UC Santa Barbara doctoral candidate Caitlin Fong travels to French Polynesia often but not for vacation. She goes there to study a coral reef ecosystem influenced by human impacts such as overfishing and nutrient pollution.
Her work focuses not only on biological changes but also methods scientists use to determine within-group group responses to ecological processes. The findings are published in ESA Ecology, a journal of the Ecological Society of America.
Feathers have long been recognized as a classic example of efficient water-shedding — as in the well-known expression “like water off a duck’s back.” A combination of modeling and laboratory tests has now determined how both chemistry — the preening oil that birds use — and the microstructure of feathers, with their barbs and barbules, allow birds to stay dry even after emerging from amazingly deep dives.
The new research, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, studied how cormorants and other diving birds are able to reach depths of some 30 meters without having water permanently wet their protective feathers. The research was carried out by MIT professors Robert Cohen, Michael Rubner and Gareth McKinley; graduate students Siddarth Srinivasan and Shreerang Chhatre; Andrew Parker of London’s Natural History Museum; and two others.
The subseafloor is home to over one third of the bacteria on the planet, but up until recently it was unclear if this huge microbial biosphere was alive and dividing. Now, the same group that demonstrated this activity has shown that bacteria from the hostile sea-floor environment have adapted by over-activating stress response and DNA-repair mechanisms, to cope with the harsh conditions.
Subseafloor sediment contains the Earth’s largest habitat for microbial life – over one third of all the planets microbial biomass. By drilling deep into the sea floor and taking samples, it can be proven that the subseafloor contains a variety of microbial life forms, but it’s only in the last year that researchers have proven that sea floor microbes are actually active in in their natural sea-bed situation – it is difficult to analyze life forms that live hundreds of meters below the sea surface because of their low activity levels. A group of researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Univ. of Delaware developed techniques to analyze the messenger.
NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere is in final preparations for a July 1 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission will provide a more complete, global picture of the human and natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks,” the natural ocean and land processes by which carbon dioxide is pulled out of Earth’s atmosphere and stored. Carbon dioxide, a critical component of Earth’s carbon cycle, is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth’s climate.
Image of the Week: South China Sea is Case Study for Protecting Oceans
A west Australian marine ecologist’s method of gauging the health of Australia’s oceans has been adopted by the United Nations World Ocean Assessment — which is responsible for assessing global ocean environmental conditions.
Trevor Ward from Perth-based Greenwood Consulting and Sydney Univ. of Technology developed the “expert elicitation” process while steering the marine component of Australia’s National State of Environment reports in 2011.
The U.S. Geological Survey has released a clip of the first video shot from the neck of a polar bear on Arctic sea ice.
Scientists in April placed cameras on four females roaming Beaufort (Sea ice north of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay). The cameras are part of a study led by research biologist Anthony Pagano to understand how polar bears respond to loss of sea ice from climate warming.
Before Houston and its suburbs were built, a dense forest naturally purified the coastal air along a stretch of the Texas Gulf Coast that grew thick with pecan, ash, live oak and hackberry trees.
It was the kind of pristine woodland that was mostly wiped out by settlers in their rush to clear land and build communities. Now, one of the nation’s largest chemical companies and one of its oldest conservation groups have forged an unlikely partnership that seeks to recreate some of that forest to curb pollution.
The plan drafted by Dow Chemical and the Nature Conservancy is only in its infancy and faces many hurdles. But it envisions a day when expensive machines used to capture industrial pollutants might be at least partially replaced by restoring some of the groves of native trees that once filled the land.
Fish and aquatic life living in the high seas are more valuable as a carbon sink than as food and should be better protected, according to research from the Univ. of British Columbia.
The study found fish and aquatic life remove 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, a service valued at about $148 billion U.S. This dwarfs the $16 billion U.S. paid for 10 million tons of fish caught on the high seas annually.
The site of one of the largest crude oil pipeline spills in Minnesota is still producing significant discoveries for researchers three decades later.
