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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Researchers Identify Bacteria and Viruses Ejected from the Ocean by Aerosols from Breaking Waves

Researchers Identify Bacteria and Viruses Ejected from the Ocean by Aerosols from Breaking Waves | Amazing Science |

Certain types of bacteria and viruses are readily ejected into the atmosphere when waves break while other taxa are less likely to be transported by sea spray into the air, researchers reported May 22, 2018.


An interdisciplinary team of scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of California San Diego, and the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) reached this conclusion after replicating a phytoplankton bloom in a unique ocean-atmosphere wave facility developed by scientists in the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE) on the Scripps campus. They found that bacteria and viruses coated by waxy substances or lipids appear in greater quantity and are enriched in sea spray aerosols. According to researchers, the results suggest that the water-repellent properties of the surfaces of these microbes are what make them more likely to be cast out of the ocean as waves break at the sea surface.


The team in the National Science Foundation-funded study included chemists, oceanographers, microbiologists, geneticists, and pediatric medicine specialists who are attempting to understand how far potentially infectious bacteria and viruses can travel and if those that pose the greatest risks to public health are among those most likely to escape the ocean. In previous studies, individual members of the team have characterized sea spray aerosols, which form when waves break and bubbles burst at the ocean surface.


“Some of the bacteria we detected have been found on skin as well as in your gut, so they could be affecting your health—at this point, no one really knows the health effects of breathing in ocean microbes,” said Kim Prather, who has a joint appointment at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.


“We are trying to understand sources of environmental microbes using the unique ocean-atmosphere facilities we have developed here at Scripps. By breaking waves in fresh seawater in an isolated wave channel, UC San Diego is the only place in the world that can directly measure the microbes transferred from the ocean to the atmosphere.”  


Prather’s research group has previously shown how microbes have a nearly worldwide reach, able to travel tens of thousands of kilometers on the wind, sometimes re-entering the ocean and re-emerging from it along the journey. As they do, their chemical attributes, their ability to infect, and their effects on cloud formation and precipitation can evolve.


“In CAICE, we realized that many of the chemical components found in the aerosols are derived from living microorganisms in the ocean, so one of our first goals was to find out which ones are present in the water and then understand which of them are able to hitch a ride on the aerosol particles,” said Michael Burkart, a researcher at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UC San Diego.


The study tapped into techniques developed in the Earth Microbiome Project, which was founded by co-author Rob Knight and others in 2010 to sample as many microbial communities as possible to understand the ecology of microbes and their interactions with humans.

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The Biomass Distribution on Earth - Plants are the Winners

The Biomass Distribution on Earth - Plants are the Winners | Amazing Science |

The composition of the biosphere is a fundamental question in biology, yet a global quantitative account of the biomass of each taxon is still lacking. A research group now assembled a census of the biomass of all kingdoms of life. This analysis provides a holistic view of the composition of the biosphere and allows to observe broad patterns over taxonomic categories, geographic locations, and trophic modes.

A census of the biomass on Earth is key for understanding the structure and dynamics of the biosphere. However, a global, quantitative view of how the biomass of different taxa compare with one another is still lacking. This recent study assembled the overall biomass composition of the biosphere, establishing a census of the ≈550 gigatons of carbon (Gt C) of biomass distributed among all of the kingdoms of life. The research found that the kingdoms of life concentrate at different locations on the planet; plants (≈450 Gt C, the dominant kingdom) are primarily terrestrial, whereas animals (≈2 Gt C) are mainly marine, and bacteria (≈70 Gt C) and archaea (≈7 Gt C) are predominantly located in deep subsurface environments. The group could show that terrestrial biomass is about two orders of magnitude higher than marine biomass and estimate a total of ≈6 Gt C of marine biota, doubling the previous estimated quantity. This analysis reveals that the global marine biomass pyramid contains more consumers than producers, thus increasing the scope of previous observations on inverse food pyramids. Finally, the researchers were able to highlight that the mass of humans is an order of magnitude higher than that of all wild mammals combined and report the historical impact of humanity on the global biomass of prominent taxa, including mammals, fish, and plants.

Dr. Stefan Gruenwald's insight:

Plants are the "real" life forms on this Earth, harvesting sunlight and converting it to storable chemical energy and biomass. Animals can be viewed as parasites to plants.

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Water filter inspired by Alan Turing removes salt more efficiently and 3 times faster

Water filter inspired by Alan Turing removes salt more efficiently and 3 times faster | Amazing Science |

Researchers in China have developed a filter that removes salt from water up to three times as fast as conventional filters. The membrane has a unique nanostructure of tubular strands, inspired by the mathematical-biology work of codebreaker Alan Turing.


