Tag Archives: london

Sharks and seahorses found living in the Thames waterway

After a period in which there seemed to be no hope for a ‘green’ Thames, the river is now booming with life, showing that environmental recovery is possible when serious conservation methods are enforced. However, concerns still exist about the health of the river.

Water levels have been increasing since monitoring began in 1911 in the Tidal Thames. Image credits: ZSL.

The Thames is, in many ways, the very lifeblood of the city of London. But being so close to the Industrial Revolution has come at a big price for the river’s natural inhabitants. By the 18th century, the Thames was one of the world’s busiest waterways, as London became the center of the vast British Empires. As more and more docks were built, more and more ships were sailed, and more and more coal was burned, the Thames suffered. The fact that the population of London and its industries discarded their rubbish in the river made things even worse. By the 19th century, the Thames was already horrid.

Things got a bit better in the 20th century as road transportation developed and river transportation became less prominent, but not much better. The river was declared “biologically dead” in 1957.

But in the past few decades, things started to change. Especially after 1990, conservation measures have borne fruit, and with stricter environmental regulations and careful management, the quality of the water has improved dramatically. We’ve reported in 2017 that delicate seahorses had been discovered in the waters of the Thames and now, a new report (State of the Thames Report, led by the Zoological Society of London or ZSL) notes that more unexpected species were discovered in the river’s waterways, including multiple bird species, eels and three different species of shark.

Venomous sharks

It’s the first major report on the Thames in 60 years, and there’s a lot to be happy about. There are now 115 fish and 92 bird species around the Thames. Seahorses, eels, seals and even sharks have been spotted. There’s even a porpoise population in the estuary river. The river is “home to myriad wildlife as diverse as London itself,” the report reads.

“The water quality of the Tidal Thames has exhibited some promising improvements. Dissolved oxygen concentrations, critical for fish survival, show long-term increases. Further, phosphorus concentrations have reduced in both the long and short term, showing the effectiveness of improved sewage treatment works to reduce harmful levels of nutrients entering water bodies,” the report reads.

The presence of sharks is perhaps the most curious. ZSL researchers believe the sharks use the Thames estuary to give birth and nurse their young — an indication that the water quality has improved substantially.

The Thames Estuary, where the river’s water flows into the sea. Image credits: NASA.

Sharks including the tope, starry smooth hound, and spurdog have been spotted in the Thames, although you’re unlikely to see them around London. The spurdog, in particular, is a rather interesting spotting.

The spurdog is a slender shark that feeds on bony fish and sometimes, even smaller sharks. It’s a vulnerable creature, hunted in some parts of the world for its fin. The spurdog is actually venomous — its spines in front of the two dorsal fins secrete a venom that can cause pain and swelling in humans.

There’s no reason to worry, however. While some outlets made it seem like London is teeming with big bad sharks, the truth is that sharks have not been spotted in London, but rather in the Thames Estuary. All in all, this is good news, because it shows that the river is teeming with life.

Alison Debney, for ZSL, said:

“Estuaries are one of our neglected and threatened ecosystems. They provide us with clean water, protection from flooding, and are an important nursery for fish and other wildlife. The Thames Estuary and its associated ‘blue carbon’ habitats are critically important in our fight to mitigate climate change and build a strong and resilient future for nature and people.”

“This report has enabled us to really look at how far the Thames has come on its journey to recovery since it was declared biologically dead, and, in some cases, set baselines to build from in the future.”

Not all good

However, some long-term trends are concerning in the Thames as well. In particular, researchers say, the number of fish is slowly declining, for reasons that are not exactly clear.

Climate change could be a major culprit. Temperatures in the Thames are rising by a whopping 0.2 °C a year, much faster than the global average. Sea levels are also increasing, by 4 mm a year. Just like in other parts of the world, this climate change is bringing with it extreme weather events and storms which may be affecting the local environment.

Plastic pollution was also found to be a problem, although researchers have only recently started gathering this type of data.

Image credits: ZSL.

The report also highlights the potential problems associated with London’s sewage and the need for the Thames Tideway Tunnel — often called London’s “super sewer” project. This £4.2bn, 15-mile (24km) long, 200ft (61m) deep sewer would capture 39 million tons of untreated sewage that currently makes its way into the Thames every year.

ZSL is also working to create special estuarine habitats. These would protect the Thames’ ecosystem, while also acting as a natural defense protecting London from water surges and storms.

Thousands take the streets of London in climate strike

As in many other cities across the globe, thousands of young people walked out of classrooms in London and gathered outside the Parliament to demand climate action to the United Kingdom.

Credit: Fermin Koop

Protesters took the streets in central London with colorful banners and customs, with four main demands: save the future, teach the future, tell the future and empower the future – highlighted throughout the event.

The Guardian columnist Owen Jones and party leaders Jeremy Corbyn, Labour, and Caroline Lucas, Greens, were some of the main speakers at the gathering. Organizers estimated that around 100,000 people attended the rally.

“You and a whole generation have brought [climate change] center stage and I am absolutely delighted about that. If we’re going to sustain this planet, we need to get to net-zero emissions a lot, a lot quicker than 2050 [the government’s target],” Corbyn said.

Credit: Fermin Koop

Extinction Rebellion, the climate change activist group which brought parts of London to a standstill earlier this year, also voiced its support for the strikes.

“We stand in solidarity with all those striking in cities and towns around the world and feels honored to be standing alongside you during these urgent times. To witness the fierce compassion and motivation of the young has been a galvanizing force to action and we want to thank all of you for inspiring us day after day,” the group said

Credit: Fermín Koop

The worldwide climate strike was sparked when teenager Greta Thunberg sat outside of Sweden’s parliament last year during school hours. The 16-year-old took time off during the run-up to the country’s election with a sign which read “skolstrejk för klimatet” – “school strike for the climate”.

Her actions have inspired thousands of other teenagers around the world to join her climate change protesters, and Thunberg has become a leader for the global environmentalist movement.

Credit: Fermín Koop

Greta is currently in New York, having traveled there on a zero-carbon yacht to avoid flying, ahead of this week’s meetings. During her time in the city, she has met with Barack Obama and appeared on several US talk shows. She will be part of a summit at the UN next week that will urge countries to do more on climate.

Tower Bridge.

London’s waterways found to contain antibiotic-resistant bacterial genes

London’s waterways are rife with antibiotic resistant genes.

Tower Bridge.

Image via Pixabay.

The Regent’s Canal, Regent’s Park Pond, and the Serpentine contained high level of antibiotic resistance genes, a new study reports, but none were worse than the Thames. These genes encode resistance to common antibiotics such as penicillin, erythromycin, and tetracycline. They found their way into the water from bacteria in human and animal waste.

