Ecosystems and Biodiversity
Just how do burrowing clams create such tight spaces? Giant clams display colourful, algae-packed frills that emerges from cracks in coral reefs, making them a favourite adornment for aquariums. Meanwhile, the organ they use to bore holes remains tight inside the crevice, increasing the crack’s size as it continues to grow to fill the space. Recent research on Tridacna crocea, a giant clam, has revealed that the clam secretes an acid which, upon contact with coral, dissolves the surface and gives the clam room to grow. Not so boring after all! Via Science News
As the waters of the Arctic become increasingly ice-free, seasonal ship traffic from tourism and freight is projected to rise, and this poses a threat to marine mammals. Narwhals, who are very picky when it comes to feeding grounds, are most at risk. Beluga and bowhead whales also under threat. The “pinch points” where whales meet most shipping vessels are the Bering Strait and Lancaster Sound in Nunavut. Via Science Daily
Scientists in Ontario have used sandbags to create giant test tubes in a local lake to study the effect of diluted bitumen on wildlife throughout the water column. Frog eggs are also being introduced into the tubes to see how the deliberate spill affects their development. This will give the researchers a better idea of how the bitumen breaks up and how this process affects the freshwater environment. Via BBC
And now for some good news about coral reefs! UNESCO has removed Belize’s barrier reef from the United Nations list of endangered world heritage sites. The reef was added to the list in 2009 because of mangrove cutting, development, and the threat of oil exploration. The Belize government imposed an immediate moratorium on drilling and placed protection orders on the mangrove forests, and the health of the reef is improving. Via NY Times
The effects of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef are well documented, but on the other side of the continent, a new report has shown that a hundred-kilometre stretch of kelp forests were wiped out by a 2 ° Celsius shift in sea temperatures between 2010 and 2013. The area was then rapidly colonized by other seaweeds and bottom-grazing tropical herbivores, such as rabbitfish and parrotfish, which stopped the kelp from regrowing. In the long run, it may be colonized by corals, but this will not help the kelp forests or the Australian fishing industry which depend on them. Via The Guardian
In China, seafood consumption per capita has taken the number one spot over other proteins, like pork. The Chinese government is now far more active in fisheries planning and policing illegal fishing, but consumption and falling catches are driving the fleets offshore. China’s deep-sea fishing fleet is now ten times that of the USA. Environmentalists are concerned that some of these ships are fishing in protected marine areas. Via Hakai Magazine.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Office has reported that 35% of fish caught around the world never makes it to the plate, either being thrown back overboard or rotting before it can be eaten. Total fish production has reached a record high thanks to more fish farming, particularly in China, with over half the fish eaten in the world now coming from aquaculture. Although the amount of wild caught fish has barely changed since the late 1980s, a third of commercial fish species are now overfished, often illegally. The UN is coordinating action on illegal fishing and promoting better ways of preserving fish until it reaches market. Via The Guardian
Only 40% of freshwater bodies surveyed by the European Environmental Agency were found to be in a good ecological state, despite stringent EU laws on water quality and biodiversity. The EEA survey revealed a divide between chemical pollution in ground and surface water sites. Three-quarters of groundwater samples were of good quality: 62% of rivers, estuaries and lakes were not. Mercury contamination was one of the most common problems, with overuse of pesticides, inadequate waste-treatment plants, and tainted rainfall all contributing to the dismal results. Via The Guardian
Cyanobacteria and plankton need large amounts of trace elements, such as zinc and iron, which are often in short supply in the ocean. This is true of large stretches of the North Atlantic, especially the large North Atlantic gyre between North America, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean and the Gulf Stream. Up until now, researchers have usually assumed that dust from the Sahara was the only significant source of iron to the North Atlantic gyre. However, we now know that pockets of cold, iron-rich seawater can be stripped from the North American continental slope by the Gulf Stream and carried into the gyre. Via Eurekalert!
As sea levels rise, low-lying coastal communities are learning about “sunny-day flooding,” where the water is higher than the tide tables predict for no explicable reason. Until now. Rossby waves arise because the Earth is rotating faster than the water above it, and these slow-moving, low-amplitude waves reach tremendous lengths. A Rossby wave might be hundreds of kilometres long and take months to cross an ocean, but their arrival seems to be the missing link in the flooding phenomena. Via Phys.org
Energy and Power
Nuclear power is a carbon-free source of energy that has traditionally provided 20% of the USA’s energy needs. A report from Carnegie-Mellon University predicts that, unless there a shift of government policy towards renewable energy, nuclear power will probably disappear from the USA within a couple of decades. The costs of maintaining aging plants, and the capital cost of new plants, means that neither can compete with new gas-fired generation facilities. Via Bloomberg
The Canadian Federal government is reviewing $420 million worth of payments to Ontario after its new premier, Doug Ford, announced the province was beginning an “orderly wind-down” of its green programs. The federal government had offered the funding to provinces to support a carbon cap and trade system, which the new Ontario premier has said it will pull out of. Via National Observer
Using windows as solar cells has been tried before; the windows were tinted and not very popular. Now chemists have created a film that can be sandwiched in a window that absorbs only ultraviolet and infrared light, allowing all the visible light through. They produce much less power than traditional solar panels, but the researchers are working on improving efficiency. Another approach is to seed the window with microscopic semiconductors that capture the UV light and re-emit it sideways towards traditional solar panels embedded in the window frame. Via Science Magazine