The Swamp Monster That Could Save Us All

Swampland in West Milford, New Jersey.
Source: Flickr

Image a creature that could break down environmental toxin, cleaning our water better than we ever have done before. A research team at Princeton reported their discovery of exactly that – a bacteria that provides a more efficient method for treating toxins found in swage, fertilizer runoff, and other forms of water pollution on April 11, 2018 in PLOS ONE journal. The bacteria, Acidimicrobiaceae bacterium A6, can break down ammonium anaerobically, or without oxygen. This is a hug breakthrough as an alternative method to the costly oxygen-dependent methods currently used in sewage treatment.

Waste water treatment plants benefit heavily from this discovery, as many of them discharge into watersheds and must remove ammonium beforehand. Doing so has always requires churning copious amounts of oxygen into the waste to feed the bacteria that carries out the process. Most bacterium use oxygen in a chemical reaction that turns ammonium into nitrite, which is then converted into benign nitrogen gas by another type of bacteria.

Before conducting their experiment, the authors of the study hypothesized that A6 performs the Feammox reaction instead, a chemical reaction that breaks down ammonium, taking place in wetland environments such as the riparian wetlands and New Jersey. Scientist previously were unsure of what enabled this reaction to occur, but after conducting a study in 2015, they found that the Feammox reaction only took place in swamp samples where Actinobacteria were present.

In the study most recently published by the researchers at Princeton, mixtures of soil samples and metal mediums were placed in an oxygen-free environment to mimic wetland soil where the bacteria originated. After checking samples every two weeks over a year, the scientists discovered a sample of soil where ammonium degradation took place. They identified that A6 was the bacteria carrying out the Feammox reaction through genetic sequencing.

Researchers emphasized the potential to treat other environmental pollutants found in oxygen-poor areas, such as underground aquifers. A6’s ability to remove environmental toxins from waste opens up the doors for ensuring clean water in a variety of situations, from sewage treatment to cleaning up contaminated wells.

The research team hopes to explore how to build a reactor where the A6 bacteria can be used on an industrial scale to process ammonium. In fact, they are in the works of building a prototype reactor with the Chinese environmental ministry. Besides oxidizing ammonium, A6 can also remove two common pollutants that are hard to treat called trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene.

This discovery has the potential to address a range of environmental problems as ammonium has dire effects on the environment if not removed for water sources. Once in waterways, ammonium can cause of a depletion of oxygen as well as eutrophication, an excessive growth of algae. Both have detrimental effects to watershed ecosystems, from streams to rivers to oceans. Taking advantage of bacteria A6 could save not only ecosystems and environmental health, but protect human health as well.


Shan Huang, Peter R. Jaff�. Isolation and characterization of an ammonium-oxidizing iron reducer: Acidimicrobiaceae sp. A6PLOS ONE, 2018; 13 (4): e0194007 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0194007

Your Deodorant is Causing Air Pollution

When you think of air pollution, you might think of smog or automobile emissions, but think again. Scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder and NOAA have recently published in Science in February 2018 detailing their findings that petroleum-based chemicals used in items like perfumes, soaps, deodorants, and paints emit as much volatile organic compounds (VOC) as motor vehicles. VOCs interact with particles in the air that then develop into smog primarily in the form of ozone, which can trigger asthma as well as scar lung tissue. They can also develop into a type of pollution called PM2.5 that has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer.

Visible Air Pollution in New Delhi, India. Source: Flickr

After regulations were developed in the 1970s to limit VOC emissions from automobiles, commodities like pesticides and personal care products became increasing cause of air pollution. The stricter regulations on car emissions made it more obvious than ever to scientists that household and personal products were a bigger threat to air quality. The study was influenced from past measurements collected of VOCs in California, which had shown higher concentrations of petroleum-based compounds at higher levels than initially predicted from fossil fuel sources alone.

Researchers realized that even though drivers use far more fuel (by weight) than they do personal or household products, gasoline is “stored in an airtight tank, it’s burned for energy, and converted mostly to carbon dioxide,” said Jessica B. Gilman, who was involved in the study. Since carbon dioxide emissions are not smog-forming VOCs, it does not contribute to air pollution as much as a spray or squirt of a petroleum-based product, most of which ends up in the atmosphere.

For their calculations, the authors of the study created a computer model that simulated air quality in Los Angeles by using data from the chemical composition of tailpipe emissions consumer goods. Based off these calculations, they found that roughly half of the VOCs in the air could be attributed to consumer products.

