Monday, September 28, 2015

Shell Oil Abandons Controversial Drilling Off Alaska's Shore

Citing a lack of enough oil to make the project worthwhile, Royal Dutch Shell Oil is halting its effort to drill for oil off Alaska's shore "for the foreseeable future." The company has spent some $7 billion on the exploration project.

Shell announced the move late Sunday, describing what the company called "a clearly disappointing exploration outcome" in the Chukchi Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean. The project, which had been halted in 2012 over safety concerns, was resumed this year after getting federal approval in May.

From Alaska Public Media, Rachel Waldholz reports:

"Shell was able to drill just one exploratory well this summer, off Alaska's northern coast. And the results were disappointing. In a statement the company reported that it had 'found indications of oil and gas' — but not enough to continue exploration at the site.

"The company said the decision to end offshore exploration in Alaska reflected those results and the project's high costs — but also what it called a 'challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment.'

"The project had drawn major protests from environmental groups, who worried drilling would impact marine mammals and that an oil spill in the arctic would be impossible to clean up.

"The announcement came the day before a key deadline — Shell had to be out of oil-bearing rocks by Monday, Sept 28. The company must now move its two drilling rigs and dozens of support vessels out of the Arctic before winter sea ice returns."

In its statement, Shell says that the Burger J well, which had been drilled to a depth of 6,800 feet, will now be sealed and abandoned.

The oil company also said that the Chukchi Sea, where it holds rights to many oil exploration areas, "remains substantially under-explored" and has the potential to be "of strategic importance to Alaska and the U.S."npr

Scientists Confirm There's Water In The Dark Streaks On Mars

For several years, a satellite orbiting Mars has seen streaks flowing from Martian mountains during warm periods on the surface. Scientists have now confirmed that water is involved.

Scientists have caught Mars crying salty tears.
Photos from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show dark streaks flowing down Martian slopes. The streaks appear in sunny spots or when the weather is warm, and they fade when the temperature drops.
Water was suspected to be involved, but now scientists have confirmed its presence. The new analysis, published in Nature Geoscience, shows salts mixed with water when the streaks are darkest. The water disappears when the streaks lighten.

Streaks a few hundred feet in length appear on the walls of Garni crater on Mars. Scientists suspect they are formed by the flow of briny, liquid water on Mars.

"It's only when these streaks are biggest and widest that we see evidence for molecular water," says Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Ojha cautions this isn't the same as streams trickling downhill on Earth. Standing on the streaks would be like standing on a hot beach on Earth and dribbling a little water out of a drinking bottle. "You would just see a hint of wetness," he says.

The lines appear on slopes with exposure to sunlight. Researchers now believe that the warm sun may cause water to begin flowing.

Ojha says the water could be important for future exploration of Mars. It might be that astronauts could one day use it for everything from drinking water to rocket fuel, but that depends on how much there is.
The water could be coming from a subsurface reservoir, but that's not the only option, Ojha says. Ice, or even moisture in the atmosphere, could also be causing the streaks.
"We're not entirely sure what the source of the water may be," he says. npr

More images available at

Thursday, September 24, 2015

vinegar pickles reef eaters- crown of thorns starfish

James Cook University (JCU) scientists have made a breakthrough in the war against Crown of Thorns Starfish (CoTS). A new paper shows injecting the coral-eating pest with simple household vinegar kills it just as effectively as the current drug, which can be expensive and difficult to source.
Lead author Lisa Boström-Einarsson said vinegar had been tried unsuccessfully before, but JCU scientists refined the process which resulted in a 100% kill rate. The animals are breeding at epidemic levels and are one of the primary reasons for the decline in live coral.
Ms Boström-Einarsson said the findings were exciting. “Currently divers use 10 or 12 ml of ox-bile to kill each CoTS. It’s expensive, requires permits and has to be mixed to the right concentration. We used 20 ml of vinegar, which is half the price and can be bought off the shelf at any local supermarket.”
The CoTS in the JCU trial were all dead within 48 hours of being injected.
Ms Boström-Einarsson said the dead CoTS were fed on by fish in the lab trials with no ill-effect, but this needed to be backed up by large-scale field trials to be sure the process is totally safe for other marine life. “There’s no reason to think it won’t work or it’ll be dangerous, but we have to be sure,” she said.
She said the findings could have big implications for developing countries without the means to acquire and use the current drugs.
Scientists say while the process may greatly help slow down the CoTS outbreak, killing the starfish individually was never going to save coral reefs by itself.
“It has been estimated there are between 4 and 12 million of the starfish on the Great Barrier Reef alone and each female produce around 65 million eggs in a single breeding season. They managed to kill around 350 000 last year with two full-time boat crews. While it would take an insane effort to cull them all that way, we know that sustained efforts can save individual reefs,” Ms Boström-Einarsson said.
She said other researchers were working on population-level controls of the animal, but killing the starfish one-by-one was the only method available at the moment.
Sea trials of the vinegar method will begin by the end of the year. This project was funded by the Ian Potter Foundation 50th Anniversary Commemorative Grants Scheme and the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station.
For more information, click here

