Archives for November 2014

The link between Omega-3 fatty acid and stopping smoking

Think you’ve tried everything to quit smoking, but just couldn’t do it? Then you’ll want to read on. According to a new study, taking omega-3 supplements reduces craving for nicotine and even reduces the number of cigarettes you smoke a day.

“The substances and medications used currently to help people reduce and quit smoking are not very effective and cause adverse effects that are not easy to cope with. The findings of this study indicated that omega-3, an inexpensive and easily available dietary supplement with almost no side effects, reduces smoking significantly,” said Dr. Sharon Rabinovitz Shenkar, head of the addictions program at the University of Haifa.

ENN: Top Stories

Drought-hit Sao Paulo may ‘get water from mud’: TRFN

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – São Paulo, Brazil’s drought-hit megacity of 20 million, has about two months of guaranteed water supply remaining as it taps into the second of three emergency reserves, officials say.

Reuters: Environment

Why Are Millions of Starfish ‘Melting’?

A sunflower star is stranded on a beach in British Columbia. These large starfish are also being cut down by a widespread virus. (Credit:  Ron Watts, All Canada Photos/Corbis)

(Click to enlarge) A sunflower star is stranded on a beach in British Columbia. These large starfish are also being cut down by a widespread virus. (Credit: Ron Watts, All Canada Photos/Corbis)

For the past year and a half, a killer has been on the loose, taking out millions of starfish up and down the West Coast of North America.

(From National Geographic News / by Jane J. Lee)–By the time it is done with an area, starfish that had once littered the ocean floor have been reduced to mounds of white goo.

The silent killer now appears to be a kind of parvovirus—the group of viruses that cause gastrointestinal problems in unvaccinated dogs—researchers report Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sea stars are linchpins in the ecology of habitats like tide pools, said Robert Paine, a retired marine ecologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, in an interview earlier this year. Without them around to control mussels, the bivalves can take over an area, greatly reducing the kinds of algae and sea anemones present. “The system, for all intents and purposes, simplifies itself.”

There’s not much researchers can do to stop the virus, though. “We can’t quarantine, we can’t effectively cull, and we can’t vaccinate,” said Drew Harvell, a marine ecologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in an interview earlier this year. The best they can hope for is that populations can recover once the epidemic winds down.

They’re Melting

The long-term effects of the virus remain to be seen. For now, infected sea stars, like the purple or ochre star and the sunflower star, die a gruesome death.

The virus weakens the animal, leaving the sea star open to bacterial infection, said lead study author Ian Hewson, a microbiologist at Cornell. And it’s that bacterial infection that ultimately kills the sea star.

About eight to 17 days after viral infection, white lesions appear on the body and lethargy sets in. Sometimes the animal’s arms rip themselves off and walk away. Eventually, the sea star deflates into a pile of white slime.

Bacteria in the genus Vibrio are common in sick marine animals, said Harvell. There’s a possibility that they are the bacterial partner responsible for the “wasting” or “melting” seen in sea stars, but researchers can’t tell for sure.

The virus, dubbed the sea star-associated densovirus, is also quite common. “It’s been around for 70 years,” said Hewson, and “it’s probably present all over the world.”

Museum specimens from the 1940s have tested positive for the virus, and it lurks in ocean sediments and in seawater. It has even been found in sea star relatives like sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

Urchins and cucumbers seemed to have escaped the ill effects of the virus until now. But in recent weeks, reports have started to come in that they too are dying along beaches in the Pacific Northwest, Hewson said.

Mysterious Trigger

Why such a pervasive virus is suddenly killing millions of animals is still up for debate.

“We’ve seen big outbreaks in sea stars before,” said Pete Raimondi, a marine ecologist with the University of California, Santa Cruz, earlier this year, “but they’ve been very regional.”

This current outbreak stretches from southern Alaska down through Canada and the U.S. West Coast, into Baja California. (See an interactive map of locations.)

Previous events were relegated to one or two species, but the virus is now infecting 20. (See a full list of affected species.)

It’s unusual for a single type of virus to infect so many species. But mutations in a key part of a virus, called the capsid, can help the infection spread to more species, the study authors write.

The capsid enables the virus to attach to proteins on a host’s cell, Hewson said. The more proteins those capsids can stick to, the more species the virus can infect.

Densely populated areas, like sea star beds, give a virus more chances for its capsid to mutate and take on other species.

Large sea star populations in the Pacific Northwest could be one reason for this virus’s sudden march up and down the coast, Hewson said. “Having a huge number of individuals in a small area works like a reactor for this virus.” (See “New Diseases, Toxins Harming Marine Life.”)

Tracking a Killer

What will the virus do next? Now that they’ve found their culprit, Hewson and his team are trying to predict what could happen to other sea star populations around the world that are currently disease free. They’re also studying the urchins and sea cucumbers that are already dying to see if the same killer is responsible.

But his continued work-and this study-wouldn’t have happened without the enormous research and citizen-science community that has popped up across the U.S. and Canada around the epidemic. “This is the first time we’ve had such a large number of institutions come together to tackle a marine disease problem,” Hewson said.

