Discovered: a family of viruses that dominate the oceans

❝ The ocean is crowded. As many as 10 million viruses can be found squirming in a single millilitre of its water, and it turns out they have friends we never even knew about.

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown family of viruses that dominate the ocean and can’t be detected by standard lab tests. Researchers suspect this viral multitude may already exist outside the water — maybe even inside us.

“We don’t think it’s ocean-specific at all,” says environmental microbiologist Martin Polz from MIT…

❝ The team calls their discovery Autolykiviridae, after Autolykos (“the wolf itself”): a character from Greek mythology, who as a trickster and thief proved similarly tricky to catch.

But Autolykiviridae has been caught, and now that we know about it, the discovery is helping scientists to fill in a large missing link in virus evolution.

RTFA. Fascinating stuff. Cue your favorite sci-fi music in the background though I think it unnecessary. Real science is already scary enough to some.

Hurricane Sandy exposes flaws in sewer systems


Replacing water pumps destroyed at the Bay Park sewage treatment plant

The water flowing out of the Bay Park sewage plant here in Nassau County is a greenish-gray soup of partially treated human waste, a sign of an environmental and public health disaster that officials say will be one of the most enduring and expensive effects of Hurricane Sandy.

In the month since the storm, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and partly raw sewage from Bay Park and other crippled treatment plants have flowed into waterways in New York and New Jersey, exposing flaws in the region’s wastewater infrastructure that could take several years and billions of dollars to fix. In New York State alone, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has estimated that about $1.1 billion will be needed to repair treatment plants. But officials acknowledge that they will have to do far more.

Motors and electrical equipment must be raised above newly established flood levels, and circuitry must be made waterproof. Dams and levees may have to be built at some treatment plants to keep the rising waters at bay, experts say.

Failure to do so, according to experts, could leave large swaths of the population vulnerable to public health and environmental hazards in future storms.

Poisonally, I think the bill should be hand-delivered to the Koch Bros., the Republican Party and the rest of the know-nothing dimwits still praying for the heavens to open and suck away our specie’s industrial pollution and the resulting climate change.

“You’re looking at significant expenditures of money to make the plants more secure,” said John Cameron, an engineer who specializes in wastewater-treatment facilities and is the chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council. “There is no Band-Aid for this,” he added. “This is the new normal.”

When the plants are fully functioning, they treat incoming sewage to remove solid waste and toxic substances and kill bacteria before it is discharged into the ocean or a bay. When the plants are shut down, the raw sewage goes into waterways in the same condition as when it comes in. At least six sewage plants in the New York region shut down completely during the storm, and many more were crippled by storm surges that swamped motors and caused short circuits in electrical equipment.

In New Jersey, workers at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission plant, the fifth largest in the country, had to evacuate as floodwaters surged in and wastewater gushed out.

The Middlesex County Utility Authority plant in Sayreville, N.J., let about 75 million gallons of raw sewage a day flow into Raritan Bay for nearly a week before power was restored, said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the State Environmental Protection Department.

RTFA and weep, folks. Paragraph after paragraph of excuses, rationales, every bureaucrat repeating the mantra of anti-science stupidity: “It never happened before; so, we did nothing to prevent it.”

Idiots.

Caffeinated Pacific Ocean waters measured along the Oregon coast

A new study finds elevated levels of caffeine at several sites in Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Oregon — though not necessarily where researchers expected…This study is the first to look at caffeine pollution off the Oregon coast. It was developed and conducted by…Zoe Rodriguez del Rey and…Elise Granek…

The study found high caffeine levels near Carl Washburne State Park and Cape Lookout, two areas not near the potential pollution sources, yet low levels of caffeine near large population centers like Astoria/Warrenton and Coos Bay.

High levels were also found following a late-season storm of wind and rain that triggered sewer overflows…

The results seem to indicate that wastewater treatment plants are effective at removing caffeine, but that high rainfall and combined sewer overflows flush the contaminants out to sea. The results also suggest that septic tanks, such as those used at the state parks, may be less effective at containing pollution.

“Our study findings indicate that, contrary to our prediction, the waste water treatment plants are not a major source of caffeine to coastal waters,” says Granek. “However, onsite waste disposal systems may be a big contributor of contaminants to Oregon’s coastal ocean and need to be better studied to fully understand their contribution to pollution of ocean waters…”

Previous studies have found caffeine in other bodies of water around the world, including the North Sea, the Mediterranean, Puget Sound, Boston Harbor, and Sarasota Bay, Fla.

As natural selection kicks in, we can expect to start finding seafaring critters that differentiate their taste to match the humans on the nearby coast, eh?

Best case scenario: Climate change to continue to year 3000

New research indicates the impact of rising CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere will cause unstoppable effects to the climate for at least the next 1000 years, causing researchers to estimate a collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet by the year 3000, and an eventual rise in the global sea level of at least four metres.

The study…is the first full climate model simulation to make predictions out to 1000 years from now. It is based on best-case, ’zero-emissions’ scenarios constructed by a team of researchers from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis…and the University of Calgary.

“We created ‘what if’ scenarios,” says Dr. Shawn Marshall, Canada Research Chair in Climate Change and University of Calgary geography professor. “What if we completely stopped using fossil fuels and put no more CO2 in the atmosphere? How long would it then take to reverse current climate change trends and will things first become worse?”  The research team explored zero-emissions scenarios beginning in 2010 and in 2100.

The Northern Hemisphere fares better than the south in the computer simulations, with patterns of climate change reversing within the 1000-year timeframe in places like Canada. At the same time parts of North Africa experience desertification as land dries out by up to 30 percent, and ocean warming of up to 5°C off of Antarctica is likely to trigger widespread collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, a region the size of the Canadian prairies…

Researchers will next begin to investigate more deeply the impact of atmosphere temperature on ocean temperature to help determine the rate at which West Antarctica could destabilize and how long it may take to fully collapse into the water.

