Environment: Researchers still tracking oil leaks from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico

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A massive slick from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill spreads across the Gulf of Mexico in July 2010. Photo courtesy NASA.

Oil ‘fingerprinting’ technique shows the oil is likely from the wreckage of the sunken drill rig

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Chemical fingerprints show that oil sheens in the Gulf of Mexico are probably from pockets of oil trapped within the wreckage of the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Both the Macondo well and natural oil seeps common to the Gulf of Mexico were confidently ruled out by researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The study was published online this week in Environmental Science & Technology.

The oil sheens were first reported to the United States Coast Guard by BP in mid-September 2012, raising public concern that the Macondo well, which was capped in July 2010, might be leaking.

“It was important to determine where the oil was coming from because of the environmental and legal concerns around these sheens. First, the public needed to be certain the leak was not coming from the Macondo well, but beyond that we needed to know the source of these sheens and how much oil is supplying them so we could define the magnitude of the problem,” said WHOI chemist Chris Reddy. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Rare sea slug poised for a comeback

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A rare sea slug may be poised to return to California coastal waters. Photo courtesy Kenneth Kopp.

Marine researchers in California tracking colorful ocean critter

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Four decades after pollution and over-collecting all but wiped out a colorful sea slug in California coastal water, marine researchers at UC Santa Barbara say the species could be staging a comeback.

The vivid blue and gold nudibranch Felimare californiensis was discovered by UC zoologists in 1901, making it a favorite of of UC marine scientists and students. But while it held a special place in their hearts, it lost its place in local waters, which once included La Jolla, Corona del Mar, Malibu, and Santa Barbara, as well as all but the two westernmost Channel Islands. Continue reading

Study seeks to ID ocean ecosystem tipping points

A Pacific kelp forest. Photo courtesy NOAA.

UC Santa Barbara researchers to try and establish early warning systems

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Marine researchers with UC Santa Barbara say they want to keep better tabs on potential ecosystem tipping points. By using case studies, they hope to develop a set of early warning indicators and management tools that may help to predict, and even prevent, threatened systems from falling off the precipice.

“We know that thresholds in marine ecosystems can lead to rapid changes in their ability to support activities and services that people value, but we seldom have information about how human actions are affecting these things, and how close we might be to those tipping points,” said Carrie Kappel, associate project scientist and lead principal investigator on the study. Continue reading

Environment: Tamarisk biocontrol may work after all

Imported leaf-eating beetles slowly adapting to local ecosystems

Tamarisk along the Colorado River near Moab. Photo courtesy Tom Dudley.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Efforts to control invasive tamarisk plants along the Arkansas River are looking up, thanks to a boost from some unexpected evolutionary adaptations. A small imported but that eats and kills the water-sucking plants has been expanding its range and reproducing more efficiently after adapting to regional cycles of darkness and light.

“This is one of the clearest cases of rapid evolution,” said Tom Dudley, who has been involved in the tamarisk control efforts at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute Riparian Invasive Research Laboratory.

The tamarisk leaf beetle has managed to delay its entry into hibernation to adapt to the shorter days of the southern region of the United States. That adaptation enables the beetle to survive until spring and prolongs the time it has to reproduce. Continue reading

Southwestern forests especially sensitive to global warming

The stump of a beetle-killed ponderosa pine at the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Climate change could lead to landscape-level tipping points

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A comprehensive new study shows that about 18 percent of forests in the Southwest have already been affected by global warming. The region’s forests are more susceptible to temperature changes than any other, and if current climate predictions hold true, they will experience more frequent and severe forest fires, higher tree death rates, more insect infestation, and weaker trees, according to the study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientific article is part of a special PNAS feature edition called “Climate Change and Water in Southwestern North America.”

“Our study shows that regardless of rainfall going up or down, forests in the Southwest U.S. are very sensitive to temperature –– in fact, more sensitive than any forests in the country,” said first author Park Williams, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Geography at UC Santa Barbara. “Forests in the Southwest are most sensitive to higher temperatures in the spring and summer, and those are the months that have been warming the fastest in this area.” Continue reading

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