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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 | Scoop.it
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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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.


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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 | Scoop.it

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.

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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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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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Over 2,100 cities exceed recommended pollution levels

Over 2,100 cities exceed recommended pollution levels | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Climate change is a looming public health emergency, say experts in a new report, due to high pollution levels, warming temperatures and increased opportunities for disease.

 

Climate change is already affecting the health of populations around the world, but things are set to get worse if adequate changes aren't made, according to an international consortium of climate experts. Fueling the impact is the fact that more than 2,100 cities globally exceed recommended levels of atmospheric particulate matter -- particles emitted when fuels, such as coal or diesel, are burned and are small enough to get into the lungs -- says a report published Monday in the medical journal The Lancet.

In the UK alone, 44 cities exceeded levels recommended by the World Health Organization. Since 1990, exposure to fine particulate matter -- smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter -- increased by 11.2%, the report states, aided by a slow transition away from fossil fuels. Climate change "is the major health threat of the 21st century," said Hugh Montgomery, co-chairman of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change and director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London in the UK. "There's an urgent need to address it." The latest report highlights multiple health, weather and economic consequences that need immediate attention.

Poor air quality

"Air pollution is one of the leading causes of premature mortality globally," said Paul Wilkinson, professor of environmental epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored the report. More than 803,000 deaths across 21 Asian countries in 2015 were attributable to pollution from coal power, transport and the use of fossil fuels at home, the report states.
 
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A Hydrogen Fuel-Powered Truck hits the Road, emitting only Water Vapor!

A Hydrogen Fuel-Powered Truck hits the Road, emitting only Water Vapor! | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A concept truck by Toyota is powered by hydrogen fuel cells and emits nothing but water vapor. Vehicles powered by alternatives to fossil fuel are on the roll. Literally. The Japanese automaker Toyota is rolling out a new line of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. A concept version of a long-haul truck with the car manufacturer’s new hydrogen-based engine in it will set out with a full load of cargo from Los Angeles and make its way to Long Beach.

 

“If you see a big-rig driving around the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that seems oddly quiet and quick, do not be alarmed! It’s just the future,” Toyota quips in a statement issued to the press. The trial is part of the Japanese company’s feasibility studies for its brand-new “Project Portal” – a hydrogen fuel cell systemdesigned for heavy-duty trucks. Toyota touts its Project Portal as the next step in its development of zero-emission fuel cell technology for industrial uses.

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Baltic clams and worms release as much greenhouse gas as 20,000 dairy cows

Baltic clams and worms release as much greenhouse gas as 20,000 dairy cows | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists have shown that ocean clams and worms are releasing a significant amount of potentially harmful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

 

The team, from Cardiff University and Stockholm University, have shown that the ocean critters are producing large amounts of the strongest greenhouse gases - methane and nitrous oxides - from the bacteria in their guts. Methane gas is making its way into the water and then finally out into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming - methane has 28 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide. A detailed analysis showed that around 10 per cent of total methane emissions from the Baltic Sea may be due to clams and worms.

 

The researchers estimate that this is equivalent to as much methane given off as 20,000 dairy cows. This is as much as 10 per cent of the entire Welsh dairy cow population and 1 per cent of the entire UK dairy cow population.

 

The findings, which have been published in the journal Scientific Reports, point to a so far neglected source of greenhouse gases in the sea and could have a profound impact on decision makers. It has been suggested that farming oysters, mussels and clams could be an effective solution against human pressures on the environment, such as eutrophication caused by the run-off of fertilizers into our waters. The authors warn that stakeholders should consider these potential impacts before deciding whether to promote shellfish farming to large areas of the ocean.

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Top 11 maps that ultimately explain climate change and its impact

Top 11 maps that ultimately explain climate change and its impact | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists and politicians all agree – climate change and global warming are not just myths. They are a fact. This compilation of maps will show you what are the reasons behind it and what are the consequences of that process.

