Noisy Oceans

Increasing carbon dioxide levels get a lot of press for creating environmental problems in the atmosphere, but that’s not the only place the higher-than-normal amounts can cause problems. Ocean waters are becoming more acidic as they absorb more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Certain chemicals in seawater normally dampen the sound waves by absorbing the energy from sound into chemical reactions. More carbon dioxide means less of these chemical reactions, so sound will not be absorbed as readily. Sounds will then travel farther and be louder than normal at a given distance.

This can create problems for some sea animals that use sound to communicate with each other and find their prey. Dolphins are one group of sea mammals that depend on sounds.  If there are a lot of residual noises from ships and sonar, they might have problems finding food, or finding each other to regroup. Researchers will continue to study this phenomenon to see if problems develop. It might actually turn out to be a benefit, if they are able to locate each other from farther away. Time will tell, but hopefully in the meantime we can figure out how to reduce our carbon emissions and help out a bit that way.


Article condensed from: The New York Times, Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“More CO2 Could Create A Racket in the Oceans”

Simple Test

No one wants to eat pesticides, but testing food and water takes time and money. Scientists in Hamilton, Ontario have developed a test for pesticides that is as simple as dipping a small strip of paper in a sample of food or water and waiting for a few minutes. Most pesticides affect the nervous system by interfering with the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, so the strips have this enzyme on one end and IPA on the other. IPA is a compound that turns blue when acetylcholinesterase breaks it down.

Here’s how it works: the enzyme end is dipped into a sample, and the IPA end is dipped into water. Capillary action causes the moisture from the two ends to flow into each other, and the resulting colour tells you if you have pesticides or not. If it turns blue, there are no pesticides and the acetylcholinesterase was able to break down the IPA. If there are pesticides present they will not allow as much of the acetylcholinesterase to work, so the shade of blue will be lighter. It will vary depending on the amount of pesticides present.


Article condensed from:  The New York Times, Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“A Simple Paper Test May Detect Pesticides”


Here’s a simple activity that illustrates this process: First find a coffee filter, some markers, and a cup of water. Next, cut the coffee filter into strips about an inch wide. Then, choose two different coloured markers and draw a tiny circle on each end of the coffee filter strip. Colour them in. Finally, dip each end of the strip into water for 2 seconds and lay it flat. Watch and wait. What happens to the colours as the water moves in the strip? This movement of water is called capillary action, the key mechanism in these pesticide-testing strips.

Sinornithosaurus, a raptor with bird-like features, was discovered in China in 1999. Recently researchers have been examining the remains in more detail, and have figured out that these dinosaurs most likely had a system for injecting poison into their prey. There are grooves in their teeth and a duct running along the base of the teeth. A small cavity in the skull would have been the spot where a venom-producing gland was held, which then fed poison into the ducts and down the teeth. The raptor mostly likely held its prey for awhile until the poison was able to immobilize it, then feasted on whatever it had caught.


Article condensed from: The New York Times, Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“Add Venom to Arsenal Of Dinosaurs on the Hunt”

Bits from Blogland

It’s great to take a metaphorical stroll around the ethernet, just to see what’s up in environmental-related blog articles. I thought I’d share some links that may be of interest:

First, some good news from India about an environmental group that was able to convince officials not to build a neutrino observatory in an elephant corridor.

Next, A National Geographic Moment about aphids, ants, and a bird.

Then, if you’d like a simple metaphor that can help you understand global warming, read this.

Finally, something you can do: some Green Grocery Shopping with reusable bags – even the veggie bags!

Cycle of Waste

Large dairy farms with many cows will also have large amounts of manure to handle. One farm, called Wildcat Dairy, is so large that some of the 40 employees do nothing but deal with manure all day, every day. The cows leave their stalls to go get milked, and while they’re gone the workers come and clean out the stalls. There’s a concrete alley that collects the waste, but some solids in the stalls need to be pushed out to the alleys. The tank-pump, towed by a tractor, collects the waste in the alleys. The waste gets sprayed on a field to dry, and once it’s dry enough it will be spread on fields where crops will be grown. These crops are then fed to the cows, who produce the milk and more manure. And so the cycle continues.


Article condensed from: The New York Times, Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the Farm, a Cycle of Waste That Does Not End

Picture from Flickr:

Cook’s Dairy Cows

Originally uploaded by lee.ekstrom


Above is an example of a very short condensed article that will appear in the first newsletter of Noah’s Ark Wetlands Foundation. Part of our core mandate is to educate schoolchildren, to bring awareness about environmental science and the natural world, and we’ll do that by providing a monthly newsletter with a number of articles of varying lengths. This should give them a taste of what’s available to know about environmental issues and beauties and innovations.

Plants That Conserve Water

Scientists are hoping to engineer plants so they require less water to grow. Plants need carbon dioxide to survive and flourish, and they need water to take in the carbon dioxide. They have openings on their leaves, called stoma, which take in carbon dioxide and release water. If there are lower levels of carbon dioxide in the air, their stoma will need to be open wider. In the case of the elevated carbon dioxide levels today – about 40% higher than in the preindustrial era – it may be possible for plants to decrease the opening of their stoma and still gain enough carbon dioxide. The smaller opening would also mean that less water was lost, which means those taking care of the plants could give them less water.

Some plants are not sensitive enough to carbon dioxide levels, so scientists are hoping to genetically alter the plants with more carbon dioxide sensors. Being able to sense the increased carbon dioxide levels will enable the plants to conserve water better. This will be useful in areas where water is more scarce.


Article condensed from: The New York Times, Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“Findings on How Plants Breathe May Save Water”

Picture from Flickr:


Originally uploaded by Ian Geldard

Transparent Fish

In Japan, researchers have bred certain goldfish to be transparent. If you look closely enough, you can see the brains, heart, and other organs inside one of these fish without dissecting it. The researchers selected goldfish with paler skin and scales and bred them together to create this new line of goldfish they can see through. The albino goldfish, when bred together over generations, became more and more translucent, allowing scientists to see their organs. Breeding them together, rather than genetically altering their DNA, was the method of choice. They are natural organisms, although their parents were selected specifically for breeding together. These goldfish should live for 20 years, if all goes well, and weigh 2 kilograms or more. It will be interesting to see how the organs grow and develop over time – many people will be watching the insides of these fish.

Snow White

Originally uploaded by Elinesca on Flickr

This post was summarized from an article in The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, December 30, 2009: Japanese Researchers Develop World’s First See-Through Goldfish