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Earth Idle Science

German Airports Use Bees To Monitor Air Quality 44

Posted by samzenpus
from the smog-honey dept.
The Düsseldorf International Airport and seven other airports in Germany have come up with a unique way of monitoring air quality; they use bees. The airports test the bees' honey twice a year for toxins, and batches that turn up clean are bottled and given away. From the article: "Assessing environmental health using bees as 'terrestrial bioindicators' is a fairly new undertaking, said Jamie Ellis, assistant professor of entomology at the Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory, University of Florida in Gainesville. 'We all believe it can be done, but translating the results into real-world solutions or answers may be a little premature.' Still, similar work with insects to gauge water quality has long been successful."
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German Airports Use Bees To Monitor Air Quality

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  • by ad0n (1171681)
    ..meh. obviously they aren't using 'spelling' bees at the "aiport" (sorry, couldn't resist.. heh)
  • oh so that's where all the bees have gone to....http://viewzone2.com/lostbeesx.html

  • From the article: "Assessing environmental health using bees as 'terrestrial bioindicators' is a fairly new undertaking, said Jamie Ellis, assistant professor of entomology at the Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory, University of Florida in Gainesville.

    Fairly new undertaking? I don't think so.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Fairly new undertaking? I don't think so."

      Then there's the Macondo method. Nothing indicates oil contamination quite like a crude-drenched pelican.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Red Flayer (890720)
      When did we begin considering canaries to be bees, instead of birds?
  • FTFA:

    Could bees be modern-day sentinels like the canaries once used as warning signals of toxic gases in coal mines?

    Just what we need, there will be swarms of honey bees at airports, in parking lots, and at work, all testing the air quality. Somehow the whole "swarm of bees" thing scares me more than the actual pollution - at least canaries were cute.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ephemeriis (315124)

      FTFA:

      Could bees be modern-day sentinels like the canaries once used as warning signals of toxic gases in coal mines?

      Just what we need, there will be swarms of honey bees at airports, in parking lots, and at work, all testing the air quality. Somehow the whole "swarm of bees" thing scares me more than the actual pollution - at least canaries were cute.

      I've got no links or references to give you, so you'll have to forgive me.

      The Mall of America, in Minnesota, was using some kind of tiny, stingless bee to pollinate plants indoors. I'd assume something similar could be used for monitoring air quality or whatever else.

    • "swarms of angry bees" are a fictional movie construct, much like the fabled "Unix system" of Jurassic park.

      A swarm of bees is incredibly tame. Here is an example of a package, an artificial swarm, being installed in a hive.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek7dDtZ0lK8 [youtube.com]
      Note the "bang the box of bees" step at 4:00.

      If you are more than 10 feet from a hive you'll be hard pressed to get stung other than stepping on a forager.

      • by Macrat (638047)

        "swarms of angry bees" are a fictional movie construct

        Not true! In the 70's they told us that the Africanized honey bees were coming to KILL everyone in North America!

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @11:21AM (#32731544) Homepage

    with the Blackuweather airport forecast. Ollie, what's the air quality like there?

    Ollie: [face covered in red welts and puffing up] It's full of bees!

  • In the US they would sell that honey in the airport at a 6000% markup.
    • by omnichad (1198475)

      Markup? Are these bees wholesalers now? Cut out the middleman - buy directly from the bees!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Assessing environmental health using bees as 'terrestrial bioindicators' is a fairly new undertaking, said Jamie Ellis, assistant professor of entomology at the Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory...
    Surely this type of approach has probably been used long before, by farmers, or for that matter, an expert honey producer would have been aware of this, just by subtle changes in honey taste.