Monday, September 21, 2015

More Evidence for Coming Black Hole Collision

The apocalypse is still on, apparently — at least in a galaxy about 3.5 billion light-years from here.

Last winter, a team of Caltech astronomers reported that two supermassive black holes appeared to be spiraling together toward a cataclysmic collision that could bring down the curtains in that galaxy.

An illustration of two black holes orbiting each other. The black hole in the center of the image is starved of gas by the black hole at the left, making the gas cloud of the black hole on the left brighter. Credit Illustration by Zoltan Haiman, adapted from Farris et al. 2014

The evidence was a rhythmic flickering from the galaxy’s nucleus, a quasar known as PG 1302-102, which Matthew Graham and his colleagues interpreted as the fatal mating dance of a pair of black holes with a total mass of more than a billion suns. Their merger, the astronomers calculated, could release as much energy as 100 million supernova explosions, mostly in the form of violent ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves that would blow the stars out of that hapless galaxy like leaves off a roof.

Now a new analysis of the system by Daniel D’Orazio of Columbia University and his colleagues has added weight to that conclusion. Mr. D’Orazio, a graduate student, and his colleagues Zoltan Haiman and David Schiminovich propose that most of the light from the quasar is coming from a vast disk of gas surrounding the smaller of the two black holes.

Earth Blamed for Cracks in Moon

The moon is shrinking, and Earth is to blame for how the moon’s crust has cracked.

A prominent ridge on the moon's surface, one of thousands that formed by the cracking of the moon's surface as it contracted. Areas in blue are at lower elevations; areas in red are higher. CreditNASA

Scientists reported the shrinkage in 2010, when researchers, led by Thomas R. Watters of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, picked out cracks in images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

They counted 14 ridges, formed when one side of the fracture slips over the other, but the orbiter’s high-resolution camera had covered only about 10 percent of the moon’s surface. Five years later, more than three-quarters of the surface has been photographed, and the scientists now count more than 3,200 ridges, most quite small — less than six miles long and tens of yards high.

If the moon were shrinking uniformly, then the cracks and ridges should be pointed every which way. Instead, Dr. Watters and his colleagues found that around the equatorial and midlatitude regions, there was a preponderance of north-south ridges, while near the poles, the faults tended to run east-west.

What they figured out is that the tidal forces of the Earth pulling on the moon, while small, generated enough stress to break the moon’s crust in the observed pattern. The new study was published in Geologynytimes

Monday, September 14, 2015

water usage for crops, drinks, and meats

Source: M.M. Mekonnen and A.Y. Hoekstra (2010), 
Value of Water Research Report Series No. 47 and 48, UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands.

(Los Angeles Times)

LA Times’ water footprint app

This chart comes from a report by the Department of Land Air and Water Resources at the University of California, Davis. The orange and yellow are bars are what’s grown to feed animals, not humans.

