Science news: Robot larvae deployed at sea; Subterranean caves hold clues to past droughts; Where have all the frogs gone?; 10 interesting things about ecosystems; and more …

Red sea lily stalked crinoid NOAA
Red sea lily stalked crinoid (photo by NOAA)
In science news this week: Robot larvae deployed at sea; From farm to your table, oysters offer a sustainable choice; Subterranean caves hold clues to past droughts; Where have all the frogs gone? The global amphibian decline; Environmental DNA uncovers biodiversity in rivers; Ecological consequences of amphetamine pollution in urban streams; Lightning strikes: Thunderstorms spread mercury pollution; Climate change has less impact on drought than previously expected; US taps NCAR technology for new water resources forecasts; How does the ocean drive climate and weather extremes?; Going out for ice cream: A first date with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation; And lastly … 10 interesting things about ecosystems

Robot larvae deployed at sea: Scientists from the University of California, Davis, are deploying “robot larvae” into the ocean at Bodega Bay, just north of San Francisco.  These robots mimic clouds of microscopic marine larvae, such as baby crabs, mussels, clams and rockfish. The data the bots bring back provide some of the first direct confirmation of a decades-old and surprisingly contentious scientific mystery: Where do marine larvae go, how do they get there and back, and what allows them to do this? … ”  Read more from UC Davis here:  Robot larvae deployed at sea

From farm to your table, oysters offer a sustainable choice:  California Sea Grant Fellow Kari Eckdahl writes, “My time as a Sea Grant Fellow with NOAA Fisheries’ California Aquaculture Program Office has opened my eyes to the role that marine aquaculture can play in providing a healthy, sustainable source of food, and what NOAA Fisheries is doing to promote it.  You may have heard of “Farm to Table” in terms of vegetables, but there’s a similar concept in shellfish aquaculture. Oyster farms deliver fresh, healthy, protein-packed oysters to your table, and the popularity of their products is growing. The value of oyster production in Washington, Oregon and California has doubled in the last 15 years, hitting a record high of almost $63 million in 2014, the last year with data available.  That makes oysters one of the most valuable shellfish on the West Coast, important both to the economy and to the people who love to eat them. … ”  Read more from NOAA here:  From farm to your table, oysters offer a sustainable choice

Subterranean caves hold clues to past droughts: To better understand the past and future of California drought, some scientists are heading underground.  Jessica Oster, a geochemist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., wants to create a high-resolution profile of the western United States’ climate, including precipitation and temperature data, throughout the Holocene to better understand the region’s history of megadroughts—droughts that last decades to centuries.  “There is evidence of a period of megadroughts in the paleoclimatic record of the western U.S., but the atmospheric drivers that caused them are a puzzle,” Oster said. … ”  Read more from EOS here:  Subterranean caves hold clues to past droughts

Where have all the frogs gone? The global amphibian decline: California is one of the world’s “biodiversity hotspots,” making it both an exciting and challenging place to work. We interact with this diversity in our daily work, but also witness the challenges California’s wildlife species face. California was once abundant in amphibians such as the California tiger salamander, the California red-legged frog, foothill yellow-legged frog, and Yosemite toad. But today, all of these species are believed to have disappeared from half of the area they once occupied in California, and encountering them is a rare event. All are currently species of special concern or on the watch list of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and some are also protected by federal law. In biodiversity hotspots across the world, many amphibians have suffered rapid population declines for the past 20 years, and one third of all amphibian species worldwide are now considered threatened. Loss of habitat, the introduction of invasive species, pollution, and the emergence of infectious diseases are all factors contributing the decline of amphibians, which scientists are characterizing as an amphibian mass extinction. ... ”  Read more from FishBio here:  Where have all the frogs gone? The global amphibian decline

Environmental DNA uncovers biodiversity in rivers:  “Most natural ecosystems are heavily affected by changes to the human habitat, climate change or invasive species. In order to protect these ecosystems, one needs to know which organisms live in them. Therefore, assessing the state of and change in biodiversity is central to ecology and conservation biology. However, classical methods are often only suitable for determining a subset of organisms. Moreover, they are expensive and involve collecting the organisms themselves.  Recently, scientists came up with the idea of collecting the DNA of organisms from environmental samples instead, such as soil or water, and determining the various species that way. ... ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Environmental DNA uncovers biodiversity in rivers

Ecological consequences of amphetamine pollution in urban streams: Pharmaceutical and illicit drugs are present in streams in Baltimore, Maryland. At some sites, amphetamine concentrations are high enough to alter the base of the aquatic food web. So reports a new study released today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, which is one of the first to explore the ecological consequences of stimulant pollution in urban streams.  Lead author Sylvia S. Lee conducted the work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Lee, now with the Environmental Protection Agency, comments, “Around the world, treated and untreated wastewater entering surface waters contains pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs that originate from human consumption and excretion, manufacturing processes, or improper disposal. We were interested in revealing how amphetamine exposure influences the small plants and animals that play a large role in regulating the health of streams.” ... ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Ecological consequences of amphetamine pollution in urban streams