Laced waters

“This [study] shows that more research is needed into the efficiency of different water treatment methods for antibiotic removal, as none of the treatments currently used were designed to incorporate this,” says lead author Dr. Lena Ciric from UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering.

“This is particularly important in the case of water bodies into which we discharge our treated wastewater, which currently still contains antibiotics. It is also important to look into the levels of antibiotics and resistant bacteria in our drinking water sources.”

When humans or animals take antibiotics, part of the active substance gets excreted (while still active) into sewer systems and, from there, into freshwater sources. Once there, they’re exposed to bacteria and create an environment that favors resistant microbes. These will multiply faster than their non-resistant counterparts, making the resistance genes more prevalent in the total population. Resistant microbes can also share their resistance with their peers via lateral gene transfer.

The team developed a DNA-analysis method that can be used to measure the quantity of fourteen types of antibiotic resistance genes per liter of water. They then applied it in different water systems throughout London and compared the results. The Thames River had the highest level of antibiotic resistance genes, followed by The Regent’s Canal, Regent’s Park Pond, and the Serpentine. Antibiotics entering the sewer system are diluted through flushing, but even low levels can encourage resistance genes to multiply and spread to more microbes. The Thames is likely to have higher levels of antibiotics and resistant genes because a large number of wastewater treatment works discharge into it both upstream and in London.

The authors note that there is currently no legislation in place which specifies that antibiotics or the genes that encode their resistance need to be scrubbed from water sources. This could mean that antibiotics and said genes could be present in small amounts in drinking water, although this would require testing.

The team is now working on finding a way to remove antibiotics, resistant bacteria, and antibiotic-resistance genes from London’s natural water system using slow sand filtration, which is a form of drinking water treatment. This technique is already in use around the world including at Thames’ Coppermills Water Treatment Works, they explain, which provides drinking water for most of north east London. Their plan is to beef-up this filtration technique by tweaking the properties of the sand and activated carbon used in the filters, and by varying water flow rates.

The paper ” Use of synthesized double-stranded gene fragments as qPCR standards for the quantification of antibiotic resistance genes” has been published in the journal Journal of Microbiological Methods.

Decline of iconic London sparrow might be caused by malaria

Noisy but admired by many, the sparrows used to be a regular sight in London’s gardens, but their number has dropped 71% since 1995. Now, a new study suggests that avian malaria might have a part to play in the decline.

Credit: Nmahieu (Flickr)

 

The “sudden and unexplained decline of the iconic birds” inspired a team from Zoological Society of London, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Liverpool to investigate what was going on.

Up to 74% of the city’s house sparrows were carrying avian malaria, according to their research. That’s more than any other bird population in Northern Europe. While it is a strain that only affects birds, it is still cause for alarm.

“Parasite infections are known to cause wildlife declines elsewhere and our study indicates that this may be happening with the house sparrow in London. We tested for a number of parasites, but only Plasmodium relictum, the parasite that causes avian malaria, was associated with reducing bird numbers,” said Daria Daram, lead author.

Researchers searched for parasites for three years by taking blood and fecal samples from sparrows in different areas, ranging from Enfield in north London to Sutton in the south and Fulham in the west. They were centered around a single breeding colony and spaced at least four kilometers apart.

In some areas, 100% of birds were infected with the avian malaria parasite and, when the birds were counted, many juvenile sparrows did not survive the winter. The disease is spread when mosquitoes bite birds and feed on their blood. It can lead to infections that can be fatal to the birds. At the very least, it is adding more pressure on sparrows, making it harder for them to survive.

The research follows other studies that have ruled out domestic cats as a cause of falling sparrow numbers, while casting doubt on whether sparrowhawks are responsible. Some experts also suggested that, because sparrows fail to move very far, populations may be becoming inbred.

“Exactly how the infection may be affecting the birds is unknown. Maybe warmer temperatures are increasing mosquito numbers, or the parasite has become more virulent,” said Will Peach, head of Research Delivery at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

With a changing climate, researchers expect that avian malaria will become more widespread across Northern Europe, thanks to higher temperatures and wetter weather, both of which affect mosquito reproduction. This could be linked to the change with the sparrows, they said.

“It has been hypothesized that Plasmodium prevalence will increase across Northern Europe due to climate warming, and that climate change will influence avian malaria infection rates through increased parasite and vector abundance and altered mosquito distributions,” the study reads.

The study was published in Royal Society Open Science.

Nine streets in London ban diesel and gasoline cars in “pioneering” ultra-low emission scheme

London is trying to solve its massive pollution problems, one street at a time.

Britain’s biggest city has a massive air problem — the air pollution has gotten so extreme that British citizens are taking the government to court over it. But it’s not like London isn’t trying to do anything. Current leadership has mandated that all buses must be green by the end of the year and in the central parts of the city, only cars with low emissions are allowed to drive.

But that’s still far from being enough, so London is trying something a bit more extreme, though at a very small scale for now: they’re completely banning some types of cars from some streets. Nine streets will implement the ban, which mandates that only electric cars, new hybrids, hydrogen cars, and bikes are allowed to circulate on the streets, between 07:00 – 10:00 and 16:00 – 19:00 (generally regarded as the rush hour). Local businesses and residents are exempt from the ban.

The measure was hailed by the local population, who in a local consultation, backed it by over 70%.

This will not only reduce emissions in the area, but it will also reduce rush hour traffic and make areas safer for locals and passerby-s.

Of course for London, nine streets won’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things, it will hardly even make a dent. But in London, successful policy tends to spread quickly — if one area introduces a pioneering policy and it works out, other areas are quick to copy it, and this may very well be the case here.

Representatives of Hackney and Islington Councils, where the measure has been applied, have been quick to praise the initiative.

“Failing to act on poor air quality, which causes nearly 10,000 premature deaths across London every year, is not an option, and that’s why we’re being bolder than ever in our efforts to tackle it,” said Feryal Demirci, the deputy mayor of Hackney.

“We’re thrilled to be launching our ultra-low emissions streets – the first of their kind in the UK – which will reclaim the streets from polluting petrol and diesel vehicles, and improve the area for thousands of people every day.”

However, this local initiative raises a much more global debate: sure, this is great for many people and works out just fine for people who have an electric car. But many people would like to own one but are dissuaded by the still sizeable price tags and lack of adequate infrastructure. Essentially, this creates a two-tier system for motorists, which some might regard as acceptable and others might not.

Supporters of this approach say that it gives even more incentive to switch to sustainable cars, while opponents say that it disproportionately strikes at the poorer part of the population — the rich get richer, and the poor stay poor. While we don’t have an answer for this conundrum, nine streets in London have made up their mind; and pretty soon, many more might follow.

City of London.

London’s Square Mile to use 100% renewable energy by October

The City of London will draw on 100% renewable energy by the end of the year.

