Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) sought to find what makes a jellyfish become a jellyfish. Jellyfish spend the early part of their life cycle as stationary polyps much like their relatives, sea anemones and coral. The former, however, will develop into the familiar floating medusa stage. The researchers were able to identify the genes responsible for allowing jellyfish to graduate from polyp to medusa. The researchers sequenced the genomes of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), and the giant box jellyfish (Morbakka virulenta) then compared them to the genomes of corals and sea anemones. They discovered 100 species-specific genes in the jellyfish that only activated in their medusa stage; these genes were absent in the coral and sea anemones. Via Phys.org

Northern Atlantic right whales are one of the world’s most endangered whale species due to whaling for their high blubber content. With only about 450 thought to remain, it is illegal to come within 457 meters (500 yards) of these whales without a Federal Research Permit. This year, the whales seem to be experiencing a mini baby boom off the US state of Massachusetts as researchers have seen three North Atlantic right whale mother and calf pairs in Cape Cod bay. These whales give birth off Georgia and Florida in the winter before moving up the US east coast in the spring, and The Scientist magazine reports that seven calves have been spotted off Florida so far. Via BBC

Sea spiders or pycnogonida, are marine arthropods which in most places are small enough to fit on the tip of your pinkie. However, due to polar gigantism, species in cold waters can reach significantly larger sizes. In Antarctica, with oxygen and food rich waters, some can reach leg spans of up to 2 feet! With larger animals having higher oxygen requirements, researchers were concerned that with warming climates these unique animals could be threatened. Sea spiders lack both lungs and gills, but get oxygen by allowing water to pass through pores of their shell-like skin, called the cuticle. Researchers at the University of Hawaii have found that these giant sea spiders might fare better than originally expected by making themselves more porous under higher oxygen demands. Now, they still aren’t sure how holey the cuticle can get before it becomes structurally unsound or how the sea spiders are able to cope with gradual warming over extended periods of time, but it does give hope for these interesting creatures with warming climates. Via The New York Times

Water Quality and Supply

Researchers at the UK’s Plymouth Marine Laboratory are working out how to track marine plastics from space. Most individual plastic pieces are far too small to be seen with a satellite, but plastics tend to aggregate, and the light reflected by a cluster of plastics can be seen from space. Plastic fragments often become mingled with organic material, but since plastics and plant matter reflect light at different wavelengths, the team can estimate what percentage of the debris cluster is plastic. If the monitoring system proves reliable, automation will be needed to use it on a large scale. Via BBC News

You may have heard of microplastics, tiny plastic particles, entering and affecting our water ways but new research has found these small particles are even being found raining from the sky in pristine mountain regions. The study was the first of its kind and the results showed that in the Pyrenees Mountains in France there was a daily rate of 365 microplastic particles per square meter being deposited from rain. Previous studies have looked at plastic particles in the air within cities and have also found plastic particles floating in the air inside buildings, too small for the human eye to see. It’s not surprising, given that in 2015 alone about 420 million tons of plastic were produced, but it still prompts the need for more research on how microplastics are affecting environmental and human health. Despite the need for more research to know how these plastics in our water sources are affecting us, it is evident that there is a need to reduce our single-use plastic consumption. Via National Geographic

Government Initiatives

The Seychelles president joined an expedition by Nekton Mission exploring the Ocean’s depths around the Seychelles to call for better protection for the world’s seas. In a broadcast made 124m below sea level, Danny Faure said that a healthy ocean was “crucial for the survival of humanity”. In February 2018, the Seychelles protected 210,000 sq km of ocean in exchange for getting some of its national debt paid off. As a small island nation vulnerable to sea level rising caused by climate change, the goal of this mission is to gain public support for the country to protect 30% of its national waters by 2020. Via BBC

 

Energy and Power

Spider webs can catch dew, holding water that came from the air; so engineers and mathematicians at UCLA wondered if they could create something similar. The team made an array of cotton strings, arranged vertically, so that condensed droplets might run down them into a container. The array was found to be three times more efficient than existing technologies used for capturing water vapor. This method might be used for capturing water from the air, as well as from the cooling towers in power plants and industrial facilities. Via Techxplore

The ancient technology of boiling water has implications for the efficiency of modern electronics, including nuclear plants and computer chips. Physicists at MIT have been studying the phenomenon of Critical Heat Flux (CHF), where a layer of water vapour blocks a heating element from dissipating heat into the liquid meant to cool it. These researchers have revealed a fuller picture of the causes of CHF by studying the microscopic texture of heated surfaces and using models originally meant to predict the spread of disease and traffic flow patterns. The authors note that this new understanding may allow nuclear plants to run at higher temperatures, producing more energy using the same fuel. Via Phys.org

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