Showing posts from 2017

Southern Resident Orcas in Decline

Southern Orcas in steady decline 

The west coast of Canada and the US is host to distinct family groups of Orcas, also known as killer whales, one of which is known as the southern pod. The black and white whales are a popular tourist attraction in the Juan de Fuca and Victoria, BC, area.
The University of Washington has conducted a multiyear study of the southern pod, trying to determine which deleterious environmental stimuli have the most impact on the group. They looked at boat traffic, toxins in the water and abundance of food. The study continued for seven years, from 2007 to 2014.
The conclusion, published this year, named the lack of the Orcas’ preferred food as the number one factor in the decline of this family group. The resident Orcas depend heavily on salmon to maintain their health. The southern population depends on salmon for 95% of its food and the majority of that is the variety known as Chinook Salmon.
The researchers looked at returns to both the Fraser and Columb…

Mandatory Evacuation Ordered for Waterton Lakes Nat. Park

Too often people carelessly start fires. This campsite was the start of a major forest fire in California
The wildfire season continues to wreak havoc in the western part of the continent. Friday a mandatory evacuation order was implemented to clear people from Waterton Lakes National Park. Winds have pushed an out of control fire into the park boundary. This includes the town of Waterton, Alberta.
This fire, labelled the Kenow Fire, is believed to have started in BC from a lightning strike. The hot, dry summer that BC has experienced has led to the worst fire season on record. Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island have had influxes of smoke from both BC and Washington State wildfires. Washington State is fighting numerous wildfires including five areas where multiple fires have converged to for complex burn areas.
Idaho and Oregon are also fighting numerous large wildfires, many with 20% or less containment. California is battling several serious fires. They have had a hot, dry summer…

Killer Storms Take Aim at US, Mexico

Sept. 8/17 Hurricane Irma

Hurricane season in the Atlantic starts in the autumn when sun warmed waters at heat to storm systems. If enough heat is contributed, a storm may turn into a hurricane. 
Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast inundating millions of acres of city and farmland. It forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, some with only the clothes they were wearing. The decision to not order evacuations of Houston, in retrospect, looks like a mistake. However, during the last major hurricane threat, evacuations claimed more lives than the storm.
Deaths attributed to the “Thousand Year Storm” vary, depending on which agency is reporting, but Fox News and Time Inc. are quoting 70 deaths to date. Damage estimates top US$100 million.
Hurricane Irma is now churning through the Bahamas and heading toward Florida. It is expected to touch the north coast of Cuba which may slow the wind speeds enough to downgrade Irma from a cat. 5 to a cat. 4. That may be cold comfort …

Alien Jelly Blobs Discovered in Vancouver Lake

Colony of Pectinatella magnifica Lost Lagoon in Vancouver, BC, has been harbouring a strange life form. It looks like human brains are sitting in the shallow water but fortunately that isn’t the case. The warm water and abundant microscopic floaties in the lake have made perfect conditions for a variety of Bryozoan.
Bryozoans are tiny animals without backbones. Individuals are around half a millimetre(0.02 inches), but form colonies of thousands which can reach over two feet across. They may be anchored to the bottom or free floating.
The variety found in Lost Lagoon is not native to the area, but was originally found east of the Mississippi River. Over the past few decades the variety has spread across N. America and Europe.
The jelly blobs are not harmful to humans but they are pretty repulsive to us. The colony forms around a base of mucus and the surface of the colony is also covered in mucus. These little organisms actually clean the water by consuming microscopic bits of organ…

BC coping with record high temperatures

September 3/17

These have stayed dry since June The Province of British Columbia, Canada, continues to swelter under unseasonably hot, dry conditions. This forest fire season in the province has been the worst on record with numerous mass evacuations needed. It has also been the most costly.
Eastern Vancouver Island is usually drier than the west coast and much of the mainland coast, but this year it is parched. A combination of higher than usual temperatures and lack of rain has dried out the land.
There has been no useful rainfall since June and none is in the forecast. The water hauling trucks are being kept busy in the rural areas.
Saturday, we saw another upswing in temperatures with temperatures once again peaking in the 30s Celsius. In my area today’s temperature is expected to reach 32 degrees C. (90 F). The government web site warns that this weather system seems to be stalled over the province.
We may look on the bright side, I suppose. The stagnant air may allow outflow …
Killer Floods Claim Lives Around the World
photo NOAA               Hurricane Harvey now tracking north east, Hurricane Irma in Atlantic

