We Should Take a Holistic Approach to Environmental Risk Assessment Following Oil Spills

A guest editor post by Sharon Hook, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere

With the recent pipeline leak in the waters off of Orange County, California, USA, oil spills are once again in the headlines. We are hearing the concerns of the affected communities about what the consequences of this spill will be for wildlife, fisheries, and safe use of the beaches. After all of the decades of oil spill-related research, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the environmental impacts of oil spills. It is a good opportunity, to ask ourselves as environmental scientists, if we are asking the right questions in our research into the impacts of oil spills, and if we are setting up our studies with the most environmentally relevant approaches.

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Evolution by Pesticides: Evidence of Evolution in American Alligators Affected by Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC North America 42nd Annual Meeting (SciCon4), 14–18 November 2021.

A guest post by Yeraldi Loera, Ph.D. student at Princeton University

Baby alligator rests in open palm.
Solo gator. Photo courtesy of the author.

Instances of environmental pollution by manufactured contaminants are widespread across the globe. Pesticides are commonly used in agriculture to combat pests, but can also harm other, non-targeted organisms. Exposure to some pesticides can lead to disruption in the endocrine system, altering reproductive development and fitness. One study showed this kind of disruptive effect across populations of American alligators (Alligator mississipiensis) that were exposed to a pesticide (DDT) spill in Lake Apopka, Florida. Surprisingly, another study in the same region showed a rebound in the population following their exposure, suggesting possible evolved resistance to pesticide contamination.

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An Unexpected Source of Mercury: Greenland’s Glaciers

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Greenland. Credit: Rene Schwietzke (CC BY 2.0).

Greenland, the largest island in the world not considered its own continent, lies above the Arctic Circle with the exception of its Southern tip. Ice—the Greenland Ice Sheet—is everywhere but is rapidly becoming a major contributor to sea level rise as it melts because of climate change. Now, a new study shows that the resulting freshwater (or meltwater) runs off to the ocean taking along an unexpected and toxic companion—mercury, a chemical that when transformed into methylmercury bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in fish, shellfish, and animals that eat fish, causing nervous system damage and other deleterious effects in humans and wildlife.

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Understanding Underwater Sounds: Evaluating Risks of Human Activities

Commercial shipping density (red lines).
Credit: B.S. Halpern (T. Hengl; D. Groll) / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A guest post by Andrew McQueen, US Army Corps of Engineers

Researchers around the world are focusing more on the role of anthropogenic (human-made) sounds in marine ecosystems. In the last half century, as we have industrialized and expanded our use of the “blue” ocean economy (maritime transport, fisheries, and renewable energy), some regions have observed incremental increases of anthropogenic underwater sounds. However, the ecological consequences, or risks, of these changing underwater soundscapes remain largely unknown.

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Lost Wilderness: Restoring both Habitat and Animal Species

Photo credit: Hannes Flo, CC BY 2.0.

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

A month after the death of Henry David Thoreau, The Atlantic published his 1862 essay “Walking,” which “extolled the virtues of immersing oneself in nature and lamented the inevitable encroachment of private ownership upon the wilderness.” It included Thoreau’s famous line “In wildness is the preservation of the world”—eight powerful words that played a major role in saving places such as Yosemite and Cape Cod from human-caused environmental destruction, inspiring the creation of the US National Parks system. Upon signing the US Wilderness Act in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated: “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” Continue reading

Biodiversity Under Attack in Rivers: Human Activities Cause Changes All Around the Globe

Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

On 18 February, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report highlighting the three major emergencies that are currently challenging the entire planet— climate, biodiversity, and pollution. “Making peace with nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies” is based on evidence from global environmental assessments. “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal. The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses, and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations in the report foreword.

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Antimicrobial Resistance: Using Water Fingerprinting to Assess Usage and Fate of Antibiotics

A guest post by Elizabeth Holton, University of Bath

The discovery of antibiotics unquestionably changed the face of public health. However, pathogenic tolerance to these drugs is ever increasing, and it’s becoming a global concern. The topic of antimicrobial, or antibiotic resistance (AMR) has existed for almost as long as the initial discovery of penicillin in the late 1920s; the difference now is the lack of new drugs being developed as alternatives. The discovery of new antibiotics is of course critical, yet we should be focusing more attention on prevention and containment. Inappropriate usage and disposal, livestock supplements in agriculture, and poor international regulation are some significant contributors; but are often difficult to quantify. One technique that is now being utilized is ‘water fingerprinting.’

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Ancient Marine Mammal Bones Record Dynamic Change in Mercury Concentrations Over the Last 3000 Years

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC North America 41st Annual Meeting (SciCon2), 15–19 November 2020.

A guest post by Julie P. Avery, Nicole Misarti, Todd M. O’Hara, and Lorrie D. Rea

Do you like fish?  Have you heard warnings from the FDA about consuming predatory fish such as tuna, swordfish, and shark due to high mercury? Fish are a healthy food and an excellent source of lean protein, healthy omega-3 fats, vitamin D, iron, selenium, zinc, and iodine. Fish provide all these nutrients, which are essential for human and animal health. Marine mammals in Alaska, like Steller sea lions and northern fur seals, thrive on a diverse fish diet. But what about the mercury? Since we eat some of the same fish as seals and sea lions, we can study them to understand how mercury might affect humans. 

Coastal and Arctic communities are especially vulnerable to the effects of mercury contamination due to their dependence on fish and marine resources for food and sociocultural needs. According to the World Health Organization, mercury is one of the top 10 contaminants of concern for human health.  

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Spiders!

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC North America 41st Annual Meeting (SciCon2), 15–19 November 2020.

A guest post by Gale Beaubien

One day, my oldest daughter (age 5) had to poop, an event that typically requires the audience of my youngest (age 3). However, on this particular journey, my oldest saw a small cellar spider in the adjacent bathtub, and this sight caused both to scream bloody murder.

Now, I study riparian spiders (more on that later) and my daughters have lived most of their lives with a striped-knee tarantula, that they named “Mr. Mommy.” They talk to Mr. Mommy, they help me feed her, they tap the glass – by all accounts, they seem to like Mr. Mommy. Additionally, they’ve both seen me shuttle wolf spiders from inside the house to the outdoors. We look at spiders on my phone and we talk about how jumping spiders are cute (seriously, if you didn’t know this… look at pictures of jumping spiders. Jumping spiders have a pair of large front eyes that make them adorable). However, I guess they forgot.

An adorable jumping spider. Photo by Opoterser–own work, CC-BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5066311
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The Fog

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC North America 41st Annual Meeting (SciCon2), 15–19 November 2020.

A guest post by Eric Peterson, Texas Tech University

Imagine driving down a country road on a clear, beautiful summer evening, when you see what looks like fog across the road in front of you. As you drive closer and closer, your car becomes engulfed, and you can no longer see the telephone poles in front of you. After a few hundred meters or so of this “fog,” you emerge on the other side, and it is once again clear. While it may sound like a scene out of the Stephen King novel The Mist, and more of a science fiction scenario, it is actually a phenomenon that occurs on a nightly basis all across the High Plains of the United States of America (US). The true culprit of this “fog” is actually dust emanating from beef cattle feed yards on a nightly basis.

Cows look at the photographer against a backdrop of thousands of other cattle. Industrial equipment is blurred in the far background.
Beef cattle feed yards typically house thousands of cattle in relatively tight areas and can cover two square kilometers. Photo credit Eric Peterson
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