    Many of our "green" approaches are really old methods that were abandoned when the western world was industrializ

  • with this being checked twice a year, I think they'll notice people getting sick months before the bees give any clues. I'd love to know the exact toxins that they are expecting to find. I didn't think that bees were huge consumers of air. If they want to speed up the process, simply wipe down the jet engines from landing planes and get a sample bees spattered all around the intake.
    • by nametaken (610866) *

      This was my thought. I'm all for creative and interesting solutions to problems, but I'd have to conclude that they're not actually that concerned about the air quality around the airport. I work in a place where we monitor the air from various sensors placed throughout the facility, all the time, and this is at a small commercial establishment where we operate relatively tiny, gas-powered engines.

      Kudos to them for the fun little trick to acquire a minuscule amount of data though.

      • by nametaken (610866) *

        I take it back, it's a fun little trick to acquire a minuscule amount of data, but it sounds like they're still using the appropriate technology to monitor the air quality...

        Biomonitoring, or the use of living organisms to test environmental health, does not replace traditional monitoring, said Martin Bunkowski, an environmental engineer for the Association of German Airports. But "it's a very clear message for the public because it is easy to understand," he added.

  • Lichen biomonitoring (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ouzel (655571)
    This is a cool idea. Another approach is to use lichens [sciencedaily.com], although there might not be enough trees or other suitable substrates nearby.
  • I ate all your bees.
    /Lonely Soldier
  • The last time I was in Germany, a few years ago, smoking was allowed everywhere, including the terminal of the Frankfurt airport.

    Thus, it would be ironic to be measuring the air quality around the airport, while the actual airport customers are being gassed in the terminal.

    Doing some Googling, it seems like Germany is smartening up and imposing smoking bans.

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      They are a few years behind America in this aspect, but have been recently clamping down on it.

      Rauchenverboten have been coming to many places in the very recent past.

    • by treeves (963993)
      I was in Frankfurt airport two years ago, and no one was smoking inside at that time. I would have noticed. I hate cigarette smoke smell.
  • Honeybee stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @05:07PM (#32736776) Homepage Journal

    My wife and I are hobbyist bee keepers. A few comments

    1) bees will fly several miles from their hive when looking for nectar and pollen. Of course i wouldn't expect a pefectly symmetrical distribution of bee activity in all 360 degrees and at all distances away from the hive. So siting the hive is a relevant concern

    2) the collection of nectar/etc is non-uniform with the passage of time. the amount of material collected depends on things like colony size [which in turn depends on the amount of nectar collected.. yay for cross-talk in experimental variables :)]. The bees are obviously collecting much more when something nearby is blooming. However, bees mostly stay home in cold weather or rainy conditions. So the amount of foraging bees do as a function of calendar date depends on the bloom and the weather conditions.

    One could say that the experiment ignores this by only taking two measurements... .. .which brings me to my final point: a hive is usually tended to considerably more often than twice in a season. the bees can put away a tremendous amount of honey in a short time if the colony is at full strength and there is a strong nearby bloom. if the hive becomes too crowded the colony will split and swarm. If the hive is made so large so as to be empty, it will be difficult to tell when a certain cell of comb was filled.

    There are other factors: the creation of honey involves bees filling a cell with nectar and then vibrating their wings over that cell to manage the heat and evaporation. Any number of factors might affect the evaporative rate of the honey, like the local temperature or the rate at which a given cell was filled.

    Certainly, some of the pollutants they are looking for would be affected by the evaporative rate of the water in the nectar, and without frequent monitoring and much higher precision data logging, i don't really know how you'd measure that.

    So in summary: there is no guarantee that bees will go a certain place, much less at a certain time, nor is there any uniformity in how much work they do, nor in how they put up the nectar, nor in how they create the honey.

    If the experiment is "i wonder how many airborne pollutants show up in a beehive after 1 season", then fine. But i wouldn't use it to measure anything else. I wouldn't even compare it to other beehives to see if airports create more pollution -- the activity of a given colony is simply not uniform.

  • the canaries had a better lawyer than the bees.

An Ada exception is when a routine gets in trouble and says 'Beam me up, Scotty'.

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