City of London.

City of London skyline.
Image credits Diliff / Wikimedia.

London’s famous “Square Mile” central district is going green — not in paint, but in spirit. Though not technically still a mile, as the district’s official bounds now enclose some 1.12 square miles, the major financial center will source 100% of its power from renewable sources starting this October, according to the City of London’s ruling body. The supply will come from solar panels installed on local buildings, further investments in larger solar and wind projects, and clean energy already in the grid.

The renewable mile

The City of London Corporation, the governing body of Square Mile (also colloquially known as the City of London), announced that it wants to draw only on renewable power from October 2018 onward. The City of London will install solar panels on the buildings it owns and will invest in installations such as wind and solar farms elsewhere in the UK.

Members of the City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee backed measures that would turn their own sites across London into electricity-producing units. They also signed off on investments in off-site renewable energy installations and backed the purchase of renewable energy already available in the grid. Some of the buildings the Corporation plans to turn into renewable-generation units include social housing across six London boroughs, 10 high-achieving academies, three wholesale markets, and 11,000 acres of green space including Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest. More than enough space for the City to develop clean energy for the city as a whole.

“Sourcing 100% renewable energy will make us cleaner and greener, reducing our grid reliance, and running some of our buildings on zero carbon electricity,” Catherine McGuinness, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee, said in a statement.

“We are always looking at the environmental impact of our work and hope that we can be a beacon to other organisations to follow suit.”

The Greater London area has been struggling with pollution for the past few years. However, they’re also making important efforts to change — like adopting more electric vehicles and taxing polluting ones, creating more green spaces, and relying more heavily on clean energy. Electric taxis and buses are already zipping through the streets, and last December Shadiq Khan, the city’s mayor, announced plans to extend the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to include London-wide buses, coaches, and lorries, as well as expanding the Zone to include North and South circular roads for all vehicles.

Example of blunt force trauma in one of the examined skulls. Credit: Museum of London.

Deadly violence was rampant in the medieval London, and it disproportionately affected the lower class

Example of blunt force trauma in one of the examined skulls. Credit: Museum of London.

Example of blunt force trauma in one of the examined skulls. Credit: Museum of London.

Medival times could be very, very rough. I mean, we’ve all seen Game of Thrones, which is inspired by Middle Age life in England, and marveled and wept as our most beloved characters succumb to one violent death after another. Indeed, events haven’t been exaggerated. According to British researchers from the University of Oxford who dug up and assessed the 399 skulls from six London cemeteries dating from AD 1050 to 1550, head bashing was a trivial part of the common Londoner’s life.

Watch your head

Scholars argue that violence was an integral part of the medieval life which brought power to those who wield it. But it’s to be expected that, though pervasive, violence affected the different layers of society differently.

“Violence, while not necessarily barbaric and bloodthirsty, was an integral aspect of the medieval period and understanding how it functioned in society is crucial to understanding other aspects of medieval life,” the authors wrote in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 

The team led by archaeologist Kathryn Krakowka inspected two types of cemeteries: monastic and free parish. The monastic cemeteries were typically reserved for the upper class while the free parish was used by the lay-folk.

In total, a staggering 6.8 percent all the skulls she and colleagues examined presented evidence of some violence-related trauma. Particularly, it was males aged 26 to 35 that were most affected during a time when life expectancy was 31-33 years but a man who had reached 20 already could hope to live to 45. Around a quarter of the trauma examined occurred around the time of death suggesting the people commonly died as a result of violence. Sharp force (SFT), projectile, and puncture trauma was assessed.

Approximate size and location of all blunt force lesions that are possibly indicative of violence. Credit: University of Oxford.

Approximate size and location of all blunt force lesions that are possibly indicative of violence. Credit: University of Oxford.

The difference between the upper class and lower class cemeteries was evident. While in some monastic cemeteries only 2.4 percent of the skulls had marks of trauma, in others like St. Mary Graces up to 11.8 percent of the skulls bore trauma-related signs.

Happy hour headbanging

That seems like a lot even for medieval standards. New Scientist reported that elsewhere around the time, in two cemeteries in York, only 2.4 and 3.6 per cent of skulls had fractures. This suggests that London was a particularly violent place, likely the roughest in the country — if not the world.

Because there seems to be a clear class-related discrepancy in the incidence of head trauma, Krakowka and colleagues reckon the lower class was more prone to informally resolving their disputes. The upper class, on the other hand, would have access to the legal system of the time — developing and rather lacking but a legal system nonetheless.

Since the poor couldn’t afford legal counsel, civil arguments often ended with a bashed one or a couple. Of course, alcohol has always played a rule in fueling violence. According to coroners’ reports from the time (something amazing in itself that we still have access to them half a thousand years later) suggest a disproportionate amount of homicides occurred on Sundays and Monday mornings. Not coincidentally, these were the tavern happy hours.

London to introduce £10 ($12) vehicle tax for polluting cars

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced the implementation of a new tax which will affect the most polluting vehicles.

Cars in London. Image credits: David Holt / Flickr

The announcement comes after a disastrous couple of months for London in terms of air quality. London has reached its yearly NO2 pollution limit in just 8 days, air pollution alerts were issued several times, and a judge has officially ordered the city to solve its problem.

While some measures were taken, it was simply not enough to alleviate the worsening problem. Such a tax, Khan mentions, was a necessity.

“It’s staggering that we live in a city where the air is so toxic that many of our children are growing up with lung problems. If we don’t make drastic changes now we won’t be protecting the health of our families in the future.

“That is why today, on the 14th anniversary of the start of the congestion charge, I’ve confirmed we are pressing ahead with the toughest emission standard of any major city, coming to our streets from 23 October.”

The new tax only applies to the central parts of London, and it will address only the oldest, most polluting vehicles, around 10,000 of them. Particularly, it applies to motorists with cars without the Euro-4 standards — something which has already been in place for more than 10 years. When you add it up to the congestion tax, a pre-Euro 4 car owner will pay £21.50 a day to drive his car in central London.

The move has been generally praised. Dr Peter Steer, from the Great Ormond Street hospital for children where a consultation on the tax was held, said:

“The mayor’s drive to clean up the capital’s air is fantastic news for our patients and staff. Children living in highly polluted areas are four times more likely to have reduced lung function in adulthood, yet improving air quality has been shown to halt and reverse this effect.”

Many children in London go to school in areas with pollution levels way above what’s considered legal and healthy, and Khan has made it one of his priorities to clear the British capital’s polluted air. However, this is just a small step towards that goal. Ultimately, his plan is to extend the so-called ultra-low emission zone beyond central London to the North and South Circular roads. The big accomplishment would be implementing a diesel scrappage scheme, but that’s out of the mayor’s hands and in the hands of the Parliament.

