Tag Archives: Pacific Ocean

Using Vacuum Tubes to Shoot Salmon Over Dams and Restore Their Traditional Habitats

Over the past hundred and fifty years or so, the waterways of the Pacific Northwest have seen more and more dams built across them.

The dams provide hydroelectric power, as well as making irrigation possible in otherwise dry, arid areas.

But they have also contributed to the rapid decline of the once thriving salmon populations of the region.

Columbia River Basin: fish and dams. Click to enlarge

The Columbia River Basin is a series of rivers which used to empty out into the Pacific Ocean. Young salmon would head out towards the ocean to mature while older salmon headed back to their home rivers and streams to mate and spawn.

But since the first hydroelectric dam in the Pacific Northwest was built in Spokane in 1885, the region has seen over 40 dams built along the waterways that make up the ancient salmon habitats.

Thirteen salmon species are listed as endangered and a number of otherds have already gone extinct.

One of the problems is that many dams lack fish ladders, which are basically series of steps that allow fish to get from one side of a dam to the other. This cuts off hundreds of miles of habitat to endangered salmon as well as their close relatives, the steelhead trout.

A fish ladder alongside the John Day Dam, on the Columbia River. Click to enlarge

Many people argue that these fish ladders are almost completely ineffective. One study showed that only 3% of fish that make it past the first fish ladder in a series of dams will reach the last one. The ladders are also not big enough to accommodate larger fish species like sturgeon.

But now, a team of biologists in central Washington has come up with a creative solution to this problem: vacuum-pressurized tubes.

The idea originated in 2009 with Whooshh Industries, a Washington-based company that started out making vacuum tubes for fruit transportation and harvesting.

Courtesy of Whooshh Industries. Click to enlarge

The concept was tested early last month. Biologists used Whooshh’s 40-foot flexible vacuum tubes to transport 90 salmon from a collection area to a tank truck waiting to transport them to a hatchery.

The biologists say that the tubes are less stressful than transporting fish by hand because it minimizes human contact and gets them back into water faster.

A biologist feeds a fish into the vacuum tube. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of HCN)

Whooshh is now working with state, federal and tribal groups to implement and improve the system. Though it’s still in its early stages, Whooshh has high hopes for the idea. Here’s Todd Deligan, who runs Whooshh’s fish-transport program:

“The ultimate goal would be to get fish to places they haven’t been able to access, like the upper Columbia… But that’s a very long-term goal. We’re not going over Grand Coulee (Dam) tomorrow, that’s for sure.”

Read the original story from HCN here. To learn more about the salmon of the Pacific Northwest, check out this awesome special from National Geographic: “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet”.

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This 19-Year Old Has A Plan To Clean Up Half of The Pacific Garbage Patch In 10 Years (Video)

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, off the western coast of the United States, lies the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

It’s tough to say exactly how widespread the island of plastic is; estimates range from 270,000 square miles (slightly larger than Texas), up to 15,000,000 square miles (twice the size of the United States).

An estimation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Click to enlarge

Its real size is probably somewhere in the middle, but even at the lowest estimates, the island is massive and only continues to grow every day.

Enter Boyan Slat, a 19-year-old entrepreneur and conservationist from the Netherlands. Boyan has come up with a simple yet ingenious way to clean up half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just 10 years, using the ocean’s currents to his advantage. Check out the video below to learn more about it.

Slat claims that half of the garbage patch will be equal to 70 million kilograms of plastic- that’s more than 77,000 tons.

These plastics could be used in a number of ways- we recently reported on the world’s first waste-to-biofuel facility, which converts even non-recyclable plastics into methanol, a useful building block for chemicals and a component of many gasoline blends today.

Slat first publicized his idea at a TEDx conference in his home town of Delft in the Netherlands. You can watch it below to learn more about the details of his plan.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only one of five trash patches around the world. These patches form in gyres, which are basically massive vortexes that form as a result of ocean currents and prevailing winds.

All the floating trash that ends up in our waterways will eventually end up in one of these gyres.

The five gyres. Click to enlarge (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
The five gyres. Click to enlarge (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

If Boyan’s idea proves successful, we could use it worldwide to battle these ever-growing trash islands, while simultaneously turning this trash back into biofuels.

Boyan was recently named one of Intel’s 20 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs Worldwide. Check out the homepage of his company The Ocean Clean Up.

If you’re curious, here’s a great graphic that shows how long it takes for various pieces of garbage to decompose in the ocean. Click the image to see the full size version.

This Biologist Is Capturing the Mysterious Creatures of the Deep Like Never Before (Pictures/Video)

Alexander Semenov is a renowned marine biologist as well as an exceptional photographer. Semenov has gained notoriety over the years for his epic photos of deep-sea life, but now he wants to take it to the next level.

Semenov is leading a team of divers, scientists, sailors, photographers, and videographers on a 3-year, 30,000-nautical mile journey to capture the lives of deep-sea creatures  while simultaneously capturing the public imagination with the expedition’s photos and videos. Here’s Semenov describing the goals of the mission:

“We want to show how interesting and unique the life can be, if you chase your dreams… We’re going to explore the whole new area of science mixed with art and stories. We’re going to discover the source of knowledge and inspiration for the next generations. And tons of new species as well.”

Aquatilis Expedition, as its known, will cost a total of $4 million, and Semenov is still raising funds through an Indiegogo page. However, he has promised that the expedition will set sail regardless as to whether or not they reach their funding goal. He hopes that the expedition will inspire more donations as images and videos from the journey are released.

Semenov and his team will use highly specialized low-light photography that allows them to capture the amazing bioluminescence exhibited by many creatures living in the depths of the oceans.

