Shorts: Short bits of interest and curiosity

CA identifies Methane Super Emitters

NASA, the California Air Resources Board, and the California Energy Commission studied methane emmission sources over a two year period with a plane equipped with a next generation Airborne Visible InfraRed Imaging Spectrometer, which allowed identification of even small methane plumes that are frequently undetected.

Fifty-five individual point sources were identified as super-emitters, contributing about a third of California’s total methane budget. Thirty landfills (out of the 270 surveyed) contributed 40 percent of the total point-source emissions detected.

This was the first such attempt to estimate emissions for individual sources over time across such an extensive area. The results will be used to help identify needed emissions control improvements.

A total of 550 point sources were identified.

• • • • • • •

Prehistoric Puppy Found Preserved in Permafrost

A prehistoric puppy was found in melting permafrost in the Far East of Russia with its limbs, hair, teeth, eyelashes, and whiskers in tact. It is believed to be 18,000 years old.

While a nearly complete genome has been sequenced, scientists are still not sure if the pup is a dog or a wolf, which presents an intriguing mystery. The puppy, which has been determined to be a male,  could be a missing link between prehistoric wolves and modern dogs. A third round of genome sequencing might provide more clues.

Global temperature rise due to climate change is increasing the rate of permafrost melt, resulting in the discovery of more woolly mammoths and other prehistoric animals.

• • • • • • •

Sound Can Help Recovery of Coral Reefs

“Acoustic enrichment” could be an important tool in the recovery of coral reefs, according to a recent study by an international team of UK and Australian scientists.

Playing recordings of healthy coral reefs, which are rich with sound, through loudspeakers under water near degraded reefs can attract young fish to the area.  The study found that areas playing healthy reef sounds attracted twice as many young fish as silent reefs, and also increased the number of species by 50 percent.

• • • • • • •

Blue Whale Heart Rate Recorded for First Time

Stanford University researchers have succeeded in recording the heart rate of a blue whale in the wild for the first time, providing unique insights into its biology and evolutionary limits.

A device containing electronic sensors was attached to a whale’s left flipper using suction cups, which recorded its heart rate through electrodes embedded in the suction feet.

The data surprisingly show that the lowest heart rate, which occurred during foraging dives, was 30 to 50 times lower than predicted—dropping to an incredible low of two beats per minute. The heart rate increased when surfacing, reaching a high of 25 to 37 beats per minute.

Blue whales are the largest animals known to exist, possibly because the extreme body size pushes the heart to its limits.

• • • • • • •

New Satellite to Track Sea Level Rise

U.S. and European agencies announced the future launch of a new satellite mission to study rising global sea levels. The Sentinel-6/Jason-CS mission, set to last 10 years, will be the longest running mission of its kind—adding to three decades of prior data.

The mission will be comprised of two satellites that will be launched five years apart. The satellites will measure sea level rise down to the millimeter, and how fast the rate of rise accelerates. Prior data has shown that the world’s oceans have been rising an average of 3 millimeters per year, but the rate of rise has been increasing.

The first of the two satellites will launch in November 2020.

• • • • • • •

Bacteria Colonies Hitchhike on Marine Plastic

Plastics in our oceans aren’t floating out there alone. A new study revealed that marine plastics quickly become covered in a thin layer of biofilm, known as the Plastisphere, which can affect whether they float, sink, cause them to break down more quickly, or even alter the smell or taste of the plastic.

Scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole took samples from a variety of ocean sites and discovered diatoms and bacteria in heterogeneously mixed colonies from three phyla: Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria, and Bacteriodetes.

The team leader, Linda Amaral-Zettler coined the term “Plastisphere” for the biofilm.

• • • • • • •

Painting Cows to Look like Zebras?

While painting cows with stripes to look like zebras might seem like nothing more than a silly amusement, there apparently is a potential environmental benefit—painting stripes on cows could reduce the use of pesticides.

Scientists in Japan have discovered that painting white stripes on dark-colored cows in a way that resembles a zebra reduced attacks by biting flies by nearly 50 percent, which in turn reduced the need for pesticides. The polarization of light on black and white surfaces impairs the flies’ perception.

Irritation and stress from biting flies is estimated to cost the livestock industry billions each year.