Electricity generated with water, salt and a 3-atoms-thick membrane

EPFL researchers have developed a system that generates electricity from osmosis with unparalleled efficiency. Their work, featured in Nature, uses seawater, fresh water, and a new type of membrane just 3 atoms thickProponents of clean energy will soon have a new source to add to their existing array of solar, wind, and hydropower: osmotic power. Or more specifically, energy generated by a natural phenomenon occurring when fresh water comes into contact with seawater through a membrane.Researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology have developed an osmotic power generation system that delivers never-before-seen yields. Their innovation lies in a three atoms thick membrane used to separate the two fluids. The results of their research have been published in Nature.

Solar panels study reveals impact on Earth

Researchers have produced the first detailed study of the impact of solar parks on the environment, opening the door to smarter forms of farming and better land management.Environmental Scientists at Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology monitored a large solar park, near Swindon, for a year.They found that solar parks altered the local climate, measuring cooling of as much as 5 degrees Centigrade under the panels during the summer but the effects varied depending on the time of year and the time of day.As climate controls biological processes, such as plant growth rates, this is really important information and can help understand how best to manage solar parks so they have environmental benefits in addition to supplying low carbon energy.

Alaska's shorebirds exposed to mercury

Shorebirds breeding in Alaska are being exposed to mercury at levels that could put their populations at risk, according to new research from The Condor: Ornithological Applications.Thanks to atmospheric circulation and other factors, the mercury that we deposit into the environment tends to accumulate in the Arctic. Mercury exposure can reduce birds' reproductive success and sometimes even be lethal. Shorebirds may be particularly vulnerable because they forage in aquatic environments where mercury is converted into methylmercury, its most dangerous form. Marie Perkins of the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) and her colleagues investigated the level of mercury in Alaska's shorebirds and found that some birds breeding near Barrow, at the state's northern end, have mercury concentrations upwards of two micrograms per gram of blood.

Weathered oil from DW Horizon spill may threaten fish embryos and larvae development

A research team led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have found that ultraviolet light is changing the structure of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil components into something more toxic, further threatening numerous commercially and ecologically important fishes. The DWH oil spill, in which more than three million barrels of crude oil got released in 2010 into the northern Gulf of Mexico, is the worst oil disaster in US history, contaminating the spawning habitats for many fishes."Ours is the first experiment evaluating the effects of DWH oil on the genetic responses of mahi-mahi embryos and larvae," said Daniel Schlenk, a professor of aquatic ecotoxicology, who led the study published in Environmental Science and Technology. "It is also the first experiment of this nature on a lifestage and species that was likely exposed to the oil. We found that the weathering of oil had more significant changes in gene expression related to critical functions in the embryos and larvae than the un-weathered oil. Our results predict that there are multiple targets of oil for toxicity to this species at the embryonic life stage."

How Growing Sea Plants Can Help Slow Ocean Acidification

Researchers are finding that kelp, eelgrass, and other vegetation can effectively absorb CO2 and reduce acidity in the ocean. Growing these plants in local waters, scientists say, could help mitigate the damaging impacts of acidification on marine life.Oregon’s picturesque Netarts Bay has long been known for its oysters. But Netarts, like the whole west coast of North America, is getting more acidic. And the oysters don’t like it. Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide in the air has seeped into ocean waters and boosted acidity by 30 percent. Globally, the oceans’ pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1, and could drop another 0.4 units by the end of the century. The problem is worse off the west coast of North America, where acidic bottom-waters are brought up to the surface by onshore winds. Corrosive waters like those suck up the building blocks for shells, and can literally eat away at the skeletons of corals. 

Ice algae: The engine of life in the central Arctic Ocean

Algae that live in and under the sea ice play a much greater role for the Arctic food web than previously assumed. In a new study, biologists of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) showed that not only animals that live directly under the ice thrive on carbon produced by so-called ice algae. Even species that mostly live at greater depth depend to a large extent on carbon from these algae. This also means that the decline of the Arctic sea ice may have far-reaching consequences for the entire food web of the Arctic Ocean. Their results have been published online now in the journal Limnology & Oceanography.The summer sea ice in the Arctic is diminishing at a rapid pace and with it the habitat of ice algae. The consequences of this decline for the Arctic ecosystem are difficult to predict. Scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research showed the significance of ice algae for the Arctic food web in this context. "A number of studies have already speculated that ice algae are an important energy source for the polar ecosystems. We have now been able to show that not only animals associated with ice meet the majority of their carbon needs from ice algae, but that, surprisingly, so do species that mostly live at greater depths," says lead author Doreen Kohlbach.

Climate change is apparently shifting clouds towards the poles

The way clouds cover the Earth may be changing because of global warming, according to a study published Monday that used satellite data to track cloud patterns across about two decades, starting in the 1980s.Clouds in the mid-latitudes shifted toward the poles during that period, as the subtropical dry zones expanded and the highest cloud-tops got higher.These changes are predicted by most climate models of global warming, even though those models disagree on a lot of other things related to clouds, says Joel Norris, a climate scientist at the University of California, San Diego. 

Regulating particulate pollution

An MIT analysis of how best to reduce fine particulate matter in the atmosphere has brought some surprising results. Due to past regulations, levels of key emissions that form those harmful particles are now lower than they were a decade ago, causing some experts to suggest that cutting them further might have little effect. Not true, concludes the MIT study. Using an atmospheric model, the researchers found that new policies to restrict the same emissions would be even more effective now than they were in the past. Further analysis elucidated the chemical processes — some unexpected — that explain their findings. Their results demonstrate the importance of tailoring air pollution policies to specific situations and of addressing a variety of emissions in a coordinated way.

NASA camera catches moon 'photobombing' Earth

For only the second time in a year, a NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured a view of the moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth."For the second time in the life of DSCOVR, the moon moved between the spacecraft and Earth," said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "The project recorded this event on July 5 with the same cadence and spatial resolution as the first 'lunar photobomb' of last year."The images were captured by NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four-megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth. From its position between the sun and Earth, DSCOVR conducts its primary mission of real-time solar wind monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Monkeys in Brazil have used stone tools for hundreds of years at least

New archaeological evidence suggests that Brazilian capuchins have been using stone tools to crack open cashew nuts for at least 700 years, and the new research paper asks whether human behaviour was influenced through watching the monkeys. Researchers say, to date, they have found the earliest archaeological examples of monkey tool use outside of Africa. In their paper, published in Current Biology, they suggest it raises questions about the origins and spread of tool use in New World monkeys and, controversially perhaps, prompts us to look at whether early human behaviour was influenced by their observations of monkeys using stones as tools. The research was led by Dr Michael Haslam of the University of Oxford, who in previous papers presents archaeological evidence showing that wild macaques in coastal Thailand used stone tools for decades at least to open shellfish and nuts.