The filter is the most finely constructed example of the mathematician’s ‘Turing structures’ yet, and their first practical application, say researchers. “These 3D structures are quite extraordinary,” says Patrick Müller, a systems biologist at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory in Tübingen, Germany. The filter’s tubular strands, just tens of nanometers in diameter, would be impossible to produce by other methods, such as 3D printing, he says. The work is published on 3 May in Science1.


British mathematician Alan Turing is best known for his code-breaking exploits for the UK government during the Second World War, and as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. But he also produced a seminal work2 in the then-nascent field of mathematical biology in 1952, just two years before his death. In it, he proposed a mathematical model for a process by which the cells of an embryo might begin to form structures — limbs, bones and organs. In this process, two substances continuously react with each other, but diffuse through their container at very different rates. The quicker-diffusing reactant — called the inhibitor — pushes back against the slower one, called the activator, effectively corralling the resulting product into a pattern of spots or stripes. (The terminology was coined by biologists Hans Meinhardt and Alfred Gierer, who independently formulated an equivalent theory in 1972.)

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Analysis: Why scientists think 100% of global warming is due to humans

Analysis: Why scientists think 100% of global warming is due to humans | Amazing Science |

In its 2013 fifth assessment report, the IPCC stated in its summary for policymakers that it is “extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature” from 1951 to 2010 was caused by human activity. By “extremely likely”, it meant that there was between a 95% and 100% probability that more than half of modern warming was due to humans.


This somewhat convoluted statement has been often misinterpreted as implying that the human responsibility for modern warming lies somewhere between 50% and 100%. In fact, as NASA’s Dr Gavin Schmidt has pointed out, the IPCC’s implied best guess was that humans were responsible for around 110% of observed warming (ranging from 72% to 146%), with natural factors in isolation leading to a slight cooling over the past 50 years.


Similarly, the recent US fourth national climate assessment found that between 93% to 123% of observed 1951-2010 warming was due to human activities.


These conclusions have led to some confusion as to how more than 100% of observed warming could be attributable to human activity. A human contribution of greater than 100% is possible because natural climate change associated with volcanoes and solar activity would most likely have resulted in a slight cooling over the past 50 years, offsetting some of the warming associated with human activities.

Saberes Sin Fronteras OVS's curator insight, April 25, 4:28 PM

Como formuló Macron en su visita a Washington, NO HAY un segundo planeta tierra (al menos en bastantes años) 

Carlos Garcia Pando's comment, April 26, 6:20 AM
Yes, Nature's trend was cooling. Also, a stable system reacts with a behaviour to oppose the cause of instability, that is, cooling. But still, we are making sure we heat up the oven to burn ourselves sooner than expected.
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Characterization and engineering of a plastic-degrading aromatic polyesterase

Characterization and engineering of a plastic-degrading aromatic polyesterase | Amazing Science |

Synthetic polymers are ubiquitous in the modern world but pose a global environmental problem. While plastics such as poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) are highly versatile, their resistance to natural degradation presents a serious, growing risk to fauna and flora, particularly in marine environments. Here, scientists have now characterized the 3D structure of a newly discovered enzyme that can digest highly crystalline PET, the primary material used in the manufacture of single-use plastic beverage bottles, in some clothing, and in carpets. They engineered this enzyme for improved PET degradation capacity and further demonstrate that it can also degrade an important PET replacement, polyethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate, providing new opportunities for bio-based plastics recycling.

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Viruses - lots of them - are falling from the sky

Viruses - lots of them - are falling from the sky | Amazing Science |

An astonishing number of viruses are circulating around the Earth's atmosphere -- and falling from it -- according to new research from scientists in Canada, Spain and the U.S.


The study marks the first time scientists have quantified the viruses being swept up from the Earth's surface into the free troposphere, that layer of atmosphere beyond Earth's weather systems but below the stratosphere where jet airplanes fly. The viruses can be carried thousands of kilometers there before being deposited back onto the Earth's surface.


"Every day, more than 800 million viruses are deposited per square metre above the planetary boundary layer -- that's 25 viruses for each person in Canada," said University of British Columbia virologist Curtis Suttle, one of the senior authors of a paper in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal that outlines the findings.


"Roughly 20 years ago we began finding genetically similar viruses occurring in very different environments around the globe," says Suttle. "This preponderance of long-residence viruses traveling the atmosphere likely explains why -- it's quite conceivable to have a virus swept up into the atmosphere on one continent and deposited on another."


