Ecosystems and Biodiversity

A study conducted by the University of Georgia found plastic microfibers in the stool of wild South American fur seals. The team examined stool from 51 fur seals and found that 67 % of the samples had an abundance of microfibers. Scientists have yet to determine if microfibers have any adverse effects on mammals, however some evidence has indicated findings of morphological changes in fish. Studying animal stool is a convenient, effective and non-invasive method to trace environmental impacts of plastic pollution, and may pave way for taking correctional measures before it is too late. Via

Researchers from the Florida Atlantic University have concluded that crude oil significantly impairs the Atlantic stingray’s sense of smell. The olfactory organ is susceptible because its cells are exposed to the oil in seawater via a mucous membrane. Due to the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill of 2010, crude oil is still present in the sediments of the Gulf of Mexico. Since stingrays rely on their sense of smell for survival, this crude oil could impact fitness and even lead to an early death. Researchers are concerned that deep sea benthic species, like skates, will be even more vulnerable than stingrays because they are exposed to higher concentrations of crude oil and are likely to metabolize toxins more slowly. Via EurekAlert!

Water Quality and Supply

Freshwater mussels can be used as “chemical recorders” tracking pollutants in waterways. According to a study conducted by researchers at Penn State and Union College, the shells of certain freshwater mussels contain high amounts of strontium, which is an element linked with oil and gas waste water caused by fracking wastewater disposal sites. Freshwater mussels filter water and their shells record the water quality over time. This could be a solution for tracking freshwater pollution, which is a major concern for both ecological and human health. Via

As the need for drinking water increases, pressure on wastewater treatment systems will increase too. They rely on membranes that allow the penetration of water molecules but not pollutants. Ceramic membranes tend to be expensive, and polymeric membranes are short lived and don’t work under extreme conditions. The European Union’s REMEB project has developed a more affordable but equally effective ceramic membrane. Made from waste products from the ceramic, marble and olive oil industries, this system is being tested in Spain, Italy and Turkey. Via

Several small start-ups around the world are working to prevent microplastics and microfibres out of the water system. One company designed Cora Ball, a gadget for capturing microfibres that come off clothes in the wash. It imitates the structure of coral in the ocean and captures between a quarter and a third of microfibres in every wash. The company claims that if 10% of US households used Cora Ball it would keep the equivalent of 30 million water bottles from washing into public waterways every year. Via BBC

Government Initiatives

B.C. environment minister George Heyman announced changes to the environmental assessment rules in an attempt to make the process less contentious and improve timelines. The proposed legislation includes a detailed government assessment early on which will provide more information from the start on costs and potential hurdles. For the first time, the legislation would explicitly require consultation with First Nations at all stages, along with new dispute resolution processes. Via Global News

Energy and Power

Wastewater containing organic materials is a large source of carbon emissions, but thanks to new research using purple photosynthetic bacteria, this carbon could be harvested and turned into hydrogen gas, which can then be used as fuel! When supplied with an electric current, the bacteria’s metabolism is optimized, recovering almost 100% of the carbon found in organic waste. This could be a cost-effective and environmentally friendly method for energy production. Via Science Daily

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers predict that over the next decade, Florida may increase its solar power capacity to 30% of the state’s electricity due to the technology’s decreasing costs. Of course meeting this prediction depends on other market conditions and has its own set of challenges, but the NREL sees plenty of potential for the sunshine state to harness more solar energy. Via Scientific American


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