Every week, Ocean Wise combs the headlines to bring you the most fascinating ocean news from around the world. Read on!
Ecosystems and Biodiversity
Two papers published last week show weakening ocean current patterns, some as much as 20% in the last 150 years, which are impacting fish distribution and other species. Most of that change has happened since the 1950s; it could also affect the climate of Europe and North Africa. In Maine, waters are warming twice as fast as the rest of the ocean. Via Science Daily
Along the northeastern coast of the United States, basking sharks are swarming — a peculiar trait for a solitary creature that filter feeds zooplankton. Understanding this strange new behaviour could help conservation biologists support this threatened species. Via National Geographic
A 50-year observational study shows that sea urchins living in shallow waters are more vulnerable to human activity than previously thought. Sea urchins experience drastic population fluctuations and, since seaweed is part of their diet, this can heavily sway the dynamics of entire marine ecosystems. Algal blooms and fluctuations in sea surface temperatures can also disrupt the larval development in certain sea urchin species. Via Earth.com
Darwin said that Belize had “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”, and its miles of reef have long been a major tourist attraction. In 2009, the reef was in danger, but after Belize put a moratorium on all offshore oil exploration and drilling, it’s experienced a remarkable comeback. The government has also created seven protected parks, funded by eco-taxes, and intends to ban single-use plastic products within the next few months. Via National Geographic
Researchers accidentally hit upon a plastic-eating enzyme while studying the structure of a natural enzyme (PETase), thought to have evolved in a waste-recycling centre in Japan. This mutant enzyme is far better at breaking down PET (or polyethylene, a common plastic used in drink bottles) but they are developing an even faster version and embedding it into bacteria. Via Phys.org
Water Quality and Supply
A study of drinking water in suburban New York has shown that some water wells are heavily contaminated with road salt, with more than half exceeding health standards for sodium. Proximity to roadways plays a crucial role in salinity, especially close to sharp turns and steep grades that required heavier salting. Via Phys.org
Bacteria found in the swamps of New Jersey may prove a boon to sewage treatment. The bacterium, Acidimicrobiaceae bacterium A6, can break down ammonium ions, a common pollutant that can lead to eutrophication of lakes and rivers. Removal of ammonium ions traditionally requires a great deal of energy to aerate the water. This bacteria, however, metabolizes ammonium ions in the absence of oxygen, which may lead to more energy efficient methods of treating water. Via Eurekalert!
Arsenic is a common water contaminant in water, naturally or as a mining by-product. But it can be taken up into food crops as well. Ecologists have discovered a species of aquatic moss in northern Sweden that can remove 80% of the arsenic in water in an hour, making the water safe to use. They suggest implanting the moss in contaminated streams. Via Eurekalert!
Energy and Power
Solar power accounted for more than a third of all net new power capacity added worldwide in 2017, according to the United Nations Environment Program, and the cost of electricity from large-scale solar projects has dropped by 72% since 2009. While fossil fuel generation stations continue to be built, they make up only a small proportion of new energy sources. However, thermal stations are still dominant, with solar, biomass and geothermal power combined only meeting 12% of global energy consumption. Via New York Times