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Environmental irony: Pollution caused by trees in Japan

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So far we only thought of trees as beneficial to our environment. But this belief has been turned upside down. Recently, Cypress and Cedar trees in Japan have been found to be causing massive amounts of nitrogen runoff into local streams. This in turn, is resulting in harmful algae blooms.

Surprisingly, nutrient pollution can be caused due to mismanaged forests. But, it’s not exactly their fault.

Why is this occurring?

The main reason for this occurrence is because these trees are planted in massive commercial plantations. These plantations were established half a century ago when the import of wood by the Japanese companies was at its peak. Many of these plantations have now fallen into a state of disrepair due to negligence. Also, the shift in the market has left an abundance of wood plantations, which are now causing major problems for adjacent wildlife.

How is high concentration of nitrogen in soil harmful?

The older, slowly growing trees use relatively less nutrients (or nitrogen) than younger trees, which grow faster and require more nutrients. Nowadays, rarely any new tree grows in the plantations because the land has become densely populated with older trees which prevent sunlight from nourishing the shorter, nascent trees. In addition, there is an unusually high concentration of nitrogen in the soil on the plantations, which is left to run off into neighboring waterways. As a result, algae blooms have begun to form in the highly nitrogenous marine habitats.

How is algae bloom affecting wildlife?

The algae sucks oxygen out of the water, and therefore, other marine wildlife are unable to survive (a process known as eutrophication). According to the American Society of Agronomy, the problem is widespread. These large plantations account for up to 30 percent of forestland across Japan.

Climate Change is making Trees grow rapidly

A new study penned by Kyushu University’s Masaaki Chiwa, says that the process can be prevented by adequate forest management. Chiwa is encouraging the owners of the large plantations to thin them out and create room for new, smaller trees to utilize the abundant nutrients in the soil. His team is already investigating the impact of recent trimming operations on local waterways. They have been measuring water quality to evaluate any further harmful effects of forest thinning on water quality including nitrogen loss.

This post originally appeared on DSCOVRD.

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Tech And Entertainment Industries Chase After Realistic Face Masks From Japan

Kitagawa said he works with clients carefully to ensure his products will not be used for illicit purposes.

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Face masks
REAL-f Co. President Osamu Kitagawa holds a super-realistic face mask at his factory in Otsu, western Japan. VOA

Super-realistic face masks made by a tiny company in rural Japan are in demand from the domestic tech and entertainment industries and from countries as far away as Saudi Arabia.

The 300,000-yen ($2,650) masks, made of resin and plastic by five employees at REAL-f Co., attempt to accurately duplicate an individual’s face down to fine wrinkles and skin texture.

Company founder Osamu Kitagawa came up with the idea while working at a printing machine manufacturer.

But it took him two years of experimentation before he found a way to use three-dimensional facial data from high-quality photographs to make the masks, and started selling them in 2011.

Face Masks
Super-realistic face masks are displayed at factory of REAL-f Co. in Otsu, western Japan. VOA

The company, based in the western prefecture of Shiga, receives about 100 orders every year from entertainment, automobile, technology and security companies, mainly in Japan.

For example, a Japanese car company ordered a mask of a sleeping face to improve its facial recognition technology to detect if a driver had dozed off, Kitagawa said.

“I am proud that my product is helping further development of facial recognition technology,” he added. “I hope that the developers would enhance face identification accuracy using these realistic masks.”

Kitagawa, 60, said he had also received orders from organizations linked to the Saudi government to create masks for the king and princes.

Face masks
Face off: Realistic masks made in Japan find demand from tech, car firms. 

“I was told the masks were for portraits to be displayed in public areas,” he said.

Kitagawa said he works with clients carefully to ensure his products will not be used for illicit purposes and cause security risks, but added he could not rule out such threats.

Also Read: Women In India Turn to Technology to Stay Safe From Harassment

He said his goal was to create 100 percent realistic masks, and he hoped to use softer materials, such as silicon, in the future.

“I would like these masks to be used for medical purposes, which is possible once they can be made using soft materials,” he said. “And as humanoid robots are being developed, I hope this will help developers to create [more realistic robots] at a low cost.” (VOA)