Purifying membranes; picture by BASF

Science news and reports: Pharmaceuticals in the Delta, the Delta Independent Science Board’s report on habitat restoration projects, shifting tides, what would California landmarks look with 25 feet of sea level rise? … and more!

Purifying membranes; picture by BASF
Purifying membranes at a magnification 2 000 :1 (12cm in width); picture by BASF

The Delta on Drugs:  Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are found in surface waters worldwide, mostly the result of wastewater treatment plant discharges.  Several wastewater treatment plants discharge into the Delta, but the presence of these contaminants has received very little attention.  A new study just published by UC Davis researchers and published in the San Francisco Estuary & Watershed Science journal determined concentrations of these contaminants in the Sacramento River near the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant using passive sampler monitoring.  The data was then used to estimate the loads from the other wastewater treatment plants, and models run.  The results indicated that it is feasible that low levels of these contaminants are chronically present in the Delta and that aquatic organisms may be being continually exposed.  Read the study here:  Fate and Transport of Three Pharmaceuticals in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Review of Delta habitat restoration projects completed:  The Delta Independent Science Board has finalized their review of habitat restoration projects in the Delta.  The projects, mostly tidal marsh restoration or levee upgrades, were evaluated for how science was incorporated into their restoration activities with an emphasis on how restoration would be managed adaptively in the face of climate change.  The DISB found that in general, the projects were well-conceived and led by personnel with a lot of dedication, enthusiasm, and knowledge.  The importance of a scientific foundation for the project is widely recognized, and there is a dedication to conducting a successful restoration program and working with stakeholders to address their concerns.  However, the Board expressed concern over the slow pace of restoration, the piecemeal approaches, and other impediments that deter progress and achievement of goals.  “Restoration projects seem to be largely independent of one another and often lack an integrated vision with clearly defined and shared goals and objectives.  Consequently, the science is often fragmented rather than being coordinated and integrated among projects,” the Board writes.  The report makes several recommendations for improving the success of habitat restoration projects. Read more here: Habitat restoration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Marsh.

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Shifting tides will bring warmer waters to the Delta:  A new research paper led by the Delta Stewardship Council’s Chris Enright has been published in the high-end journal, Estuaries and Coasts.  The study uncovered an interesting phenomena:  there was a profound tidal and two-week cooling effect due to the timing of the high spring tides that flood the tidal marsh plains.  When the water floods the marsh, the shallow water is exposed to air temperatures, which, with the high tides occurring at night, will make the water much cooler when it drains off the marsh and returns to the sloughs and channels.  This was found to be a major source of cold water to the system.  Currently, the Suisun Marsh experiences the seasonal high tides near midnight in the summer, and near noon in the winter. However, over the next 167 years, the timing of the tides will shift in the coming decades through natural processes, and these high tides will begin to occur during the day and instead will produce a much different process – the water will flow out onto the marsh plain and will be heated by the sun, likely raising temperatures in the system as the water returns to the sloughs and channels.  Other marsh functions may slowly shift through the 335-year cycle.  The findings of the study have implications for fish survival and for tidal marsh restoration. Read more here:  Broad Timescale Forcing and Geomorphic Mediation of Tidal Marsh Flow and Temperature Dynamics

How would the home of Giants baseball, Venice Beach or Coronado Island look with 25 feet of sea level rise?  Popular Science shows you in this animated picture show here:  Animated: How The West Coast Will Look Under 25 Feet Of Water

WIRED Magazine features the Resource Renewal Institute’s new California Water Atlas:  The project, developed by Chacha Sikes and Laci Videmsky hopes to inspire dialog on water policy issues by making data on the state’s water resources more accessible and comprehensible through a series of interactive maps: ” … A major inspiration for the new project was a 1979 water atlas commissioned by California governor Jerry Brown (yes, he was governor back then too). The book became a cult classic among cartography geeks for its beautiful maps and infographics, Videmsky says, but it didn’t reach many people and didn’t have much impact on water policy.    Videmsky and Sikes hope to change that with an open and interactive digital atlas that is free for anyone to use online.  The first map they created for the new atlas illustrates water rights claims in the state. Water rights granted by the state give individuals, companies, and agencies permission to withdraw water from rivers, streams, and groundwater sources for what the state considers reasonable and beneficial uses. … ”  Read more from Wired Magazine here:  Interactive Atlas Highlights Water Use Issues in California

Mercury will persist in the environment for decades, researchers say:  They collected historical emissions data and built a model: ” … Their model reveals that most of the mercury emitted to the environment ends up in the ocean within a few decades and remains there for centuries to millennia. These days, emissions are mainly from coal-fired power plants and artisanal gold mining. Thrown into the air, rained down onto lakes, absorbed into the soil, or carried by rivers, mercury eventually finds its way to the sea. In aquatic ecosystems, microbes convert it to methylmercury, the organic compound that accumulates in fish, finds its way to our dinner plates, and has been associated with neurological and cardiovascular damage. … ”  More information here:  Researchers warn of legacy mercury in the environment

Adaptive management and the Chesapeake Bay:  Here is an article from the Bay Journal on how adaptive management is being applied to the restoration efforts at Chesapeake Bay.  In recent years, efforts have stalled due to lack of consensus on activities such as habitat restoration and land preservation.  In the last year, a scientific expert was brought in to coach managers on the principles of adaptive management, but sill most people don’t yet fully understand.  ” …  Adaptive management in its simplest manifestation calls for people to learn from their mistakes and make course corrections as needed, so it would seem be a no-brainer to implement. But Hershner acknowledged there are legitimate obstacles.  The very notion that management efforts may need to change means there is uncertainty about whether those actions will achieve intended goals. Acknowledging uncertainty, Hershner said, is “very difficult in a political program. No one wants to be seen committing huge public resources to something that everyone acknowledges is not a certain outcome at all.” … ”  Read more from the Bay Journal here:  Adaptive management aims to take ambiguity out of cleanup goals

National Science Foundation and NBC Learn partner to create new educational video series on water:  The “Sustainability: Water” series aims to help advance public understanding of the effects human activity and climate variability have on water and its distribution system.  The series profiles selected cities and regions across the nation that are facing significant challenges, including the Sierra Nevada and Southern California.  Click here to read the press release; click here for the video series.

New novel ecological communities forming in the ocean’s masses of plastic debris:  Plastic is the number one form of ocean debris, and while other studies had looked at the effects on larger fish and wildlife species, until now, no one had explored what the debris is doing to the ocean’s smallest inhabitants: ” … [Researchers] discovered that tiny organisms from algae to bacteria thrive on plastic debris, transforming it into rich “microbial reefs” that are distinct from communities in surrounding water. Though some inhabitants may be degrading the plastic, it still provides a relatively stable home for microbes. Apparently a good home for its little residents, plastic debris might pose a health risk for invertebrates, fish or possibly humans. The Plastisphere harbors a group of bacteria called Vibrio. Some Vibrio species can cause illnesses, such as cholera, when they come in contact with humans. … ”  Read more from PhysOrg here:  Discovery of the ‘Plastisphere’: A new marine ecological community


Photo credit and information: Photo by BASF’s World of Research on flickr:   “Today membranes are one of the most innovative technologies for separating and purifying materials. They are used for purifying drinking water, process water and waste water as well as in the food industry, to separate chemicals and for dialysis. To purify drinking water, ultra filtration membranes cleanse the water of bacteria and pathogens, their decomposition products and viruses.

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