These findings have huge implications for human health, especially because most consumer products are used indoors. The traditional approaches to mitigate air pollution are not enough because they commonly focus on transportation or industrial sources. The regulations need to be extended to consumer products as well to mitigate their effects on environmental and human health. If you want to do more to decrease your impact on air pollution, “natural” products aren’t necessarily the answer, as many chemicals used in these products are incredibly reactive and well still form VOCs. The best option is to use as little household product as you can when you need to.

McDonald, B. b., de Gouw, J. A., Gilman, J. B., Jathar, S. H., Akherati, A., Cappa, C. D., & … Trainer, M. (2018). Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions. Science359(6377), 760-764.



Does Money Grow from Saving Trees?

money on trees

Profits do come when you save. Authors in a recent study found that when companies invested in green information technology (IT), their profit margins increased. Technology is an unexpected greenhouse contributor. However, our society’s increasing reliance on technology makes it a source of large energy consumption. In a previous study, Belkhir and his coauthors found that information and communication technology (ICTs) devices and services such as smart phones, tablets, displays, and data centers contributed 33% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.

Companies feel obligated to adopt sustainable practices in their operations or supply chain due to pressures from various entities like the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, the United Nations, investors, consumers, and governments. These entities want to reduce the environment impact of technology.  When companies reduced the environmental impact of their operations, and incorporated sustainability objectives to their operations and management practices, their profits increased. Furthermore, the incorporation of sustainable objectives reduced the energy consumption from IT equipment, which lowers the energy cost.

From their results, when companies spend more of their overall IT spending on green IT, profits increased, as well as energy consumption. Additionally, the authors found a difference in green IT implementation based on operation-oriented and supplier-oriented platforms. When their operational based implementation, the company conserved more energy and collected more profits. Whereas, a supplier based platform allowed them to conserve with little financial returns.

From a marketing perspective, this may be an ideal way for companies to adopt sustainable practices that supports their business model and finances. However, if the problem of climate change derives from intense extraction of natural resources and human overconsumption, how would this encourage people to change their consumptive patterns? Rather than relying on technology to solve our problems with our changes to our practices. This maybe a good starting point to gather more support. However, do you think this is a lasting solution?


Source: Khuntia, J, Saldanha, T.J.V., Mithas, S., Sambamurthy, V. Information Technology and Sustainability: Evidence from an Emerging Economy.

Can Frogs Tell us how to Avoid Extinction?

The Centrolene prosoblepon, a frog native to Countries in Central America, is one of the many amphibians affected by the chytrid fungus disease. Source: Flickr

Think the black plague, but worse. It’s called the chytrid fungus disease, and you don’t have to worry about it unless you’re a frog or salamander. While the black plague killed about 30 to 50 percent of the worldwide human population, the chytrid fungus has been able to wipe off whole amphibian populations off the map. Researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama have published their study, Shifts in Disease Dynamics in a Tropical Amphibian Assemblage are not due to Pathogen Attenuation, in the March 30 edition of Science detailing the results of this epidemic and its implications for disease-related extinction.

The researchers were lucky as they saw the epidemic coming from Costa Rica to Panama, and were able to study the amphibians and the disease during and after its peak. Researchers were able to examine the various interactions hosts had with the pathogen because they collected host samples and pathogen from before, during, and after the epidemic occurred. They specifically tract infection patterns and virulence, species numbers and communities, and their resistance to the pathogen.

Recovery of nine amphibian species between five and 13 years was observed even though the fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, was still present. After noticing that the skin secretion of wild frogs inhibited fungus growth remarkably more than the secretion from frogs moved into captivity before the disease arrived, researchers hypothesized that the wild frogs became more resistant to the disease. Think of the notion that kids should eat dirt to build up their immune system. If an organism is never exposed to various environmental elements, their body will never learn how to resist them, making it extremely difficult to combat disease.

Roberto Ibáñez, a STRI staff scientist and in-country director of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project said, It is vital to understand how disease transitions work — from outbreak, to epidemic, to coexistence — and our results have implications for a skyrocketing human population facing emerging diseases with the potential to cause global pandemics.” The results of this study and others relating to highly virulent disease systems suggest that some disease dynamics may be primarily driven by host factors – such as the ability of the organism to develop pathogen resistance or genetic variation – specifically when infectious agents remain highly pathogenic (disease causing). These findings have expanded our understanding of the spatiotemporal changes in host-pathogen interactions.