Bacteria and viruses are swept up in the atmosphere in small particles from soil-dust and sea spray. Suttle and colleagues at the University of Granada and San Diego State University wanted to know how much of that material is carried up above the atmospheric boundary layer above 2,500 to 3,000 meters. At that altitude, particles are subject to long-range transport unlike particles lower in the atmosphere.


Using platform sites high in Spain's Sierra Nevada Mountains, the researchers found billions of viruses and tens of millions of bacteria are being deposited per square meter per day. The deposition rates for viruses were nine to 461 times greater than the rates for bacteria.

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Crisis in Cape Town: 3 months until the taps run dry

Crisis in Cape Town: 3 months until the taps run dry | Amazing Science |
After almost three years of record-breaking drought, Cape Town is dealing with a scenario that a major developed city has never faced in the 21st century. In May, the taps could run dry, leaving Capetonians without reliable access to water.


Just a few years ago Cape Town’s water supply seemed secure. Access to water in South Africa’s largest city was taken for granted, and affluent residents prided themselves on well-kept lawns and backyard pools. Now, after almost three years of record-breaking drought, Cape Town is dealing with a scenario that a major developed city has never faced in the 21st century. In May, the taps could run dry, leaving Capetonians without reliable access to water.


Cape Town has always depended on dams and reservoirs to ensure a steady supply of water, but in recent decades infrastructure projects failed to keep up with population growth. In just over 20 years, Cape Town’s population grew by around 80 per cent, from 2.4 million in 1995 to 4.3 million in 2018. During the same time period dam storage increased by only 15 per cent. Combined with the population boom, erratic weather and a persistent drought have created a severe crisis.


Even with water restrictions in place, experts have said that 11 May will be “Day Zero”. This is the official date when reservoir capacity will reach 13.5 per cent and the city will no longer be able to provide water to its residents. City officials, while doing all they can to avert disaster, are reckoning with the fact that the current crisis isn’t a short-term problem. Less frequent rainfall and a changing climate means that drier conditions are likely to become the new normal.

Via Kathy Bosiak
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The window for saving the world's coral reefs is rapidly closing

The window for saving the world's coral reefs is rapidly closing | Amazing Science |

The world’s reefs are under siege from global warming, according to a novel study published today in the prestigious journal Science.

For the first time, an international team of researchers - including Lancaster University - has measured the escalating rate of coral bleaching at locations throughout the tropics over the past four decades. The study documents a dramatic shortening of the gap between pairs of bleaching events, threatening the future existence of these iconic ecosystems and the livelihoods of many millions of people.


"The time between bleaching events at each location has diminished five-fold in the past 3-4 decades, from once every 25-30 years in the early 1980s to an average of just once every six years since 2010," says lead author Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE).


"Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of, even during strong El Niño conditions, but now repeated bouts of regional-scale bleaching and mass mortality of corals has become the new normal around the world as temperatures continue to rise."


The study establishes a transition from a period before the 1980s when bleaching only occurred locally, to an intermediate stage in the 1980s and 1990s when mass bleaching was first recorded during warmer than average El Niño conditions, and finally to the current era when climate-driven bleaching is now occurring throughout ENSO cycles.


The researchers show that tropical sea temperatures are warmer today during cooler than average La Niña conditions than they were 40 years ago during El Niño periods. “Coral bleaching is a stress response caused by exposure of coral reefs to elevated ocean temperatures. When bleaching is severe and prolonged, many of the corals die. It takes at least a decade to replace even the fastest-growing species," explained co-author Professor Nick Graham of Lancaster University.

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Robot swarms to map the seafloor with high precision

Robot swarms to map the seafloor with high precision | Amazing Science |

It's one of those truisms that we know the shape of the surface of Mars and the Moon far better than we know our own planet. The reason for this is Earth's oceans: they cover 71% of the globe and are impenetrable to the satellite mapping techniques we use so capably on those other worlds.


The scientific community has set itself the ambitious goal of correcting this anomaly. The aim is to have no feature on the ocean floor larger than 100m unmapped by 2030. It's a huge task when you consider at the moment the vast majority of the water-covered parts of Earth are known to a resolution no better than about a kilometer.


Some big technological shifts will be required in the next 10 years to correct the picture. And that is really the raison d'être behind the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

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Scientists could find the smallest plastic pieces polluting the ocean with this new method

Scientists could find the smallest plastic pieces polluting the ocean with this new method | Amazing Science |

A new method has been developed that could help scientists identify the “lost 99 per cent” of microplastics in the world’s oceans. Microplastics are fragments of plastic measuring less than 5 millimeters. They mainly arise from large plastic objects, which accumulate in the oceans and slowly break down into smaller pieces. These tiny plastics are by far the most common type of marine pollution, but their size means most of them aren’t being taken into account when scientists attempt to analyze their prevalence. 


