the hole is narrower than 20 inches (50cm), however, the rover’s wheels will be able to cross without falling in

The rover also has a ceramic spring suspension system with a built-in pendulum that will help the rover navigate inclines while the feelers will keep it away from cliffs that are too steep

The rover also has a ceramic spring suspension system with a built-in pendulum that will help the rover navigate inclines while the feelers will keep it away from cliffs that are too steep

The rover also has a ceramic spring suspension system with a built-in pendulum that will help the rover navigate inclines while the feelers will keep it away from cliffs that are too steep

Surface temperatures typically exceed 850 degrees Fahrenheit while air pressure is 92 times higher than on Earth.

In 1982, the Soviet Academy of Sciences set the record for longest surviving rover on the planet surface, which remained active for 127 minutes before breaking down.

The next longest lasting Venus rover, part of the Soviet Vega 2 mission in 1985, lasted just 52 minutes before going radio silent. 

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Disturbing video shows Antarctica emerging from under the ice as temperatures rise

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disturbing video shows antarctica emerging from under the ice as temperatures rise

Scientists have released a shocking computer animation showing Antarctica emerging from under its ice sheet due to melting linked to rising temperatures. 

Researchers from the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say the warmer it gets, the faster the ice will melt and could lead to a 20ft rise in sea levels.

The team haven’t put a time scale on their predictions, but some experts suggest the entire continent will be ice-free within 150,000 years if nothing changes. 

The shocking video shows the predicted rapid disappearance of the ice sheet as temperatures continue to climb – the higher they rise, the more ice disappears.

Even small rises can have a big impact – but a rise of more than 7.2F over pre-industrial levels – twice the current minimum target – would see a 20ft sea level rise. 

This would have devastating impact on low lying countries as well as cities like London, Tokyo and New York, the researchers claim.

A recent UN study found the world is not on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of preventing global average temperatures increasing by 2.7°F, claiming there is a one-in-four chance that temperatures will exceed that level at least once in the next five years. 

Antarctica - Antarctic Peninsula - Palmer Archipelago. If temperatures continue to rise Antarctica could lose all of its ice sheet, revealing the continent underneath

Antarctica - Antarctic Peninsula - Palmer Archipelago. If temperatures continue to rise Antarctica could lose all of its ice sheet, revealing the continent underneath

Antarctica – Antarctic Peninsula – Palmer Archipelago. If temperatures continue to rise Antarctica could lose all of its ice sheet, revealing the continent underneath

Researchers claim if temperatures increase by about 7.2F Antarctica will lose some of its ice sheet but also lead to global sea levels rising by up to 20ft. Here at about 5F a large proportion of ice has disappeared and sea levels will rise accordingly, experts claim

Researchers claim if temperatures increase by about 7.2F Antarctica will lose some of its ice sheet but also lead to global sea levels rising by up to 20ft. Here at about 5F a large proportion of ice has disappeared and sea levels will rise accordingly, experts claim

Researchers claim if temperatures increase by about 7.2F Antarctica will lose some of its ice sheet but also lead to global sea levels rising by up to 20ft. Here at about 5F a large proportion of ice has disappeared and sea levels will rise accordingly, experts claim

The disturbing computer animation shows how Antarctica will become green and earthy if it loses its ice sheet – something not seen for millions of years. 

For Antarctica to become completely ice free, global temperatures would need to increase over pre-industrial levels by rise by a global average of 23.8F – the last time they were that hot was during the Cretaceous period 100 million years ago. 

Andrew Shepherd, Director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, University of Leeds, said these are all ‘long-term predictions’.

“These are long-term predictions of how much ice Antarctica will have lost in perhaps 150,000 years’ time. 

‘Although we won’t be around to see it, it’s a stark warning that the melting can’t be reversed unless we can cool our planet to below pre-industrial temperatures. Now is the time to act.’

Global sea levels will rise by about 20ft if the temperature is sustained long enough at 7.2 degrees F higher than pre-industrial levels, the researchers warned. 

However, if temperatures are sustained at more than 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels then sea levels will rise by 39 feet.

That level of global sea level rise may not happen for centuries, but we are on target for a notable increase within the next 80 years, a recent study found.