Jamie Voyles, Douglas C. Woodhams, Veronica Saenz, Allison Q. Byrne, Rachel Perez, Gabriela Rios-Sotelo, Mason J. Ryan, Molly C. Bletz, Florence Ann Sobell, Shawna McLetchie, Laura Reinert, Erica Bree Rosenblum, Louise A. Rollins-Smith, Roberto Ibáñez, Julie M. Ray, Edgardo J. Griffith, Heidi Ross, Corinne L. Richards-Zawacki. Shifts in disease dynamics in a tropical amphibian assemblage are not due to pathogen attenuationScience, 2018; DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4806v

Birds: The Signal of Climate Change in National Parks

Researchers at the National Audubon Society analyzed how climate change will effect birds in the United States National Park System. Birds are sensitive to their environment. They are mobile, responsive, and conspicuous. Birds are also an economic attraction to National Parks, contributing $107 billion to the industry for bird watching.  To determine how birds would be impacted, Wu and their colleagues analyzed 513 species across 274 national parks based on high and low greenhouse gas scenarios. They used their analysis to determine the climate suitability of the birds. Afterwards, they classified the species under five categories: improving, worsening, stable, potential colonization, and potential extirpation (local extinction).

fying birds above ice
Image from New Scientist

From their results, 24-50% of these birds are highly vulnerable to climate change. Also, highly sensitive birds are 21% more likely to lose half of their climatic suitability by mid-century. Birds from the Great Lakes region, most migratory species, were more likely to be vulnerable species. Despite most of these species categorized as vulnerable species, their model predicted that potential colonization are more likely to occur than extirpation during a high greenhouse scenario. More potential colonies transpire in the winter, 42.1 species, rather than the summer, 22.5 species. This would increase the species richness within the parks, which measures the count of species within an ecological community. Wu and their coauthors explain that birds are responding to warmer winters by making more colonies in the North, such as the Midwest and Northeast. During the stage of potential colonization, the present conditions for the birds are dismal, but they are projected to improve overtime to be suitable in that location.

Researchers at the National Audubon Society analyzed how climate change will effect birds in the United States National Park System. Birds are sensitive to their environment. They are mobile, responsive, and conspicuous. Birds are also an economic attraction to National Parks, contributing $107 billion to the industry for bird watching.  To determine how birds would be impacted, Wu and their colleagues analyzed 513 species across 274 national parks based on high and low greenhouse gas scenarios. They used their analysis to determine the climate suitability of the birds. Afterwards, they classified the species under five categories: improving, worsening, stable, potential colonization, and potential extirpation (local extinction).

From their results, 24-50% of these birds are highly vulnerable to climate change. Also, highly sensitive birds are 21% more likely to lose half of their climatic suitability by mid-century. Birds from the Great Lakes region, most migratory species, were more likely to be vulnerable species. Despite most of these species categorized as vulnerable species, their model predicted that potential colonization are more likely to occur than extirpation during a high greenhouse scenario. More potential colonies transpire in the winter, 42.1 species, rather than the summer, 22.5 species. This would increase the species richness within the parks, which measures the count of species within an ecological community. Wu and their coauthors explain that birds are responding to warmer winters by making more colonies. During the stage of potential colonization, the present conditions for the birds are dismal, but they are projected to improve overtime to be suitable in that location.

These projections are important to park management and policy.  The current management style focuses on landscape-scale conservation. However, the authors suggest the National Park Service adopt a climate-informed conservation strategy that increasing habitat mobility and restoration. From this strategy, the authors hope to instill resistance (protecting highly valued resources) and resilience (improving species capacity).

To learn more about the effects of climate change on birds, follow the links below:


Wu, J., Wilsey, C.B., Taylor, L. Schuurman, G.W. 2018. Projected avifaunal responses to climate change across the U.S. National Park System.  PLOS ONE:

Restoration of the Gulf Takes More Than Money

Sediment-laden water pours into the northern Gulf of Mexico from the Atchafalaya River in an image taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite on April 7, 2009.
Source: Nasa

Researchers at University of Waterloo published a study in Science in late March of 2018 giving new insight into the fact that restoring the water quality in the Gulf of Mexico is harder than originally thought. The Gulf of Mexico contains a hypoxic or dead zone, an area found in bodies of water that have extremely low levels of oxygen due to excessive nutrient pollution from human activities. Recently, attempts have been made to reduce the size of the Gulf’s dead zone, but despite these investments of large amounts of money, researchers have concluded that the legacy of nitrogen is so intense that these goals are unrealistic.

This dead zone is due to large quantities of nitrogen being carried through rivers and streams across the North American corn belt to the Gulf. Massive algal blooms sparked by the concentration of nitrogen leads to oxygen depletion, making it more difficult for marine life to survive. Due to its continual expansion, this area is approximately the size of New Jersey, and will continue to grow unless drastic measures are taken. Major changes in agricultural and river management practices must be made in order to see any type of improvement of water quality.

