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Weekly Water News: March 9, 2018
Posted on March 9, 2018
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Every week Ocean Wise combs the headlines to bring you the most interesting ocean news. This week: Australia’s surge in solar panels might outpace the country’s needs; sand excavation is impacting habitats and species across Asia; a new super colony of Adélie penguins turns up in Antarctica and so much more — read on!

Animal Encounters

Researchers estimated the size of new super colony at 1.5 million penguins. (Photo Credit: Tanya Patrick, CSIRO)

Researchers have used satellite images of penguin guano to confirm a super colony of Adélie penguins in a small island chain of Antarctica. Scientists already knew about the colony, but the numbers there are an unprecedented 1.5 million land-waddling birds. This could be a game-changer for Antarctic penguin populations, which are in decline elsewhere in the region. Via Science News

Tourists on a cruise ship returning from Antarctica were lucky enough to spot a rare type of killer whale: the  “Type D.” In the last 70 years, only a handful of people have spotted these odd looking whales. With bulbous heads and smaller white eye patches, they are so distinct from other killer whales they may even qualify as their own species. If that is the case, they could be the largest undescribed animal left on the planet. Via National Geographic. Video.

Across Asia, the extraction of sand for construction is eroding coastlines. Poorly regulated and often illegal sand removal has led to seagrass decline in Indonesia. It’s also impacting charismatic species such as the Ganges River dolphin and terrapins in India and Malaysia. Many other species that spawn on or live in sand are also being affected. Via Science Magazine

Climate Change

According to researchers, we are vastly underestimating the power of the ocean. During the winter of 2013-2014, storm waves moved boulders as large as houses on the west coast of Ireland — something only tsunamis were supposed to do. The discovery highlights the need to plan for the safety of coastal settlements as sea level rise reshapes the landscape. Via Science Daily

For every 10 degrees north of the equator you travel, spring is arriving about four days earlier than it did a decade ago. If you live in the Arctic, spring might be arriving as much as 16 days earlier. Spring provides important biological cues for many plant and animal species, and it is unclear how an accelerated spring could play out for species across the planet. Via Phys.org

Over the last century, average snow pack in the western states of the USA has declined between 15% and 30%. Researchers attribute the decline to warmer temperatures, not a lack of precipitation, which means that the water falls as rain rather than snow. A smaller spring melt affects fish and other animals as well as agriculture. Via Eurekalert!

Many have sounded the alarm on melting permafrost and methane emissions, but now a new study shows that silt is making its way into the Arctic and subarctic lakes and ponds, modifying their composition.  The silt is particularly good at absorbing sunlight and these water bodies are getting increasingly darker and stratified, which affects a number of biological processes in the northern ecosystems. Via Science Daily

Water Supply

Cape Town, South Africa is on the verge of running out of drinking water, with tough decisions ahead.

Cape Town is about to run out of water and the rainy season is months away. After three freakishly dry winters, the rain-fed dams are almost empty in South Africa’s  second-largest city with 4 million inhabitants. The city has brought in conservation measures that reduce consumption by 57%, but unless the rains come early this year the city will introduce even more reductions. Cape Town is also looking at tapping aquifers, even though this could damage both natural ecosystems and its wine industry. Via Yale

Government Action

The US Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with Trident Seafoods to remove fish waste at two seafood processing facilities in Alaska.  Trident will remove nearly 3.5 acres of waste from the seafloor near its Sand Point plant in the Aleutians, and limit the amount of seafood waste discharged from its Wrangell plant, north of Haida Gwaii. Via Alaska Native News

Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers is launching an awareness campaign to highlight that they accept anonymous tips relating to environmental crimes, from poaching and overfishing to dumping waste into the ecosystem. Vancouver Sun

Energy and Power

Seabirds and wind turbines do not mix. But researchers are hoping to change that.

Wind turbines are an excellent source of renewable energy, but they can also pose a risk to seabirds. Caleb Spiegel, a US government biologist, is working on a way to resolve this dilemma. Over the past five years, he has led efforts to track the movement of seabirds via satellite. This data provides a deeper understanding of bird movement throughout the year, in the hopes that future wind turbine sites can avoid busy migration routes. Via Hakai Magazine

A new catalyst, based on isolated nickel atoms, is 97% efficient at converting carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide.  The CO can be used for a number of purposes: it can be burned; it can be used as a chemical feedstock or it can be used to produce hydrogen gas from water. The latter path offers a way of decarbonizing the atmosphere while producing a clean fuel. Via Brookhaven National Laboratory

Australians installed a record number of solar panels across their rooftops in 2017, bringing solar capacity across the country to that of a medium-sized coal power plant. Experts have raised flags that growing solar power generation may soon outpace demand during peak periods, but  improvements in energy storage batteries might help normalize levels of collected solar energy throughout the year. Via The Guardian

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


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