One study estimated that 99 per cent of plastic in the ocean remains unaccounted for. Now, scientists have used a fluorescent dye that specifically binds to plastic in order to accurately count the very smallest plastic fragments. They found many more microplastics than were previously estimated. 


“Using this method, a huge series of samples can be viewed and analyzed very quickly, to obtain large amounts of data on the quantities of small microplastics in seawater or, effectively, in any environmental sample,” said University of Warwick researcher Gabriel Erni-Cassola, lead author of the Environmental Science & Technology study.

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Just How Little Do We Know about the Ocean Floor?

Just How Little Do We Know about the Ocean Floor? | Amazing Science |
Less than 0.05 percent of the ocean floor has been mapped to a level of detail useful for detecting items such as airplane wreckage or the spires of undersea volcanic vents


Unlike mapping the land, we can’t measure the landscape of the sea floor directly from satellites using radar, because sea water blocks those radio waves. But satellites can use radar to measure the height of the sea’s surface very accurately. And if there are enough measurements to subtract the effects of waves and tides, satellites can actually measure bumps and dips in the sea surface that result from the underlying landscape of the ocean floor.


Where there’s a large underwater mountain or ridge, for example, the tiny local increase in gravity resulting from its mass pulls sea water into a slight bump above it. If instead there is an ocean trench, the weaker local gravity produces a comparative dip in the ocean surface.


Reading those bumps and dips in the sea’s surface is an astounding feat of precision measurement, involving lasers to track the trajectory of the measuring satellite and inevitably a lot of maths to process the data. The new map uses data from the Cryosat-2 and Jason-1 satellites and shows features not seen in earlier maps using data from older satellites. The previous global map of the ocean floor, created using the same techniques and published in 1997, had a resolution of about 20km.


So we do actually have a map of 100% of the ocean floor to a resolution of around 5km. From that, we can see the main features of its hidden landscape, such as the mid-ocean ridges and ocean trenches – and, in that sense, the ocean floor is certainly not “95% unexplored”. But that global map of the ocean floor is admittedly less detailed than maps of Mars, the Moon, or Venus, because of our planet’s watery veil.


NASA’s Magellan spacecraft mapped 98% of the surface of Venus to a resolution of around 100 meters. The entire Martian surface has also been mapped at that resolution and just over 60% of the Red Planet has now been mapped at around 20m resolution. Meanwhile, selenographers have mapped all of the lunar surface at around 100 meter resolution and now even at seven meter resolution.

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Researchers find the first methane-producing microbe that thrives in an oxygen-rich environment

Researchers find the first methane-producing microbe that thrives in an oxygen-rich environment | Amazing Science |

A study of a Lake Erie wetland suggests that scientists have vastly underestimated the number of places methane-producing microbes can survive—and, as a result, today’s global climate models may be misjudging the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere.


In the journal Nature Communications, researchers at The Ohio State University and their colleagues describe the discovery of the first known methane-producing microbe that is active in an oxygen-rich environment.


Oxygen is supposed to be toxic to such microbes, called methanogens, but the newly namedCandidatus Methanothrix paradoxum thrives in it. In fact, 80 percent of the methane in the wetland under study came from oxygenated soils. The microbe’s habitat extends from the deepest parts of a wetland, which are devoid of oxygen, all the way to surface soils.

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Anthropocene: Current climate change unparalleled over the last 100 million years

Anthropocene: Current climate change unparalleled over the last 100 million years | Amazing Science |
A team of researchers has discovered a flaw in the way past ocean temperatures have been estimated up to now. Their findings could mean that the current period of climate change is unparalleled over the last 100 million years.


According to the methodology widely used by the scientific community, the temperature of the ocean depths and that of the surface of the polar ocean 100 million years ago were around 15 degrees higher than current readings. This approach, however, is now being challenged: ocean temperatures may in fact have remained relatively stable throughout this period, which raises serious concerns about current levels of climate change. These are the conclusions of a study conducted by a team of French researchers from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Sorbonne University and the University of Strasbourg, and Swiss researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Lausanne. The study has just been published in Nature Communications.


"If we are right, our study challenges decades of paleoclimate research," says Anders Meibom, the head of EPFL's Laboratory for Biological Geochemistry and a professor at the University of Lausanne. Meibom is categorical: "Oceans cover 70% of our planet. They play a key role in Earth's climate. Knowing the extent to which their temperatures have varied over geological time is crucial if we are to gain a fuller understanding of how they behave and to predict the consequences of current climate change more accurately."


