Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Sea anemones and corals are ingesting the microplastics that pollute the world’s oceans. Researchers at Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology are feeding microplastics to sea anemones in the lab. Rather than using plastic beads, the researchers used plastic microfibers, a common form of plastic pollution. The anemones consumed the plastic, and at higher rates when food (brine shrimp) was served with the nylon or polyester fibers. The anemones expelled all the plastic, but it took longer for bleached anemones to do so. That means in ocean environments that constantly contain microfibers, sea anemones – especially bleached sea anemones – will often contain some amount of microfibers. Via

Researchers at UZH have investigated how heat waves have affected survival and reproduction of dolphins. It has been found that an unprecedented marine heat wave had long-lasting negative impacts on the dolphin population in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Climate change and marine heatwaves may have more far-reaching consequences for not only lower levels of the food chain but also for animals at the top. Their analyses revealed that the dolphins’ survival rate had fallen by 12 percent following the heatwave of 2011. Moreover, female dolphins were giving birth to fewer calves – a phenomenon that lasted at least until 2017. Via EurekAlert!

Water Quality and Supply

The Amazon basin’s carbon cycles affect the entire planet, but we know very little about the flows of biomass through the Amazon’s aquatic food chain. Previous studies have analyzed the classic aquatic food chain of phytoplankton, zooplankton, predators and decomposers. This study, with support of the São Paulo Research Foundation, has included all a floodplain lakes’ microorganisms – invertebrates, unicellular predators, bacteria, and even viruses. Researchers found ten times the circulating carbon predicted by a classical food web. Rather than sinking into the sediments, the carbon is processed by the microbial community and released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane. Via

Coral reefs are in serious decline worldwide, so the detection of sunscreen active ingredients (UV-filters) in the aquatic environment has raised concerns. To address limited information on this issue, scientists have recently completed the first comprehensive assessment of UV-filters in seawater, sediment and coral tissue around the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Fortunately, the impacts of the UV-filters to intact corals are thought to occur at much higher concentrations than levels found in this study. This information will provide a valuable baseline for future risk assessments. Via EurekAlert!

Government Initiatives

A multi-institutional team of researchers have used a comprehensive simulation 200 years into the future to assess the implications of reintroducing bull trout to Washington State. Recently listed as an endangered species due to declining population, bull trout suffers from habitat fragmentation from multiple dams and culverts restricting water flow in rivers and streams. The software, CDMetaPOP, projected that the success of the reintroduction will depend on habitat connectivity and availability rather than genetic diversity. Via EurekAlert!

Key West, a city in Florida State, has recently announced the ban of two sunscreen chemicals that scientists believe are destroying the only living coral reef in North America. This is following from last year when Hawaii became the first state to ban these same chemicals in order to reduce chemical pollution. This ban will prevent between 4000 and 6000 tons of sunscreens washing off into reef areas each year. In contrast, scientists and lobbyists supporting the multibillion-dollar sunscreen industries, urge the city to halt the proposal because they encourage the city to conduct more research to better understand the real causes of coral reef death, suggesting climate change and overfishing are bigger threats. However, city council commissioners are strongly supportive of the proposal and believe the research documenting the toxicity of these chemicals are very extensive. The new law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. Via Miami Herald

Energy and Power

A joint collaboration between scientists and engineers from the University of Oklahoma and University of Tulsa have discovered how water can be used to upgrade renewable fuels in the chemical production of energy. Other than water normally acting as an environmental friendly solvent, scientists discovered for the first time how water can accelerate the rate of chemical reactions producing energy. Their research involves using water as a solvent in the production of biomass-derived, renewable chemical furfural. An important compound in the production of fuels and various chemicals, furfural’s hydrogenation speed is tripled and energy requirement is lowered when water molecules are integrated in the process. The oxygenated molecule helps the process along from the liquid phase instead of the catalyst surface. A detailed description of this mechanism has been published in Nature, world’s leading multidisciplinary science journal, and the researchers received a $650,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Via EurekAlert!

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