This Is How Much Water It Takes To Make Your Favorite Foods

Extensive drought has Californians thinking twice about running the tap while brushing their teeth or taking that 20-minute shower. But what some people don't realize is that a huge portion of our water footprint is "hidden," meaning it's used for the things we eat or wear, and for the energy we use. Globally, agricultural production accounts for 92 percent of our water footprint. In the United States, meat consumption alone accounts for a whopping 30 percent of our water footprint.
So exactly how much water do the foods you eat require? Which food would win in a water use showdown? We've got the answers below, along with some helpful hints about reducing the water footprint of your diet.
All data come from Water Footprint Network's website and reports on the global average water footprint of different foods. All winners are based on the gallons of water needed to produce a pound of each item or a gallon of each drink.
Tea vs. Coffee
Tea is the winner at 108 gallons of water per gallon of brewed tea. Coffee requires almost 10 times as much water, using 1,056 gallons of water per gallon of brewed coffee.
Wine vs. Beer
Beer at 296 gallons of water per gallon of beer. It takes 872 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of wine. But if you look at standard servings of each, the race gets closer with about 28 gallons of water needed for 12 fluid ounces of beer and 34 gallons of water needed for 5 fluid ounces of wine.
Beef vs. Chicken
Chicken at 518 gallons of water per pound. Beef requires the most water, at 1,847 gal./lb., followed by sheep at 1,248 gal./lb. and pork at 718 gal./lb. If you're going to eat meat, go with chicken. Better yet try eggs, which take 395 gal./lb., or plant based protein. For dairy products, cheese and butter take more than milk at 381 gal./lb. and 665 gal./lb. respectively. Milk by itself uses only 122 gallons of water per pound.
Tofu vs. Lentils
Tofu at 302 gal./lb. It takes 704 gallons of water to produce one pound of lentils. Chickpeas require less than lentils at 501 gal./lb., and soybeans require less than the more processed tofu, at 257 gal./lb. All of these options are better than eating beef, sheep or pork.
Some will argue that the measurement of gallons per pound isn't fair -- we should consider water consumed per gram of protein. In this case, pulses (including beans, lentils, peas, etc.) win out at 5 gallons per gram of protein, followed by eggs at 7.7 gal./gram, milk at 8.2 gal./gram, and chicken at 9 gal./gram. The numbers only go up from there, with beef topping the scale, requiring 29.6 gallons of water per gram of protein.
Rice vs. Pasta
Pasta at 222 gal./lb. But rice isn't too far away, requiring 299 gallons of water per pound of processed rice. Bread (made from wheat) takes 193 gal./lb. and barley consumes 237 gal./lb.
Oats vs. Potatoes
Unprocessed potatoes at 34 gal./lb. It takes 290 gallons of water to produce one pound of rolled or flaked oats. Sweet potatoes also take less water, using 46 gal./lb., while unprocessed corn requires 146 gal./lb.
Hazelnuts and Walnuts vs. Almonds and Cashews
Hazelnuts and walnuts at 1,260 gal./lb. and 1,112 gal./lb. respectively. That's still a lot of water! But almonds and cashews take more, averaging 1,929 gal./lb. and 1,704 gal./lb. It takes 1,362 gallons of water to produce one pound of pistachios.
Figs vs. Raisins and Dates
Raisins and dates at 292 gal./lb. and 273 gal./lb. respectively, though all three of these take more water than most fruits. Figs require the most -- producing one pound of figs requires 401 gallons of water.
Stone Fruit vs. Citrus
Citrus, at 67 gal./lb. for oranges, 61 gal./lb. for grapefruit and 77 gal./lb. for lemons. Plums require 261 gal./lb., apricots 154 gal./lb. and peaches 109 gal./lb. Avocados are also higher on the list at 141 gal./lb., while apples, bananas, grapes, and kiwis all take less than 100 gal./lb. Strawberries, pineapple, and watermelon require less than 50 gallons of water per pound of fruit.
Broccoli vs. Asparagus
Broccoli at a scant 34 gal./lb., along with cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Asparagus is the water hog of the veggies, requiring 258 gallons of water per pound.
Olives vs. Garlic
Garlic at 71 gal./lb. Olives require 361 gal./lb.
Tomato vs. Eggplant
Tomato at 26 gal./lb. Eggplant requires a still quite low 43 gal./lb. Artichokes cucumbers, and lettuce require 98 gal./lb., 42 gal./lb. and 28 gal./lb., respectively.
Though we've shown them here to illustrate how much water vegetable farming uses, there really are few losers when it comes to veggies. In general, they consume far less water than animal products, nuts and grains.
Olive Oil vs. Corn, Sunflower and Soybean Oil
Everything beats olive oil, which requires 1,729 of water per pound to produce. That's more then all oils except castor oil. Corn oil takes 309 gal./lb., sunflower 814 gal./lb. and soybean 502 gal./lb. If you're a fan of coconut oil you're in luck, as it is also relatively low on the scale. One pound requires 538 gallons of water.
Chocolate vs. Vanilla
Chocolate at 2,061 gal./lb., but this sadly still takes more water to produce than beef. Though we doubt you'll be eating a pound of chocolate any time soon. Cocoa powder takes 1,874 gal./lb. Vanilla beans top the charts at 15,159 gal./lb., though they are usually used in very small quantities.
Cinnamon vs. Mint
Peppermint wins, taking only 35 gallons of water to produce one pound. One pound of cinnamon requires 1,860 gallons. Ginger requires 199 gal./lb.
Remember, what's important here is recognizing that our food makes up a big part of our water footprint. In fact, general trends are more illustrative than knowing exactly which foods have the lowest numbers. Eating fewer animal products and more plant products will reduce your water footprint, as will eating less-processed foods. For example, potato chips have more than three times the water footprint of potatoes, and ketchup takes twice as much as tomatoes. The same is also true of grains and dairy products -- milk is far less water intense than cheese and butter.
Of course, these measurements are by pound, and we think it's unlikely you would consume the same weight in ketchup as you would whole tomatoes. The Water Footprint Network also suggests choosing high water intensity products that are grown or produced in areas that do not have water scarcity problems, if making changes to your diet proves difficult.
Curious about foods we didn't cover? Click here to view the full reports on crops andanimal products.
Note: All units were converted from liters per kilogram to U.S gallons per pound.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said avocados take 237 gallons of water per pound produced. That number is actually 141 gallons/pound. huffingtonpost