How could the existing methodology be so flawed? The study's authors believe that the influence of certain processes was overlooked. For over 50 years, the scientific community based its estimates on what they learned from foraminifera, which are the fossils of tiny marine organisms found in sediment cores taken from the ocean floor. The foraminifera form calcareous shells called tests in which the content of oxygen-18 depends on the temperature of the water in which they live. Changes in the ocean's temperature over time were therefore calculated on the basis of the oxygen-18 content of the fossil foraminifera tests found in the sediment. According to these measurements, the ocean's temperature has fallen by 15 degrees over the past 100 million years.

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Plastic bag-swallowing sperm whales – victims of our remorseless progress

Plastic bag-swallowing sperm whales – victims of our remorseless progress | Amazing Science |

Plastic bags have been blamed for the deaths of sperm whales in the Mediterranean. The Athens-based Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute found that more than a third of the sperm whales found dead in Greek waters had stomachs blocked by plastic waste. But this comes as no surprise to whale watchers.


In a plangent 2011 report by same researchers on a mass sperm-whale stranding, a combination of factors – noise from naval exercises, dehydration and stress that caused toxic chemicals and heavy metals to be released from the whales’ body fat – was found to have caused them to beach. The scene of the dying whales moved the scientists to unusually emotive language as they recorded finding them “agonizing on the shore”.


Postmortems of some of the 29 sperm whales that stranded around the North Sea coasts in January 2016 found plastic in their stomachs – including large pieces from cars. But many other factors come into play. Another recent report indicated that intense solar activity in the winter of 2016 may have interfered with the whales’ navigational systems, which rely on electromagnetic pathways on the Earth’s surface. The fact that the same activity caused a spectacular display of northern lights only seemed to echo the sense of the deaths of these huge, sentient and social creatures as omens of the fallout from our disruption of the natural world.


That Mediterranean whales are swallowing hundreds of plastic bags speaks to a terrible disconnect in the narrative of human and natural history. In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, sperm whales were hunted for their oil, which played a key role in the industrial revolution, for light and lubrication. Even as late as the 1980s, sperm whales were being killed in their hundreds off the Azores in the mid-Atlantic. But by that time, no one had a use for their oil, and their bones were ground up for use as plant fertilizer. It seems ironic that some of the plastic ingested by the sperm whales of the Mediterranean has come from intensive fruit and vegetable production.


Via Grant W. Graves
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This Nuclear Explosion Simulator Shows The Disaster Caused If Russia Dropped Another Tsar Bomb

This Nuclear Explosion Simulator Shows The Disaster Caused If Russia Dropped Another Tsar Bomb | Amazing Science |

There's a new nuclear simulator on the internet, and it's here to emphasize just how awful a 50,000KT blast would be.


For years, one of the more perversely interesting things on the internet has been Alex Wellerstein's NUKEMAP, which — true to its name — shows you the estimated damage if you dropped a nuclear weapon anywhere in the world. Now the Outrider Foundation has released its own, rather more elegant version, and we're back to blowing up our backyards. 


Outrider's simulator lets you enter any location and select from a number of bomb strengths, from the 15KT Little Boy (the first nuke used in war) to the 50,000KT Tsar Bomba, which Russia tested in 1961. The simulator estimates the number of casualties and describes what would happen within the various reaches of the blast (radiation, shock wave, etc). To illustrate, we dropped a 300KT W-87, which is a current part of the US nuclear arsenal. And while much of Brooklyn is destroyed, the damage stretches into lower Manhattan and across to New Jersey as well.


So that brings us to Tsar Bomba. If the USSR were to build another Tsar Bomba and detonated the 50,000KT behemoth over the Digg offices in lower Manhattan, how bad would that be? Reader, it would be extremely bad. The simulator estimates that Tsar Bomba would kill over 7.5 million people if it were detonated in an air burst over lower Manhattan, with the heat wave reaching well into New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island.


You can play with the simulator here and pray that this remains a thought experiment forever.

Via Patrice H.
Patrice H.'s curator insight, March 30, 11:27 PM
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Supposedly extinct kangaroo rat resurfaces after 30 years

Supposedly extinct kangaroo rat resurfaces after 30 years | Amazing Science |

Mexican mammal may have staged its comeback thanks to dwindling agriculture.


The last time anyone saw the San Quintin kangaroo rat was more than 30 years ago, in the arid scrublands of Baja California in Mexico. Mexican authorities declared the small mammal critically endangered, and possibly extinct, in 1994. So biologists couldn't believe their eyes when not one, but four San Quintin kangaroo rats (Dipodomys gravipes) hopped into their survey traps in 2017.


