Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Scientists are calling for fishing regulations to help save the Amazon forest. Why? Brazil’s Pantanal is a floodplain the size of Washington State, which spends half the year underwater. The Pantanal’s biodiversity is helped by large, fruit-eating fish, which spread undigested seeds to 95% of the region’s woody plants. These seeds are digested by smaller fish, which means that when larger fish are harvested, the entire forest suffers. Via National Geographic

Coral reefs are not only pretty; they also reduce storm surges by as much as two thirds, with the topmost metre of healthy reef absorbing a great deal of wave energy. Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico and Cuba are most at risk from increased flooding from coral reef loss. If maintained, coral reefs could avoid US$400 million in damage per year. Via Phys.Org

Millions of herring eggs, up close.

A herring spawn is one of nature’s most incredible spectacles. Each female herring can lay up to 10,000 eggs while the male sperm turns the sea white for over a week. When the eggs hatch, the fry become food for fish, birds and land animals. New research shows that spawning events transfer vast quantities of nutrients to the intertidal zone and coastline, similar to the way salmon runs fertilize the surrounding shorelines. This provides even more evidence on the importance of preserving remaining fish stocks. Via Hakai Magazine

Analysis of the isotopes in beluga whale teeth have shown that Alaskan beluga whales changed their diet over the last 50 years, moving from saltwater to freshwater fish and crustaceans. Despite a complete ban on hunting, beluga whale numbers have dropped sharply over the same period, and it’s not clear whether food availability has contributed. Via Phys.Org

Climate Change

Melting Antarctica glaciers are raising sea levels even faster than expected.

Antarctica ice loss is accelerating. Building upon 25 years of ice observations, scientists are measuring changes through satellite imagery (to measure height) and the ice’s pull of gravity (to determine weight). Since the last measurements in 2012, Antarctica’s annual ice loss had increased three-fold. This year’s decrease has displaced Greenland’s ice sheet as the top contributor to sea level rise each year. Via BBC

A recent study shows that two-thirds of fish species may move due to warming seas, some as much as hundreds of kilometres. Rising temperatures have driven Europe’s vast mackerel shoals into Icelandic waters, causing conflict between the European Union’s centrally managed fishery and the Icelandic government. This has led Iceland to withdraw its application to join the EU. Researchers at UBC say this “migrating fishery” problem will be most intense in Asia, where small changes could cause entire fishing industries to close, while nearby neighbours benefit. Via National Geographic

Government Action

A massive federally funded clean-up plan in Chesapeake Bay is working wonders. Anchovies, which support the food chain, have increased, while sea grasses are returning to previously denuded areas. The plan involved improvements at wastewater treatment plants and reductions in fertilizer use in several states. The strategy is threatened, however, by a proposed 90% cut in funding by the EPA and potential dam cuts that keep pollutants atbay. Via Washington Post

Wild salmon being harvested.

Over the last 30 years, salmon numbers have dropped by 75% in Washington State’s Skagit river. In 2001, the Swinomish tribe took legal action against the state to fix its road culverts, which they said prevented  salmon from swimming up and down stream. The State fought back, overturning a lower court’s ruling for $3 billion in road upgrades based on the Swinomish tribe’s original 1855 treaty. This week, the US Supreme Court declined to overthrow the lower court’s decision, deciding that the State must honour the treaty rights of First Nations peoples. Via New York Times

Energy and Power

Earth’s internet traffic hums along millions of kilometres of fibre-optic cables on the ocean floor. Vibrations cause an almost imperceptible delay in signal transmission, but now plans are afoot to use those vibrations to detect earthquakes. This requires no modification to the cable itself, causes no interference to everyday use, and uses only small proportion of the available bandwidth to detect vibration-induced delays. If applied to enough cables, it could accurately pin-point epicentres and produce early warning of tsunamis. Via Science Magazine

Cutting government subsides for solar panels is revealing the industry’s strength.

The solar-power industry does well when injected with government subsidies and poorly when it’s not. This is the so-called “solarcoaster” effect. China recently removed all solar power subsidies, leading to a collapse in prices for solar panels and probable industry consolidation. But solar is almost at the stage where it can compete with other industrial generation mechanisms, and in sunny parts of the world solar farms are already undercutting coal. Via The Economist


Researchers at the University of Seville tested the efficiency of two new water-filtering materials: phyllosilicates, Na-Mica-4 and C18-Mica-4. Results are promising and show that C18-Mica-4 efficiently eliminates most organic pollutants in less than 24 hours. This could help eliminate the impact of natural and anthropogenic pollution of freshwater,  from industrial pollutants, personal care products, and pharmacological ingredients. Via Science Daily

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