Saturday, September 12, 2015

what dogs can and cannot eat

i'm not sure i agree with mushrooms...

homemade dog snacks

summer time frozen treat made with water, chicken stock, toys, and bones

treats in tennis balls

DIY: cute dog bed

use a crib mattress, a fitted sheet, and a wooden pallet

You can also hack an Ikea shelf for a super-modern dog bed

Thursday, September 10, 2015

South African Cave Yields Strange Bones Of Early Human-Like Species

Scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of an unusual human-like creature that lived long ago. Exactly how long ago is still a mystery — and that's not the only mystery surrounding this newfound species.

The bones have a strange mix of primitive and modern features, and were found in an even stranger place — an almost inaccessible chamber deep inside a South African cave called Rising Star.

"It is perhaps one of the best known caves in all of South Africa," says Lee Berger, who studies human evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

In 2013, some local cavers found some fossils inside Rising Star cave. Berger had asked them to be on the lookout, so they brought him photos.

"And there I saw something I perhaps thought I'd never see in my life," recalls Berger. "That is, clearly primitive hominin remains lying on the floor of a cave."

A jaw and a skull were just sitting there in the dirt — usually such bones are encased in rock.

Berger was excited, but he knew he personally could never reach this fossil site. To get into the cave chamber, you have to climb a steep, jagged rockfall called Dragon's Back, then wiggle through a small opening that leads to a long, narrow crack.

The crack is only about 7 ½ inches wide, and goes down more than 30 feet. Squeezing through it is the only way to reach the chamber of bones at the bottom.

Since he couldn't go, Berger sent in his tall, skinny 16-year-old son. "When he came out after 45 minutes, he stuck his head out. And to tell you how bad I am, I didn't say: 'Are you OK?' I said: 'And?' And he says, 'Daddy, it's wonderful.' "

Berger got funding from the National Geographic Society to excavate the site. And he advertised for research assistants on Facebook — for skinny scientists who weren't claustrophobic. Six women took the job.

They worked in the chamber almost like spacewalkers, communicating with researchers outside, via cameras and about 2 miles of fiber optic cable. The team in the chamber used paintbrushes and toothpicks to gently unearth fossil bones — there were more than 1,550 of them, an incredible treasure trove. The researchers describe their find Thursday in a journal called eLife.

"Often I was wondering, 'How on Earth are we going to get that fossil out?' because the density of bones in that chamber was so great, it was like a puzzle to get each fossil out," says Becca Peixotto, one of the scientist-cavers and a doctoral student in anthropology at American University.

The bones come from at least 15 individuals, says John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was on the team that studied the bones.