The need for action is acute. According to The Guardian, air pollution is believed to cause almost 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK and was in April labelled a “public health emergency” by a cross-party committee of MPs. The UK’s government has been sued several times and has even lost a couple of legal cases due to its lack of action. Unfortunately, not everyone in the UK is as motivated as mister Khan.

London toxic air alert goes to ‘very high’

Londoners are warned not to engage in any strenuous physical activity as Britain’s capital battles rough pollution.

Ironically, wood stoves are partly to blame for this. Image credits: David Holt.

For the first time, mayor Sadiq Khan has issued a toxic air alert for the city, after detectors in several parts of the city (Westminster, north Kensington, and three sites in Camden) recorded abnormally high pollution in the air.

“The shameful state of London’s toxic air today has triggered a ‘very high’ air pollution alert under my new air quality warning system,” wrote Mr Khan in a tweet.

“London’s filthy air is a health crisis and our children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of air pollution,” he added in a further statement.

The new alert system, Airtext, was launched last summer and displays pollution levels on electronic signs at bus stops, metro stations, and in some places, on the roadside.

In the very high level, all adults are advised to avoid intense physical activity outside, and people at risk (children, elderly, and those with lung problems) to avoid physical activity altogether. Khan has urged people to use public transportation and drivers to behave more responsibly, but this is too little in a crowded city that’s been struggling with pollution for a long time.

It’s not like this came out of nowhere. In January 2016, London broke its NO2 pollution limits in just 8 days and was promptly sued as a response. They lost the trial and are taking some action, but it’s clearly not enough. London’s pollution is constantly high and there’s no real improvement in sight. Even during regular days, most of the city still suffers high pollution levels — something that shouldn’t really happen in any large city, let alone one like London.

Ironically, for a city that prides itself on technological advancement and innovation, wood burning stoves were blamed for exacerbating the problem. It’s been unusually cold in London these days, and apparently, people are turning to wood stoves to fix that problem. Demand for such stoves has tripled in the last five years and continues to increase as people want to save money on electricity. But the cost is clearly too great — it costs Londoners their health.

“Children living and attending school in highly polluted areas are more likely to have damaged lungs when they grow up,” said Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation. “

Bad air in Britain causes some 50,000 early deaths and amounts to £27.5bn (US$33,84bn) in damages every year, the government estimates. Many of those take place in London.

“Air pollution contributes to 9,500 early deaths in London every year. It worsens existing lung conditions and increases the risk of getting lung cancer,” Woods added. “It’s a complete no-brainer: investing in making cycling and walking safer and more accessible in our cities – and moving towards ditching diesel will not only help clear up our roads, but will clean up the air we’re all breathing too.”

All London buses will be green by 2018

This is the end for London’s dirty buses.

A single decker hydrogen bus in London. Image credits: Martin Addison.

Don’t fret, London’s emblematic red buses will remain red – but they’ll be green on the inside. The city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan has announced that diesel double-decker buses will be phased out from the fleet in two years, to be replaced by electric or hydrogen buses.

“I want London to become a world leader in hydrogen and electric bus technology,” he said. “Transforming London’s bus fleet by accelerating the introduction of zero-emission buses is important and I plan to work with bus manufacturers, other cities, the European Commission and the C40 Climate Change Leadership Group of Cities to move this agenda forward.”

In many ways, cities and not countries are leading the way against climate change. Earlier this year, 7,100 cities from 119 countries signed world’s largest alliance to curb climate change and in the developed world at least, city climate targets are much more ambitious than national ones. Eleven other major cities of the world have also pledged to phase out diesel buses by the end of 2020, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Cape Town. Also, Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City have committed to do the same thing by 2025.

For London especially, reducing pollution is crucial. The world’s first industrialized city is also one of the most polluted in Europe. London has reached its yearly NO2 pollution limit in just 8 days and it’s already being sued by its citizens. London’s smog problem is recently getting out of control and parents have been warned to ‘take care‘ when they’re going outside with babies, because of pollution. It’s estimated that almost 10,000 Londoners are killed each year by air pollution and reducing emissions from diesel cars can have a big positive impact.

ClientEarth vs UK Gov. verdict announced, officials have to tackle the problem

The UK government’s plan to tackle the country’s air pollution crisis is illegally poor, the supreme court decided. This marks the second time in 18 months when the officials have lost the case on this issue in court.

London viewed from Hackney, April 2015.
Image credits David Holt / Flickr.

A while ago I’ve written about how the UK’s government is being taken to court (again) over their lack of action regarding air pollution throughout the country. The supreme court has finally released its ruling on the case — officials must work towards cutting illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide in dozens of towns and cities in “the shortest possible time.”

ClientEarth, the NGO which took the government to court over the issue, said that the plans currently set in place are, well, flimsy at best. UK’s policy makers have placed too much weight on the issue of cost, they said, ignoring many measures which would have helped improve the country’s air quality. Justice Graham, who ruled on the case, agrees with them. Graham added that ministers knew their plans relied on over-optimistic pollution modeling, which were based on diesel vehicles’ emission levels recorded in lab settings rather than on the road. The numbers have since been proven wrong. If I may quote myself from the previous article (and I believe I can):

[ClientEarth’s supporters point out that ] as the Volkswagen [scandal] recently proved, NO2 and particulate matter emission measurements for modern diesels (on which these models are based) are flat-out lies.

Faced with the second ruling against them in such a short time, the UK’s government took its losses and said they won’t appeal the decision. In court, officials agreed to discuss a new timetable with ClientEarth for realistic pollution modeling, and the steps required to curb pollution down to legal levels. The two parties will re-convene in court in a week, but if they can’t reach an agreement the judge will impose a timetable upon the government.

A time to act

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said that the time for legal action has passed, and called on Prime Minister Theresa May to action.

“I challenge Theresa May to take immediate action now to deal with illegal levels of pollution and prevent tens of thousands of additional early deaths in the UK. The high court has ruled that more urgent action must be taken. Britain is watching and waiting, prime minister.”

She responded by saying the government will act in accordance with the ruling, offering new proposals.

“We now recognise that Defra [the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] has to look at the judgement made by the courts and we now have to look again at the proposals we will bring forward,” she said.

“Nobody in this house doubts the importance of the issue of air quality. We have taken action, there is more to do and we will do it.”

Bad air in Britain causes some 50,000 early deaths and amounts to £27.5bn (US$33,84bn) in damages every year, the government estimates. Thornton added that the increased action required to solve the issue will likely include implementing larger and tougher clean air zones in more cities than at present, as well as other methods such as scrapping schemes for the most polluting vehicles — diesels in particular.