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Failing phytoplankton: Global warming could suffocate life on planet Earth

Failing phytoplankton: Global warming could suffocate life on planet Earth | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Falling oxygen levels caused by global warming could be a greater threat to the survival of life on planet Earth than flooding, according to researchers from the University of Leicester.

 

A study led by Sergei Petrovskii, Professor in Applied Mathematics from the University of Leicester's Department of Mathematics, has shown that an increase in the water temperature of the world's oceans of around six degrees Celsius -- which some scientists predict could occur as soon as 2100 -- could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis.

 

Professor Petrovskii explained: "Global warming has been a focus of attention of science and politics for about two decades now. A lot has been said about its expected disastrous consequences; perhaps the most notorious is the global flooding that may result from melting of Antarctic ice if the warming exceeds a few degrees compared to the pre-industrial level. However, it now appears that this is probably not the biggest danger that the warming can cause to the humanity.

 

About two-thirds of the planet's total atmospheric oxygen is produced by ocean phytoplankton -- and therefore cessation would result in the depletion of atmospheric oxygen on a global scale. This would likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans."

 

The team developed a new model of oxygen production in the ocean that takes into account basic interactions in the plankton community, such as oxygen production in photosynthesis, oxygen consumption because of plankton breathing and zooplankton feeding on phytoplankton. While mainstream research often focuses on the CO2 cycle, as carbon dioxide is the agent mainly responsible for global warming, few researchers have explored the effects of global warming on oxygen production.

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Viruses - lots of them - are falling from the sky

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

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 | Scoop.it
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.


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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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it
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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it
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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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from Oceans and Wildlife
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How marine algae could help to feed the world

How marine algae could help to feed the world | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Our planet faces a growing food crisis. According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people are regularly undernourished. By 2050, an additional 2 to 3 billion new guests will join the planetary dinner table.

 

Meeting this challenge involves not only providing sufficient calories for every person, but also assuring a balanced diet that includes the protein and nutrients that are essential to good health. In a newly published study, we explain how marine microalgae could be a sustainable solution for solving global macro-hunger.

 

Problems with current food production systems

The current Western diet requires vast amounts of land, water and energy, is heavily polluting and is a major contributor to climate change. Providing nutritious food for an ever-growing global population with increasing per capita demand is pushing our current food production system beyond its limits.

 

Livestock production is replacing forests with cropland and pastures for meat and animal feed. Nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer used to grow feed grain and other crops is degrading soils and creating biological dead zones in some 400 estuaries around the world.

 

Fish are an important source of omega-3 fatty acids and essential amino acids that make up our proteins. However, eating fish has some downsides. They can concentrate heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals in their tissues and pass them on to us. Furthermore, most ocean fisheries are overfished or at maximum production.


Via Wildlife Defence
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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from levin's linkblog: Knowledge Channel
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A giant insect ecosystem is collapsing due to humans. It's a catastrophe

A giant insect ecosystem is collapsing due to humans. It's a catastrophe | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Insects have triumphed for hundreds of millions of years in every habitat but the ocean. Their success is unparalleled, which makes their disappearance all the more alarming

 

Thirty-five years ago an American biologist Terry Erwin conducted an experiment to count insect species. Using an insecticide “fog”, he managed to extract all the small living things in the canopies of 19 individuals of one species of tropical tree, Luehea seemannii, in the rainforest of Panama. He recorded about 1,200 separate species, nearly all of them coleoptera (beetles) and many new to science; and he estimated that 163 of these would be found on Luehea seemannii only.

 

He calculated that as there are about 50,000 species of tropical tree, if that figure of 163 was typical for all the other trees, there would be more than eight million species, just of beetles, in the tropical rainforest canopy; and as beetles make up about 40% of all the arthropods, the grouping that contains the insects and the other creepy-crawlies from spiders to millipedes, the total number of such species in the canopy might be 20 million; and as he estimated the canopy fauna to be separate from, and twice as rich as, the forest floor, for the tropical forest as a whole the number of species might be 30 million.