"We have every age group represented" among the fossils, he says. "We have newborns; we have children of almost every age; we have adults and old adults."

He says these creatures were short — less than 5 feet tall — and thin. They have a particular combination of features that has never been seen before. "It's a new species to science," says Hawks. Researchers have named it Homo naledi, because "naledi" means "star" in a local South African language.

"They have a very small brain. They are not human-like at all in their brain," Hawks says. "It's around a third the size of a human brain today."

But the creatures had feet like us, and walked in a very human-like way. Their hands were also like ours, but their fingers were more curved.

The researchers also tackled this question: How did these human-like creatures get into such a crazy spot? It looks as though the cave chamber has always been hard to reach.

There are no animal bones there, except for a handful of bits from birds and mice. There's no evidence that a carnivore dragged the human-like creatures in, or that they somehow got washed in. And there's no evidence of a mass death, such as a cave accident.
Berger believes someone had to have put the bodies there.

"Homo naledi was deliberately disposing of its dead in a repeated, ritualized fashion in this deep underground chamber," he says.

That's quite a claim — that kind of ritual has been thought to be unique to modern humans or our very close relatives.

And really, the whole discovery — from the bones to their bizarre location — has perplexed experts on human evolution.

"To be honest, I would really distrust anyone who thinks they understand what the significance of these finds is," says Bernard Wood, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University.

Usually scientists can tell how old fossilized bones are, but in this case the geology of the cave gives no clues. The bones could be less than 100,000 years old or several million years old.

"These folks do not have an age, yet they have some remarkable fossils, and the context of them is also remarkable," says Wood. "It's not only remarkable, it's also rather weird. But nonetheless, the fossils are important. So the community is, I think, struggling to work out what it all means."

He notes that only a small section of the cave chamber has been excavated, and it looks like many more bones are down there.

"There is the potential for thousands of specimens in that cave," says Wood. "Intellectually, it's a real puzzle. And I think it's going to take scientists quite a time to get their heads around what the real significance of these discoveries is." npr

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Oysters May Serve as Link in Transmission of Norovirus

Oysters appear to be an important link in the transmission of norovirus among humans, according to new research from China.

Norovirus — better known as “cruise-ship flu,” “stomach flu” or “winter vomiting flu” — is one of the world’s most common causes of gastrointestinal distress. Although most patients recover after a few days of misery, and sometimes ruined vacations, the virus can be lethal to infants, older adults and people with weak immune systems.

It is highly infectious — especially in confined environments like ships — but exactly how it is transmitted has been a mystery. The unwashed hands of food workers have been blamed. But recently, scientists at North Carolina State built a “vomiting machine” that showed tiny infectious droplets of vomit can fly through the air to infect other people, just as droplets from a sneeze do.

In the current study, published last month in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers analyzed the genetic sequences of 1,077 samples of noroviruses found in oysters. Some sequences had been stockpiled in genetic databases since 1983.

The scientists found that 80 percent of the known human noroviruses matched those found in oysters. The majority of the matches were in oysters from coastal waters, more likely to be contaminated with human sewage.

Noroviruses mutate very quickly, as do influenza viruses, and big outbreaks usually begin after a new strain emerges. There was a “convergence” between new strains circulating in oysters and those circulating in humans, the researchers also found.

Yongjie Wang, a food science specialist at Shanghai Ocean University and lead author of the study, concluded that oysters were an important reservoir for human noroviruses — a place where they can hide between outbreaks and mutate. They also can be transmitted back to humans, presumably when oysters are eaten raw.

A way to detect noroviruses in oyster flesh and in the beds where they grow needs to be developed, Dr. Wang said. nytimes

Monday, September 7, 2015

Stonehenge Has A New (Old) Neighbor: Row Of Huge Stones Found Nearby

In the biggest find yet in a project to map the landscape near Stonehenge, researchers have found a row of up to 90 standing stones — some of them nearly 15 feet tall. The huge stone assembly is less than 2 miles from Stonehenge; scientists say it could be as old or older than the famous monument.
The newly found Neolithic monument dates from around 4,500 years ago, researchers say, and it adds a new wrinkle to the Durrington Walls super-henge.

