Stories tagged water


Have you ever seen anything more dull?: Even the toilet seems to be yawning.
Have you ever seen anything more dull?: Even the toilet seems to be yawning.Courtesy luis echanove
It’s called growing up, Peter, and everyone does it. Even you. But, on the plus side, you can legally buy cigarettes now.

Or am I just tired of life?

Well, whatever. Poop is in the news. Yawn. Again. And again.

Where others might see a barrel, and be all, “Hey, I’m not scraping the bottom of that barrel,” the cleverest capitalists and the sharpest scientists look at the situation and say, “Are you done with that barrel? And does anyone want to buy what I can scrape out of here? Even if it’s poop?” And of course it’s poop. And of course someone wants it.

Awesome I guess.

I should be more excited, shouldn’t I? I mean, someone out there is taking human waste and turning it into an environmentally-conscious coal substitute. It probably looks hilarious. But there’s only so much human waste a person can take. It’s just not exciting anymore.

So some company is squeezing the water from the brown gold of southern California, and turning it into coal-y stuff. Cement factories buy it, they burn it, they mix the ashes with their cement. At full capacity they’ll produce enough crapcoal to equal the energy out put of a 7-megawatt power station.


The fecal sciences just seem to have lost their flavor.


Mouth of the Columbia River
Mouth of the Columbia RiverCourtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library
Have you ever wondered what happens when a river ends and the ocean begins? Well, the scientists at the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP) do. Based out of Oregon, the center conducts their research on the Columbia River. Their goal is to understand and predict how humans and the climate affect the costal margins. The research has three themes, to test and advance the way research is done, to understand the human and natural variables that affect the margin, and to integrate the two previous themes to create a functional research station.

So, are you still contemplating the question, what is going on in this unique area where fresh water that has travel the country meets the salty water of the ocean? Well, the center has opportunities for K-12 students and teachers and undergrad and graduate students to become involved. Everything from summer camps and programs for middle and high school students to internships for the undergrad and grad students. Not interested in traveling? Data is also available on their website for the free-lance researcher.

Before the next time you jump into the big blue, quench your thirst for knowledge and see what CMOP is doing to research and preserve the coastal margins of the Columbia.


Microbes Coexist Peacefully with Other Marine Life: They are in there somewhere, even if you can't see them!
Microbes Coexist Peacefully with Other Marine Life: They are in there somewhere, even if you can't see them!Courtesy Mila Zinkove

The Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) is a fantastic, state of the art research program. With grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and help from researchers from around the world they strive to impress upon people the significance of microbial organisms and through research gain a more comprehensive knowledge of microorganisms living in the ocean. Their primary goal is to create a better understanding of how these little tiny microbes affect the entire biome of the ocean.

They hope to find answers to life's persistent questions on climate change, and they think these little guys might hold the key. Some of these microorganisms from the ocean have the ability to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in organic matter. Not only is this one of the many talents of one kind of microbe, its actually the way they in a sense, breathe. If this one microbe can do all that, think of what other science secrets that are still hidden in the ocean waiting to be discovered and change the world! Hurray!

Earlier this spring C-MORE broke ground on a new facility in Hawai'i where they hope to develop new strategies that will unveil the link between the microbial genotype and ocean phenotype. I personally am very excited to see what they discover next! Good luck!

Remember the wild video from about a year ago of a huge rainfall causing an embankment to collapse and drain all the water from Lake Delton into the Wisconsin River? You can find it here. A year later, the embankment is patched, water has filled the man-made lake basin and recreation seekers are coming back. You can read about that here. I do want to know, however, how they're going to restock fish in the lake. The USA Today story says that the lake has been stocked with minnows that won't be ready for fishing for a couple more years. I don't know about you, but I usually set my sights higher when I go fishing than just settling for some minnows.


