As part of my ongoing community-based research on water quality in coastal North Carolina, I ended up tasked with answering what I thought would be a very basic question: what is the predominant pesticide used in my county? The largest farm and by far the largest amount of cropland is occupied by a traditional corn/soy rotation with the occasional cotton thrown in. Given the multitude of American acres donated to corn/soy, I figured I could easily find out the basics of that crop’s chemistry. Not so. My little information adventure has made me realize why there are so many rumors surrounding farming’s impact on water quality in the region. Rumors are easier to find than facts.
Continue reading Chemistry of the Great Big Blue: A Pesticide Mystery
There are currently more than 7,500 offshore oil platforms actively probing the earth’s crust for black gold. Their relatively minimal appearance at the surface belies the shear magnitude of human construction beneath the waves. Oil platforms are among the world’s tallest man-made structures. Compliant tower platforms reach up to 900 meters in depth (in contrast, the tallest building is 828 meters). these rigs are not permanent structures. As the wells run dry and sea water corrodes steel jackets, the wells are capped and rigs decommissioned. At least 6500 offshore platforms are slated for decommission by 2025, which begs the question, what do we do with inactive oil platforms?
Continue reading A rig by any other name, could it be an artificial reef?
fish face a tradeoff of where to use their energy, much like the polluted fish in the Lorax by Dr. Suess
Overfishing is most often implicated as the cause of decreasing fish stocks and that makes a lot of logical sense if you’ve ever seen a large commercial trawler unload its catch. But there very well might be another force at work in the precipitous decline in fish stocks worldwide: pollution. The basic premise is that it takes resources to deal with pollutants that normally would be given to growth and reproduction. Through polluting the ocean, we have selected for the fish individuals that can most effectively divert those resources, inadvertently also selecting for smaller fish that reproduce less. That has huge implications for the fish’s population dynamics and potentially total fish stock. More details below the fold…
Continue reading A recipe for the evolution of smaller fish stocks?
The following photos are from a massive fish kill in a river close to la Guillec, France. According to Dr. Sophie Plouviez, the die-off affected not only fish, but nearly all of the benthic invertebrates in the river. The cause of the die-off has yet to be determined. We are trying to locate the source of the images, and will continue to update as more information become available.
Continue reading Massive fish kill in France
This audio clip provided by my housemate. You definitely want to listen to the entire clip to get the full effect. Enjoy.
Manatees produce a variety of mechanical sounds
Original file courtesy of Save the Manatee.
~Southern Fried Scientist
We recieved several responses to Dave’s post this week on the bizarre “Save the Light Bulb” movement. A movement that seeks to ban energy efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and return to the old, energy expensive, incandescent bulbs. The primary critique is that CFL’s contain mercury, and thus, any environmental benefit is negated by mercury exposure when the bulbs break or are thrown out.
Continue reading Compact Fluorescent Lights, Energy, and Mercury
Sedimentation in the Chesapeake - look at the brown toward the headwaters. Found at nasa.gov
Rocks erode, travel down rivers and eventually in the form of small particles, settle in river deltas and estuaries. Even smaller pieces can be carried hundreds of miles into the ocean. It’s all part of the natural process of sedimentation, but like many other natural cycles, this one has been hijacked by human activities. Development, agriculture, channelization of streams, damming and many other practices change the natural course of sediment in the coastal oceans more than the ecosystem can handle.
These changes can either be a drastic increase in sediment runoff from upstream sources or a complete deprivation of naturally occurring deltas. In addition, many pollutants cling to these sediment particles so that changing the location of the sediment also shifts the location of pollution.
Continue reading Chemistry of the Great Big Blue: Sedimentation
Sea Otters are turning up dead in central California. In 2007, 11 sea otters were recovered from Monterrey Bay. Over the last three years, dead otters washing up on beaches has reached a record high?
What could be causing all these otter deaths? Are there new predators in the area? Is there some kind of disease? Could increased otter deaths reflect an increase in otter populations, indicating not otter population decline, but otter population growth? The answer turns out to be even more surprising – freshwater algae.
Here no Otter, Sea no Otter, Speak no Otter
Continue reading What’s Killing California’s Sea Otters?
The Great Big Blue looks like it contains nothing but water and maybe a little salt, especially out in the open ocean. However, this kind of sparse environment is exactly where the chemistry matters the most – it’s a fine line between not enough, too much, and just right. Given this, there’s no distinct myth here but an underlying unresolved question: what is the limiting factor that keeps the open ocean at low productivity?
Continue reading Chemistry of the Great Big Blue: Nutrients