"We don't think there's anything quite like this anywhere else in the world," said lead researcher Vince Gaffney as his team unveiled their findings Monday at the British Science Festival. "This is completely new and the scale is extraordinary."
Using advanced scanning technology, the researchers found that Durrington Walls, the largest henge in Britain, has been hiding a large stone component beneath its well-known earthwork enclosure. Like Stonehenge, the much larger Durrington Walls was built to align with the solstice.
"Not only does this new evidence demonstrate a completely unexpected phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, says Gaffney, "the new stone row could well be contemporary with the famous Stonehenge sarsen circle or even earlier."
Comparing the two sites, Stonehenge's iconic circle is made of sarsen stones that are around 13 feet tall. Researchers say that while they haven't dug out any of the newly found stones, they expect to find that they are also sarsen — a type of sandstone block that's been found elsewhere in the region.
Gaffney adds that the discovery "has significant implications for our understanding of Stonehenge and its landscape setting."
The survey that found the slightly curved row of large rocks hidden beneath the banks of Durrington Walls used ground penetrating radar and other technologies to find evidence of an earlier phase of building at the site.
Researchers believe the newly discovered stones were pushed over and covered by a large bank as part of the super-henge – an incident that might have helped preserve some of the stones.
"In the east up to 30 stones, measuring up to size of 4.5 m x 1.5 x 1 m, have survived below the bank whereas elsewhere the stones are fragmentary or represented by massive foundation pits," says Professor Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology.
The new find is the most shocking of several revelations made by Gaffney and his colleagues in the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project. In 2010, they uncovered a "shadow Stonehenge" less than 3,000 feet from the famous monument. And last year, Gaffney described finding 17 ritual monuments in the same area.

Harvard Law Professor Crowdfunds $1 Million, Launches Presidential Bid

Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig met his self-imposed goal of crowd-funding $1 million by Labor Day, and Sunday on ABC announced he's running for the Democratic nomination for President.

Lessig, an activist with a grassroots following among some progressives, says he's running on a singular platform — the Citizen Equality Act of 2017. It would expand voting access, ban gerrymandering and institute campaign finance reform.

"I think I'm running to get people to acknowledge the elephant in the room," Lessig said Sunday on ABC. "This stalemate, partisan platform of American politics in Washington right now doesn't work. And we have to find a way to elevate the debate to focus on the changes that would actually get us a government that could work again, that is not captured by the tiniest fraction of the one percent who fund campaigns."

As NPR's Peter Overby reported last month for our It's All Politics blog, Lessig's presidential bid —and campaign strategy — seems to be a long shot.

"The plan sidesteps the biggest growth area in political money: superPACs and so-called social welfare organizations that raise unlimited sums for "independent" efforts to promote candidates. This unregulated money, some disclosed and some anonymous, is constitutionally protected by recent court decisions, including the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010."

This latest entrant brings the number of candidates on the Democratic side up to six.

Should Lessig beat the odds and win the White House, he would not be there very long, if things go according to his plan. Once the Citizen Equality Act is signed into law, he's vowed to vacate the Oval Office and hand over power to his vice president.

Visitors to Lessig's website can vote on a number of people they'd like to see as his running mate (and, in theory, eventual president), including astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

While Lessig's campaign is unconventional, as Politico reports, it's not his first foray into politics.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

sarcastic fringehead fish

The sarcastic fringeheadNeoclinus blanchardi, is a small but ferocious fish which has a large mouth and aggressive territorial behavior, for which it has been given its common name. When two fringeheads have a territorial battle, they wrestle by pressing their distended mouths against each other, as if they were kissing. This allows them to determine which is the larger fish, which establishes dominance.
They can be up to 30 centimetres (12 in) long, elongate and slender, and are mostly scaleless with great pectoral fins and reduced pelvic fins. They tend to hide inside shells or crevices. After the female spawns under a rock or in clam burrows the male guards the eggs.
They are found in the Pacific, off the coast of North America, from San FranciscoCalifornia, to central Baja California. Their depth range is from 3 to 73 metres (9.8 to 239.5 ft).