The HMS Fiddlesticks will also be sailing to Trashlantis: Where it will promptly be abandoned, with all the other garbage.
The HMS Fiddlesticks will also be sailing to Trashlantis: Where it will promptly be abandoned, with all the other garbage.Courtesy hexodus...
You all remember Trashlantis, right?

In case you do remember, but still feel like reading a summary anyway, here: Trashlantis was only named “Trashlantis” in early 2008 by one marginally-informed science blogger, but—considering how the fabled floating garbage continent is made of your trash, and your parents’ trash, and your grandparents’ trash—it has been around for a good while longer than that. Trashlantis, also referred to as the “Eastern Garbage Patch” and the “Plastic Vortex,” is a floating mass of plasticy waste from Asia and North America, which has sort of congealed in the center of the Pacific Ocean. Ocean currents have brought our plastic there and kept if there since we realized how much fun it was to throw plastic into the ocean, about 60 years ago. Today the floating mass is continent-sized in surface area. (It’s the size of the Lower 48, or twice the size of Texas, or just really, really, really big, depending on who you believe.)

There hasn’t been a whole lot of research done on the Eastern Garbage Patch—oh, shucks, let’s just call it Trashlantis—partly because it’s way out in the ocean (about 500 miles off the coast of California), but mostly, according to scientists, because it’s “super yucky.”

However, a group of scientists and entrepreneurs is now planning to sail to (through) Trashlantis aboard the 145-foot-tall sailboat, the Kaisei, accompanied by a fishing trawler. The scientists intend to study the plastic mass to determine the extent of its toxic effect on the sea and sediment beneath it, while international business man and pectoral enthusiast Doug Woodring hopes to see if the waste might be able to be collected to be recycled or used as fuel.

Part of the problem with Trashlantis is that because the plastic has been floating out in the sun for decades, it’s starting to break down. It’s not necessarily breaking down in a good way—think soda bottles turning into poisonous goop, not banana peels turning into fertile compost—and scooping it up in nets is going to be difficult, if we don’t want to snag too many fish and too much plankton along with it (we don’t want to). Trashlantis, sadly, is very much what many people refer to as “a hot, sticky mess.”

The expedition looks like a good step towards understanding the problem, and maybe developing a solution. And don’t anybody even think about taking the url, because as soon as I can scrounge up ten dollars, that sucker is mine, and I’m going to be taking Paramount to the cleaners next summer.


Pure, delicious water: Drink up!
Pure, delicious water: Drink up!Courtesy viking_79
Raise a glass of cool, clear water for our girls and boys in space.

After the removal of a “sticky check valve” in the Urine Processing Assembly on Monday, astronauts on the International Space Station have finally been given a “go” to drink “recycled” water. Wondering, no doubt, what exactly made that valve so sticky, our brave orbiting scientists can now sit back and hesitantly sip tepid, musty water from pouches not entirely unlike catheter bags.

That’s how I like to imagine it, anyway. I suspect, however, that most things on the space station are pretty fancy, and that any water recycling system they’d have up there would do a pretty good job of removing the subtle flavors of urine, sweat, and exhaled moisture (all of which are processed by the system). Hopefully it chills the end product a little bit too. There’s nothing like drinking something the temperature of spit for making you feel like you’re drinking spit.

The technology has been a long time coming. The system was only installed late last year, but it has been the dream of mankind for generations that we might somehow find a way to reuse what we so wastefully flush away (“yellow gold,” we call it). Especially in space. If we ever want to take extended trips in space (and we do—even going to Mars would take months and months), water and waste recycling systems are going to be essential. These brave, thirsty astronauts are finally taking a bold step toward that wonderful future.


nature in our own backyard
nature in our own backyardCourtesy DigNature
The other day I was invited to take a canoe trip down the Mississippi River, where I saw all kinds of wildlife, including a prehistoric-looking heron, and lots of other birds. I also saw really cool bridges from the underside, and got an up-close look at a gigantic river barge.