Documents revealed during the case showed that the Treasury blocked plans to charge diesel cars for entrance into the most polluted towns and cities, as they were concerned about the political backlash of angering motorists. When the environment and transport departments suggested changing the excise duty on vehicles to promote the least-polluting alternatives, the Treasury rejected their proposal.

It also became apparent that the government planned to bring air pollution down to legal levels by 2020 for some cities and 2025 for London. This was done not because it was “as soon as possible”, but because that was when the officials thought they would face fines from the EU. A draft plan called for 16 low emission zones in cities outside London, for which polluting vehicles would’ve been charged to enter, but that number was cut down to just five to lower costs.

“Today’s ruling lays the blame at the door of the government for its complacency in failing to tackle the problem quickly and credibly. In so doing they have let down millions of people the length and breadth of the country,” said Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, who took part in the case against the government.

These proposals will now be revisited. Thornton said that officials should implement a national system of clean air zones by 2018.

“If you put in clean air zones, it works overnight,” he added.

So there it is. The UK government has been told, yet again, to act and protect its people. Hopefully, this time it will.

The UK government is being taken to court over air pollution…again

Beginning today, environmental lawyer group ClientEarth is taking to court against the UK government in the second lawsuit between the two. CE claims that the lawmakers have failed to take serious action to limit air pollution, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands.

Canary Wharf under smog.
Image credits Matt Buck / Wikimedia.

European cities have some of the highest levels of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the world, mostly due to the high ratio of diesel vehicles in use. Since regular exposure to this gas is very hazardous, in 1999 the EU set legal limits for how much of the stuff can be puffing about in the air we breathe — limits which went into effect in 2010.

Under this law, the city of London got an hourly limit of 200 micrograms NO2/sq meter of air. However, to say that authorities didn’t try to abide by these figures would be an understatement.

“[London was] only permitted to breach those limits 18 times in a year. However, [the city] weezed past the yearly limit just 8 days into the year,” Andrei wrote in January.

“[London polluted] about 40 times more than it should under EU (European Union) regulation.”

Love is in the air, but so is pollution

And it’s not just London. Only five of the country’s 43 air quality zones meet the EU’s limits. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with the people who have to breathe it all in.

So in 2011, backed by rising public displeasure on the issue, ClientEarth took the UK government to court over their lack of action on cleaning the air. The case was handled by the European Court of Justice, which ruled in 2014 that national courts can and should ensure their governments take pollution under legal limits “as soon as possible”. From then on, the UK’s Supreme Court handled the suit. In April 2015 it ordered the environmental minister to take “immediate action” by consulting with the public and putting together a plan to clean the air.

Clean air plz we’re dying — Love, Supreme Court, xoxo.

But very little has been done. The plan set out back in December was so vague that CE said they’ll take the UK government to court again, unless their game improves, literally days after it was made public. In effect, the plan estimated compliance to the limits by 2025. To add insult to injury, DEFRA announced it will begin public consultations on the plan involving the creation of five clean air zones — which will not restrict diesel vehicles — just last week, mere days before the second trial.

“It’s taken 18 months for ministers to even begin a consultation,” says James Thornton, head of ClientEarth. “This is a woefully inadequate response to the air pollution crisis.”

So CE is taking to courts against the UK’s government yet again. Supporters say that the government has been deliberately stalling, based on models which predict that emissions would decline as older vehicles get phased out without the ruling body having to do much. They point out that, as Volkswagen recently proved, NO2 and particulate matter emission measurements for modern diesels (on which these models are based) are flat-out lies.

“Defra’s latest figures estimate there are 40,000 early deaths across the UK every year because of air pollution. The government is acting unlawfully by refusing to turn this situation around. It is failing morally and it is failing legally to uphold our right to breathe clean air,” ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said.

More decisive action is needed

“The government must come up with far bolder measures, ready to face this issue head-on,” Thornton added.

“Air quality in this country is nothing short of a public health crisis.”

So what would constitute “bolder measures”? Phasing out diesel is the first obvious step. For starters, I find it mindboggling that the UK is still handing out incentives for diesel cars — so maybe start there? Something along the lines of “scrap your own diesel and get a discount on this brand new *insert literally anything else here*”. Then the implementation of real Clean Air Zones would prevent the most polluting vehicles from entering towns or city centers. Retrofitting of buses and trucks to make them gentler on the environment and lungs, a cleaner public transport network, and so on. There’s a lot to do here.

Clean energy would also help a lot to improve air quality.

But first this case needs to happen, and the UK government needs to understand that pollution is a very real hazard to the public, one which they have a moral — and legal — obligation to solve.

The trial will take place on Oct. 18 and 19, with the ruling to be announced two weeks after the hearing.

The City of London Corporation bans leasing or purchasing diesel vehicles for its businesses

London’s ruling body, the City of London Corporation, has banned the purchase or hide of diesel vehicles for its businesses, it announced on Friday. The decision was taken in the interest of protecting the public’s health and well-being.

Image credits Joseph Plotz / Wikimedia.

Chris Bell, head of procurement at the City of London Corporation, said that the organization takes improving air quality “extremely seriously,” and has thus decided to clamp down on diesel vehicles. It announced Friday that it will no longer lease or purchase diesel models when vehicles from its extensive fleet of 300 need replacement. While not as drastic as the bans other cities have set, their decision is a step in the right direction.

“This agreement is a major step forward in our drive to protect the millions of London tourists, workers and residents from air pollution,” Bell said in a statement. “We are taking responsibility for the cleanliness of our fleet and encouraging the use of low and zero emission vehicles with our partners.”

The authority said it has reduced the NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions from its vehicles by over 40 per cent and PM10 (particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter) emissions by over 50 per cent since 2009. The brunt of this reduction was achieved by reducing the number of vehicles it employs and replacing the remaining ones with newer, cleaner models. It also tries to promote the use of hybrid cars and encourage business owners to limit deliveries in the Square Mile.

But not every type of vehicle can be replaced. The Corporation said it will continue to use such vehicles — tractors for example — in their current diesel-chugging models until a clean alternative becomes available.

Simon Birkett, founder of Clear Air in London, welcomes the initiative, saying that London is showing Mayor Sadiq Khan and other members of the government that it’s possible to ban diesel vehicles.

“It’s no longer ‘if’ but ‘where’ and ‘when’ diesel will be banned,” he told BusinessGreen, adding that such bans should be supported by a massive investment in active travel and public transport.

British archaeologists find Roman handwritten document

Several tablets from the Roman Age have been uncovered and analyzed following excavation in London, including the oldest hand-written document ever found in Britain and the first ever reference to London.

Finding clues about early London (MOLA).

If you ask me, British archaeology is going through a second golden age. They’ve discovered “the British Pompeii,” long-lost Roman roads, 8,000-year old wheat, and learned so much more about Stonehenge. Now, researchers from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) are adding even more to that list, finding wooden tablets with handwriting on them, including the first ever reference to London, financial documents and hint at the first schools in the city. In total, over 400 tablets were uncovered and 87 have already been deciphered.