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Gasping for air: nutrients, warming trigger ocean oxygen deficit

“When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters,” once a tagline of the American Lung Association, today it might easily describe what is happening in many areas of the ocean. Hypoxia, the lack of oxygen in our estuaries, coastal and deep ocean waters, is on the rise and endangering marine life around the world. Its causes are a complex mix of excess nutrients and our warming world. Agriculture, human waste, and rising levels of atmospheric CO2 underlie these changes.
Denise Breitburg, senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md. near the Chesapeake Bay, answers a few questions about marine hypoxia.
Breitburg and Lisa Levin of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography were co-authors of a recent article on ocean deoxygenation in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Q: Where does hypoxia occur in the ocean?

Breitburg: It occurs in estuaries, along our coasts and in the deep ocean.
In estuaries, the areas where fresh and salt water meet, and in some coastal waters, hypoxia is caused by overstimulation of algal growth by nutrients from human activities, primarily agriculture and human waste. Some nutrients are OK but large amounts result in too much algae. Algae that aren’t consumed by animals die and decompose in great quantities. Decomposition depletes the oxygen in the water causing low-oxygen zones. Basically, many microbes use oxygen and release carbon dioxide when they respire, just like people do when they breathe.
A truck applies nutrient rich liquid manure to a farm field, some of which will end up in streams, estuaries and the ocean. (Photo courtesy Chesapeake Bay Program)
In the deep ocean, deoxygenation is mainly a natural phenomenon. Oxygen is mixed into the water at the surface but once you reach a certain depth you no longer get much benefit from that mixing. In addition, organic matter produced near the ocean surface can wind up sinking to bottom waters. Microbial decomposition of this organic matter depletes the deep oxygen and creates large deoxygenated zones.
Coastal and open-ocean hypoxia have long been regarded by scientists as distinct, but our world is highly interconnected. For example, there is some evidence that nutrient enrichment from human activities, a known cause of coastal hypoxia, could also increase deeper water low oxygen zones. Some systems, such as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, experience hypoxia that appears to be caused both by nutrients coming from land and the inflow of deep oceanic water that is naturally low in oxygen.
Oxygen is mixed into the ocean at the surface, but beyond a certain depth there is no benefit from this surface mixing. (Flickr photo by David Robertson)

Q: Do deep water hypoxic zones stay down deep?

Breitburg: No. Deep areas of low oxygen water become a problem when they upwell near shore, bringing their very low oxygen waters right up to the shallows. The upwelling also brings nutrients to the surface, which is one reason we have incredibly productive fisheries along the west coasts of many continents including North America, South America and Africa.
Upwelling of deep ocean water is caused when a combination of persistent longshore winds and the earth’s rotation push coastal surface water out to sea. In response, deep water moves up to bathe the continental shelves in hypoxic water that is also more acidic than open ocean surface water. Warming atmospheric temperatures very definitely affect wind patterns that cause this upwelling.
Continental margins, shelves and estuaries around the world that were previously well oxygenated, now experience hypoxia either seasonally or episodically. For example, upwelling is creating seasonal dead zones on the inner Oregon Shelf.
A phytoplankton bloom is visible off the coast of Argentina, just south of the Rio de la Plata estuary (visible in the top of the image). (Photo Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC | NASA Earth Observatory)

Q: What happens to marine animals during these events?

Breitburg. Animals like bivalves, worms or corals that can’t easily swim away from areas of low oxygen are especially vulnerable, but even fish that are strong swimmers can be trapped and killed. Low oxygen levels in oceanic and estuarine waters can alter food webs, growth rates, and make organisms more susceptible to disease. If a low-oxygen event is severe or long-lasting, it can have a devastating impact on a region. This can translate into a loss of the ocean resources humans depend on.

Q: Would removing nutrients from estuaries help?

Breitburg: It’s not a matter of trying to get nutrients out of the estuaries or the ocean. It’s a matter of trying to reduce what we are putting in. If we turn the spigot off, these systems will, over time, clean themselves up. In some cases it would be very quick, maybe a few years, not necessarily hundreds or thousands.
There are a lot of efforts worldwide to reduce nutrients going into estuaries and other coastal waters. Some of them have been very successful. Some are making slow incremental progress. Overloading a system with nutrients is a problem that is much better to prevent than to try to correct.
Algae blooms are often referred to as red tides because of their red color in the water. Red tides, like this one in La Jolla, Calif., can form as a result of nutrient pollution. (Flickr photo by Alejandro Díaz)