My first response to reading this was, “Cripes! One more excuse for Know-Nothings to Do-Nothing.”

The follow-on to that is that they aren’t going to do anything sensible, responsible, constructive – anyway. Political reactionaries, ethical and social ignoranuses never have responded to science and reason with anything other than fear and scorn. That is what limits their species to the superstitions that bound their comprehension of reality.

Everyone else will continue on with educated politics and the construction of appropriate means to respond to changing circumstances. As we always have done.

Commercial harbors and business centers in Shanghai, Auckland and Vancouver will be altered or relocated. The leaders of Texas will kneel and pray for a miracle while Houston sinks into the Gulf of Mexico.

RTFA for more detail.

Giant iceberg could affect ocean circulation, weather

An iceberg the size of Luxembourg has broken off from a glacier in Antarctica after being rammed by another giant iceberg, scientists said on Friday, in an event that could affect ocean circulation patterns.

The 2,500 sq km iceberg broke off earlier this month from the Mertz Glacier’s 160 km floating tongue of ice that sticks out into the Southern Ocean…

“The calving itself hasn’t been directly linked to climate change but it is related to the natural processes occurring on the ice sheet,” said Rob Massom, a senior scientist…at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center…

Massom said the shearing off of the ice tongue and the presence of the Mertz and B-9B icebergs could affect global ocean circulation.

The area is an important zone for the creation of dense, salty water that is a key driver of global ocean circulation. This is produced in part through the rapid production of sea ice that is continually blown to the west.

“Removal of this tongue of floating ice would reduce the size of that area of open water, which would slow down the rate of salinity input into the ocean and it could slow down this rate of Antarctic bottom water formation,” he said.

He said there was a risk both icebergs would become grounded on banks or shoals in the area, disrupting the creation of the dense, salty water and the amount that sinks to the bottom of the ocean, he said.

Oceans act like a giant flywheel for the planet’s climate by shifting heat around the globe via myriad currents above and below the surface.

There’s not much hope for either climate deniers or the average Western Whoopee Weather Whiner to make sense of this. I’ve given up even on explaining something as relevant – and simple – as El Niño to bloggers/commenters/dolts who think that a large snowstorm on the eastern coast of a nation accounting for 1.5% of the Earth’s surface somehow means there is no global warming.

The rest of you – fortunately – have enough interest in science and natural processes to find this interesting on its own. I thank all six of you.

Seeking the science of the Pacific Garbage Patch

Marine scientists from California are venturing this week to the middle of the North Pacific for a study of plastic debris accumulating across hundreds of miles of open sea dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

A research vessel carrying a team of about 30 researchers, technicians and crew members embarked on Sunday on a three-week voyage from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, based at the University of California at San Diego.

The expedition will study how much debris — mostly tiny plastic fragments — is collecting in an expanse of sea known as the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, how that material is distributed and how it affects marine life.

The debris ends up concentrated by circular, clockwise ocean currents within an oblong-shaped “convergence zone” hundreds of miles across from end to end near the Hawaiian Islands, about midway between Japan and the West Coast of the United States.

The focus of the study will be on plankton, other microorganisms, small fish and birds.

“The concern is what kind of impact those plastic bits are having on the small critters on the low end of the ocean food chain,” Bob Knox, deputy director of research at Scripps, said on Monday after the ship had spent its first full day at sea…

Besides the potential harm to sea life caused by ingesting bits of plastic, the expedition team will look at whether the particles could carry other pollutants, such as pesticides, far out to sea, and whether tiny organisms attached to the debris could be transported to distant regions and thus become invasive species.

You can track their progress through the project at the Seaplex blog. Interesting stuff, useful to the whole planet.

Carbonated Oceans aren’t fizzy – or funny


CO2 sensors deployed south of Point Conception

The loading of carbon dioxide into oceans is a consequence of fossil fuel use that has only begun to be widely recognized as problematic in the past decade. Its subsequent effects on seawater chemistry have the potential to spread ecological disaster to a variety of industries dependent on the seas.

To understand what the world might expect, several Scripps research teams are drawing on the institution’s expertise in long-term climate data collection and on new technologies that will help them understand when, where, and how ocean chemistry changes when the seas are overwhelmed by increasing infusions of carbon dioxide. They are joining a growing number of international scientists who are turning their attention to the issue. Their collective hope is to understand whether the oceans are approaching a tipping point of widespread damage and to see what can be done to prevent it…

As humans burn oil and coal, carbon dioxide is released and accumulates in the atmosphere. A little less than half of it stays in the sky and about a third enters the oceans, dissolving into seawater at the ocean surface.

When ocean water absorbs CO2, the two react to form carbonic acid. The acid reacts with carbonate ions, making the ions less available in ocean waters to shell-forming organisms. Robbed of sufficient quantities of a main ingredient for their shells, these organisms may become less hardy and less able to replenish their numbers.

Continue reading

Has Google Ocean found Atlantis?

The network of criss-cross lines is 620 miles off the coast of north west Africa near the Canary Islands on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

The perfect rectangle – which is around the size of Wales – was noticed on the search giant’s underwater exploration tool by an aeronautical engineer who claims it looks like an “aerial map” of a city.

The underwater image can be found at the co-ordinates 31 15’15.53N 24 15’30.53W.

Last night Atlantis experts said that the unexplained grid is located at one of the possible sites of the legendary island, which was described by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato.

Bernie Bamford, 38, of Chester who spotted the “city”, compared it to the plan of Milton Keynes, the Buckinghamshire town built on a grid design. “It must be man made,” he said.

Uh, here’s Google’s response to the discovery.