The tablets reveal much about the lives of early Londoners

“It’s exceptional, really wonderful,” says Michael Speidel, at the Mavors Institute for Ancient Military History in Basel, Switzerland. “Looking at things in the past is usually a bit like glaring into a fog and we can’t really see beyond. With documents like this, the fog clears away a bit.”

 This finding is huge, because it provides info from the very first days of the city. Director Sophie Jackson said the findings had “far exceeded all expectations” and would allow archaeologists “to get closer to the first Roman Britons”. Meanwhile, Sophie Jackson, an archaeologist working on the site, said the find was “hugely significant.”
“It’s the first generation of Londoners speaking to us,” she said.
Among the characters mentioned in the tablet, we can find Tertius the brewer, Proculus the haulier, Tibullus the freed slave, Optatus the food merchant, Crispus the innkeeper, Classicus the lieutenant colonel, Junius the barrel maker, Rusticus (one of the governor’s bodyguards) and, last but not least, Florentinus the slave. There are also mentions of a landowner, a scribe and a former member of the Emperor’s bodyguard.

Timber buildings and Roman streets were found during the excavation at the three-acre site. Image via MOLA.

A particularly interesting document dates from 22 October, 76 AD. It’s a preliminary judgement made by a judge appointed by the emperor. The presence of the judge in London demonstrates that the city was ruled by the Roman emperor (in practice, a Roman provincial governor would rule in his stead).
The Romans founded London after their invasion of Britain in A.D. 43. The first years were quite troublesome and the entire settlement was destroyed during a Celtic rebellion led by Queen Boudica in A.D. 61, but quickly rebuilt. It was prosperous from the early days, with plenty of mentions from merchants mentioning the settlement. Here are some of the most significant tablets found at the site:

The earliest mention of London

via MOLA.

Dated to 65/70-80 AD, the tablet reads “Londinio Mogontio” which translates to “‘In London, to Mogontius”. This predates the previous earliest mention, Tacitus’ mention of London in his Annals, by more than 50 years.

Earliest readable tablet

The tablet was found in a layer which MOLA archaeologists have dated to AD 43-53, so it’s from the first stage of the city, before it was destroyed by the celts and then rebuilt. The tablet is an annoyed note:

“…because they are boasting through the whole market that you have lent them money. Therefore I ask you in your own interest not to appear shabby… you will not thus favour your own affairs….”

Evidence of schooling

via MOLA

 

The letters on this tablet are a part of the alphabet: “ABCDIIFGHIKLMNOPQRST”. Archaeologists believe it is a demonstration of literacy used in early schooling.

The London Mithraeum exhibition will open at the site in autumn 2017.

London has reached its yearly NO2 pollution limit in just 8 days, and it’s being sued

The city of London is sued for polluting too much – about 40 times more than it should under EU (European Union) regulation.

At 7AM local time last Friday, London officially breached the pollution limits set by the European Union for the entirety of 2016. It’s the fifth year in a row London has grossly surpassed its allowed limit for toxic nitrogen-dioxide gas (NO2) pollution. This is not just bad news for the environment, but also for its citizens. Regularly inhaling NO2 (which mostly comes from diesel fuels) has been linked to heart and respiratory problems.

According to to a report by King’s College London for the local mayor’s office, it killed 5900 people in 2010 alone.

“This is exactly why we are taking the Government back to court,” said Alan Andrews, a lawyer for UK environmental law group, Client Earth. “Its failure to deal with illegal levels of air pollution, which causes thousands of early deaths in London every year, is a scandal.”

The EU regulates how much NO2 can be emitted in the atmosphere. Under this law, London got an hourly limit of 200 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre of air, and they’re only permitted to breach those limits 18 times in a year. However, they weezed past the yearly limit just 8 days into the year.

“It’s just [that] central London, and London as a whole, ha[s] a really huge problem with NO2. Breaching so early in the year really just illustrates how big a problem it is,” Andrew Grieve, an air quality analyst at King’s College London,told The Guardian.

As most London residents will tell you, the air quality leaves much to be improved, and NO2 is one of the first things that should be targeted, as a spokesperson from the city hall acknowledged.

“The mayor is leading the most ambitious and comprehensive package of measures in the world to improve London’s air quality. His recent £10m bus retrofit programme has led to a sustained reduction in NO2 concentrations on Putney High Street.”

It remains to be seen what more measures will be taken and whether the city will be held legally accountable for the pollution.

 

A woman wearing a mask walk through a street covered by dense smog in Harbin, northern China, Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Visibility shrank to less than half a football field and small-particle pollution soared to a record 40 times higher than an international safety standard in one northern Chinese city as the region entered its high-smog season. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Beijing wages war on smog: plans to reach clean air by 2030

The Chinese capital is notoriously polluted and frequently plagued by smog, a noxious gas mixture made of  nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, ozone, smoke or particulates. While 2015 saw cleaner air in Beijing than the year before, the current state of affairs lack in resolution, as echoed by concerned Beijing residents. With a lot of planning, hard work and a bit of luck, this situation might change for the far better as the Beijing Environmental Monitoring Center announced it plans to cut airborne pollution by more than 200% by 2030.

A woman wearing a mask walk through a street covered by dense smog in Harbin, northern China, Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Visibility shrank to less than half a football field and small-particle pollution soared to a record 40 times higher than an international safety standard in one northern Chinese city as the region entered its high-smog season. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

A woman wearing a mask walk through a street covered by dense smog in Harbin, northern China, Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Visibility shrank to less than half a football field and small-particle pollution soared to a record 40 times higher than an international safety standard in one northern Chinese city as the region entered its high-smog season. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Though there are many indicators that reflect air quality, the main one specialists use as a proxy for overall quality is the PM2.5 level. This is the concentration of microscopic particles with a diameter less than 2.5 microns that can penetrate the lungs and harm health. In 2015, PM2.5 fell to  80.6 micrograms per cubic meter: a 6.2% year-to-year reduction, or a bit better than the municipality’s intended goal of 5%. Beijing residents aren’t that impressed, though, and most say don’t notice the difference.

“I didn’t feel the clear improvement in air quality in the winter, and many of my friends and colleagues have coughed and experienced sore throats due to the bad air recently,” said Chen Yang, 29, who works in a printing house in Beijing.

The last big smog events in November and December when Beijing issued a smog red alert — the highest in a  four-tier pollution alert system — may have had something do with it. Before smog blanketed the capital at the end of the year, Beijing had managed to cut the PM2.5 daily average readings by 20 percent year-on-year, said Zhang Dawei, head of the Beijing Environmental Monitoring Center.