A Lakehead Co. pipeline northwest of Bemidji split on Aug. 20, 1979, and released about 440,000 gallons of crude oil. Today, the site attracts scientists from around the world who are collecting data from sensors that sample soil, water and air.
Mussels might be a welcome addition to a hearty seafood stew, but their notorious ability to attach themselves to ships’ hulls, as well as to piers and moorings, makes them an unwelcome sight and smell for boaters and swimmers. Now, researchers report in ACS’ journal Langmuir a clearer understanding of how mussels stick to surfaces, which could lead to new classes of adhesives that will work underwater and inside the body.
Shabeer Mian and colleagues, from Pusan National Univ., note that mussels have a remarkable knack for clinging onto solid surfaces underwater. That can make them a real nuisance to recreational boaters and professional fishermen, who have to scrape the hitchhikers off their vessels to help them run more efficiently. Some types of mussels can even plug up drinking water pipes.
The paleoclimate record for the last ice age — a time 21,000 years ago called the “Last Glacial Maximum” (LGM) — tells of a cold Earth whose northern continents were covered by vast ice sheets. Chemical traces from plankton fossils in deep-sea sediments reveal rearranged ocean water masses, as well as extended sea ice coverage off Antarctica. Air bubbles in ice cores show that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was far below levels seen before the Industrial Revolution.
While ice ages are set into motion by Earth’s slow wobbles in its transit around the sun, researchers agree that the solar-energy decrease alone wasn’t enough to cause this glacial state. Paleoclimatologists have been trying to explain the actual mechanism behind these changes for 200 years.
Forests Increase Carbon Uptake in Response to Climate
A two-decade study of carbon storage changes within North American forests provides new evidence of the direct impact of climate change on ecosystem function, opening questions for how Australian ecosystems are responding.
Macquarie Univ.’ Trevor Keenan led the study across temperate forests of North America, where a strong trend of seasonal changes indicates an ecological adaption to extend the “green” seasons, thus enhancing ecosystem carbon uptake.
Melting Arctic Opens Passages for Invasion For the first time in roughly two million years, melting Arctic sea ice is connecting the north Pacific and north Atlantic oceans. The newly opened passages leave both coasts and Arctic waters vulnerable to a large wave of invasive species, biologists from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center assert in a commentary in Nature Climate Change.
Two new shipping routes have opened in the Arctic: the Northwest Passage through Canada, and the Northern Sea Route, a 3,000-mile stretch along the coasts of Russia and Norway connecting the Barents and Bering seas. While new opportunities for tapping Arctic natural resources and interoceanic trade are high, commercial ships often inadvertently carry invasive species. Organisms from previous ports can cling to the undersides of their hulls or be pumped in the enormous tanks of ballast water inside their hulls. Now that climate change has given ships a new, shorter way to cross between oceans, the risks of new invasions are escalating.
Tropical forests are a sometimes-underappreciated asset in the battle against climate change. They cover seven percent of land surface yet hold more than 30 percent of Earth’s terrestrial carbon. As abandoned agricultural land in the tropics is taken over by forests, scientists expect these new forests to mop up industrial quantities of atmospheric carbon. New research by Smithsonian scientists shows increasingly abundant vines could hamper this potential and may even cause tropical forests to lose carbon.
In the first study to experimentally demonstrate that competition between plants can result in ecosystem-wide losses of forest carbon, scientists working in Panama showed that lianas, or woody vines, can reduce net forest biomass accumulation by nearly 20 percent. Researchers called this estimate “conservative” in findings published this month in Ecology.
An appealing carnivorous mammal, a 12-meter-tall tree that has been hiding in plain sight and a sea anemone that lives under an Antarctic glacier are among the species identified by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s (ESF) International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) as the top 10 species discovered last year.
An international committee of taxonomists and related experts selected the top 10 from among the approximately 18,000 new species named during the previous year and released the list today, May 22, to coincide with the birthday, May 23, of Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish botanist who is considered the father of modern taxonomy.