Researchers from the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say the warmer it gets the faster the ice will melt and could lead to a 20ft rise in sea levels if temperatures pass 7.2F

Researchers from the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say the warmer it gets the faster the ice will melt and could lead to a 20ft rise in sea levels if temperatures pass 7.2F

Researchers from the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say the warmer it gets the faster the ice will melt and could lead to a 20ft rise in sea levels if temperatures pass 7.2F

Dr Helene Hewitt, a Met Office science fellow and ocean modelling expert, said sea level rise is one of the greatest societal impacts from climate change.

‘Taking urgent measures to curb increasing global temperature will slow the rate of sea level rise, buying more time for millions of at-risk people,’ Heewitt said.

‘Without urgent mitigation the future for low-lying communities, including some of the world’s greatest cities, is even more under threat.’

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at the ‘worst case scenario’ rate predicted by the UN – and could result in sea levels rising by 16 inches by 2100. 

Ricarda Winkelmann, a climate scientist involved in the study, said Antarctica holds more than half of the Earth’s fresh water, frozen in vast ice sheets. 

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at the 'worst case scenario' rate predicted by the UN - and could result in sea levels rising by 16 inches by 2100

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at the 'worst case scenario' rate predicted by the UN - and could result in sea levels rising by 16 inches by 2100

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at the ‘worst case scenario’ rate predicted by the UN – and could result in sea levels rising by 16 inches by 2100 

‘As the surrounding ocean water and atmosphere warm due to human greenhouse-gas emissions, the white cap on the South Pole loses mass and eventually becomes unstable,’ Winkelmann explained.’

Because of the sheer magnitude of Antarctica’s potential for sea-level contribution – a 3.6F temperature rise could result in the warming, melting and accelerated ice flow into the ocean. This will lead to a global sea level rise of 8ft from Antarctica alone.  

Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science, University College London, said Antarctica seems disconnected from our daily lives as it is so remote.

‘Beyond a certain threshold of warming, massive loss over time will be inevitable and irreversible. We have known this for a while,’ Rapley said.

‘Even so, the results presented in the paper – and especially the video showing the way in which the ice sheet will disintegrate – are truly shocking.’

He said humanity is transforming the planet and the level of warming humans create will determine inevitable and irreversible consequences in Antarctica.   

‘The idea that we might really commit future Earth to being ice-free (with all the related consequences) is a truly profound conclusion – one which we have speculated about until now – but which this work, if correct, shows to be real.’ 

Published in Nature, the researchers state the only way Antarctica could recover and forestall the sea level rise is if we return to pre-industrial processes.

But because that is not feasible or realistic, the hope is that we keep temperatures below 3.6F higher than normal to at least stop things getting worse.

Anders Levermann, researcher at PIK, said: ‘Antarctica is basically our ultimate heritage from an earlier time in Earth’s history.’

‘It’s been around for roughly 34 million years. Now our simulations show that once it’s melted, it does not regrow to its initial state even if temperatures eventually drop.

‘Indeed, temperatures would have to go back to pre-industrial levels to allow its full recovery – a highly unlikely scenario. What we lose of Antarctica now, is lost forever.’

This is what Antarctica looks like today
This is what Antarctica could look like if temperatures rise by a global average of 23.8F
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These images show changes in continental ice cover in Antarctica from the current situation of near blanket cover (left) to an almost green continent (right) if temperatures rise by 23.8F

Co-author Torsten Albrecht said the animation shows how there are different impacts on some parts of Antarctica and difference causes of ice loss.

He said: ‘In West Antarctica for instance, the main driver of ice loss is warm ocean water leading to higher melting underneath the ice shelves, which in turn can destabilise the grounded ice sheet.

‘That makes glaciers the size of Florida slide into the ocean.

‘Once temperatures cross the threshold of six degrees above pre-industrial levels, effects from the ice surface become more dominant.

‘As the gigantic mountains of ice slowly sink to lower heights where the air is warmer, this leads to more melt at the ice surface – just as we observe in Greenland.’

Professor Winkelmann said: ‘In the end, it is our burning of coal and oil that determines ongoing and future greenhouse-gas emissions and therefore, if and when critical temperature thresholds in Antarctica are crossed.