Check out a few of the breathtaking photos Semenov has already captured in past dives. Click an image to enlarge.

The expedition is set to begin in 2015. The crew will begin start out in the Mediterranean to test diving and photography equipment before setting out across the Atlantic, through the Azores to the Caribbean. After that, they will head south to Argentina, and Brazil, then round Cape Horn and journey back up the coast of Chile.

From there, they will continue heading north, with the San Francisco Bay area being their last stop in the Americas before they head out to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where they will study how pollution is affecting marine life and see if any of the creatures have developed adaptations to cope with it.

When asked if he thought the ambitious goals of the Aquatilis Expedition were a bit too out-there, Semenov replied with this:

“Being crazy isn’t enough. I’m a professional dreamer, driven by passion and love. The whole team has the same disorder!”

Learn more about the expedition from Wired here.

All images courtesy of Alexander Semenov and Aquatilis.

According to Scientists, China’s Air Pollution Is Causing A More Erratic Climate in The United States

A team from Texas, California and Washington recently published research which found that pollution from Asia (the bulk of which is from China), is causing more intense tornados and increased precipitation levels in the United States as well as an increase in the amount of warm air in the mid-Pacific.

This air is part of a weather system known as the Pacific storm track- many storms that end up on the United States’ west coast originate in this weather system. The warmer air being fed into the Pacific storm track due to the air pollution increases the potential for storms originating there to be larger and more violent.

A large storm in the Pacific storm track headed for the US west coast (from 2011)

Here’s Ellie Highwood, climate physicist at the University of Reading:

“Mid-latitude storms develop off Asia and they track across the Pacific, coming in to the west coast of the US … The particles in this model are affecting how strong those storms are, how dense the clouds are, and how much rainfall comes out of those storms.”

The pollution problem in China is widespread. Just last moth, their environmental ministry reported that 71 of the 74 cities monitored by the government failed to meet air quality standards.

The city of Shanghai on a smoggy day (Aly Song/Reuters)

The government does seem to finally be taking the issue seriously, however. Just yesterday, Beijing’s leadership announced that very soon, major revisions would be made to the country’s environmental protection laws, including giving environmental protection authorities power to,

“Shut polluting factories, punish officials and restrict industrial development in some areas.”

After years of rhetoric, it will be the first real change to the environmental protection law since 1989.

Read more from the Guardian here.

Authorities Capture Billionaire Mexican Sinaloa Cartel Leader “El Chapo” Guzman

In the past few months, US and Mexican authorities have been ramping up their efforts to dismantle the infamous Sinoloa Cartel, the largest drug cartel in Mexico.

The cartel, called, “the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world” by US intelligence in 2010, is led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, one of the FBI’s most wanted men.

Guzman’s worth exceeds $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which also ranked him one of the “World’s Most Powerful People”, putting him above the presidents of France and Venezuela.

An operation between the 13th and 17th of this month raided a number of residences that Guzman was known to frequent, finding tunnels connecting seven of them to Sinaloa’s sewer system. It is believed that Guzman used these tunnels to make narrow escapes on a number of occasions.

Source: cominganarchy.com
Source: cominganarchy.com

Authorities found Guzman in the Miramar condos, which overlook the Pacific Ocean in the coastal city of Mazatlan.

“He got tired of living up in the mountains and not being able to enjoy the comforts of his wealth. He became complacent and starting coming into the city of Culiacan and Mazatlan. That was a fatal error,”

said Michael S. Vigil, a former senior DEA official who had been briefed on the operation.

Mexico may extradite Guzman to the US to reduce the risk of his escape. In 2001, Guzman escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry truck (he was aided by insiders, and many suspect that the government of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon was involved).

The US government is not without fault though. About a month ago, The Higher Learning reported on how the US government played a major role in solidifying the Sinaloa Cartel’s power by giving them immunity between 2002 and 2012 in exchange for info on other cartels’ operations.

Read the full story from the AP here.

Feature Photo Courtesy of: Eduardo Verdugo, AP

Fukushima Follow-Up: 56% of Children Have Pre-Cancerous Growth on Thyroid

Joseph Mangano is the Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP), a group which produces research on the health hazards of nuclear reactors and weapons.

Recently, Mangano sat down for an interview with Jessica Desvarieux from The Real News Network to discuss a study released by the RPHP about the worsening situation at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Surface water radiation levels (click to enlarge)

Among the findings, Mangano talks about how levels of hypothyroidism (a cancer caused by exposure to radioactive Iodine like that still being released into the ocean from the nuclear reactors) have been steadily climbing since the disaster.

TEPCO, the company that owns the plant, recently admitted that up to 2,000 workers who helped in the clean-up following the tsunami face a heightened risk of thyroid cancer.

Policeman in radiation suits bow their head to pray for those lost during the tsunami and fallout.

Since hypothyroidism is caused by exposure to high levels of radiation, children and infants are especially susceptible to the disease, since they can’t withstand as much radiation as a full-grown adult.

Two years ago, only 35% of children near Fukushima had pre-cancerous cysts or growths on their thyroid gland. Last year the number jumped to 45% and this year it has reached 56%.

The thyroid gland

Even scarier is that the rate of hypothyroidism in newborns along the United States’ west coast (where the radioactive waste that has been spreading across the Pacific is just now starting to reach us) has risen 26% since the disaster.

Read the full interview here.

The BBC also recently reported that researchers in Japan are finding that butterflies in the region are become increasingly mutated, with, “much smaller wings and irregularly developed eyes.”

Mutated butterfly from nearby the Fukushima plant