Lightning strikes: Thunderstorms spread mercury pollution: In the southern United States, an afternoon thunderstorm is part of a regular summer day. But new research shows those storms might be doing more than bringing some scary thunder and lightning. In fact, these storms are moving significant amounts of mercury to the ground.  In a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Assistant Professor of Meteorology Christopher Holmes writes that thunderstorms have 50 percent higher concentrations of mercury than other rain events. “The mercury is being transported into our region by winds, and tall thunderstorms are bringing it down to Earth,” Holmes said. … ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Lightning strikes: Thunderstorms spread mercury pollution

Climate change has less impact on drought than previously expected:  “As a multiyear drought grinds on in the Southwestern United States, many wonder about the impact of global climate change on more frequent and longer dry spells. As humans emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, how will water supply for people, farms, and forests be affected?  A new study from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Washington shows that water conserved by plants under high CO2 conditions compensates for much of the effect of warmer temperatures, retaining more water on land than predicted in commonly used drought assessments.  According to the study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the implications of plants needing less water with more CO2 in the environment changes assumptions of climate change impacts on agriculture, water resources, wildfire risk, and plant growth. … ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Climate change has less impact on drought than previously expected

US taps NCAR technology for new water resources forecasts:  “As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this month launches a comprehensive system for forecasting water resources in the United States, it is turning to technology developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its university and agency collaborators.  WRF-Hydro, a powerful NCAR-based computer model, is the first nationwide operational system to provide continuous predictions of water levels and potential flooding in rivers and streams from coast to coast. NOAA’s new Office of Water Prediction selected it last year as the core of the agency’s new National Water Model.  “WRF-Hydro gives us a continuous picture of all of the waterways in the contiguous United States,” said NCAR scientist David Gochis, who helped lead its development. “By generating detailed forecast guidance that is hours to weeks ahead, it will help officials make more informed decisions about reservoir levels and river navigation, as well as alerting them to dangerous events like flash floods.” … ”  Read more from NCAR here:  US taps NCAR technology for new water resources forecasts

How does the ocean drive climate and weather extremes?  “There’s been a change in the weather. Across the globe, extreme weather events—severe heat waves, heavy precipitation, lengthy droughts and deadly wildfires—appear to be on the rise. December 2015 was the wettest month in the United Kingdom since record keeping began in 1910. More than 5,000 miles west, California recently entered its fifth year of drought. These events threaten the health and welfare of communities, and they’re costly. Losses related to the flooding in the U.K. are expected to exceed five billion pounds, while the Golden State’s drought drained about $2.7 billion from its coffers in 2015 alone.  … ”  Read more from PhysOrg here:  How does the ocean drive climate and weather extremes?

Going out for ice cream: A first date with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation: We talk a lot about El Niño and La Niña at the ENSO blog, but there are other phenomena that garner interest among scientists, even if they do not have the same brand recognition as El Niño. So while we wait for a potential La Niña (forecaster checks watch), this blog post will take us on a first date with a sea surface temperature (SST) pattern in the North Pacific Ocean called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or the PDO. (Tony already provided our meet cute with the PDO.)  First identified in the late 1990s (Mantua 1997), the PDO is the most significant year-round pattern in monthly SSTs across the North Pacific. Similar to ENSO, the PDO has two states – warm and cold – and involves various other aspects of the climate system. Unlike ENSO, the PDO isn’t one climate phenomenon. What we call the PDO is instead an aggregation of mostly independent processes. If ENSO is an ice cream flavor, the PDO is climate Neapolitan — a combo of different individual processes which influence a broader area. ... ”  Read more from Climate.gov here:  Going out for ice cream: A first date with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation

And lastly … 10 interesting things about ecosystems:  “1.  Coral reefs are beautiful and fragile:  Coral reefs are busy underwater ecosystems. Some people call them the “rainforests of the sea.” The corals look like rocks but actually are animals. They have hard calcium carbonate skeletons like clams. They form a base for lots of other organisms to live. You’ll find crabs, sea stars, worms, clams, sponges, jellies, sea turtles, and lots of fish. Coral reefs are complicated and very fragile. They are easily affected by pollution. … ”  Read more from NASA here:  10 interesting things about ecosystems

Maven’s XKCD Comic Pick of the Week …

 

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About Science News and Reports: This weekly feature, posted every Thursday, is a collection of the latest scientific research and reports with a focus on relevant issues to the Delta and to California water, although other issues such as climate change are sometimes included. Do you have an item to be included here? Submissions of relevant research and other materials is welcome. Email Maven

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