If humanity works together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2.7F (the current goal) then most of Antarctica will remain ice covered

If humanity works together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2.7F (the current goal) then most of Antarctica will remain ice covered

If humanity works together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2.7F (the current goal) then most of Antarctica will remain ice covered

‘And even if the ice loss happens on long time scales, the respective carbon dioxide levels can already be reached in the near future,’ Winkelmann said.

‘We decide now whether we manage to halt the warming. Antarctica’s fate really lies in our hands – and with it that of our cities and cultural sites across the globe.’  

Authors say this study is ‘another exclamation mark’ behind the importance of the Paris climate agreement to keep global temperatures below 3.6 degrees F. 

Winkelmann ‘If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York’, as well as cultural sites like the Sydney Opera House.

We are already on track to hit the UN ‘worst case scenario’ for global ice sheet melting, according to a study by the University of Leeds. 

Mass loss from 2007 to 2017 due to melt-water and crumbling ice has matched Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change‘s (IPCC) most extreme forecasts.   

This is the Rothera research station in Antarctica. Authors say this study is 'another exclamation mark' behind the importance of the Paris climate agreement to keep global temperatures below 3.6 degrees F.

This is the Rothera research station in Antarctica. Authors say this study is 'another exclamation mark' behind the importance of the Paris climate agreement to keep global temperatures below 3.6 degrees F.

This is the Rothera research station in Antarctica. Authors say this study is ‘another exclamation mark’ behind the importance of the Paris climate agreement to keep global temperatures below 3.6 degrees F. 

Thomas Slater, an expert in polar observations, said ‘we need a new worst case scenario’, adding that the sheets were melting faster than predicted. 

Dr Robert Larter, Marine Geoscientist, British Antarctic Survey said at present most ice is lost by calving of icebergs and by melting at the base of glaciers where they flow out over the ocean as ‘ice shelves’. 

‘As temperatures increase it is clear that the extent of surface melting will also increase. Apart from being a direct addition to the ice losses, increased surface melt is also expected to trigger a set of feedback effects,’ Larter said. 

‘Eventually it will impact the stability of ice shelves, compromising or eliminating their buttressing effect on the glaciers flowing into them and thus allowing those glaciers to flow faster and deliver more ice to the ocean. 

‘Where surface melt drains through a glacier to its bed it can also lubricate sliding of the ice over its bed, further increasing the glacier flow rate.’ 

The findings of the study linking temperature to Antarctica ice sheet levels have been published in the journal Nature.

GLACIERS AND ICE SHEETS MELTING WOULD HAVE A ‘DRAMATIC IMPACT’ ON GLOBAL SEA LEVELS

Global sea levels could rise as much as 10ft (3 metres) if the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica collapses. 

Sea level rises threaten cities from Shanghai to London, to low-lying swathes of Florida or Bangladesh, and to entire nations such as the Maldives. 

In the UK, for instance, a rise of 6.7ft (2 metres) or more may cause areas such as Hull, Peterborough, Portsmouth and parts of east London and the Thames Estuary at risk of becoming submerged.

The collapse of the glacier, which could begin with decades, could also submerge major cities such as New York and Sydney.

Parts of New Orleans, Houston and Miami in the south on the US would also be particularly hard hit.

A 2014 study looked by the union of concerned scientists looked at 52 sea level indicators in communities across the US.

It found tidal flooding will dramatically increase in many East and Gulf Coast locations, based on a conservative estimate of predicted sea level increases based on current data.

The results showed that most of these communities will experience a steep increase in the number and severity of tidal flooding events over the coming decades.

By 2030, more than half of the 52 communities studied are projected to experience, on average, at least 24 tidal floods per year in exposed areas, assuming moderate sea level rise projections. Twenty of these communities could see a tripling or more in tidal flooding events.

The mid-Atlantic coast is expected to see some of the greatest increases in flood frequency. Places such as Annapolis, Maryland and Washington, DC can expect more than 150 tidal floods a year, and several locations in New Jersey could see 80 tidal floods or more.

In the UK, a two metre (6.5 ft) rise by 2040 would see large parts of Kent almost completely submerged, according to the results of a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in November 2016.