While Hurricane Harvey dominates the news reporting in N. America, flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal has killed hundreds and made thousands homeless. Hurricane Harvey is now being touted as a 1000 year storm, a storm that only happens in one thousand years, yet the frequency of these devastating storms seems to be increasing.
There is no recorded record of a storm in south east Texas a thousand years ago that matched the fury of Harvey. Most people will remember Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy which were exceptionally fierce storms in the US. These storms not only claimed lives but cost individuals and taxpayers billions in restoration work while turning citizens into refugees in their own land.
India, Bangladesh and Nepal have also been suffering. Heavy monsoon rains have flooded vast areas of these countries. At least 1200 are confirmed dead and mil…

Worms May Save the World From Plastic Glut

Wax Worm, unlikely ally fighting plastic pollution

Worm guts may save the world from the avalanche of plastic accumulating  in the environment. Humans produce about 80 million tonnes of polyethylene every year. An amateur beekeeper in Spain has discovered a caterpillar that actually munches and thrives on the plastic. It helps that Federica Bertocchini is a biologist working at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology in Spain.
She noticed that her beehives were infested with these “worms”, the larvae of the wax moth, Galleria mellonella, and were happily munching through her honeycombs. She tossed them into a plastic bag and found they quickly escaped by chewing holes in the bag.
Polyethylene is slow to biodegrade and often fails to do so over many months. Scientists have tried exposing it to various life forms like bacteria and fungi but the process is slow. The wax worms are fast, munching holes in the plastic and converting it to ethylene glycol.
The wax moths may be found …

Last Orca Born at Sea World Texas

Orcas belong in the ocean Sea World, Texas, has announced that an Orca calf was born on April 19 will be the last one at their facility. The public has learned a great deal since the first Orca or Killer Whale was captured alive and displayed at an aquarium and the tide of opinion has turned against the capture and breeding of the animals.
Mortality rates are higher in Orcas that are confined and kept away from their family groups. Sea World has had 43 pregnancies in its captive Orcas. Half of those pregnancies ended in miscarriages or early death of the youngsters.
In the wild, Orcas live in family groups led by a matriarch. Males can live as long as 60 years and females as long as 90. They have complex communications and are judged to be intelligent. They have large brains and can “speak” in several whale dialects. Younger whales in the pod learn from the older members.
There are also three distinct groups of Orcas. One group lives in the open ocean and hunts sharks; one hunts mamm…

Campbell River British Columbia at Risk for Oil Spills

Would you like oil with that?

 Top: Early morning looking toward Quadra Island Top Rt. Totem figures holding up roof of gathering place. Many small fishers depend on clean unpolluted waters.Rt. end of building depicts Sea Snake(serpent) First Nation Art.
Left. Art work along esplanade. Based on war helmet.
Bottom: Welcome figure on sea side of FN shopping centre

Campbell River is just one of many small coastal towns at risk for oil spills. While the government in Ottawa debates the merits of oil pipelines and proposed increase of tanker traffic in the hundreds per year, these small coastal towns remain vulnerable.
This little town located on the northern and eastern coast of Vancouver Island has seen its ups and downs over the years. A hydro-electric dam started in the late 40s brought temporary work for men. Logging and fishing were big money makers through the following decades. But once the big timbers were cut and easy fishing played out the cycle of boom and bust continued. Recen…