To fight smog last year, Beijing cut 12 million metric tons of coal consumption and switched over 300,000 households in Dongcheng and Xicheng districts from coal-fired boilers to electrical heating. Now, the State Council (China’s Cabinet) wants to lower  PM2.5 readings to 60 by 2017, which is the the national safety standard. By 2030, the state hopes to lower PM2.5 to 35.

London - December 1952 during the Great Smog. Photo: History.com

London – December 1952 during the Great Smog. Photo: History.com

Frankly PM2.5 of 35 sounds extremely unrealistic at this point, but not impossible. After all we have a precedent.

One of the most smog plagued cities in history used to be London. In December 1952, a streak lasting days smothered the British capital with a  toxic fog. The Great Smog as it remained in history killed an estimated 4,000 Londoners, but even before the Great Smog London used to have frequent smog events, albeit much less severe. Following a government investigation, however, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act of 1956, which restricted the burning of coal in urban areas and authorized local councils to set up smoke-free zones. Homeowners received grants to convert from coal to alternative heating systems. The UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), senior scientific advisor for air quality Emily Connolly points out that the city’s average PM2.5 level is now 20. “And for us that’s serious,” she says. Someone from Beijing might laugh in her face though, having lived through days of PM2.5 of 600 micrograms per cubic metre in January, 2013.

In all events, London servers as an example from Beijing, though the scale the Chinese authorities need to tackle seems grander and, perhaps, more challenging than what the British capital had to face in the ’50s and ’60s.

Credit: Flickr

Why does it rain so much in London? Well, it’s not that much really

Credit: Flickr

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Before I first set foot in London, I – like most people – was under the impression that hellish gusts of wind and rain would be the most memorable parts of my trip. In reality, even though I visited in January, there were only a couple of days of rain, and even these quite mild. So I decided to investigate a bit.

What I found was that London isn’t by far the rainiest city out there, and moreover, because it rains time and time again this makes England considerably warmer than it should have been. Where does it all come from? If you ask me, it has something to do with the British love-hate relationship with rain: they say the weather’s dreadful, but they never seem to talk about anything else. In fact, I think it’s their best ice breaker during conversations. Secretly inside, every Brit adores the rain and I’m certain they couldn’t live without it – not without a short burst from time to time, at least.

The myth of a rainy London

Yet, even so, it doesn’t rain that much in London. Granted, the rest of Britain is one different matter altogether, especially the Highlands, but we’ll get to that soon enough. According to the Met Office Climate data, over the 30 year period, there were 106.5 days of rainfall per year on average (which counts as a day in which 1mm of rainfall or over fell). This means that there was rainfall on 29 per cent of days per year and on average it didn’t rain 71 per cent of days per year. Average rainfall is 557.4mm with 1410 “sunshine hours.”

There are more rainy days in Miami (at 135) and Orlando, Florida (117) than there are in London. New York City clocks in at 122 days and 1,268mm of rain. Washington DC, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, and Mexico City all have more rainy days on average in any given year than London.

In the rest of the country, according to the UK Met Office, the average rainfall in Britain is 1,154mm per year. On average it rains for 156.2 days per year (data from 1981 to 2010). However, some parts of England are much wetter than others, and the farther west you go the likelier it is you’ll need to pack the iconic umbrella. The Scottish western Highlands get doused annually with over three meters of rain, the Lake District and the Pennines in the northwest of England top the rainy charts too, as well as the mountainous Snowdonia area in Wales and the higher ground of the Cornish and Devonshire moors. The map below released by the Met Office is quite revealing.

Rainfall average (1981 - 2010)

Rainfall average (1981 – 2010)

Why it rains so much in Britain

Granted, it does rain rather frequently in Britain, despite the exaggerated rumors. This mostly due to the island-state’s unfortunate location, being right in the path of the atmospheric jet stream. The jet stream, a massive but mysterious driver for British weather, usually passes along a steady path from West to East across the Atlantic – sometimes a bit to the North of us, sometimes a bit to the South. The flow of these streams is not a neat curve but a series of massive meanders. Britain is right on the northern side of those meanders where conditions are cooler and wetter which means which means the country keeps getting hit by rain.

Normally, we would expect the pattern of the jet stream to keep shifting, for its shape to switch every few days and for our weather to change as a result. Instead for week after week – and possibly for weeks ahead too – the meanders of the stream are sticking to the same shape so repeated rainstorms have become the norm. Nobody knows why this pattern is so static.

jet stream

Credit: Metro Office

On top of this, there is the related question of climate change. Most researchers are extremely reluctant to attribute any single weather event to global warming. But Dr Peter Stott, a leading climate scientist at the UK Met Office, says that since the 1970s the amount of moisture in the atmosphere over the oceans has risen by 4%, a potentially important factor.

It’s worth mentioning that 2012 was an unusually rainy year having seen the”most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years”. The report released by the Met Office reveals that while downpours and storms have not been out of the ordinary, their frequency has been.

“Each one of these individual events has not been particular outstanding, they’ve been broadly along the lines of what we would expect for a typical winter storm in the UK,” said Simon Parry from the CEH and co-author of the report. “What’s been notable about it, and different from what we’ve seen in the past, is the persistence.”

Two key factors the authors believe have contributed to the effect:  a persistent high-pressure system lurking over a patch of the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of North America and, second, the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO).

So there you have it. The British do have their fair share of rain, the west more than the east, higher ground more than the low-lying areas, but feel no pity because the British love the rain. Without it, there’d be less to moan about and fewer occasions to perfect their famous stiff upper lip.

skull

Ancient skulls discovered in London speak of Roman headhunters

skull

Photo: Guardian

Using modern forensic techniques, bioarchaeologists have found that a slew of skulls, discovered a few decades ago in an ancient open pit in nowadays London, not too far from a known amphitheater site, bear evidence that speak of gruesome decapitation at the hands of Roman headhunters. The findings provide the first evidence of such Roman practice in Britain.

Roman headhunters

Some 39 skulls were excavated at the London Wall almost within sight of the Museum of London in 1988. At the time, not much thought was given to them and have remained in the possession of the museum since. Using refined forensic techniques, scientists found that these skulls weren’t just some dismembered remains belonging to an ancient graveyard. Instead, the skulls tell a different story – one of fear, gore and death by beheading.

“It is not a pretty picture,” Rebecca Redfern, from the centre for human bioarchaeology at the museum of London, said. “At least one of the skulls shows evidence of being chewed at by dogs, so it was still fleshed when it was lying in the open.”

“They come from a peculiar area by the Walbrook stream, which was a site for burials and a centre of ritual activity – but also very much in use for more mundane pursuits. We have evidence of lots of shoe making, so you have to think of the cobbler working yards from these open pits, with the dog chewing away – really not nice.”