Areas on the south coast like Portsmouth, as well as Cambridge and Peterborough would also be heavily affected.

Cities and towns around the Humber estuary, such as Hull, Scunthorpe and Grimsby would also experience intense flooding. 

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Mini ‘wind turbine’ can scavenge energy from the breeze and power your phone

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mini wind turbine can scavenge energy from the breeze and power your phone

Scientists have created a miniature ‘wind turbine’ that ‘scavenges’ energy from a breeze created during a brisk walk. 

The ‘nano-generator’, which is made of two plastic strips in a tube, captures and stores wind energy to power electronic devices. 

It’s inspired by giant wind turbines that convert the kinetic energy of wind into power, but it shrinks the concept down to something that could be worn around the wrist. 

The nano-generator has already been used to power LED light and in the future could charge electronic gadgets on the go, including smartphones.   

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Currently, the research team's device can power up 100 LED lights and temperature sensors

Currently, the research team's device can power up 100 LED lights and temperature sensors

Currently, the research team’s device can power up 100 LED lights and temperature sensors

The Chinese engineers behind the device think the abundance and cost-effectiveness of wind should be made use of by new smaller devices. 

Currently, the device can power up 100 LED lights and temperature sensors. 

‘You can collect all the breeze in your everyday life,’ said study author Ya Yang of Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, Chinese Academy of Sciences. 

‘We once placed our nano-generator on a person’s arm, and a swinging arm’s airflow was enough to generate power.’ 

High costs, resulting noise ad ‘aesthetic pollution’ are still issues of the fulls-scale wind turbines that offer a carbon-free source of energy. 

Most of the wind available on land is also too gentle to push commercial wind turbine blades, which is why many are stationed out at sea. 

Now the researchers have found a way to scavenge less powerful gusts.  

The new device is not technically a turbine but a ‘nano-generator’ made of two plastic strips in a tube, which flutter or clap together when there is airflow. 

The two plastics become electrically charged after being separated from each other as they’re flapping. 

The 'nano-generator', which is made of two plastic strips in a tube, captures and stores wind energy to power electronic devices

The 'nano-generator', which is made of two plastic strips in a tube, captures and stores wind energy to power electronic devices

The ‘nano-generator’, which is made of two plastic strips in a tube, captures and stores wind energy to power electronic devices

Illustration shows how the two bits of ribbon come into contact - which captures and stores energy. The green fluorescent bulbs in the picture were used to identify the trajectory of two flapping film

Illustration shows how the two bits of ribbon come into contact - which captures and stores energy. The green fluorescent bulbs in the picture were used to identify the trajectory of two flapping film

Illustration shows how the two bits of ribbon come into contact – which captures and stores energy. The green fluorescent bulbs in the picture were used to identify the trajectory of two flapping film

This phenomenon is called the ‘triboelectric effect’ and explains why our hair becomes electrically charged after being rubbed with a balloon.

But instead of making hair stand up, the electricity generated by the two plastic strips is captured and stored. 

In tests, a breeze as gentle as 3.6 miles per hour was enough to power the nano-generator. 

But it performs best when wind velocity is between 8.9 to 17.9 miles per hour – a speed that allows the two plastic strips to flutter in sync. 

The device also has a high wind-to-energy conversion efficiency of 3.23 per cent, a value that exceeds previously reported performances on wind energy scavenging. 

Wind efficiency – the amount of kinetic energy in the wind that is converted to mechanical energy and electricity – is around 35 to 45 per cent for full-scale turbines.  

The practicality of the nano-generator in an outdoor environment. The outdoor breeze is enough to flutter the plastic strips, shown in red

The practicality of the nano-generator in an outdoor environment. The outdoor breeze is enough to flutter the plastic strips, shown in red

The practicality of the nano-generator in an outdoor environment. The outdoor breeze is enough to flutter the plastic strips, shown in red

‘Our intention isn’t to replace existing wind power generation technology – it’s to solve the issues that the traditional wind turbines can’t solve,’ said Yang. 

‘Unlike wind turbines that use coils and magnets, where the costs are fixed, we can pick and choose low-cost materials for our device. 

‘Our device can also be safely applied to nature reserves or cities because it doesn’t have the rotating structures.’

