Science news & reports: Halloween horrors, mercury, pesticides, embedded GHGs in water systems, forests and source water, and more

ozone hole
The ozone hole
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Halloween Horrors in Butte Creek:  Here, salmon turn into zombies naturally, writes the California Water Blog:  ” … In Butte Creek, this usually happens in early May. They stop eating and start living off their fat. The degeneration accelerates after they spawn, from mid-September through October. By then, the salmon are burning through their muscles and organs. They’re deteriorating from the inside out.  Bill Husa, photo editor at the Chico Enterprise-Record, arrived at the scene a few weeks ago, at the peak of ugliness and stench. He and reporter Heather Hacking were on a story involving, appropriately enough, the hacking of the salmon carcasses with machetes. …  ”  Read more from the California Water Blog here:  Halloween horrors and machetes on the Butte

New research shows that mercury in sediments is being transported by floods from the Sierras to the Central Valley lowlands:  ” … Contamination of food webs as a result of mercury-laden sediment, coupled with regional shifts in climate, poses a huge risk to the lowland ecosystems and to the human population as well because a lot of people eat fish from this system.  “This new study addresses a gap in the general theory of the evolution of toxic sediment emplaced by industrial mining, which enables anticipation, prediction and management of contamination to food webs,” Singer said. … ”  Read more from Science Daily here: Mercury: Enduring Contaminant Legacy of the California Gold Rush Transported by Floods

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Non-hazardous low-cost way to clean up mercury hot-spots:  “In a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, Cynthia Gilmour (SERC), Upal Ghosh (UMBC) and their colleagues show that adding activated carbon, a form of charcoal processed to increase its ability to bind chemicals, can significantly reduce mercury exposure in these highly contaminated sites. With funding and support from several industry and federal partners, the team tested the technology in the laboratory with mercury-contaminated sediments from four locations: a river, a freshwater lake and two brackish creeks. To reduce the harm from mercury, the sorbents also had to decrease the amount of methylmercury taken up by worms. “Methylmercury is more toxic and more easily passed up food webs than inorganic mercury,” said Gilmour, the lead author on the study. “Unfortunately, methylmercury is produced from mercury contamination by natural bacteria. To make contaminated sites safe again, we need to reduce the amount of methylmercury that gets into animals.”  Read more from PhysOrg here:  New low-cost, nondestructive technology cuts risk from mercury hot spots

Pesticides in the Sacramento Valley and the Delta:  The USGS’s page has details on seasonal pesticide concentrations in the Delta, Sacramento Valley rice pesticides, pesticides during managed flow conditions, and pesticide concentrations in salmon habitat; the page includes links to several studies.  Read more here:  USGS Pesticide Fate Research Group – Field Studies, Delta

The value of historical fish collections:  The FishBio elaborates:  “Historical scientific collections of fish and other animals provide an ecological snapshot in time that can prove useful to contemporary researchers in a variety of ways. Perhaps most importantly, individual specimens upon which species descriptions are based are archived in such collections for future reference, and can be accessed to verify species designations as new knowledge and methods become available. Further, preserved fish containing preserved stomach contents can provide insight into their diets; their otoliths, or ear bones, offer historic age and growth information; and their tissues can reveal the past genetic makeup of populations long replaced by subsequent generations. … ”  Read more from FishBio here:  Old, short-lived fish

White paper looks at energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with California’s water and wastewater systems:  With nearly 20% of California’s electricity and 30% of non-power plant natural gas is used for water related purposes, a framework is needed for measuring and addressing the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with California’s water and wastewater systems:  ” … While the energy and associated GHGs embedded in our water and wastewater systems contribute to climate change, these same systems are also particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Water agencies could experience higher infrastructure and energy costs, and be required to invest in new water resources; consumers could face lower water quality and higher costs.“Connecting the dots between water, GHGs and energy is essential if we’re going to reduce the climate impacts of our water systems,” said David Rosenheim, Executive Director of The Climate Registry. “Providing water agencies with the tools and resources to accurately and consistently account for their energy use and GHGs will help guide infrastructure investments, encourage consumers to conserve water and energy, and help us build more resilient and energy-efficient water agency operations.””  Read more here:  White paper establishes new framework for addressing the climate impacts of California’s water systems

Forested landscapes and source water protection: A new publication from World Resources Institute looks at the connection between forests and source water:  “Aging water infrastructure, increasing demand, continued land use change, and increasingly extreme weather events are driving the costs of water management higher in the United States. Investing in integrated water management strategies that combine engineered solutions with “natural infrastructure” can reduce costs, enhance services, and provide a suite of co-benefits for communities and the environment. This publication offers comprehensive guidance on the economics, science, partnerships, and finance mechanisms underlying successful efforts to secure the water-related functions of networks of forests and other ecosystems.”  Read more here:  Natural Infrastructure: Investing in Forested Landscapes for Source Water Protection in the United States

The Economist says scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying:  Results should always be subject to challenge from experiment, something that’s generated a vast body of knowledge:  ” … But success can breed complacency. Modern scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying—to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity.  Too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis. A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists is that half of published research cannot be replicated. Even that may be optimistic. Last year researchers at one biotech firm, Amgen, found they could reproduce just six of 53 “landmark” studies in cancer research. Earlier, a group at Bayer, a drug company, managed to repeat just a quarter of 67 similarly important papers. A leading computer scientist frets that three-quarters of papers in his subfield are bunk. In 2000-10 roughly 80,000 patients took part in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted because of mistakes or improprieties. … ”  So what to do?  The Economist explores here: How science goes wrong – Scientific research has changed the world. Now it needs to change itself

Do we trust scientists? Apparently not:  Half of Europeans don’t and neither do political groups in the U.S., so why is that?  ” … while this survey says while we trust “scientists” in the aggregate more than any other group, it goes on to say that we actually don’t when it comes to just about every specific issue scientists could weigh in on. (Even worse, this poll was held through the websites of Nature and Scientific American — i.e., science magazines.)  So what’s the problem? New findings suggest it might have something do with how scientists code as a profession to the rest of us — “competent” but “cold,” a combination that elicits resentment and envy instead of sympathy and trust. … ”  Read more from the Cool Green Science blog here:  ‘Competent But Cold’: New Research on Why Scientists Don’t Connect with People

Picture credit: Graphic of September’s ozone hole by NASA.  More information here.

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