 

Yes, 30 million. It was one of those extraordinary calculations, like Edwin Hubble’s of the true size of the universe, which sometimes stop us in our tracks. Erwin reported that he was shocked by his conclusions and entomologists have argued over them ever since. But about insects, his findings make two things indisputably clear. One is that there are many, many more types than the million or so hitherto described by science, and probably many more than the 10m species sometimes postulated as an uppermost figure; and the second is that this is far and away the most successful group of creatures the Earth has ever seen.


Via Levin Chin
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How the United States plans to trap its biggest stash of nuclear-weapons waste in glass

How the United States plans to trap its biggest stash of nuclear-weapons waste in glass | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
After decades of delays, a challenging clean-up project is gaining ground.

 

There's a building boom at the Hanford Site, a once-secret complex on the windswept plains of southeastern Washington state. Construction crews are working to finish a 27-meter-tall concrete structure there by June. If all goes well, the facility will finally enable the US Department of Energy (DOE) to begin treating the toxic, radioactive waste that accumulated at the site for more than 40 years, starting during the Second World War.

 

Decades after the site stopped producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, the legacy of Hanford's activities is still causing trouble. Just this year, a tunnel holding railway carriages full of radioactive material collapsed. Separately, at least a dozen employees who were tearing down a contaminated building reportedly tested positive for plutonium inhalation. But the site's biggest challenge lies underground, in 177 carbon-steel tanks. Together, these buried containers hold more than 200 million liters of highly hazardous liquids and peanut-buttery sludge — enough to fill 80 Olympic-size swimming pools. More than one-third of the tanks have leaked, contaminating groundwater with radioactive and chemical waste.

 

In a 1989 legal agreement with the state of Washington and the US Environmental Protection Agency, the DOE committed to immobilizing the most dangerous waste in sturdy glass logs through a process called vitrification. Several years later, the agency agreed to vitrify other tank waste as well. All told, the process is expected to generate tens of thousands of logs, each weighing multiple tons. Those containing high-level waste would be shipped to a permanent storage facility; the rest could be stored on site. But the effort has been plagued by cost overruns, delays and safety concerns. Although the DOE has spent roughly US$20 billion on the tank problem since 1997, no waste has been vitrified.

 

Four years ago, the agency hit reset. Rather than making a single vitrification plant, it split the project in two. One plant — the building now under construction — would begin vitrifying the less-hazardous, 'low-activity' liquid in the tanks. A bigger, more-complex plant to process the high-level sludge would follow once researchers resolved some thorny safety questions.

 

On both fronts, there have been signs of progress. This year, the DOE reported that it had resolved crucial questions related to treating the high-level waste. And a laboratory needed for real-time analysis of the low-level waste is nearing completion. If work continues as planned, the site could crank out its first glass logs as early as 2022.

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You Can Eat This Algae-Based Water Bottle When You’re Done With Your Drink

You Can Eat This Algae-Based Water Bottle When You’re Done With Your Drink | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Unlike plastic, which stays in landfills for centuries, this bottle design will start bio-degrading immediately.

 

A plastic water bottle may take hundreds–or even thousands–of years to degrade in a landfill. A new conceptual design for a water bottle is at the opposite extreme: Immediately after you drink it, it starts to fall apart. And if you don’t want to throw the bottle away, you can eat it.

 

The bottle is made from agar, a powder made from algae. When it’s mixed with water, it turns into a jelly-like material that can be molded into shapes–like a bottle.

 

“What makes this mix of algae and water an interesting solution is the lifespan of the bottle,” says Ari Jónsson, a product design student at Iceland Academy of the Arts, who created the experimental bottle. “It needs to contain liquid to keep its shape and as soon as it’s empty it will start to decompose."

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Allan Whitworth's curator insight, October 8, 2017 3:07 PM
Does it come in Soy and Wasabi flavors??