(TMU) — A humongous mass of heavy, stinking seaweed stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to West Africa has already become the biggest seaweed bloom in recorded history, according to the journal Science.
And the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, as it is now known, could be a sign of a “new normal” wrought by deforestation and the use of fertilizer. The giant mass of seaweed is comprised of a species of macroalgae called sargassum, a brown seaweed that forms bubbles resembling grapes.
Floating mats of the stringy seaweed were first reported in the center of the North Atlantic by Christopher Columbus over four centuries ago, but never on such a scale as today.
The belt now extends about 5,500 miles and has a total biomass weight of a stunning 20 million tons, according to the new study.
The seaweed can be considered an asset to marine wildlife for its value as a raft-like habitat for fish, turtles and birds. In small amounts, it can also provide sustenance on beaches.
But in excessive amounts, thick mats of the floating seaweed can die and sink to the ocean floor where they crush and kill marine life, endangering coral and seagrasses.
Researchers looked at 19 years of satellite records in their study of the seaweed, which began to bloom drastically in 2011 and inundate shorelines.
Scientists believe that the abundance of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus running off from West Africa’s coast into the ocean every winter is partially to blame. The belt is also fed by similar nutrients from fertilizer and deforestation that are running off into the Amazon River—and subsequently into the ocean—during the summer time.
With the assistance of warming climate conditions, the sargassum consumes the extra nutrients and grows. The seaweed also leaves sargassum seeds throughout the ocean, ensuring further growth of the belt.
Dr. Chuanmin Hu of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, who led the study, told BBC:
“The ocean’s chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand.
This is all ultimately related to climate change because it affects precipitation and ocean circulation and even human activities, but what we’ve shown is that these blooms do not occur because of increased water temperature.
They are probably here to stay.”
Omar Vázquez, originario de Jalisco, lleva cinco años trabajando con el sargazo, primero como fertilizante y ahora como ingrediente para hacer ladrillos con los que construir casas a bajo coste https://t.co/pMcXwCsbzq pic.twitter.com/F1ovAHmu8E
— EL PAÍS América (@elpais_america) July 5, 2019
The seaweed has also damaged local economies, resulting in violence and social strife, according to officials in Mexico.
Almost 621 miles of Mexican beaches have been stained brown by the coffee-colored foam brought by the seaweed. The sargassum has blighted once-pristine beaches with the fetid stench of gassy, rotten eggs, leaving generally murky and swamp-like conditions in its wake. The malodorous seaweed has devastated tourist destinations across Mexico’s coastline.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has declared that the “sargazo” is being treated as a national priority by authorities, with Secretary of the Navy Rafael Ojeda tasked to directly lead efforts to contain the seaweed bloom. Ojeda has pledged to devote Mexican Navy efforts toward building 4 “sargaceras” and rehabilitating another that would collect the seaweed from Mexico’s Caribbean Coast.
However, the removal of the seaweed is a time-consuming, labor-intensive and costly process that fails to address the root cause of the bloom.
The seaweed bloom is just the latest sign that the toxic waste left in our oceans and rivers by large industries—aided and abetted by their own national governments—is leaving an indelible mark on nature and society.
Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral
A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.
Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.
The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.
Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.
While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.
“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”
“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.
It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.
“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.
The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.
“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.
The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.
Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History
For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.
Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.
However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.
Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.
The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.
To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.
The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.
“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”
“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”
South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?
It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.
The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.
The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.
“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”
The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.
Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.
Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.