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Amelia Urry's Posts


Smells like teen spirit

Fearless teenage fish don’t run from climate change, death

Watch out, these hooligans will win any game of chicken.
Geir Friestad
Watch out, these hooligans will win a game of chicken or literally die trying.

When we were teens, we rebelled by stealing printer paper from the school library and staying out 15 minutes past curfew. Damselfish, however, really take that burn-the-world attitude to the next level.

A new study out this week in Nature Climate Change suggests that instead of making the fish scared for their very lives, ocean acidification lulls the little buggers into a false sense of security. Rather than being frightened by the smell of predators, the juvenile damselfish subjects of the experiment were more likely to be attracted, leading researchers to say: Dang it, teenagers! Didn't we warn you about the lionfish in the cool leather jacket?

Researchers gathered fish from sites near seafloor CO2 vents off of Papua New Guinea, where the water is already more acidic than the rest of the ocean -- though the researchers predict that the rest of the ocean could hit similar levels by 2100. The four species studied, common varieties of reef-dwelling damselfish and cardinalfish, were placed in tanks that were filled with various streams of water, some straight seawater, others conditioned to smell like predators.

Instead of being damselfish in distress, the CO2-habituated fish spent up to 90 percent of their time in the predator-stinking stream. In contrast, the control fish pretty much only hung out in the undoctored water like little goody-two-shoes. Other experiments involved chasing the fish around with a pencil, then seeing how quickly they emerged from a safe hiding spot; again, most of the acid-head fish just rolled their eyes.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food



IKEA makes big investment in wind energy (some assembly required)

Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.
Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.

IKEA -- though not exactly a friend to forests, and way too fond of dubious meatballs for our taste -- still wins greenie points for having a Scandinavian way with alternative energy. Ninety percent of its massive warehouse stores will soon host rooftop solar panels, including sunny south Florida's largest solar array, and Brits will be able to buy solar panels in U.K. stores starting this summer. On Thursday, the company one-upped its own clean cred by announcing its investment in a giant wind farm in Illinois.

Hoopeston Wind is the most recent in a series of wind investments by IKEA, including several farms in Canada, where the furniture behemoth is the largest retail wind investor. The Illinois farm will produce 98 megawatts of electricity when it comes online in 2015, or enough to power 34,000 Expedit-enhanced homes. That's more than twice the electricity that all of IKEA's U.S. operations consume, and about 18 percent of the company's global consumption. All of those megawatts will be sold locally, and IKEA will count them toward its overall renewable energy goal: to be totally carbon-free by 2020.


Basic Strategy

How can we deal with ocean acidification? Step one: Study it.

refreshing lemon splash

Don't you love soda makers? You push a bottle of plain ol’ tap water up to a nozzle that spurts CO2 into your water, making it bubbly and delicious. Now picture that happening to the oceans, all day, every day, and the result is distinctly less effervescent: Dissolved CO2 turns into carbonic acid turns into dissolving shellfish, stressed-out fish, fewer clouds, plummeting biodiversity, collapsed ecosystems, total annihilation.

I may be leaving out a few details with the seltzer metaphor, but it turns out I’m not the only one short on particulars. There are still a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to ocean acidification. Which is why -- despite the apparent snoozeworthiness of the words I am about to use -- it is important that a group of federal agencies led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released a new strategic plan to coordinate and expand ocean acidification research.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Get tanked

This Texas man is fighting the drought one tank of rainwater at a time

tank town
Tantown Rainwater Collection

How do you get to be the mayor of Tank Town? Practice, practice, practice! Or else, wait. I’m confused.

Richard Heinichen became the mayor of Tank Town by building one rainwater storage tank in central Texas in 1994. Back then you could still get groundwater from a well, but apparently it smelled gross. He started out as a rainwater evangelist for the supplemental, sulfur-free benefits, but ended up as deus ex machina during Texas’ crippling droughts.

Heinichen helped neighbors build their own rainwater tanks at first, then decided to turn the whole thing into a business. He built 16 tanks on his own property and sold some 1,300 others. He consults with hundreds of people a year about installing their own rainwater tanks. (Perplexingly, he’s also started bottling and selling his rainwater, Cloud Juice, but we hope he is at least using recycled bottles.)

Now, during the worst drought in decades, Heinichen’s hometown of Dripping Springs, Texas, is running severely short on drips. This video fills in the details, with whimsy added in the form of charming water tank paintjobs and a soundtrack straight out of a Noah Baumbach movie.

Heinichen points out that a single gravity-fed tank could support two people for almost a year. If the drought lasts longer than that? Store more water.