Fukushima Still Spewing Radiation 6 Years Later

The nuclear power reactor on the east coast of Japan dubbed Fukushima Daiichi has been out of commission for six years. The reactor complex was part of the damage done by a combination of strong earthquake and destructive tsunami that slammed into the beachfront installation.
Radiation is still escaping. In February, a probe was sent into one of the wrecked reactor containers. It recorded a reading of 530 Sieverts. This is more than seven times the previous high level taken in 2012 of 73 Sieverts. An exposure to one Sievert is enough to make a person sick and 5 Sieverts is enough to kill.
A spokesperson for the clean up operation mused that the high reading might be due to a difference in the sampling technique. The person did offer that the probe observed a hole in the metal grating below the containment vessel and opined that the melted nuclear fuel may have run through it. Dark lumps observed by the probe might be remains of nuclear fuel rods.
The clean up of the destroyed electri…

US Congress and Senate Pass Bill to Allow Animal Snuff Films

Soon you might be allowed to kill them in their sleep. Opinion:
It is not too strong an allegation to make. In a vote of 225 to 198 Congress voted in H J Resolution 69 which has been described as “The stuff of wildlife snuff films.”Both sides of the house voted for the bill and both sides against.
If US President Trump signs the bill it will be legal to hunt predators in the Alaska Federal Game Refuges. To use the term ‘hunt’ loosely, it will allow humans to dig wolf puppies out of their den to kill them. It will allow hunters to extirpate whole packs from large areas.
But wait, there’s more. Hibernating bears will be fair game for the ruthless. Female bears denned up with cubs will be a two for one as no cubs can survive without their mother’s care. To ensure an adequate amount of suffering and maiming, the bill also would allow bear traps and snares to be placed in the refuge areas. Both black and grizzlies would be targets. If the bears are reluctant to step into the leghold traps, t…

N. Dakota Oil Spill Dumps Half Million Gallons

Estimates of this spill have now been adjusted to 530 000 gallons. North Dakota has suffered a large oil spill from a ruptured pipeline. Over half a million gallons have seeped out of the soil and into Ash Coulee Creek. The creek is a tributary to the Little Missouri River which in turn flows into the Missouri River.
The company that owns the pipeline has revised its figures on the December spill upward from  176 000 gallons to 530 000 gallons. They have embarked on a clean up exercise by skimming oil floating on the waterway and have assured the public that they will clean it up. It may take a year.
The pipeline company did not elaborate on how they plan to recapture the oil that has already floated down river.
This is not the largest oil spill in N. Dakota. In 2013 a ruptured pipeline released about 840 000 gallons.
The revelation comes hard on the heels of US President D. Trump’s signing an executive order to restart construction of the Keystone XL pipeline which would bring Alber…

Atmospheric Ammonia on the Increase

Air is a shared. Eventually pollutants travel and disperse affecting air quality far from their generation. Scientists at the University of Maryland have developed a way to measure atmospheric ammonia using data generated by NASA satellites. The scientists point out a troubling increase in atmospheric ammonia over the past four years.
The areas showing the greatest increases were the USA, Europe, India and China.
Much of the increase is blamed on agricultural practices which use large amounts of fertilizer, those which generate large amounts of animal waste and climate warming that increases soil temperatures. In the USA some of the increase may be attributed to the vigorous efforts to control acid rain. As the acid rain has come under control, atmospheric ammonia may increase.
Why should we care about ammonia in the air? Because too much can cause a lot of harm. One of the authors of the study, Russell Dickerson, was quoted in the NASA news release – “It has a profound effect on air an…

Future may see the end to ‘gas flaring’ of methane

Gas flaring wastes gas and adds to atmospheric warming The current practise of flaring off methane that is routine in many gas and oil operations may soon be a thing of the past. Researchers associated with the University of Washington, Pullman, have developed a new technique which makes it far less expensive to convert the methane so that it can be used more easily.
Researchers Jean-Sabin McEwen and Su Ha have tweaked the catalytic reaction to make the conversion more economical.
“Right now, we just waste all those gases,” said Ha. “If we can efficiently and effectively convert methane from shale or gas fields to electric power or useful products, that would be very positive.”
A large percentage of the US methane is currently flared off. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and contributes a large percentage of the world’s atmospheric greenhouse gases. One molecule of the gas contributes over 30 times the warming effect of one molecule of carbon dioxide.
Methane is a useful gas, making up…

