Ecosystems and Biodiversity

According to a study from the University of Copenhagen, narwhals spend over half their time diving to find food but are also able to last up to three days without a meal. The researchers analyzed 83 days of data from a male narwhal in the arctic waters east of Greenland by recording sudden drops in the whale’s stomach temperature – indication that the whale has fed on cold arctic prey. They found that swimming could be divided into near surface swimming, shallow foraging dives, and deeper dives for prey. This study is the first step towards understanding more about these creatures, which could ultimately help design conservation strategies as the climate changes. Via

Sea otters are well known for being the only marine mammals to use stone tools, and new research has been able to combine this with archaeological evidence to shed light on historic sea otter range. After observing sea otters use stationary rocks as anvils to break open mussels shells, researchers were able to distinguish a consistent damage pattern that is unique to shells left by sea otters. Moreover, they were able to find these otter-broken mussel shells in the shell middens surrounding rock anvils. This research can help archaeologists distinguish between otter and human shell remains, as well as tell us where otters used to be, and about the evolution of tool use in otters. Via

Water Quality and Supply

Access to clean water is a big challenge for many, including those in disaster situations and in developing or poverty-stricken areas. A breakthrough by engineers at The University of Texas at Austin allows use of solar power to capture moisture from the air and return it as clean water. The technology uses hydrogels, designed to be “super sponges” that can retain large amounts of water and work in humid and dry weather conditions. This new system could potentially lead to small, inexpensive and portable filtration systems. Via EurekAlert!

Calculating how quickly gases move between water and the atmosphere is important to understanding planetary nutrient cycling. New research has shown that equations had been underestimating the speed of gas exchange between mountain streams and the atmosphere by a factor of 100 (on average). With more than 30% of the planet covered by mountains, this discovery has major implications for biogeochemical modeling, such as figuring out how much CO2 is released from alpine streams globally. Via EurekAlert!

Government Initiatives

A study by McGill University has shown that the growing popularity of marine shipping will increase invasion by non-endemic species by 3 to 20 times in the next 30 years. Various species hitchhike from one ocean to the next by attaching themselves on the hulls and sneaking in the ballast tanks when ships take on or discharge water to keep their balance. The Ballast Water Management Convention, a major policy initiative, aims to control and reduce invasion by regulating ballast exchange. Via EurekAlert!

Scientists from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science and Upwell Turtles have generated a new model that can predict the whereabouts of Eastern Pacific leatherback turtles monthly. These turtles have declined by 98% since the 1980s in part due to fisheries catching them accidentally. This new information will be provided to the public and, more specifically, to countries who are connected to Eastern Pacific Leatherbacks in an effort to reduce turtle bycatch. This is the first part of a two part project that aims to improve the management of this keystone species. Via Science Daily

Energy and Power

In many parts of developing countries, the only electricity available comes from off-grid sources, like solar panels. These solar panels are usually on fixed frames, and only ideally oriented towards the sun for a short period of each day. A team of engineers has found a low-tech, inexpensive way to make solar panels rotate towards the sun, and take in more energy. It involves hanging weights, one of which is a bucket of water with a controlled leak. The change of weight makes the frame rotate over the course of the day, following the sun. This rotating frame is 30% more effective and 10% less expensive than a typical frame. Via Techxplore

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has developed an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to help map phytoplankton abundance. Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food chain, and changes to their abundance can cause changes higher trophic levels. Unfortunately, scientists have a tough time counting plankton both because they are microscopic and they tend to collect in patches. The specialized AUV can choose its own routes within a given area to make a 3D map of phytoplankton patches. Via


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