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Weekly Water Report: February 23
Posted on February 23, 2018
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Every week Ocean Wise combs the headlines to bring you the most interesting ocean news. This week, a fish that only produces females,  sea level rise kicks up notch, Australia battles over seismic testing during a humpback whale migration and way more. Read on!

Ecosystems + Biodiversity

The eggs of the Pacific White Skate take four years to hatch, but the animal has an interesting way to increase its breeding rate. It secretes its egg cases onto thermal vents on the deep ocean floor. The heat from the vents reduces the incubation time of the egg by months or even years.Via National Geographic.

This week’s “weird sex life”  award goes to the small fish, Amazon Molly (Poecilia formosa). Native to Texas and Mexico, the fish gets its name from its all-female offspring. The female fish mates with males from a closely-related Molly species and, although the sperm penetrates the egg and a fish begins to grow, the male DNA is discarded.  The daughters are identical clones of the mother, and mutations seem to provide sufficient diversity to stop the species from dying out. Via Eurekalert!

Almost 75% of fish living in the mesopelagic zone (between 200 to 1000 metres deep) in the Northwest Atlantic have microplastics in their stomachs. These microplastics cause  inflammation, reduced feeding and weight-loss and have effects further up the food chain for marine animals, including tuna, swordfish, dolphins, seals and sea birds and, ultimately, humans. Via R&D.

Water Quality + Supply

Sea level rise is accelerating more quickly than previously expected,  driven primarily by faster melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice caps. Satellite data has been instrumental in observing these accelerations, and researchers continue to work with this data to build more accurate projections going forward. Via Eurekalert!

As many as one in eight Americans is drinking water that does not meet EPA health guidelines. Problems include pollutants such as arsenic or lead, nitrates and coliform bacteria.  While the spikes apparent in EPA data were due to tightening standards, some states (particularly Texas, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Nebraska) have unsafe water in more than a third of their rural communities.Via Science Magazine

Unclean drinking water is one of the world’s greatest challenges, with almost a third of the population lacking access to a safe water supply. Recently Australian researchers  unveiled a one-stop water-filtering process by pouring samples from Sydney’s polluted harbour through a graphene-coated sieve and turning it into drinkable water. The key ingredient, graphene, is difficult to make, involving  thermal deposition under carefully controlled conditions.  Australia’s CSIRO found a way of making graphene sheets by baking soybean oil in normal air, creating a film with microscopic nano-channels that lets water pass through, but stops pollutants. This could be huge. Via CSIRO.

Government Initiatives

The Canadian government announced this week an additional $72,000 to support Ocean Wise’s PollutionTracker, a monitoring program that will help identify the sources of contaminants in British Columbia’s marine environment. The action followed a report on the decline of killer whales on BC’s shores. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will also take additional fishery management measures to increase chinook salmon in foraging areas where the threatened Southern Resident killer whales swim. Via  Newswire.

In Australia, a disagreement between the national and the New South Wales governments has erupted over a seismic-testing permit for offshore oil fields. The testing (which will involve underwater explosions along a 200-kilometre area) would coincide with a humpback migration — a species that is particularly affected by human-caused noise in the ocean. The NSW government has strict standards for offshore exploration and severe penalties for non-compliance.  The national Australian government, which issued the permit, has lower standards and does not require ecological-impact assessments. Via Sydney Morning Herald.

Energy + Power

Critics are raising flags about the energy used to power Bitcoins, the world’s most popular digital currency. The number of computers and server farms is rising and so is the energy used to “mine” (verify) the bitcoins. Some have compared bitcoin’s energy needs to that of a small country, with an estimated 60 percent of this mining happening in China using fossil fuels. In January, China announced plans to put a stop to Bitcoin mining, partly  to address negative environmental impacts. Via Business News Network.

A temperature difference between two materials can generate a small electric current. Researchers at MIT have taken this concept one step further by creating a device that generates electricity from the temperature difference between day and night. The device consists of a highly conducting metal foam containing wax. During the day, the heat flows into the wax, which melts and creates a current. At night, it flows out of the wax, again generating a current. Even a 10 degree Celsius  difference would be enough to generate enough power to run a sensor or small device. Via MIT.

Electric Eels at the Vancouver Aquarium
The electric eel generates its own power and now researchers are stealing its tricks.

American researchers have copied the secrets of the electric eel to produce 110 volts of electricity using salt water.  The trick is to put together cell-like gel capsules full of varying strengths of salt water and harvest electricity from the ion gradient across the cell walls.  The researchers used an inkjet-like printer to connect 2500 cells in a spiral.  The next steps in the research program are delivering usable currents and designing an implantable device that generates electricity using the ion gradient across human cell walls. Via Eurekalert!

Editor: Caroline Taylor. Contributors: Martin Farncombe, Cindy Yu, Laura Bekar, Kelsey Smith, Olga Espejo, James Schultz, Neil Tracey. 


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