What’s With All This Algae: Dead Zone in the Gulf

Scientists are predicting that this year’s “dead zone” of low-oxygen water in the northern Gulf of Mexico will be the largest to date. Every year when the nutrient-rich freshwater of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers pour into the Gulf, it causes massive algae blooms. Then this algae consumes the oxygen in the Gulf, making the low oxygen conditions.

Shrimp, fish and many other species have to escape the dead zone or face dying.

Federal scientists are predicting that this year’s zone will be between 8,500 square miles and about 9,400 square miles. The actual size of the dead zone is to be measured this summer.

The largest recorded dead zone was in 2002 with 8,400 square miles of the Gulf lacking sufficient oxygen for marine life.
The forecasts on the size of the hypoxic zone most of the time is close to the mark, however, hurricanes have shattered them in the past.

The biggest culprit is fertilizer and the phosphates and nitrates in them which wind up in the Mississippi River every spring and get flushed out to the Gulf.

States in the Mississippi valley in concert with the federal government are attempting to reduce runoff from lawns, farms and cities, however, those efforts haven’t curbed the problem thus far.

Introducing: The Conversation

A group of Australian scientists recently began a new online effort to correlate the body of science and the rising human influence on the climate system.

Their initial piece, “Climate change is real: an open letter from the scientific community,” covers The Conversation, an academic Web site that aims to provide a credible source of analysis and information on important issues as traditional journalism shrinks.

The letter is in the style of recent American-fronted efforts to counter individuals and groups who have mastered the use of the Web as a means of disseminating and aggregating all kinds of information be it fact or fiction so long as it casts doubt on climate science.

In contrast to Skeptical Science and RealClimate, tightly focused on science questions, this initiative appears to be trying to both clarify the state of the science on global warming and the same breath encourage policies that might possibly curb greenhouse gas emissions.

This excerpt manages to do a justice to the overall style:

“Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people. A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businessmen are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity.”

“On the other extreme, economic instability and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and other interests vested to whip up ill-informed, climate scientists and populist rage have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.”

New Report Finds, Dogs Better Able To Sniff Scat Of Other Animals Than Humans

Dogs that sniff feces are becoming more and more popular as assistants to scientists gathering data about wildlife areas. The dogs can sniff out the scat of other animals, helping scientists to estimate population statistics.

A dog’s ability to sniff crap is hinged on a number of factors that include precipitation and air temperature.

Sarah Reed, a researcher on this very topic and a conservation biologist at Colorado State University said:

“We really wanted to understand what some of the factors were that limit dogs’ abilities to detect.”

Because dogs cannot smell as well when they are panting, overheated, air temperature also seems to have an effect. She hopes that other researchers will create calibration tools that measure how optimally their detection dogs perform in different conditions. Regardless of canine handicaps, though, dogs are much more capable than human beings at sniffing out a scat.

Trained dogs, according to Reed, are able to detect s&$t from up to 33 feet away about 75 percent of the time. On the other hand, humans can see scat only within three to five feet.

Play EteRNA: Educational, Free and User-Friendly

Researchers from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University have created an online video game which challenges players to design new ways to fold RNA molecules.

It is called, EteRNA.

It gives non-biologists an opportunity to build complex new ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules and to get quick feedback on the biological functioning of their deigns.The scientists hope the free game with serve as a training ground for citizen-experts who will assist in the creation of a virtual library of biological knowledge.

Rhiju Das, a physicist from Stanford University told the New York Times:

“The dream is that within a year or so we will be able to create RNA that is functional and that we can transcribe into cells to do things such as sense light or even deactivate a virus…”

The role of RNA as a regulator of and messenger to cell functions has been the source of much scientific pondering in the last five years.

EteRNA is a joint effort of a team of scientists led by Dr. Das, and Adrien Treuille, assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. The two met while postgraduate researchers at the University of Washington.

In the new game, mastering the molecule construction kit requires players to harness their knowledge about aspects of biochemistry.

Dr. Treuille said:

“We’re the leading edge in asking nonexperts to do really complicated things online…RNA are these beautiful molecules. They are very simple and they self-assemble into complex shapes. From the scientific side there is a RNA revolution going on. The complexity of life may be due to RNA signaling.”

Newsflash: Intelligent Cars

Cars that auto respond to emergencies:

German engineers say they are developing a software program that will, for the first time, help several cars coordinate their movements to avoid an accident.

Scientists said the software allows vehicles to form a network via car-to-car communication.

“In dangerous situations, the cars can independently perform coordinated maneuvers without their drivers having to intervene,” said Thomas Batz, who developed the software with colleagues at the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing and Karlsruhe University.