Named for their ability to leap like kangaroos, the rats are key species in arid areas across western North America, dispersing seeds and feeding predators such as coyotes and foxes. The San Quintin kangaroo rat is about 12 centimeters long, with a long, tufted tail and enormous hind legs that allow it to leap about 2 meters and speed away at 10 kilometers per hour. They once lived by the thousands in a narrow coastal valley stretching 150 kilometers along the Pacific coast of northern Baja California.


But their numbers began to dwindle with the introduction of intensive agriculture in the 1970s, after which their habitat and food disappeared. Then, just 9 months ago, a team of researchers doing a routine inventory of mammals in the region discovered the rats in their survey traps. None of them had ever seen the species before, so they had to compare it with museum specimens and photographs, they will report in an upcoming issue of the Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences

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Researchers create super sponge that mops up oil spills

Researchers create super sponge that mops up oil spills | Amazing Science |

Australian scientists say new polymer can remove crude oil and diesel from seawater.


Oil spills could be soaked up by a new floating substance that combines waste from the petroleum industry and cooking oil, according to new research led by South Australia’s Flinders University.


The new polymer, made from sulphur and canola cooking oil, acted like a sponge to remove crude oil and diesel from seawater, according to a new study published in the Advanced Sustainable Systems journal. The polymer can be squeezed to remove the oil and then reused.


The lead researcher, Dr Justin Chalker, said it had the potential to be a cheap and sustainable recovery tool in areas affected by oil spills. “We anticipate that when we get to economies of scale we will be able to compete in price with other materials that are used to soak up oil,” said Chalker, senior lecturer in synthetic chemistry at Flinders University.


“Our goal is for this to be used globally. It is inexpensive, and we have an eye for it to be used in parts of the world such as the Amazon Basin in Ecuador and the Niger Delta that don’t have access to solutions to oil spills.”


The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation says about 7,000 tons of crude oil were spilt into oceans last year.

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Great Pacific Garbage Patch weighs more than 43,000 cars and is much larger than we thought

Great Pacific Garbage Patch weighs more than 43,000 cars and is much larger than we thought | Amazing Science |
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch weighs 87,000 tons -- 16 times more than previous estimates -- and contains more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, according to a new analysis.


A new analysis, published Thursday in Scientific Reports, reveals the makeup of this massive collection of floating trash in the North Pacific in a way that’s never been done before. The patch weighs 87,000 tons — 16 times more than previous estimates — and contains more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, the study shows. But its findings on the individual pieces of plastic inside the patch might hold the key to cleaning up this human-made mess.


Plastics tend to break down, due to heat and sunlight exposure, into small particles known as microplastics. In the past, scientists estimated the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by hopping on a boat and trawling the trash with fine nets — nets originally designed for catching plankton.


Running these nets through the patch, which extends from California to Hawaii, was not only laborious, it failed to catch big things like bottles and buoys. Scientists tried counting these larger items by eye, but they could only do so for small sections of the patch. By extrapolating, they could develop a sense of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch size, but their final estimates — especially for large pieces of trash — varied dramatically.


Three year ago, The Ocean Cleanup foundation opted for a more direct approach. The Netherlands-based organization hired 18 ships to trawl at different spots across the whole patch. But they used 652 nets capable of catching microplastics or larger trash.

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In Continuation of Trend, 2017 Was Second Warmest Year on Record (Since 1880)

In Continuation of Trend, 2017 Was Second Warmest Year on Record (Since 1880) | Amazing Science |

Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2017 ranked as the second warmest since reliable instrumental records began in 1880, according to an analysis by NASA released today. Continuing the planet’s long-term warming trend, globally averaged temperatures in 2017 were 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.90 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. That is second only to global temperatures in 2016.


In a separate, independent analysis, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded that 2017 was the third-warmest year in their record. The minor difference in rankings is due to the different methods used by the two agencies, although over the long term the agencies’ records remain in strong agreement. Both analyses show that the five warmest years on record all have taken place since 2010.


Phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña, which warm or cool the upper tropical Pacific Ocean and cause corresponding variations in global wind and weather patterns, contribute to short-term variations in global average temperature. A warming El Niño event was in effect for most of 2015 and the first third of 2016. Even without an El Niño event – and with a La Niña starting in the later months of 2017 – last year’s temperatures ranked between 2015 and 2016 in NASA’s records. In an analysis where the effects of the recent El Niño and La Niña patterns were statistically removed from the record, 2017 would have been the warmest year on record.

