New Findings Show Affect of Sonar to Marine Life

When giant squid turned up dead off Spain about ten years ago, scientists suspected their cause of death to be due to powerful sound pulses from ships. A new study shows that this might, indeed, be the case. According to Barcelona’s Technical University of Catalonia, low-frequency sounds from human activities can affect squid and other cephalopods alike.

The findings show that noise pollution in the ocean is a matter that should not be taken lightly.

“We know that noise pollution in the oceans has a significant impact on dolphins and whales, which use natural sonar to navigate and hunt, but this is the first study indicating a severe impact on invertebrates, an extended group of marine species that are not known to rely on sound for living,” study leader Michael Andre stated.

About a decade ago the remains of giant squid were found off Spain’s Asturias province not long after ships had used air guns to conduct low-frequency sound-pulse exercises in the region. Affects on the squid included reduced mantles, bruised muscles, and lesions throughout their bodies. These organs, which are located behind the squids’ eyes, help it to maintain balance and position.

In the early 2000s, however, marine biologists were unable to prove that these frequencies were causing harm to the squid and surrounding marine life. Now, though, the evidence is in.

“With this study, we now have proof,” said marine specialist Angel  .

The researchers conducted the study by examining the effects of low-frequency sound exposure in 87 individual cephalopods of four different species. After two hours of constant exposure to various intensities of sound waves, the animals showed signs of damage to their statocyst tissue.

“This is a typical process found in land mammals and birds after acute noise exposure: a massive acoustic trauma followed by peripheral damage, making the lesions worse over time,” continued Andre.

The giant squid from the shores of Spain may or may not have suffered the direct impact of the sound waves, however, in either case their statocysts were practically destroyed causing the squid to become disoriented.

“The disoriented animals might wander up from the depths to the surface, where the temperature difference kills them,” explained Guerra.

Although the new research points out overwhelming evidence towards the leading cause of death for these giant squid, more research is necessary before a solid case can be made that human-made noise pollution is causing significant damage to marine life.


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Toys “R” Us Builds Largest Solar Rooftop in North America

Toys“R”Us, Inc., today, announced plans to construct the largest rooftop solar power installation in North America to its biggest distribution center in Flanders, New Jersey. Toys“R”Us, which is the world’s leading toy and juvenile retailer, has been working closely with the state and the community to develop a more sustainable operational facility.

“The unprecedented scope of this project furthers our already strong commitment to sustainability in our operations,” said Chairman and CEO of Toys“R”Us, Inc., Jerry Storch. “New Jersey’s leadership in providing renewable, clean energy opportunities for companies has helped pave the way for an installation of this size and underscores the state as a champion for solar energy growth across North America.”

The 5.83 megawatt solar rooftop will cover 869,294 square feet and is estimated to generate 72 percent of the electricity needed for the Toys“R”Us facility. The solar power mechanism will cover almost 70 percent of the Toys“R”Us 1,281,000-square-foot roof and will consist of more than 37,000 lightweight photovoltaic solar panels.  This particular facility is the largest of the ten main distribution centers and spans over 1.5 million square feet, including the roof, which covers 32 acres.

The same amount of electricity produced with nonrenewable sources would result in the release of over 4,000 metric tons of CO2. That amounts to the amount of emissions from 860 passenger vehicles or the amount of electricity used to power 532 homes annually.

In addition to this solar project, Toys“R”Us, Inc. is making numerous other changes toward a more sustainable future. Upgrades to its existing stores around the country as well as incorporating renewable energy sources to developing locations are among the many changes the corporation has insisted on.

The project is currently underway and will be finished by Summer 2011.

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Rural Himalayan Farmers Getting Rich off Caterpillar Fungus

Scientists say that the harvesting of a parasitic fungus that grows on the Tibetan Plateau in China is creating revenue for rural communities. The fungus manifests itself on the bodies of caterpillar larvae and grows like finger-sized blades of grass out of the dead caterpillar heads.

The nutty-tasting fungus holds high value due to its medicinal benefits such as a treatment for cancer and aging as well as being a libido booster. And according to Daniel Winkler, a fungus researcher and head of Eco-Montane Consulting, the fungus, “medically, seems to deliver.”

Some Chinese grind up the fungus and sell it as powder, while others use it as a garnish to display their wealth.

In Tibet and other nearby Himalayan regions of Nepal and Bhutan, yak herders who harvest the fungus are reaping large financial benefits. The value of this fungus rose 900% between 1997 and 2008. To keep up with the demand increase, farmers and harvesters spend about four weeks each spring searching for this fungal gold. 

The sudden rise of interest in fungal investments, though, has also caused disputes over access to local pastures where the fungus is abundant. In July, 2007, for example, eight people were shot to death in a gun battle over prime fungal turf in Yushu, a town close to the border with Tibet. 

“Given the value of the fungus, though,” Winkler added, “it’s remarkable how few people get killed in conflict over its harvest.” 

