We begin our current review with perhaps not a strictly water-related article, but a very important one from the perspective of protecting the Earth’s resources, which appeared in Science Advances in mid-September and quickly circulated on social media as well.

1. Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries

Richardson K., Steffen W., Lucht W. et al, 2023 Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries. Sci. Adv. 9, eadh2458.

In it, a team of researchers from the Stokholm Resilience Center presents the results of an update on the state of our planet’s boundaries, showing that humanity has already crossed six of the nine boundaries. The concept of planetary boundaries identifies key processes of global systems, such as climate change, land management, water pollution or the state of wildlife, and their limits, beyond which the ability to maintain a healthy planet and the possibility of meeting human needs are seriously threatened. It was developed in 2009. and has so far undergone two updates, in 2015 and 2023. Since the concept’s inception, the number of areas for which we have exceeded the limits has increased from three to six, and the status of two more (air pollution and ocean acidification) does not look optimistic either. The only limit that is not currently threatened is the level of atmospheric ozone (thanks to the withdrawal of dangerous chemicals, we are seeing a shrinking of the ozone hole). According to the researchers, the most disturbing finding is that all four boundaries relating to biological processes are at or near the highest risk level. You can panic!

2. warding off freshwater salinization: do current criteria measure up?

Kelly M. G., Free G., Kolada A., Phillips G., Warner S., Wolfram G., Poikane S., 2023. Warding off freshwater salinization: Do current criteria measure up? WIREs Water, e1694.

Since the problem of excessive anthropogenic salinization of surface waters remains pressing both in Poland and in other countries of the world, readers of Water Issues will certainly be interested in a newly published article in WIREs Water magazine on the environmental standards used to assess this pressure. In it, the authors extensively review the approach to assessing water salinity, the indicators used, the criteria, and the methods used to determine them both in the EU and in other parts of the world. They also provide and discuss the values of environmental criteria for salinity indicators in the countries for which they were developed. It turns out that the issue is very complex. While water use criteria in terms of salinity are relatively well established, setting indicators and limits that determine the proper functioning of the ecosystem and its good ecological state is already a major challenge for most countries. In addition, climate change is compounding the problem, confronting countries with the need to revise environmental goals. We also wrote about when fresh water is salty and why it shouldn’t be, in Water Issues.

3 Impacts of metal mining on river systems: a global assessment

Macklin M.G., Thomas C.J., Mudbhatkal A. et al, 2023. Impacts of metal mining on river systems: a global assessment. Science 381, 1345.

Water salinity is just one of the many pressures on water resources caused by human extractive activities. An estimated 23 million people live in floodplains potentially at risk of exceeding acceptable concentrations of toxic waste from past and present metal mining activities. An international team of scientists, led by Prof. M. Macklin of the University of Lincoln in the UK, analyzed the dimensions of this risk (mainly for lead, zinc, copper and arsenic) using a georeferenced database of all known metal mining sites and tailings storage facilities. Their results, freshly published in Science, indicate that on a global scale, metal mines affect nearly 480,000. km of rivers and 164 thousand. km2 of floodplains. It turns out that the number of people exposed to pollution from long-term discharge of mining waste into rivers is almost 50 times higher than the number of people directly affected by accidents related to these activities. However, a full understanding of the environmental and health impacts of the mining industry requires more data and monitoring. Unfortunately, the article does not offer open access to the content (and we try to recommend mainly such), but those interested in the topic may want to make an effort to obtain it.

4. rebuilding and the water cycle

Harvey G.L., Henshaw A.J., 2023. Rewilding and the water cycle. WIREs Water, e1686.

One of the approaches advocated for managing water resources, in an era of widespread transformation due to human activities, is the so-called “water management approach. “rewilding” (unfortunately, this word does not have a good Polish equivalent, since the term “rewilding” in our language carries negative connotations, unintended in the context of this activity). A pair of researchers from Queen Mary University of London, prof. G. Harvey and Dr. A. Henshaw, has made an extensive analysis of the impact of “rewilding” rivers on their functioning and related ecological effects. They analyzed the nature of hydrological changes that can be expected as a result of reduction or abandonment of land management, natural regeneration of vegetation, return/restoration of populations of relevant species or changes in the river network. Like other Nature Based Solutions (NbS), “rewilding” will not ensure the elimination of all problems associated with flooding or low flows, but it should become one of the more important water management options to help mitigate the effects of extreme hydrological conditions. In view of the global need to implement measures directed at river revitalization/renaturation – a must-read!

5. sustainable lake restoration: from challenges to solutions

Tammeorg O., Chorus I., Spears B. et al, 2023. Sustainable lake restoration: From challenges to solutions. WIREs Water, e1689.

Another intriguing overview of the water restoration issue is an article published a few weeks ago, also in WIREs Water magazine, on methods for sustainable lake restoration. A team of more than 30 scientists from EU countries, including Poland, analyzed a number of lake restoration methods for their effectiveness and efficiency in restoring proper condition and function. Reactivation methods can significantly support catchment activities and accelerate lake regeneration, but they require proper selection and application. To ensure an effective solution to the environmental problem, not to cause degradation of downstream ecosystems in the catchment, and to minimize the risk of unreasonable costs and social conflicts, each lake must be treated individually. The authors provide examples of solutions, discuss the benefits and pitfalls, and point out areas for further research in this area.

6. Intense upper ocean mixing due to large aggregations of spawning fish

Fernández Castro B., Peña M., Nogueira E. et al , 2022. Intense upper ocean mixing due to large aggregations of spawning fish. Nat. Geosci. 15, 287-292.

And finally, a touch of a bit of humor. Last year, a paper by a team of Spanish scientists was published in Nature Geoscience, which examined the extent to which the sexual activity of anchovies affects the movement of ocean waters. They showed that the sexual acts of these small fish, which we buy in cans under the commercial name of anchovies, have a significant impact on the mixing of waters in the upper reaches of the ocean. Why are we mentioning this more than a year after publication? The work itself would probably have passed without much notice had it not been for the fact that its authors were awarded the IG Nobel Prize in Physics this September. The IG Nobel Prize is the humor equivalent of the Nobel Prize for scientific works that “first make you laugh and then make you think.

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