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Gizmorama - June 13, 2016

Good Morning,

Keeping an eye on environmental changes is becoming as easy as combining an inexpensive camera and a drone. No, seriously. Check out the first story.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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* Drones and cheap cameras can monitor environmental change *

EXETER, England - Better environmental modeling is just a cheap camera and drone away, according to researchers at the University of Exeter.

Exeter scientists designed new analytical tools for drone-based surveys. The tools are expected to be especially useful for ecologists and land managers who monitor dryland ecosystems.

Researchers recently tested their monitoring system in New Mexico's Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. The drone cameras automatically capture aerial photos as they fly. The photos are analyzed for subtle changes in vegetation structure.

The cameras can offer much more fine-grained 3D analysis of the landscape than satellites, and at a much lower cost. They're also more efficient at covering a larger area than a team of field scientists.

Scientists described the effectiveness of their simple monitoring system in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

"We have shown you can use inexpensive equipment to better measure plants and how they change over time and space," lead study author Andrew Cunliffe, a life scientist at Exeter, explained in a news release. "The nature of dryland ecosystems with many small plants means it is difficult to measure the vegetation in these places using previously available monitoring techniques."

"This technique bridges the gap between satellite and on-the-ground methods," Cunliffe said. "It is a tool to help us further understand climate systems and what changes are happening now, and what could happen in the future."

Dryland makes up some 40 percent of Earth's surface, and at least 2.4 billion people rely on the natural resources it provides. But it is also one of the ecosystems most vulnerable to climate change.

*-- Plant lignin improves efficacy of sunscreen --*

HAMILTON, Ontario - In a new study, scientists point to the potential of lignin to bolster sunscreen performance.

Lignin is an organic polymer found in the cell walls of many plants. It offers structural integrity and rigidity and is found in high concentrations in wood and bark. It's also one of the paper industry's biggest waste products.

Most sunscreens use synthetic compounds to block ultraviolet rays, but producers have been looking for alternatives to meet the consumer demand for natural ingredients. Some have looked to sources such as green coffee, soy and papaya.

A team of researchers Canada and China teamed up to test the potential for lignin to bolster the burn-prevention abilities of sunscreen. They pitted five types of lignin against UV rays.

As detailed in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, organosolv lignin proved the most potent. When added at a concentration of just one percent, the lignin's presence doubled the sunscreen's sun protection factor, or SPF. A 10 percent addition amplified the sunscreen's SPF by six.

Though all the lignin polymers boost SPF in small amounts, when added in excess, some lignin types caused the sunscreen to begin separating.

"More work is needed, but the results represent a promising first step toward the development of lignin-containing sunscreen, say the researchers," the American Chemical Society wrote in a news release.


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