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Oxygen is disappearing from the world's oceans at an alarmingly rapid pace

Oxygen is disappearing from the world's oceans at an alarmingly rapid pace | Amazing Science |

The ocean is running out of oxygen at a rapid speed—and the depletion could choke to death much of the marine life these waters support. A sweeping review published Thursday in Science documented the causes, consequences and solutions to what is technically called “deoxygenation.” They discovered a four-to-tenfold increase in areas of the ocean with little to no oxygen, which researchers say is alarming because half of Earth’s oxygen originates from the ocean.


Oxygen is crucial for marine life in the oceans. Without oxygen, marine life will die off or relocate. “Animal life in the ocean needs oxygen to breathe,” Lisa Levin, study co-author and biological oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, told Newsweek. “If we want a healthy ocean, we need an ocean with oxygen in it.”


The team of scientists is from the United Nations Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s working group, created in 2016 and called the Global Ocean Oxygen Network. They noted that the amount of water in the open ocean without oxygen has quadrupled in 50 years. It is more than twice as bad for coastal waters, such as estuaries and seas. In those sites, low-oxygen areas have increased tenfold since 1950. This paper is the first to look at both ocean and coastal waters, which are often studied separately.


Deoxygenation directly results in devastation for people’s livelihoods. Fish kills in a single town in the Philippines cost over $10 million, according to the researchers. Coral reefs are valued at $172 billion per year, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Already stressed and bleaching corals, caused by increased sea surface temperatures, can be harmed by a lack of oxygen too. “There are a whole bunch of livelihoods that depend on a healthy ocean that doesn't smell and have a lot of dead stuff in it,” Levin said.“When the oxygen gets very low in the ocean, animals leave if they can,” Levin added. Those species will relocate, get eaten or starve to death.

Via Neelima Sinha
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A deadly fungus is infecting snake species seemingly at random

A deadly fungus is infecting snake species seemingly at random | Amazing Science |

It doesn’t matter if it’s a burly rattler or a tiny garter snake. A deadly fungal disease that’s infecting snakes in the eastern and midwestern United States doesn’t appear to discriminate by species, size or habitat, researchers report online December 20 in Science Advances.


The infection, caused by the fungal pathogen Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, can cover snakes’ bodies with lesions that make it hard for the reptiles to do normal snake things like slither and eat. Many eventually die from the infection. Fungal spores hang around in the soil and can spread to snakes that pick the particles up (SN Online: 3/15/16). The disease has been likened to the chytrid fungus that’s wiping out amphibian populations worldwide, or the white-nose syndrome that’s killing off entire caves of bats (SN: 4/30/16, p. 20).


In snakes, the disease not only “could result in the downfall of vulnerable species, but could also impact whole communities,” says Bruce Kingsbury, a biologist at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne, who was not part of the study. Snakes are important predators in many ecosystems — if the reptiles go, then populations of small mammals that they help control could boom, throwing the ecosystem out of whack.


Snake fungal disease first gained widespread attention around 2008. It has now been documented in 23 species in the eastern and midwestern United States, says study coauthor Frank Burbrink, a herpetologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He and his colleagues wanted to see whether certain risk factors might make these species more susceptible to the disease than the dozens of other types of snakes that live in the region.

Carlos Garcia Pando's comment, December 22, 2017 6:01 AM
Any connection with a higher average temperature in those ecosystems?
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Race to Decode Coral DNA to Save World’s Reefs From Extinction

Race to Decode Coral DNA to Save World’s Reefs From Extinction | Amazing Science |

Marine biologist Ruth Gates sat down in an oversized wooden rocking chair at an oceanside resort here last week to talk about the next frontier in coral science and a new hope for saving coral reefs reeling from climate change: genetic technology.


“There are hundreds of species of coral, all with complex biologies and physiological traits that vary based on their DNA and environment,” Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, said while seated on a sprawling lanai overlooking acres of coral reefs awash in turquoise waters.


“Using genetic technology to identify corals resilient to environmental stressors may allow us to save corals – which are some of the most threatened organisms on Earth,” added Gates, a leading coral scientist who was featured in the new documentary “Chasing Coral.”


Coral reefs provide habitat to a quarter of the world’s marine species and are crucial sources of food and income to hundreds of millions of people. While corals are typically hardy creatures, rising ocean temperatures, acidification and pollution are harming corals on a scale not seen in recorded history. The world has lost about 50 percent of its coral reefs in just the past three decades, and in the next three decades it’s expected to lose more than 40 percent more. The unprecedented back-to-back coral bleaching events of 2014–17 devastated coral reefs worldwide.


According to Gates and other marine scientists, identifying both weak and resilient coral species is imperative to protect surviving reefs and help others recover. But cataloging corals with traditional visualization techniques can be challenging because even individuals belonging to the same species can be quite variable in appearance and react in different ways to the same environmental stressors.