Tires are big ocean polluters

Most of us are aware of the part that Styrofoam and plastic bags have played in contributing to the load of plastics in the oceans. Have you ever wondered what happens to the stuff of tires when they wear down? The tiny bits that wear off your tires and those of all those other “rubber” tires around the world mostly ends up in the oceans.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) has published a report that points to two big polluters – tiny plastic particles from modern tires and synthetic clothing.
Both contribute about 30% of the overall plastic load being funneled into our oceans today. These two sources alone are estimated to add about 9.5 million tonnes annually to our waters.
The IUCN lists the top seven plastic polluters and surprisingly plastic shopping bags don’t make the list. Following are the seven worst polluters according to the group.
·Tires – many are not made of rubber any longer but are a complex mixture including plastics·Synthetic textiles – the gr…

Nanoparticles in your food may alter your gut

Are you ingesting tiny metal particles with your food and candy? Nanoparticles are very tiny particles. They have become ubiquitous over the past few years and not much thought is usually given to them. It may be that we can’t see them, so we ignore them. But our bodies don’t ignore them.
Titanium dioxide nanoparticles are found in many consumer products – cosmetics, agricultural chemicals, processed food and nutritional supplements. It is also a useful thickener for paints. This metal is found in nearly any modern processed food.
Should we worry about consuming it? The FDA lists it as “generally recognized as safe”. Isn’t that a guarantee of safety? That picture may be changing. Recent work conducted at Binghampton University in New York has raised some concerns.
Researcher used tissue cultures of small intestine tissue and subjected the tissues to both acute and chronic doses of titanium dioxide. They found that acute doses did not alter the gut tissue, but chronic exposure did. The…

California pounded by Pacific storms

California dealing with widespread flooding
California can’t catch a break as a series of rain storms is pounding the coast from North to South. Earlier this month the Oroville Dam in northern California was in crisis mode as the regular spillway developed a large hole and started to erode the hillside below the dam. In a rare move, dam officials decided to use the emergency spillway to quickly lower the reservoir. That had to be stopped as water started to badly erode the ground forcing about 200 000 people living below the dam to evacuate.
They have since been allowed to return to their homes. Workers are working 24 hours a day attempting to shore up the ground in case the reservoir will need to be drained.
This past weekend a storm hit the state causing landslides, flooding and loss of life.
Salinas was flooded. A local state of emergency was declared as flood waters coursed through the streets. Adding to the danger were gale force winds which toppled trees and electric wires. 

California dam forces 200 000 from homes

The Oroville Dam in northern California continues to give authorities headaches. Last Tuesday a gaping hole appeared in the spillway. It quickly grew to over 300 feet across and the water further eroded the spillway.
The dam operators could not shut down the spillway as rain storms had filled the dam. Water continued to pour down the broken concrete conduit at the rate of 100 000 cubic feet per second. As more of the surrounding hillside became eroded, it was decided to use the emergency spillway. It allows the water to spill over a concrete lip, down the hill and into the Feather River. The emergency route is not paved.
Sunday as the ground below began to erode badly, an evacuation order went out to communities below the dam. With only a few minutes to leave many were unprepared to stay away for long but many jumped into vehicles, creating a major traffic jam. The jam did not clear for hours during which time some ran out of gas and some filling stations ran out of fuel.
500 inmates…

Calfornia Dam Uses Emergency Spillway to Control Water

Water flowing over the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam The massive Oroville Dam in northern California is currently using an emergency spillway to spill excess water from its reservoir after the failure of its concrete lined spillway. Tuesday trouble showed up as the dam operators opened the regular spillway to move excess water more directly into the Feather River. What is normally an impressive flow of water suddenly turned into a turbulent maelstrom halfway down the concrete chute.
Water was shooting out of the concrete pathway and spilling sideways gouging out rocks, dirt and trees.
Workers shut down the spillway to investigate and found that a large hole had opened in the massive chute.
Heavy rains had filled the lake to 98% capacity and more was coming down. If they shut the spillway, the amount that could be released at the base of the dam would not be enough to prevent the lake from overfilling and spill uncontrollably over the top of the 700+ foot dam. So the workers deci…

