When the EU challenged scientists like Dr. Elza Bontempi of the University of Brescia to come up with a greener option for cutting down on particulate matter (PM), they couldn’t have known she’d take them at word. Using sodium alginate extracted from algae and seaweed and the byproduct of a common industrial process, Dr. Bontempi has created a coating that can remove PM with 94 percent efficiency, even at high concentrations.
Scientists working to solve the mystery of Sea Star Wasting Disease—and to learn more about the possible keystone species Pisaster ochraceus, the ochre sea star—are reaping the benefits of long-term monitoring of the species along the West Coast. Dr. Melissa Miner, a UC Santa Cruz researcher in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, spoke with EM about her two decades of work with the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network and her recent efforts surrounding the ochre sea star.
If you’re from a small town in the US, or even if you’ve ever taken a drive through rural America, you’ve almost certainly seen large water storage tanks gracing the skyline. Some have even become landmarks in their own right. In fact, even the largest city in the U.S., New York City, is full of 12,000 to 17,000 municipal water tanks on stilted legs, dotting the city’s otherwise modern-looking profile. And while there is constant influx and efflux of water changing the composition of the water in these tanks every day, that doesn’t mean that water safety and quality isn’t an issue.
In 1972, the Clean Water Act ushered in a new era of wastewater treatment across the United States. In older states like New York, this meant new plants would be connecting to sewer systems and storm drains that were often getting on in years. Over the past decade, as climate patterns have brought more dramatic storms and flooding with them, and the population of urban areas have continued to grow, states like New York are experiencing wastewater treatment failures. However, it’s not always clear what the source of these failures are.
Imagine a new kind of farming, one supported by accessible, affordable technologies. Even the smallest farmers can monitor their soil and water for nutrients and other levels with systems that are tied to smartphones and tablets. Growers are more productive for less money, and they are safeguarding water quality, preventing harmful runoff from polluting streams and groundwater.
Does it sound out of reach? Not to some of the people participating in the Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge—and phase II of the challenge is underway right now.
Our planet is no stranger to mass extinction events. There have been at least five of them in our collective past. Some scientists believe we are now in the midst of a sixth such event—the first we can call our own human-fueled affair, in what may or may not be the age of the Anthropocene.
Of particular interest as we examine Earth’s past are the possible causes of these mass extinction events. New research has revealed a synergistic mechanism phytoplankton use to acquire iron—one that is threatened by atmospheric CO2.
The term “bioreactor” might conjure up the image of a reactor that initiates and sustains some sort of mysterious biological chain reaction using biological fuel rather than splitting atoms. In fact, a bioreactor is any system engineered to support a biologically active environment. In the case of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, ditches holding woodchips that enhance the natural denitrification process are bioreactors, and they are helping to remove excess nitrogen from agricultural runoff to protect the watershed.
In recent times “dead zones” in the world’s oceans have received more attention—and rightly so. These hypoxic regions, such as the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico next to the Mississippi River Delta, are characterized by oxygen levels too low to support marine life. However, new research from Plymouth University scientists reveals that even moderately hypoxic areas that are not yet dead zones threaten various marine species.
We’ve all experienced a “too much information” or “TMI” moment at one time or another, but when it comes to lakes and cyanotoxins, there’s no such thing as TMI. That’s one reason why recent work from North Carolina State University researchers is inherently important; more information about toxins in freshwater systems is always better. In this case, the research also provided mostly good news for the people living near Jordan Lake in central North Carolina.
A recent study from researchers at the University of California, Davis presents the case of what is now a model stream: the Putah Creek. Nestled in its own riparian reserve just a few miles from campus, the creek is an idyllic habitat for birds, fish, benthic species, and other denizens of the stream—but it wasn’t always. In 1999, the stream had disappeared, leaving a dry channel behind. The wildlife disappeared with the stream, and in place of the water and wildlife humans dumped old appliances and garbage.
The sounds of animals are part of any child’s education; even studying a foreign language in school, you are likely to learn, for example, how a dog barks in your new tongue. Yet for the most part, we’re stumped when it comes to fish sounds. (I had a French textbook that told me fish said “glou glou” in that language, but since I now know “glou glou” is translated as “glug glug” or gurgling, the international language for drowning, I have my doubts.)
One of the greatest difficulties with climate change is predicting exactly how much change will happen, and precisely what that change will look like. Although we now know with a high level of confidence that our climate is warming due to our own human activity, and we know that this will generally trigger things like a rise in sea levels, a rise in water temperatures, an increase in the severity and frequency of storms, more droughts, and the loss of various species and ecosystems, it remains impossible to predict precisely how many degrees the temperature of the climate or oceans will rise.
Scientists have successfully enlisted a tiny gastropod with a long life in the fight for cleaner water. Tritia obsoleta, more commonly known as the eastern mudsnail, lives in coastal regions as far south as Georgia ranging north to Nova Scotia. This mudsnail’s shell grows no larger than about one inch, but some specimens live for more than 50 years. The coastal range of the eastern mudsnail includes many regions dense with human activity, and for surface waterways and coastal habitats that often means large amounts of nitrogen.
Thomas Jefferson was, among other things, an avid naturalist. During the years of his life, especially in the nascent country he eventually helped govern as the third President of the United States, the sciences were most often pursued through their connections to architecture, agriculture, invention, and practical engineering, and Jefferson was thrilled by all of these subjects. One of the highlights of his time in office was his meeting with Alexander von Humboldt, one of the greatest scientific minds of their time, in 1801.
Conventional wastewater treatment includes multiple processes, with disinfection as the final step. After disinfection, water should be free of pathogenic organisms, yet contamination is still a major challenge all over the world. There is more than one way to disinfect wastewater; chemicals such as ozone or chlorine are commonly used for this purpose, but physical methods such as UV light exposure are also effective. In some places, such as Orange County, California, a combined physical process is used, despite its higher cost.