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Every Other Summer Will Shatter Heat Records Within a Decade

Every Other Summer Will Shatter Heat Records Within a Decade | Amazing Science |

Think of the stickiest, record-hot summer you've ever experienced, whether you're 30 or 60 years old. In 10 years or less, that miserable summer will happen every second year across most of the US and Canada, the Mediterranean, and much of Asia, according to a study to be published in the open access journal Earth's Future.


By the 2030s, every second summer over almost all of the entire Northern hemisphere will be hotter than any record-setting hot summer of the past 40 years, the study found. By 2050, virtually every summer will be hotter than anything we've experienced to date.


"In the last 10 years, summers have become noticeably warmer," said co-author Francis Zwiers, director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at Canada's University of Victoria. In 2017, California experienced its hottest summer ever that extended well into fall. In Europe, an incredible heat wave named "Lucifer" led to catastrophic forest fires in Portugal and a number of deaths. "Parts of China and East Asia are already experiencing record warm summers," Zwiers told me in an interview.


Record hot summers are now 70 times more likely than they were in the past 40 years over the entire Northern hemisphere, the peer-reviewed study found. What does all this mean? Heat alerts will be increasing, cities will have to employ aggressive cooling strategies most summers, and in places like South Asia, it will be too dangerous to work outside, he said.

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Deep in The Ocean, There's a 'Shadow Zone' Where The Water Is 2,000 Years Old

Deep in The Ocean, There's a 'Shadow Zone' Where The Water Is 2,000 Years Old | Amazing Science |

The oldest water in the ocean didn't reach its advanced years by accident. Deep in the North Pacific, a vast stretch of submerged ocean is trapped in a kind of stasis between powerful currents and the sea floor, and for the ancient waters caught in this airless 'shadow zone', it's almost like time stands still.


"What we have found is that at around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) below the surface of the Indian and Pacific Oceans there is a 'shadow zone' with barely any vertical movement that suspends ocean water in an area for centuries," says oceanographer Casimir de Lavergne from the University of New South Wales in Australia.


"Carbon-14 dating had already told us the most ancient water lied in the deep North Pacific. But until now we had struggled to understand why the very oldest waters huddle around the depth of 2 kilometers."

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Warm Air Helped Make 2017 Ozone Hole the Smallest Since 1988

Warm Air Helped Make 2017 Ozone Hole the Smallest Since 1988 | Amazing Science |

According to NASA, the ozone hole reached its peak extent on Sept. 11, covering an area about two and a half times the size of the United States – 7.6 million square miles in extent - and then declined through the remainder of September and into October. NOAA ground- and balloon-based measurements also showed the least amount of ozone depletion above the continent during the peak of the ozone depletion cycle since 1988. NOAA and NASA collaborate to monitor the growth and recovery of the ozone hole every year.


“The Antarctic ozone hole was exceptionally weak this year,” said Paul A. Newman, chief scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This is what we would expect to see given the weather conditions in the Antarctic stratosphere.”


The smaller ozone hole in 2017 was strongly influenced by an unstable and warmer Antarctic vortex – the stratospheric low pressure system that rotates clockwise in the atmosphere above Antarctica. This helped minimize polar stratospheric cloud formation in the lower stratosphere. The formation and persistence of these clouds are important first steps leading to the chlorine- and bromine-catalyzed reactions that destroy ozone, scientists said. These Antarctic conditions resemble those found in the Arctic, where ozone depletion is much less severe.


In 2016, warmer stratospheric temperatures also constrained the growth of the ozone hole. Last year, the ozone hole reached a maximum 8.9 million square miles, 2 million square miles less than in 2015. The average area of these daily ozone hole maximums observed since 1991 has been roughly 10 million square miles.  


Although warmer-than-average stratospheric weather conditions have reduced ozone depletion during the past two years, the current ozone hole area is still large because levels of ozone-depleting substances like chlorine and bromine remain high enough to produce significant ozone loss.


Scientists said the smaller ozone hole extent in 2016 and 2017 is due to natural variability and not a signal of rapid healing.


First detected in 1985, the Antarctic ozone hole forms during the Southern Hemisphere’s late winter as the returning sun’s rays catalyze reactions involving man-made, chemically active forms of chlorine and bromine. These reactions destroy ozone molecules.


Thirty years ago, the international community signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and began regulating ozone-depleting compounds. The ozone hole over Antarctica is expected to gradually become less severe as chlorofluorocarbons—chlorine-containing synthetic compounds once frequently used as refrigerants – continue to decline. Scientists expect the Antarctic ozone hole to recover back to 1980 levels around 2070.

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