In the future, Yang and colleagues would like to combine the device to small electronic devices such as phones, to provide sustainable electric power.

They also want to scale-up the device to make it bigger and more powerful. 

‘I’m hoping to scale up the device to produce 1,000 watts, so it’s competitive with traditional wind turbines,’ said Yang. 

‘We can place these devices where traditional wind turbines can’t reach, we can put it in the mountains or on the top of buildings for sustainable energy.’         

The system has been detailed in Cell Reports Physical Science

HOW DO WIND TURBINES WORK? 

Wind turbines operate on a simple principle- the energy in the wind turns propeller-like blades around a rotor.

The rotor is connected to the main shaft, which spins a generator to create electricity.  

They work in the opposite way to a fan, instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, wind turbines use wind to make electricity.

There are two main types of wind turbine that operate on the same basic principle. 

Off-shore ones are larger and tend to create more energy and are often built in large groups, known as wind farms. 

These provide bulk power to the National Grid.  

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Carbon and metal air pollution particles found in the placenta 

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carbon and metal air pollution particles found in the placenta

Carbon and metal particles from road traffic have been found in the placentas of pregnant women for the first time, a shocking new study reveals. 

UK scientists have found the first evidence that carbon-based particles and metals including silicon, phosphorus and chromium enter the placenta, which is critical to provide nutrients to growing babies in the womb.  

Inhaled particulate matter from air pollution is moving from mothers’ lungs to the blood stream and is taken up by important cells in the placenta and other distant organs.

Particle pollution exposure has been linked to irregular heartbeat, decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms and difficulty breathing. 

Experts say the tiny particles are likely to be adversely affecting the hearts and brains of unborn babies in London, where pollution levels have breached legal limits, although they say more research is needed to confirm this.  

Electron microscopy images of placental cells from different participants, showing black particles (indicated by red arrows) from inhaled particulate matter

Electron microscopy images of placental cells from different participants, showing black particles (indicated by red arrows) from inhaled particulate matter

Electron microscopy images of placental cells from different participants, showing black particles (indicated by red arrows) from inhaled particulate matter

‘Our work has shown that potentially toxic, metal-rich nanoparticles from air pollution can be transported to the brain, the heart, and, now, the placenta,’ said  Professor Barbara Maher at Lancaster University. 

‘It’s highly unlikely that such particles, having gained access to the placenta, wouldn’t affect the foetus. 

‘It’s essential that exposure to particulate air pollution – especially to ultra-fine pollution particles like these – is reduced, and urgently.’  

Professor Maher said there’s already evidence of low birth weight in babies born to mothers living in areas with high concentrations of PM2.5 – particles 2.5 micrometres and under in diameter.  

‘It’s unlikely that the incursion of pollution nanoparticles into the amniotic fluid and the fetal bloodstream is going to be anything other than damaging to the developing foetus,’ she told MailOnline. 

‘We see impacts of nanoparticles on the hearts and brains of infants and young people in high-pollution areas, so logic suggests that similar impacts would be incurred in the womb, depending on the dose the mother, and thence the baby, during pregnancy. 

‘There’s work going on at present to investigate exactly these very important questions.’

Healthy non-smoking pregnant women were recruited from the Royal London Hospital. All participants lived in London, with 10 residing in Tower Hamlets borough. Urban Londoners are exposed to high and unsafe levels of air pollution

Healthy non-smoking pregnant women were recruited from the Royal London Hospital. All participants lived in London, with 10 residing in Tower Hamlets borough. Urban Londoners are exposed to high and unsafe levels of air pollution

Healthy non-smoking pregnant women were recruited from the Royal London Hospital. All participants lived in London, with 10 residing in Tower Hamlets borough. Urban Londoners are exposed to high and unsafe levels of air pollution

WHAT IS THE PLACENTA? 

The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy to provides oxygen and nutrients to a growing baby and removes waste products from a baby’s blood. 

The placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus, and your baby’s umbilical cord arises from it. 

The organ is usually attached to the top, side, front or back of the uterus. 

 

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Placentas from 15 consenting healthy women living in London were donated to the study following the births of their children at the Royal London Hospital. 

Pollution exposure was determined in 13 of the women, all of whom had exposure above the annual mean WHO limit for particulate matter. 