Long live Tank Town.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Slick Vid

Here’s a shorebird’s-eye view of the Galveston oil spill

When an oil barge collided with a container ship on Saturday in Galveston, Texas, as many as 168,000 gallons of fuel were spilled into the estuary, threatening wildlife and shutting down the busy port for days.

Yadda yadda. Different spill, same old spill news.

Here’s a slightly different view than you might be used to, from Project Survival Media. Turns out that oil is less beautifully troubling, and more palpably gross, from the shorebird’s-eye view, where it churns in the waves like salad dressing gone wrong.

That lumpy goodness is probably IFO-380, or what's left after all the gas and diesel and kerosene have been taken out of crude oil. “It’s commonly referred to as bottom of the barrel stuff,” as Greg Pollack, a local oil spill prevention commissioner, told the Galveston Daily News. It usually floats near the surface, which is good for cleaning crews, but sometimes sinks when it gets close enough to shore to start picking up sediment. Unlike crude oil -- which is what spilled the last time this area got slicked, by Deepwater Horizon in 2010 -- this heavy fuel oil won’t evaporate, so leftovers may circulate far and wide.


Load of carp

Can we eat our way out of the invasive carp problem?

Fish and Chips

Humans did in the dodo; annihilated the Great Auk; likely mowed down the moa; and definitely pwned the passenger pigeon. What can we say? We were hungry.

But what if we used the power of our collective munchies to SOLVE problems, rather than cause them? As NPR reported yesterday, entrepreneurs along Midwestern waterways are trying to turn back the tide of invasive Asian carp by frying them in breadcrumbs -- or at least by convincing someone else to.

Asian carp breed like rabbits and are about as popular on contemporary American dinner plates (though broiling Bugs gets plenty of media coverage, the nation isn't exactly lapin it up). They slipped into our rivers in the '70s and can now be found all along the Mississippi River watershed, throughout a dozen states. In some places, the fish's density is as high as 13 tons per mile. Picture that load of carp.

Read more: Food


“More fish in the sea” is not a reason to keep overfishing

NOAAYum, elongated bristlemouth. Bristlemouth à la beurre. Miso-seared mola mola. Lanternfish tartare. If you’ve never seen these things on a menu, that’s probably because humans don’t generally catch or eat the denizens of the mesopelagic zone, that slice of sea about 656 to 3,280 feet below the ocean surface (also known as 200 to 1000 meters, which is much easier to remember). Lying just below the pelagic, the top layer of the open sea where most of the fish we’re familiar with live, the mesopelagic is apparently much more lively than we thought. A paper published last month in the journal Nature Communications revised …


Four new ozone-destroying gases found sneaking around the stratosphere

A record making hole in the ozone layer, in 2000.
A record-making hole in the ozone layer, in 2000.

There are things we know that we know, there are things that we know we don't know, and there are four previously unknown ozone-eating gases that we now know are eating the ozone. (It goes something like that, right?)

No, we are not back in 1985, when scientists first discovered that the ozone layer had sprung a serious leak. Back then, 40 countries banded together to take unprecedented global action to restrict the nefarious chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs) responsible for the problem. The Montreal Protocol came into effect a mere four years after the threat was identified, culminating in a total ban on CFCs in 2010, tying up the loose ends once and seemingly for all (and, by happy accident, slowing the scourge of global warming by a 10th of a degree or so).

Read more: Climate & Energy


Alpha & Omega-3s: Salmon farmers’ quest for the ultimate green feed


Fish farming gets a lot of flack, and salmon often bears the brunt of it. Much of this has to do with the fish food -- namely, the old saw that it takes an average of three pounds of wild fish to make one pound of domesticated salmon. But then why is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s vaunted Seafood Watch program, for the first time ever, giving ocean-farmed salmon its seal of semi-approval as a “good alternative”? What’s more, these salmon, from Verlasso, were spawned by agri- and aquacultural behemoths, DuPont and AquaChile, and fattened with the help of genetically modified organisms. …

Read more: Food


Rising sea levels will drown your Western art history course

At least Machu Picchu is probably safe from sea level rise.
Chris Chabot
At least Macchu Picchu is probably safe from sea level rise.

You know how we sometimes like movies in which famous world landmarks are dramatically destroyed? Climate change is about to bring those scenes to a museum near you, albeit with fewer meteors and more meteoric sea level rise.

According to a new report published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, everything you love is going to disappear, assuming you are the kind of person who loves old art and history and stuff. The researchers looked at UNESCO World Heritage sites, which, like humans, tend to cluster near the coasts. They simulated flooding the world with an average of 6.6 meters of sea level rise over a couple of centuries. The result was a very soggy situation: About 140 of 720 sites surveyed would be underwater, or at least in the kiddie pool -- and that’s without even accounting for storm surge. As one of the researchers encouragingly clarified, these are the low-ball estimates.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living