“We believe that some of the heads may be people who were killed in the amphitheatre. Decapitation was a way of finishing off gladiators, but not everyone who died in the Roman amphitheatre was a gladiator, it was where common criminals were executed, or sometimes for entertainment you’d give two of them swords and have them kill one another. Other heads may have been brought back by soldiers from skirmishes, probably on the Hadrian or Antonine walls – again, it would have taken weeks to bring them back, so not a nice process.”

Almost all skulls are of adult males, and all bear signs of violence – scars, slash marks, shattered facial bones.  On some there is clear evidence of decapitation with a sword, and quite possibly all of them might have been killed this way, but there’s no way of telling for sure if the fatal blow struck the neck.

“Whether they died in the amphitheatre or in battle, decapitation with a sword is a very efficient way of ending a life – somebody very much wanted these people dead,” Redfern said.

Gruesome warning to the enemies of Rome

What’s really startling is that all these beheaded skulls were left in the open, out in open pits to decompose for god knows how long.

“There is none of the fracturing you’d expect if they’d been put on spikes, so it looks as if they were just set down and left – though of course you could have had a nice shelf to display them on.”

Evidence of Roman headhunters has been found throughout the old Roman Empire, including portrayals of the practice in monuments like Trajan’s column in Rome which shows clean shaven Roman soldiers presenting bearded barbarian heads as trophies to the emperor.  Hundreds of skulls have been found for centuries along the course of the long vanished Walbrook. These have been labeled as remnants from washout cemeteries or the victims of native uprisings in 60 AD when Boudicca, Anglican leader of the Icenii tribe, swept south to London  and attacked Roman settlements. These latest findings suggest that not is how it seems, and the hundreds of skulls discovered in the area may have also shared this twisted, and unfortunate fate.

“These were all young men, very untypical of what we usually find in Roman burials, where we tend to get the very young and the old,” Redfern said.

“Most people in second century London lived peaceful quiet lives – but as we now know, not everyone. This is a glimpse into the very dark side of Roman life.

The Guardian

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

London’s Tower Bridge LED revamp puts the city in a new light for the Olympics

London Bridge

Arguably one of the most recognized landmarks in the world, London’s Tower Bridge received a full relamping in celebration for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For the first time in its 118-year history, the bridge will be fully visible at night in all its stunning beauty, pulling the architectural wonder into the third millennium.

The creation of architect Sir Horace Jones and civil engineer Sir John Wolfe-Barry, Tower Bridge was completed on 30 June 1894, after eight years of work becoming the only crossing for the Thames at that time. The city has grown into a behemoth since then, and quite a few more bridges have been built, but still none of them come close to the Tower Bridge. As the city’s symbol, and in the wake of the Olympics, as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, authorities chose to put it under a different light. Now, after more than 25 years since its last lighting system revamp, Tower Bridge rises majestically on both side of the Thames, by day or night.

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

Thanks to an funding deal reached between Mayor of London Boris Johnson, bridge-owners the City of London Corporation, and London 2012 Olympics sponsors General Electric (GE) and EDF, the LED-lighting and cabling system has now been fully installed at no cost to taxpayers.

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

Tower Bridge has always been on the things to do in London list for any tourist, but now the iconic British landmark is worth revisiting even for hardened travelers. Over the past six months designers and electricians have been scaling the granite ledges and steel suspension chains of London’s landmark to install some 2 km of GE Lighting’s Tetra Contour architectural LED lighting, 1,800 LED lamps, and 1,000 junction boxes with 5,000m of cable. Thus, static lights have been replaced with LEDs that can vary in intensity and colour, while at the same time cutting energy consumption considerably. The new sustainable energy control system has reduced the energy used to light the bridge by up to 40 % compared with the previous system.

“We are incredibly proud to have been involved with the lighting scheme at Tower Bridge,” explained Phil Marshall, President and CEO, GE Lighting EMEA. “The combination of architectural and floodlight LEDs were specified to help reduce the energy used to light the bridge by up to 40 % compared with the previous system. As a London 2012 Sustainability Partner and London 2012 sponsor, GE is excited to have successfully contributed the future of Tower Bridge and to London’s sustainability commitments.”

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

Over the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the computer controlled lights were used to make the famous bridge over the Thames gleam in “diamond” white. Now with the Olympics in full swing, Londoners and tourists alike dazzle each evening at the sight of the bridge and the color-changing lights, which highlight the Olympic Rings and Paralympic Agitos fitted to the London icon.

“Furthermore, during the London 2012 Olympics as part of the overall celebrations, there will be an evening light display every evening at 21.00pm for 15 minutes on Tower Bridge, ensuring those in the city can fully enjoy the new lighting scheme and see Tower Bridge – as they never have before,” Marshal said.

Also, the GE Olympics developed an interactive Olympic park map, complete with all the official venues for the Games from the Olympics Stadium, to the Aquatics Center and so on, in fantastic satellite-image detail. Also, besides the lighting system, GE is also directly involved in the Games, as the  ImageQuant™ LAS4000, a biomolecular imager, developed by the company’s Healthcare Life Sciences division is currently in use for the testing process for recombinant erythropoietin (EPO) – a performance enhancing drug that can be used to boost the number of red blood cells enabling vastly improved oxygen flow, increasing an athlete’s endurance.

Check out the video below of the Tower Bridge’s GE lighting in action.

Yuri Gagarin statue

London celebrates Yuri Gagarin with statue

Yuri Gagarin statueAs long as space and science is concerned, April is clearly Yuri Gagarin month, the first man in space, celebrating 50 years since his historic orbital flight. Besides having a Soyuz spacecraft named after him, another recent celebration of Yuri Gagarin include the erection of a statue in London in his honor.

The zinc-alloy figure will sit just off The Mall, next to Admiralty Arch, where Gagarin met the then UK Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, and will be placed right near the statue of another great explorer,the circumnavigator of the globe – Captain James Cook.

The 3.5m (12ft) statue is a gift from the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) to the British Council, the organisation which represents the UK culturally abroad. The statue will actually be a replica of the one currently residing in Lubertsy, Russia, where Gagarin used to train as a foundry worked in his teenage years, since the town inhabitants were reluncted to part with such an important symbol.

The original was made in 1984 to celebrate what would have been Gagarin’s 50th birthday – he died in a plane crash aged 34,” explained Andrea Rose, director of visual arts at the British Council.

“It will be patinated, but it will be quite silvery. We wanted it to look just like the original.

“It shows Gagarin in a very typical mode: he’s wearing a spacesuit; his profession is on show. He’s also standing on a globe and the trajectory of his orbit is around him.”

The statue will be formally unveiled in London on 14 July by the cosmonaut’s daughter, Elena Gagarina, who is the director of the Kremlin Museums.