This is set at 20 microgram per cubic metre (μg/m3) for PM10 – particulate matter 10 micrometers and smaller in diameter – and 10 μg/m3 for PM2.5 – 2.5 micrometres and under in diameter. 

The cells in the placentas were analysed using several techniques including light and electron microscopy, X-rays and magnetic analyses.  

Horrifyingly, the team found black particles closely resembling particulate matter from pollution in placental cells from all 15 women. 

These black participles appeared in an average of 1 per cent of the cells that were analysed.

‘We have thought for a while that maternal inhalation could potentially result in pollution particles travelling to the placenta once inhaled,’ said co-author Dr Lisa Miyashita from Queen Mary University of London. 

Carbon and metal air pollution nanoparticles in human placental cells, revealed by electron microscopy

Carbon and metal air pollution nanoparticles in human placental cells, revealed by electron microscopy

Carbon and metal air pollution nanoparticles in human placental cells, revealed by electron microscopy

‘However, there are many defence mechanisms in the lung that prevent foreign particles from travelling elsewhere, so it was surprising to identify these particles in the placental cells from all 15 of our participants.’ 

The majority of particles found in the placental cells were carbon-based, but researchers also found trace amounts of metals including silicon, phosphorus, calcium, iron and chromium, and more rarely, titanium, cobalt, zinc and cerium. 

Analysis suggested that they mostly came from traffic-related sources, such as fossil fuel combustion in engines and tyre friction against brakes and the road. 

Industrial sources, such as coal-burning power plants, usually contribute to airborne carbon, metal and magnetite-rich nanoparticles in the air. 

Top: Particles (indicated by red arrows) interacting with placental cells. Bottom: Nanoparticle clusters containing calcium and iron (B and C)

Top: Particles (indicated by red arrows) interacting with placental cells. Bottom: Nanoparticle clusters containing calcium and iron (B and C)

Top: Particles (indicated by red arrows) interacting with placental cells. Bottom: Nanoparticle clusters containing calcium and iron (B and C)

However, urban Londoners are unlikely to be exposed to this source since the nearest active coal-burning power stations are in Nottinghamshire and North Yorkshire. 

It’s also possible that nanoparticles generated inside the home, such as from open fires, cooking and cigarettes, may be a source too.  

The human placenta, and hence probably the fetus, appears to be ‘a target’ for such particles, the team say. 

A limitation of the study is that the women’s actual levels of exposure to pollution were measured, although they did live in a high-pollution city, and no placentas from women who did not live in high pollution areas were examined.

‘The significance of these findings is therefore unclear,’ said Professor Marian Knight at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, who was not involved with the study.  

Professor Andrew Shennan from King’s College London claimed it ‘remains uncertain’ if these particles cause harm to a baby. 

‘There is no direct evidence of harm to the baby after many years of pregnant women exposed to air pollution, but other research has linked air pollution to early birth,’ he said. 

‘This is an important area to continue study.’ 

The study has been published in Science of the Total Environment

PARTICULATE MATTER CAN AFFECT THE HEART AND LUNGS 

PM is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air.

They are created from a variety of sources, including traffic, construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires.

Most particles form in the atmosphere as a result of reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. 

Some PM, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, is large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. 

Other PM is so small it can only be detected using an electron microscope. 

PM2.5 – of diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller – differ from PM10 – 10 micrometers and smaller. 

PM1 particles (less than 1 micrometre) come from sources such as combustible fossil fuels, such as oil, diesel and gas, as well as power plants and internal combustion engines.

PM1 can negatively impact brain function, as they can access blood circulation easily after they’ve been breathed into the lungs.

Even smaller are ultrafine particles (less than 100 nanametres in diameter, also referred to as UFP or PM0.1). 

These contribute negligibly to the particle mass but significantly to particle number concentrations (PNC). 

UFPs are so small in their size that they can penetrate deep into the lungs and move to the other parts of the body. 

It is thought UFPs may have a greater potential for adverse health impacts compared with larger particles. 

UFPs are not covered by current ambient air quality regulations, according to Professor Prashant Kumar, Founding Director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) at the University of Surrey. 

Source: US EPA/GCARE 

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