Climate change and human health changes are connected

South Florida is already coping with sea level rise. The World Health Organization has recently published a report showing how the changing climate and health impacts are related. They divided the report into three broad categories: direct health impacts, ecosystem mediated health impacts and deferred and displacement or populations.
While all humans are predicted to face some increased health hazards from the changes, the poor and disenfranchised are expected to pay a greater price for the changes. An unexpected conclusion as I read the report was that females(human) are disproportionately affected by a warming climate. WHO made a distinction between sex – male, female – and gender roles. They opined that while physiology may play a role in the greater number of women dying in an event, the greater factor was the gender roles that women play in many cultures.
In an extreme weather event, women may be required to stay at home until a male family member gives them permission to move to…

US Environmental Protection Agency Goes Silent

We all share the planet and it looks like we're all in trouble here In a swift move by the new regime in Washington DC, many of the agencies that communicate with the public have been silenced. Communicating with the public by news releases or electronic means has now been forbidden.
It is unknown whether this is a temporary move.
The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) has been ordered to remove its webpage that deals with climate change. The US president had famously denied the global climate warming and mused publicly that it might be a Chinese plot to divert money and wealth from the US.
The silencing of the EPA seems to also encompass research and education among the employees . The following has been taken from the page of the Christian Science Monitor.
"An unnamed source within the EPA said Tuesday that the Trump administration had instructed staffers not to speak with news media or publish press releases or blog posts on social media for the time being. They were also…

Climate Warming Mixing Snow and Common Leopard Territories

These cats may melt away like the Himalayan snows As the Earth’s climate continues to warm, there will be winners and losers. Animals researchers in Asia have found a troubling change at high altitude. Common leopards have been photographed in what has been exclusive territory of the snow leopard.
Chinese scientists using a camera trap witnessed a female common leopard and her cub and, at a different time, a snow leopard. In the past, the snow leopards had nearly exclusive use of territory above 3 000 metres. Observers in Nepal have reported sightings of the two cats in the same territory. Snow leopards are listed as endangered with estimated numbers between 3500 and 7000. They are prized by poachers. If the tree line continues upward in elevation, it is feared that the elusive cat will have its territory squeezed and fragmented. They are particularly adapted to the rocky, treeless heights.
Poaching and habitat change threaten the cats directly, but hunting and poaching of prey anima…

You are what you eat and same goes for bacteria

We are part of the Carbon Cycle Many of us take soil for granted. Those who live in a city rarely encounter soil except in artificial ways, yet soil microbes are essential to maintain life as we know it on Earth. Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory(U of Chicago) have been studying how soil bacteria utilize various forms of carbon.
The bacteria studied were anaerobic or non-oxygen using bacteria. The anaerobic bacteria were provided with three different types of carbon – glucose, lactate and acetate. Glucose is the most complex of the three. The researchers found that when the soil bacteria were provided with glucose as an energy source, they produced the most complex substances as by products.
This is important because by producing more complex by products a more complex community of microbes could live in the soil, adding further break down products and even more complexity to the soil.
Complex plants, many of which provide food for humans need complex soil to grow well. …

Giant ice shelf in Antarctic set to travel

Larsen C Ice-Shelf set to depart Antarctica

A massive ice shelf in Antarctica is getting ready to float free from that continent. It has been compared in size to the American state of Rhode Island. It represents about 2300 square miles of ice. It’s a 1000 foot thick slab of ice.
Cracks in the Larsen Ice Shelf first started showing up in 2011, widened in early 2016 and are now about 300 feet wide along a 70 mile stretch. Scientists are unsure when it will break free to drift north and melt, taking months to melt completely. It is not expected to raise the oceans’ level because this portion of the ice shelf was already floating.
Scientists are not in full agreement as to the fate of the ice resting behind the currently collapsing ice. The general consensus is that it is fairly stable and will not quickly follow but scientists thought that when Larsen B collapsed a dozen years ago that the ice behind it would not follow. It did and quickly added to the world’s sea levels.
It is estimate…