Study eyes ‘pond scum’ environmental feedback loop

‘This is important because cyanobacteria are on the increase in response to global change …’

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Blue-green algae blooms can feed themselves by unlocking nutrients. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Fish-killing bacterial blooms are becoming more common in lakes around the world as the climate warms, and new research shows that aquatic microbes themselves can drive nitrogen and phosphorus cycling, resulting in a on-two environmental punch.

The findings of the study suggest cyanobacteria — sometimes known as pond scum or blue-green algae — that get a toe-hold in low-to-moderate nutrient lakes can set up positive feedback loops that amplify the effects of pollutants and climate change and make conditions even more favorable for blooms, which already pose a threat to water resources and public health worldwide. Continue reading

Climate: USGS study tracks Chesapeake Bay warming

Chesapeake Bay in a Landsat photo.

Chesapeake Bay in a Landsat photo.

Water temps up 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in 50 years

Staff Report

FRISCO— The huge Chesapeake Bay watershed — the country’s largest estuary — is warming steadily, USGS scientists say, warning that increase in temperatures is likely to have big consequences for the region’s ecosystems. Continue reading

Environment: Cold weather road ecology institute seeks alternatives to chemical road de-icers

This is what we like to see!

Clearing the roads in Frisco, Colorado.

A little bit of salt on your french fries is fine; a lot of salt on the road kills trees and fish

Staff Report

FRISCO — Highway engineers and scientists know that that massive use of chemical road de-icers has significant environmental impacts. Salt and the various derivatives used to keep roadways open kills trees and degrades water quality.

Just last year, the EPA found salt building up in groundwater near highways in the eastern U.S. Across the country, the U.S. spends $2.3 billion each year on the removal of highway snow and ice plus another $5 billion to mitigate the hidden costs associated with the process.

The hidden costs include long-term impacts of salt, sand and chemical deicers on the natural environment and road infrastructure as well as short-term impacts on semi-trailer trucks and other vehicles from rust and corrosion. Continue reading

Toxic legacy of acid rain lingers in Canadian lakes

Calcium loss turning lakes to ‘jelly’

Even high mountain lakes are feeling the sting of nitrogen pollution.

Acid rain has fundamentally changed the chemistry and biology of some lakes.

Michael Arts, Canada Centre for Inland Waters

Tiny jelly covered plankton are displacing other organisms in some Canadian lakes to the detriment of fisheries and public water supplies. Photo courtesy Michael Arts, Canada Centre for Inland Waters.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The toxic legacy of acid rain lives on in lakes in Canada, and possibly other places around the world, according scientists who say they’ve traced a trend of reduced calcium levels leading to a “jellification” of some lakes.

Specifically, the changes in water chemistry have reduced populations of  calcium-rich plankton such as Daphnia — water fleas that dominate these ecosystems. Falling calcium levels mean Daphnia cannot get the nutrients they need to survive and reproduce, leading to a rise in other plankton species, including small jelly-clad organisms.

According to the new research, populations of those organisms has exploded in lakes across eastern Canada in the past 30 years. The average  population of these small invertebrate jellies in many Ontario lakes doubled between the mid-1980s and the mid-2000s. Continue reading

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

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

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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