Truth in seafood labeling

Do you prefer that your Salmon come from wild-caught sources, or that if farm raised it comes from Scotland instead of Thailand? How accurate ARE those labels at the fish counter? The Universtiy of Hawaii took a look at this recently. They were assessing the levels of mercury in fish offered for sale that were mislabeled. Their study took measurements of mercury from fish purchased at retail seafood counters in 10 different states show the extent to which mislabeling can expose consumers to unexpectedly high levels of mercury, a harmful pollutant. Fishery stock "substitutions"—which falsely present a fish of the same species, but from a different geographic origin—are the most dangerous mislabeling offense, according to new research by University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa scientists.

Marine noise impacts eels too!

Marine noise has been studied for it's impact on whales, dolphins and other marine animals. Might it also impact smaller creatures too? Eels, for example. Despite their reputation as slippery customers, a new study has shown that eels are losing the fight to survive when faced with marine noise pollution such as that of passing ships. Scientists from the Universities of Exeter and Bristol found that fish exposed to playback of ship noise lose crucial responses to predator threats. The study, published today in the journal Global Change Biology, found European eels were 50 per cent less likely to respond to an ambush from a predator, while those that did had 25 per cent slower reaction times. Those that were pursued by a predator were caught more than twice as quickly when exposed to the noise.

Astro Physics has a new mystery

Astro Physicists love to look for reasons current theories are correct. When data are obtained that do not fit a current theory, the race is on to come up with an explanation! The Universe is a big place, full of unknowns. Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have just catalogued a new one. "I couldn't believe my eyes," says Esra Bulbul of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics. "What we found, at first glance, could not be explained by known physics."

Update: Melting permafrost and Global Warming

You have probably heard that melting permafrost is a big contributor to increasing the levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, and that melting permafrost may even cause an unstoppable acceleration of global warming. New research, however, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), counters this widely-held scientific view that thawing permafrost uniformly accelerates atmospheric warming, indicating instead that certain arctic lakes store more greenhouse gases than they emit into the atmosphere. The study, published this week in the journal Nature, focuses on thermokarst lakes, which occur as permafrost thaws and creates surface depressions that fill with melted fresh water, converting what was previously frozen land into lakes.

Light rail systems DO improve air pollution in cities

Have you ever wondered if the cute light rail systems some large cities are installing actually get people out of their cars and have a positive environmental impact? For the first time, researchers have shown that installing light rail on an existing traffic corridor not only gets people out of their cars, but reduces congestion and air pollution. In the study, planners at the University of Utah measured impacts of a new light rail line in Salt Lake City (University Line) on an existing major thoroughfare (400/500 South). Their analysis showed that traffic near the University has fallen to levels not seen since the 1980s, even as the number of students, faculty and staff at the U has increased, and the commercial district along the corridor has expanded.

This is a extra special year for “Super Moons”

Super Moons are full moons that are extra, well, super! They are super because they appear larger in the evening sky than your run of the mill full moon. In June of last year, a full Moon made headlines. The news media called it a "supermoon" because it was 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons of 2013. Around the world, people went outside to marvel at its luminosity. If you thought one supermoon was bright, how about three? The full Moons of summer 2014—July 12th, August 10th, and Sept. 9th--will all be supermoons. The scientific term for the phenomenon is "perigee moon." Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon's orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side ("perigee") about 50,000 km closer than the other ("apogee"). Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon's orbit seem extra big and bright.

Our newest Astronauts are fruit flies!

Becoming an Astronaut is a big deal! Men and women selected to go into space are very carefully chosen. They go through rigorous medical evaluations to make sure they are healthy and that their bodies can withstand the forces of liftoff and re-entry. And they go through months and months of training to prepare them for their first space flight. Now NASA is sending untested, untrained astronauts into space. Of course, they are not human, they are fruit flies! Fruit flies are bug eyed and spindly, they love rotten bananas, and, following orders from their pin-sized brains, they can lay hundreds of eggs every day. We have a lot in common. Genetically speaking, people and fruit flies are surprisingly alike, explains biologist Sharmila Bhattacharya of NASA's Ames Research Center. "About 77% of known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of fruit flies, and 50% of fly protein sequences have mammalian analogues."

What are comets?

Scientists have speculated for centuries about comets. Why do the become visible on an irregular interval? Why does the tail always point away from our sun? What are comets made of? Are they balls of ice, or more like an asteroid? Now NASA may finally get some concrete answers with a current mission that will land on a comet later this year! Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is releasing the Earthly equivalent of two glasses of water into space every second. The observations were made by the Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter (MIRO), aboard the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft on June 6, 2014. The detection of water vapor has implications not only for cometary science, but also for mission planning, as the Rosetta team prepares the spacecraft to become the first ever to orbit a comet (planned for August), and the first to deploy a lander to its surface (planned for November 11).

Farmed fish, the dark side

It seems as more and more of the fish available to us in the supermarket and in restaurants is farmed. Is this good or bad? Probably a bit of both. Raising fish in fish farms doesn't impact the wild fish to any great extent, but fish farms must be well situated, and well run to prevent problems. They are not natural ecosystems! Aquaculture has become a booming industry in Chile, with salmon and other fish farmed in floating enclosures along the South Pacific coast. But as farmers densely pack these pens to meet demand, diseases can easily pass between fish — for example, an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia that emerged in 2007 caused the deaths of more than a million fish and threatened to cripple the industry. And unsustainable aquaculture methods can have a wider impact, spreading disease to the world’s already vulnerable ocean fisheries and contaminating the environment.

Getting a better handle on CO2, NASA will help!

From all the news about how anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are increasing tremendously (remember the hockey stick graph?) you would think that these emissions are causing all the atmospheric increases of CO2. And, our use of fossil fuels is increasing exponentially, with more than half of all fossil fuels ever used by humans being consumed in the last 20 years. However, in comparison with the amount of carbon that enters the atmosphere from natural sources, our fossil fuel emissions are modest. "Carbon dioxide generated by human activities amounts to only a few percent of the total yearly atmospheric uptake or loss of carbon dioxide from plant life and geochemical processes on land and in the ocean," said Gregg Marland, a professor in the Geology Department of Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina. "This may not seem like much, but humans have essentially tipped the balance."