Ocean Wise combs the headlines to bring you the most interesting ocean news. This week find out what a seahorse hotel is, how cetaceans have evolved over time, new science on combating water scarcity — and so much more. Read on!

Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Cold-water fish like salmon and trout may be able to survive slight increases in water temperature caused by climate change, so long as there’s enough food. Researchers studying juvenile Coho salmon found that food availability, not water temperature, is the strongest predictor of salmon growth. Diverse ecosystems with plenty of aquatic invertebrates could therefore help salmon compensate for gradual increases in water temperature, demonstrating that productive habitats are of high conservation value for salmon and other cold-water species. Via Phys.org

The recently unearthed fossil of Aegicetus gehennae, found in the Wadi Al-Hitan desert, has shed more light on the evolution of cetaceans. The ancestors of modern-day whales were able to walk on land, but at some point made the transition to spending all of their time in the water. This newly discovered fossil suggests an early stage of this transition; the hips appear to have detached from the spine, which means that this species would have had difficulty bearing its weight on land but would have had the flexibility to swim more effectively with their tails. The fossil was dated to 39 million years ago, helping paleontologists narrow their estimates as to when cetaceans underwent this transition. Via SmithsonianMag

Water Quality and Supply

In an effort to combat water scarcity, researchers are testing a new type of desalination membrane called a metal-organic framework (MOF). Desalination, the process by which seawater is made safe to drink, can be inefficient and expensive. However, the MOF’s innovative structure could increase the efficiency of water desalination. Its thin and highly porous membrane can desalinate water faster and more effectively than previous methods, demonstrating that the process may be a viable method of providing safe drinking water for water-scarce communities. Via Phys.org

A new method of studying microplastics has shown that there may be a million times more pieces of plastic in the ocean than previously estimated. Because traditional sampling methods use mesh nets that allow the smallest microplastics to escape, researchers decided to collect water samples from the stomachs of salps. The gut contents of these gelatinous marine invertebrates, which suck in water as they propel themselves around the ocean, have revealed that marine plastics are far more abundant than previously thought. Via Phys.org

Government Initiatives

SEALIFE Sydney Aquarium is starting a breeding and conservation program for White’s seahorse, also called the Sydney seahorse. The species has been in decline because of coral habitat loss, and is now listed as endangered. Conservationists have collected breeding pairs from Sydney harbor and their facilities will accommodate juveniles from their birth until they are released. In addition, the program will include the use of “seahorse hotels,” wire cage-like structure that attract sponges, corals and algae that make a wonderful home for seahorses. Via Phys.org

The City of Toronto is investing $3 billion in the Don River & Central Waterfront project in order to improve water quality across the city. Construction on the Coxwell Bypass Tunnel, which will capture and transport sewer outflows to a water treatment plant, is set to begin next year. At the treatment plant, rain and wastewater will be decontaminated before being released into Lake Ontario. This project is the first of five connected projects seeking to improve Toronto’s overall water quality. Via Water Canada

Energy and Power

An international research team has found a new way to scrub carbon dioxide from smokestack emissions – a process complicated by the presence of steam. Metal organic frameworks (MOFs), composed of nanomaterials, can remove CO2 molecules as they exit the smokestack. The team employed them to identify different types of CO2 binding sites that could still be selected in the presence of water. The resulting MOFs were tested and, in the presence of water, could remove CO2 more effectively than other materials. Further research is needed to scale up the MOFs and make them usable for industry. Via Science Daily

Researchers from Australian universities have found a less expensive way to capture hydrogen from water. The system uses a nickel-iron electrode on a nanoscale interface. Nickel and iron are poor catalysts for water splitting, but using them on the nanoscale makes the difference. Since nickel and iron are much more abundant than more high performing metals like platinum and iridium, this approach to water splitting could lower the cost of fuel cells. Via Phys.org

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