The best part about it? I didn't even need to leave the city, I just rode my bike to a park in St.Paul and a few minutes later I was out on the water.

This trip was part of a new program that Wilderness Inquiry and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area are sponsoring to get city folks like me (and you?) out on the river. It's called the Urban Wilderness Canoe Area or UWCA, and the group organizing these trips hope to take 10,000 middle and high-school students on river trips. Some will even include overnight camping in St.Paul.

Besides being a really fun trip, I was able to see (and put my hands into) the place where my drinking water comes from, and where the run-off from my city street goes to.

While the water did look and smell better than I would have imagined, I did see all kinds of disgusting trash, some of which had made its way into the branches of nearby trees and bushes. I saw fast food containers, plastic toys, grocery bags and lots of cigarette butts. It's easy to forget that this stuff all ends up somewhere, and often times in waterways like the Mississippi, which eventually end up in our oceans. Even my short river trip was a great reminder of this.

Have any Buzz readers been canoeing or hiking along the Mississippi, or camping near the city? What did you see?

Check out this amazing slow-motion video taken beneath a huge wave off the coast of Pohnpei in the Caroline Islands in Micronesia. It was filmed by Australian cameraman Bali Strickland who specializes in filming world-class surfers doing their thing. He used a special high-speed camera that videotapes the action in high definition and at 20 times slower than normal speed. The camera captured - for the first time - underwater spiralling vortices created by the 12-foot wave's action. The remarkable footage is part of an upcoming BBC series on the South Pacific.


A tsunami of New Yorkers head for the highlands.: Would the evacuation be this organized?
A tsunami of New Yorkers head for the highlands.: Would the evacuation be this organized?Courtesy Pabo76
What say we take a breather from all the bleak and uncertain flu news and turn our collective attention to the possibility of a tsunami washing away the East Coast of the USA? Fortunately no such threat is on the horizon at the present moment but scientists have found evidence they say indicates a large tsunami hit areas of New York and New Jersey some 2300 years ago.

The evidence includes large gravel, wood deposits, and marine fossils found in core samples across the region dating to 300BC, and suggests some sort of violent event took place in the region. The size and condition of some of the deposits point to strong reworking of material rather than just a single violent storm. The wave is estimated to have been 9 to 12 feet in height with the velocity of the water estimated at about a meter per second. If a similar tsunami hit Manhattan today no doubt there’d be big trouble.

But Atlantic tsunamis are rare events. Unlike the Pacific and Indian oceans where tectonic plates are colliding and earthquakes are more common, the plates along the Atlantic ridge are spreading apart. That’s not to say an Atlantic tsunami isn’t possible today. In 1929, a tsunami swept into the coast of Newfoundland killing more than two dozen people. The cause was a massive underwater landslide triggered by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on the Grand Banks.

But neither an earthquake nor a submarine slump may have been involved in the 300BC tsunami. Recent research indicates an asteroid impact somewhere off the Atlantic coast dating to about the same time. Ejecta found in the local sediments such as spherules, shocked quartz, and nanodiamonds could only have been created under extreme temperatures and pressures produced by an extraterrestrial. No crater has been located as of yet but the scientists continue searching.

BBC ancient tsunami story
More about the 300BC tsunami
East Coast tsunami threat considered in 2004

If your answer is "Nothing, yet," then you might consider stopping by the museum.

Minnesota's Water Resources: Impacts of Climate Change
Dr. Lucinda Johnson, National Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota-Duluth
Thursday, April 9, 2009
7 - 8:30 pm in the Auditorium

Over the past 150 years, Minnesota's climate has become increasingly warmer, wetter, and variable, resulting in undeniable ecological impacts. For example, more recent changes in precipitation patterns combined with urban expansion and wetland losses have resulted in an increase in the frequency and intensity of flooding in parts of Minnesota. Learn about exciting new research which will develop a prediction model for future climate changes specific to Minnesota, and discover its potential economic and civic impact.

Check it out.