Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Seagrass beds play a vital role in biodiversity, acting as nurseries for 20% of the world’s fisheries, including small fish and crustaceans that become prey for larger animals. Recent research has shown that these simple flowering plants could play an important role in buffering climate change. Seagrass filters the water column of pathogens and aids in the reduction of acidification,  seafood contamination and helping to protect coral. The World Seagrass Association is calling for more protection of seagrass meadows on the decline across many coastlines. Via Science Magazine

The spotted jellyfish on display at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Researchers studying jellyfish eyes have compiled a large genetic data set to study the relationships among various species. They’ve discovered the repeated emergence of eyes at eight separate points in history. Jellyfish eyes can either be complex focusing lenses, similar to those in other animals, or cells using photo-receptive proteins called opsins. The differences between jellyfish eyes shows “convergent evolution:” the independent origin of similar features across species of different lineages. Via UCSB

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has called on the federal and provincial governments to step up Canada’s commitment to biodiversity. Canada promised to protect 17% of its land and fresh water by 2020, but  just 10.5% has been protected. While environment ministers recently agreed to speed things up, the Society points out that one way to get closer to the 17% goal would be for provinces to keep the commitments they have already made. Via Globe and Mail

Water Quality and Supply

Microscopic organisms, foraminifera, play an overlooked role in ocean health.

Not only do ocean dead zones suffer from low levels of oxygen, they are low in nutrients, too. Unicellular, shell-forming microorganisms, called foraminifera, do well in these dead zones as they do not require oxygen to survive. A previously unidentified metabolic pathway in foraminifera removes dissolved nitrogen from the water and turns it into proteins. Since nitrogen is an essential nutrient for phytoplankton, and thus serves the entire aquatic food chain, the foraminifera are making these dead zones even deader. Via Phys.org

A hydraulic jump occurs when a fast-moving stream hits slower moving water. The fast-moving liquid piles up, just as a circular ring of water forms in a sink while the tap is running. Generations of engineering students learned that hydraulic jumps are due to gravity, but that’s been disproved by a PhD student who fired jets of water sideways and upwards. It seems the phenomenon is a result of the surface tension of the water constraining the kinetic energy of the fast-moving stream. By manipulating hydraulic jumps and changing their boundaries, water may be used more efficiently in industrial and household settings. Via EurekAlert!

Government Initiatives

A view of the Zarchin desalination plant in the Israeli port town of Eilat on the Red Sea.

The Israeli government has invested heavily in desalination plants to deal with perpetual water shortages and a rising population, but it has always taken some water from the Sea of Galilee, from the Jordan River and from aquifers. Israel, already one of the driest places on Earth, has experienced five sequential years of drought and these secondary sources are drying up. In an area where water conflicts could have global geopolitical effects, Israelis are once again being urged to conserve water until new desalination plants come on line. Via Phys.org

In Washington, the EPA has substantially reduced regulations on automobile emission standards and scrapped a rule that would force manufacturers to raise fuel economy to 54 miles per gallon (4.35 litres/100 km). However, tighter controls on pollution eliminated Los Angeles smog and these were enshrined in the Clean Air Act of 1970, which allowed states to set stricter standards on air quality. California has said it will use the Clean Air Act to maintain tighter standards which, unless the Act is thrown out, will force manufacturers to meet them anyway. Via Phys.org

Energy and Power

The brown crab is considered a delicacy in the UK,where crabbing provides a livelihood for many a Scot. However, the seas around Scotland are increasingly covered in undersea cables from its offshore wind farms, and recent research has shown that brown crabs are sensitive to, and extremely distracted by, electromagnetic fields. These fields may prevent nearby crabs from mating, feeding and tending their eggs.  The crabs are hardly an endangered species, but researchers say that we should bear in mind that many organisms, from bacteria to whales, use Earth’s magnetic fields for movement and navigation. Via Hakai Magazine

Solar cookers, a set of mirrors that focus the sun onto a central oven, can reach temperatures of 400 Celsius but consume no fuel. While not a new technology, a Chinese company is investing heavily in their development because 40% of the 1.4 billion inhabitants still cook with coal or wood, adding to pollution levels. The cookers also have an obvious market in areas without modern infrastructure. Via Financial Post

 

 

 

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