There are fewer microplastics in ocean surfaces than expected — what gives? Scientists are using polystyrene beads (also known as microbeads and recently banned in Canadian cosmetics) to find out. Studies show that even low-density plastics, which would normally float, clump together with biological particles in the water and sink to the seabed. Microplastics don’t form clumps on their own, but almost all were removed within a few days when biological matter was added to the water. These findings may have an influence on the distribution and transport of microplastics in the future. Via Science Daily

Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit, has grand ambitions to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch circulating in the North Gyre of the Pacific Ocean. By piloting a skimmer to remove the larger pieces of plastic floating in the top 3 metres of the water column, they aim to remove 5 tons of plastic a month. If successful, this would clean up 50% of the patch within five years. Sponsorship is supporting a fleet of 60 skimmers as well as selling the plastic for recycling. Via Forbes

Each year, an estimated 5.6 trillion cigarettes are manufactured, most of which contain filters with cellulose acetate. Many of these cigarette butts end up in the sea where they could take over a decade to decompose, leaving behind plastic microfibres and substantial quantities of nicotine, a dangerous poison. Since filters don’t reduce the risks of smoking and encourage greater consumption, there are moves afoot to ban them. Or at least make the filter tips biodegradable and ocean-friendly. Via NBC

Climate Change

Ocean waters off the Gulf of Maine hit record highs of 20.5 Celsius this past August. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute has found that sea surface temperatures in the area are increasing at three times the global average. Maine sits at an intersection between the cold currents of the Arctic and warmer southern waters. However, the increase in melting Arctic ice can cause these warmer waters to stall. This is likely to affect the local ecosystem, as well as animals ranging from puffins to shrimp. Via Washington Post

As temperatures warm, land-based ecosystems are expected to transform rapidly. These ecosystems serve as a source of fresh water and a sink for carbon, as well as being an environment that billions of humans live in. These predictions are borne out by records from the end of the last ice age and by observable changes happening in North America. Via Science Daily

California continues to dry out and it’s causing some unusual problems along the way. The residents of the San Joaquin Valley use 5% of the groundwater annually, causing the valley to sink by up to half a metre each year. As well as threatening houses, roads and bridges, it’s impacting an important aqueduct that relies on its hillside location for water to flow down. Via


Infected salmon might be the latest threat to grizzly bears resettling America’s Cascades mountains. In the past, hunters and fur trappers wiped out the grizzly population, but the US Fish and Wildlife service and National Park Service are planning to reintroduce them. Unfortunately, this region has a newly-developed strain of salmon poisoning disease (SPD) which is carried by a worm that spreads to mammals via snails and then fish. The worm is not a problem, but it carries bacteria which cause lethargy and diarrhea in the bears. If the bear survives, it develops resistance, but imported bears won’t have immunity to this new strain. Via Hakai Magazine

Agriculture has reduced the amount of fresh water flowing into Florida’s Everglades and much of the water that does enter is polluted with fertilizers. This has set off a domino effect of problems, from algal blooms to rising sea levels, to damaged aquifers. It also has more subtle ecosystem impacts, like killing off the stabilizing sawgrass and peat soil. More frequent and more powerful storms can push salt water several kilometres inland, and ecologists are hoping that introducing salt-tolerant mangroves might protect the marshes. Via Science News


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