Though some scientists are concerned about the scarcity of the product, data collected so far suggests that it is still plentiful. Although the number of fungi picked per person has dropped, the market has not seen a decline in availability of the product.

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Google Paves Way for Clean Green Energy

Google, one of the world’s largest companies, is investing $168 million in an alternative energy project that intends to produce enough solar energy to power 140,000 homes.

The announcement, made last Monday, details the investment as part of the financing that BrightSource Energy needs to create a solar power plant in the Mojave Desert in California. In addition, BrightSource is guaranteed $1.6 billion in loans issued by the U.S. Department of Energy and an additional $300 million investment from NRG Energy Inc.

“We’re interested in investments that have attractive returns and spur more deployment and development of compelling renewable energy technologies,” said spokesperson Parag Chokshi. “We have been active in the renewable energy sector for some time, having invested in several innovative companies through, and more recently, making corporate investments in clean energy projects, like two North Dakota wind farms, an offshore wind transmission line, and these two solar investments over the last week.”

Rick Neeham, Google’s director of green business operations describes the need to invest in “smart capital” to transform their energy sector and build a clean energy future.

“We hope that investing in [clean energy] spurs continued development and deployment of this promising technology while encouraging other companies to make similar investments in renewable energy,” Neeham stated.

Google Inc. has often put its money where its mouth is. The company has backed various projects that promise to generate energy from other sources besides oil and coal, diverting the enormous amounts of energy needed to power its Internet search engine to a more cleaner alternative. To date, the company has invested more than $250 million in clean energy alternatives.

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Natural Gas Accident in Pennsylvania Releases Toxic Waste Fluids

A natural gas blowout in Bradford County, Pennsylvania has heightened concerns about the safety of a particular gas extracting process. Last Tuesday thousands of gallons of natural gas drilling waste fluids seeped onto farmlands and nearby streams for more than 12 continuous hours due to “equipment failure,” as described by Chief Jennings of the Canton Fire Department. Seven families were asked to evacuate. All have returned except one, who has been temporarily relocated until further safety measures are taken.

The fluid was contained and emergency crews were able to prevent further leakage into neighboring Towanda Creek by Wednesday afternoon using “secondary containment mechanisms”.

“Evidently the crack is in the top part of the well below the blowout preventer”, deputy director of the Bradford County Emergency Management Agency, Skip Roupp, explained on Wednesday afternoon. Further investigation was necessary because investigators did not “really know what happened yet.”

Initial scene sampling was conducted in areas surrounding the accident indicating little significant effect to local waterways. But residents and environmentalists are wary that the particular technique used to extract natural gas from this area could be a dangerous process that can pollute the water. The method, called “fracking”, is a process involving the addition of millions of gallons of water to cause enormous pressure used to crack underground rocks, in turn, releasing the needed gas.

Brian Grove, director of corporate development for Chesapeake Energy, could not say whether drilling will resume in the well until further investigation and precautions are taken.

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Despite Controversy, Cape Wind Project Approved for Construction

The Cape Wind Energy Project, which plans to build a 130-turbine wind farm off Nantucket Sound, has been approved for construction. Last Tuesday, the US government announced its decision to allow this construction despite the decade-long dispute concerning environmental impacts and increased power costs for customers. The construction could begin as early as autumn and is expected to supply energy to hundreds of thousands of American homes.

Despite many efforts to prevent this wind farm from proceeding, the Obama administration has backed the project, emphasizing its potential to create thousands of jobs and spur offshore wind development in the US.

“Offshore wind power is the new frontier for our industry,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “The Secretary understands the manufacturing and job opportunities that offshore wind brings to America and knows that it needs long-term policy support in order to do so.” 

Earlier this month, project managers began looking for a partner to help finance the initial steps of the $1.7 billion project. The finalized project will be the first in the US and is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions in Massachusetts by over 700,000 tons annually.

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Superbug Found in New Delhi Water

slumResearchers in New Delhi, India, have found a gene that causes a wide range of bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. A report published last Thursday found the gene in 2 of 51 tap water samples and in a large number of puddles and pools.

The gene, NDM-1, has been found in 11 different types of bacteria, including those that cause cholera and dysentery, diseases commonly found in third-world countries. The gene has already been found in a small number of patients who have visited India for medical procedures and has the potential to spread to other countries at an increasing rate.

The NDM-1 gene found in certain bacteria cause it to become resistant to particularly strong antibiotics, known as carbapenems, which are used in place of antibiotics when they fail to work. The findings, published in World Health Day, warns that more than 25,000 people in the European Union die every year due to infections cause by the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“There are now superbugs that do not respond to any drug,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, director of the World Health Organization for Europe. “Given the travel and trade in Europe and across the world, people should be aware that until all countries tackle this, no country alone can be safe,” she continues.

Anxiety levels heighten as the occurrence of this superbug threatens the safety of neighboring countries. Poor sanitation levels in India facilitates the spread of the gene, making it imperative that alert is being raised about the issues before it is too late. 

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