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New test enables better tracking of fracking pollution

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Stable tracers can help pinpoint ground and surface water contamination

Staff Report

FRISCO — There’s more and more evidence that fracking wastewater can — and sometimes does — pollute ground and surface water, but it’s not always easy to trace the pollution, especially since drillers often keep secret their fracking fluid recipes.

But after field tests at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania, scientists say they can reliably identify hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment by using stable boron and lithium tracers that distinctive chemical fingerprints. Continue reading

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Environment: Tracking pharmaceutical pollutants up the food chain

Fish-eating ospreys not showing signs of contamination

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Ospreys so far are not picking up significant amounts of pharmaceutical pollution found in many streams and rivers around the world. bberwyn photo

Staff Report

FRISCO — Pharmaceutical compounds from makeup and drugs are turning up in streams and rivers all over the world, even in remote Yucatan cenotes, but for now, they don’t seem to be working their way up the food chain.

The chemicals have been finding their way into the environment, primarily through wastewater, urban runoff and even biosolids applied to agricultural lands, but he impact on wildlife is unknown, so researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and Baylor University teamed up to try and track the pollutants through the food chain by testing ospreys. Continue reading

Predator decline spawns thorny biodiversity dilemma

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Yet another study describes cascading ecological impacts of declining predator populations.

Plant communities change as herbivoves spread

Staff Report

FRISCO — The global decline of large predators is leading to a loss of plant and tree diversity, scientists said after studying ecosystem changes in Africa. Recent research shows more than 75 percent of the world’s large carnivore species are in decline, with 17 of those species occupying less than half of their historical distributions.

The research by University of British Columbia zoologist Adam Ford and his colleagues involved tracking Africal impalas with GPS units to see how they respond to the presence (and absence) of predators, specifically whether the predators scare impala so much that impala will avoid areas where they are likely to be killed. They combined the tracking data with a high-resolution satellite image of tree cover and located carcasses to determine where impala are being killed. Continue reading

Let’s do offshore wind power the right way!

‘It is essential to identify where whales, dolphins and other species occur to help avoid adverse impacts and to continue to monitor their response to the construction and operation of wind turbines’

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Offshore wind turbines could provide most of the power for North American cities.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Many of the conflicts between energy development and wildlife protection developed because there wasn’t enough upfront planning. Researchers with the University of Maryland say similar issues relating to offshore wind energy can be minimized with early monitoring.

“As the number and size of offshore wind developments increases, there is a growing need to consider the consequences and cumulative impacts of these activities on marine species,” said Helen Bailey, lead author and research assistant professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

“It is essential to identify where whales, dolphins and other species occur to help avoid adverse impacts and to continue to monitor their response to the construction and operation of wind turbines,” Bailey said. Continue reading

Study: Natural gas boom won’t slow global warming

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Increase in global gas production likely to displace renewable low carbon energy

Staff Report

FRISCO — Increasing production of natural gas won’t save the world from global warming, researchers said this week.

In the long run, a global abundance of inexpensive natural gas is likely to displace not just coal, but  also lower-emitting nuclear and renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar. Inexpensive natural gas would also accelerate economic growth and expand overall energy use, the study found.

“The effect is that abundant natural gas alone will do little to slow climate change,” said lead author Haewon McJeon, an economist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “Global deployment of advanced natural gas production technology could double or triple the global natural gas production by 2050, but greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow in the absence of climate policies that promote lower carbon energy sources.” Continue reading

Biodiversity: Amphibians now facing huge viral threat

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Amphibians are facing a new viral threat.

Study documents mass die-offs in Spain

Staff Report

FRISCO — Along with the deadly chytrid fungus that has been wiping out frogs and salamanders for a few decades, there’s a new emergent threat to amphibians.

Researchers from the UK and Spain are tracking severe disease and mass deaths in many amphibian species in the mountains of northern Spain, where common midwife toads, common toads and alpine newts are taking the biggest hit, showing levels of population collapse which could ultimately prove catastrophic to amphibian communities and their ecosystems. Continue reading

Unhealthy mercury levels found in 25 percent of U.S. streams

These rainbows may not break any records, but they were caught in Dillon Reservoir, where it can sometimes be notoriously tricky to land fish.

Is there mercury in your trout?

National assessment by USGS pinpoints regional mercury hotspots

Staff Report

FRISCO — Widespread mercury contamination is one of the many signs of continued global environmental degradation. Currently, there are fish consumption advisories for mercury in all 50 states in the U.S. Methylmercury concentrations in fish exceed the human health criterion in about one in four U.S. streams.

A new USGS report takes a comprehensive look at mercury contamination in streams across the United States, finding the highest concentrations in the Southeast and in the West, where some streams were degraded by historic mining activities.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in fish to levels of concern for human health and the health of fish-eating wildlife. Much of the mercury originates from combustion of coal and can travel long distances in the atmosphere before being deposited. This can result in mercury-contaminated fish in areas with no obvious source of mercury pollution. Continue reading

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