Down the drain: What man-made products are in our waterways?

Humans use thousands of pharmaceutical and personal care products in any given day. What happens to these products after we use them? The unfortunate answer is that many of them end up in our waterways. Population size and land use may help us predict what products we can see in a waterbody. If we know what products are out there, we could better understand what effects these products can have on aquatic ecosystems and human health.

Read more

Nitrogen: Blessing and curse

The chemical element nitrogen (N) is an essential building block of all life on Earth and represents the fourth most common element in biological organisms, including us. Because of its importance for plant growth and food production humans have doubled the natural input of available nitrogen to our ecosystems, with adverse effects on the environment and our health. This surplus of nitrogen led to the expansion of the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and Baltic Sea, the concentration of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide is increasing in the atmosphere and infants suffer from high nitrate concentration in the drinking water. Schlesinger describes in his article where all the nitrogen ends up that we humans produce for fertilising our fields. He also warns that our knowledge of the nitrogen cycle is still limited and that nitrogen accumulation in unexpected places will lead to environmental deterioration.

Read more

Evidence from the sediment: Lake Baikal diatom community changes in response to shifting environmental conditions

Located in Siberia, Russia, Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world (Figure 1). Similar to other waterbodies around the world, both big and small, Lake Baikal is exhibiting changes in the community composition of its primary producers in response to climate change induced changes in surface temperatures and nutrient inputs. In this study, scientists examine community composition shifts in a group of primary producers known as diatoms and examine the influence of climate change on this shift.

Read more

Summertime Sadness: Hurricanes and Water Quality

Hurricanes are natural disasters that can turn water quality nasty! Just how nasty depends on what’s on the land that’s being flooded. Hurricane Fran (1996) struck the Cape Fear region in southeastern North Carolina, and researchers from the University of North Carolina Wilmington noticed dissolved oxygen plummeted as a result of swamp water and swine farm waste flooding. The lack of oxygen in the water caused widespread death of fish and critters living in the bottom of the rivers, not to mention all that sewage introduced bacteria and disease into the environment! Swamp water flooding may be a natural, unavoidable consequence of hurricanes, but we must have policies and practices in place to reduce further degrading water quality from human activities.

Read more

182 Years in the Making: Invertebrate Communities of Narragansett Bay

Benthic invertebrates support various ecosystem functions and services such as shellfish production and biogeochemical cycling. Historical data spanning 182 years permitted Hale and colleagues to determine the trends and current conditions of invertebrate communities in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. From the 104 studies, the authors detected over 1,000 different taxa that have been observed within the esturary and suggest human influence has greatly impacted the overall biodiversity of the invertebrate community.

Read more

Please romaine calm- there might be cancer-causing compounds in your lettuce

Washing fruits and vegetables before eating is standard practice- a good scrub removes dirt as well as bacteria that can make us sick. However, there’s more to this story- researchers at Georgia Tech found cancer-causing compounds inside the produce, as a result of industrial washing. In a recently published paper, they took the first step, looking at the leftover water used to wash the produce. Chlorinated wash water plays an important role in making sure produce is safe to eat, by eliminating harmful bacteria, but at what cost?

Read more

Work smarter and harder: a fieldwork fable involving the investigation of lake greenhouse gas emissions

“Are you sure this is the ramp?” my colleague, Dr. Jake Beaulieu asked the head field researcher, Adam Balz, as we drove up to the site.

The three of us took in the view of the crumbling asphalt inclined plane that disappeared into the lake. According to the map, this was the boat launch. But the usage of the lake had changed from allowing motorized craft to “paddle craft only” several years ago, and now the disused ramp was covered in layers of sandy sediment.  

Read more

Spawn of the Dead

Migratory animals such as the Pacific salmon are critical to the transport of nutrients and energy across large distances and between different ecosystems. However, along with important nutrients also come contaminants and pollutants. To understand the impacts of salmon, Brandon Gerig and colleagues investigate contaminant levels of riparian fish populations in streams where salmon runs do and do not occur in the Great Lakes region.

Read more