Perhaps, Harvell said, scientists can learn what they need to from this outbreak to prevent or stop the next one.

Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Manatees need some love too!

Manatees can be divided up into three distinct species that roughly correlate to where they live. The West Indian manatee lives in the Caribbean and is divided into two subspecies: the Florida manatee and the Antillean or Caribbean manatee. Manatees also live in the Amazon and off the West African coast, called the Amazonian manatee and West African manatee, respectively. (A possible new species of dwarf manatee has been seen in freshwater habitats in the Amazon, but the veracity of that claim in in question.)

According to the IUCN, all three extant species of manatee are considered vulnerable, which means that they are at a heightened risk of extinction. The manatee’s Pacific cousin, the dugong, is also vulnerable. Hopefully, we’ll be able to learn a lesson from our experiences with another manatee relative, the Steller’s sea cow, which humans hunted to extinction less than 30 years after its discovery.

ENN: Top Stories

Move over big power – the micropower revolution is here!

Small scale renewables are – almost un-noticed by policy makers – providing a quarter of the world’s electricity, up from 10% in 2000, writes Morgan Saletta. Forget fracking and nuclear – this is the real energy revolution that’s under way, and it’s cutting big fossil fuel and centralised power grids out of the picture, while reducing emissions and delivering energy security and resilience.
Environment news & analysis, climate change reports –
The Ecologist

Hinkley C hovers on the brink – Europe’s nuclear giants face meltdown

Doubts are growing doubts that the Hinkley C nuclear power station, the EU’s biggest construction project, will get the final go-ahead from the UK government, writes Paul Brown. And that’s leaving the European nuclear industry, already in serious financial difficulties, facing a struggle for survival.
Environment news & analysis, climate change reports –
The Ecologist

Texas releases more than 50 sea turtles treated for cold-stunning

HOUSTON (Reuters) – More than 50 green sea turtles were released into the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast on Friday after recovering from cold-stunning, or hypothermia, brought on by a drastic drop in water temperature.

Reuters: Environment

‘Acutely toxic’ mine waste threatens the death of Norway’s fjords

Two huge open pit mines in northern Norway are on the verge of approval, writes Tina Andersen Vågenes – even though they would dump hundreds of millions of tonnes of tailings in fjords where wild salmon spawn. Scientists are voicing serious concerns, and protests are growing, but government and mining companies appear determined to push the projects forward regardless.
Environment news & analysis, climate change reports –
The Ecologist

Warmest Oceans Ever Recorded

Figure 1: a) NOAA Sea Surface Temperature anomaly (with respect to period 1854-2013) averaged over global oceans (red) and over North Pacific (0-60oN, 110oE-100oW) (cyan). September 2014 temperatures broke the record for both global and North Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures. b) Sea Surface Temperature anomaly of September 2014 from NOAA's ERSST dataset. (Credit: Axel Timmermann)

(Click to enlarge)
Figure 1: a) NOAA Sea Surface Temperature anomaly (with respect to period 1854-2013) averaged over global oceans (red) and over North Pacific (0-60oN, 110oE-100oW) (cyan). September 2014 temperatures broke the record for both global and North Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures. b) Sea Surface Temperature anomaly of September 2014 from NOAA’s ERSST dataset. (Credit: Axel Timmermann)

This summer has seen the highest global mean sea surface temperatures ever recorded since their systematic measuring started.

(From Science Daily / University of Hawaii ‑ SOEST)–Temperatures even exceed those of the record-breaking 1998 El Niño year,” says Axel Timmermann, climate scientist and professor, studying variability of the global climate system at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

From 2000-2013 the global ocean surface temperature rise paused, in spite of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. This period, referred to as the Global Warming Hiatus, raised a lot of public and scientific interest. However, as of April 2014 ocean warming has picked up speed again, according to Timmermann’s analysis of ocean temperature datasets.

“The 2014 global ocean warming is mostly due to the North Pacific, which has warmed far beyond any recorded value and has shifted hurricane tracks, weakened trade winds, and produced coral bleaching in the Hawaiian Islands,” explains Timmermann.

He describes the events leading up to this upswing as follows: Sea-surface temperatures started to rise unusually quickly in the extratropical North Pacific already in January 2014. A few months later, in April and May, westerly winds pushed a huge amount of very warm water usually stored in the western Pacific along the equator to the eastern Pacific. This warm water has spread along the North American Pacific coast, releasing into the atmosphere enormous amounts of heat–heat that had been locked up in the Western tropical Pacific for nearly a decade.

“Record-breaking greenhouse gas concentrations and anomalously weak North Pacific summer trade winds, which usually cool the ocean surface, have contributed further to the rise in sea surface temperatures. The warm temperatures now extend in a wide swath from just north of Papua New Guinea to the Gulf of Alaska,” says Timmermann.

The current record-breaking temperatures indicate that the 14-year-long pause in ocean warming has come to an end.

Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Japanese Asteroid Probe to Fish for Ingredients of Life

Following a successful mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth, Japan is poised to launch a follow-on expedition, with hopes of finding organics.
Discovery News