• Project Seahorse: Amanda Vincent has made it her life’s work to protect seahorses and their ecosystems.
  • Bycatch Blues: Why bottom-trawling is such a devastating fishing practice.

Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Antarctic waters near the South Pole are regularly below zero degrees Celsius, so the fish that live there need adaptations to prevent their cells, fluids, and eggs from freezing. Researchers from the United States and Korea have identified the genes for those adaptations in the Antarctic blackfin icefish. The fish do without red blood cells, which would burst when ice crystals form, and instead have specialized proteins which prevent embryos from freezing. They also have lower bone density in place of swim bladders. These changes were selected about 14 million years ago, when Antarctic waters cooled below zero and opened up a new niche. Some icefish adaptations are biomedically interesting because they produce similar phenotypes to human ailments, including anemia and osteoporosis. Via EurekAlert!

Renowned as the Earth’s largest mammal, it turns out that blue whales are also the “elephants of the sea” when it comes to memory. Researchers studying the migratory patterns of blue whales along the West Coast of the Americas wondered how the whales knew where to find food. By comparing the migratory route against actual prey density versus historical averages, scientists found that the historical averages better predicted the whales’ migration patterns. This suggests that the cetaceans are relying on memory, rather than immediate environmental cues, to find the best feeding sites. Via Phys.org

Water Quality and Supply

Since the 1980s, the emergence of “brown tides” of algae off Long Island have demolished what was once a successful shellfish industry, deterred tourists, and suffocated native seagrass. To understand this phenomenon, researchers have traditionally examined algae prevalence and water chemistry; this research has suggested that nitrogen drove the algal blooms. But a newer genetic approach focusing on which genes are active during algal blooms points to phosphorus as the limiting factor, and has revealed the algae’s unique ability to metabolize organic forms of nitrogen and phosphorus. Via Phys.org

Mercury is produced by forest fires and various human activities, and enters the food chain as toxic methylmercury. A study from the US Department of Energy examined nearshore sediments from the St. Louis River estuary on Lake Superior, where shipping and industry have left a history of mercury contamination. They found a greater potential for methylmercury production where there is more decomposing matter and more fermenting microbes, especially clostridia species. Fermenting microbes have not historically been considered as drivers of mercury methylation. Hopefully, the results will inform systems for monitoring methylmercury in estuaries. Via Phys.org

Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus have reported on a surprising new source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Water from Okanagan Lake contains bicarbonates, and some of the CO2 released after crop irrigation with lake water comes from these natural salts. Understanding the processes that drive release of CO2 is important, especially for arid regions where the main source of irrigation is from an alkaline lake. Via EurekAlert!

Government Initiatives

A new computer model based on the macro-ecological theory on the arrangement of life has the unprecedented ability to predict changes in marine biological systems on a global scale. The program simulates colony-forming pseudo-species with a tendency to avoid regions outside their thermal comfort zone and predicts the force and range of natural climatic changes by watching their movements. The model revealed a sharp rise in climate surprises (sudden and unexpected biological shifts) which could cause a redistribution of marine communities. Via Phys.org

Energy and Power

In view of Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Japan is upgrading its weather warning systems to defend the athletes and Olympic-enthusiasts against the country’s torrential downpours. Radio waves used to estimate the volume of water vapor will be combined with a recently developed, high-tech radar capable of fully mapping a cloud in as little as 30 seconds. The new system is expected to forecast the infamous guerilla rainstorms 30 minutes in advance. Via Techxplore

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