Researchers compiled and analyzed more than two centuries of agricultural data, showing that nitrogen has been accumulating in soil and groundwater due to intensive agricultural production. The water quality of the Gulf of Mexico has been declining since the 1950’s. It’s hypoxic zone is mainly caused by use of fertilizer and intensive livestock production. Manure and fertilizer are both rich in nitrogen, and can easily enter watersheds through runoff.

After this analysis, researchers modeled the results and concluded that even under best-case scenarios where effective conservation measures are implemented instantly, it would take over 30 years to restore the Gulf of Mexico through depletion of excess nitrogen. They continue their analysis to phosphorus, which is a major instigator of algal blooms in inland waters

The need for intensive agricultural production is only increasing, nitrogen quantities will continue to rise do to this, creating a massive problem for marine life around the globe. Effective policy must be implemented to curb the growth of this massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which imposes a great risk on marine ecosystems all over the region.

K. J. Van Meter, P. Van Cappellen, N. B. Basu. Legacy nitrogen may prevent achievement of water quality goals in the Gulf of MexicoScience, 2018; eaar4462 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4462

Irrigating for the Future

New research from the University of California may have uncovered a way to simultaneously  irrigate crops and refill the groundwater table below. The groundwater in California provides its residence with water in times of need. During dry years, groundwater provides 46% of the water supply for Californians. In the last two dry spells, groundwater well levels have dropped some 10 to 50 feet. The state has enacted plans to sustainably manage the groundwater, but at the rate groundwater is being used, who knows how long it will be until there isn’t any left to rely on.

That is why researchers are trying to refill these groundwater reserves. By intentionally flooding fields in the winter months, they hoped to see water percolate deep into the soil and replenish the reserves below. While attempting to do so, they also needed to be aware of the health of the crops in those fields. Researchers noted that over watering the soil could cause disease, damage the roots, and therefore, have a negative economic impact. That is why they decided to perform this experiment with alfalfa. Alfalfa is widely used, nitrogen fixing, and a low economic risk. Since it is nitrogen fixing, it does not require the use of fertilizers and also eliminates the problem of runoff and leaching. Using two well established fields for the experiment, researchers began applying water in 2015 and continued at the second field until 2016.

Once both studies were complete, the data was analyzed and the researchers found that much of the water applied made it deep into the ground. At the first site, 95-98% of the water left the upper root zone of the top 2 feet of soil as deep percolation, traveling 5 feet below into the ground. The second site showed 93-99% of the water entering the ground as deep percolation. There was only one instance where there was a negative relationship between yield and amount of water. This shows that flood irrigating alfalfa fields may be a sustainable possibility to achieve crop yield and manage underground reserves. Although, certain factors may enhance the success of this method. It is recommended that before farmers take up this method, they ensure that their soil is suitable. Soils in this study were very fine, with high porosity. Researchers estimated that 300,000 acres of alfalfa fields in California have soils that would take well to this method.

It would be interesting to see how these results vary from the norm. Groundwater is very important for agriculture and human households, although there isn’t much being done throughout the country to help maintain these reserves. That is why it is so essential that we conserve water when possible, especially if you source your water from a well.

Source: Dahlke, H., Brown, A., Orloff, S., Putnam, D., O’Geen T. (2018) Managed winter flooding of alfalfa recharges groundwater with minimal crop damage. California Agriculture 72(1):65-75.

Photo: Flickr

Experimental Fix to Melting Ice Sheets

Is there a cost to global sea level rise? Yes, approximately $50 trillion per year in damages.  The infrastructure needed to create and maintain sea walls and flood defenses cost tens of billions of dollars a year according to John C. Moore. What is adding to the cost? The infrastructure costs approximately $20-33 billion to build. For the installment of the Three Gorges Dam in China spend $33 billon to construct the dam.

Most of the water from sea level rise will come from the melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

ice melting in Antarctica

In their research, they explore three ways we can delay the loss of ice sheets. They suggest to block warm water, support ice shelves, and dry subglacial streams. Note that all of these potential solutions could disrupt natural ecosystems, fisheries, tourism, and water flow. However, Moore and his co-authors argue their solutions may be worth the risk to the present dilemma in the rise of global sea levels.

To block warm water from the Atlantic Ocean, the authors suggest constructing a 100-meter-high wall with sliding sides along the 5-kiometer fjord in front of the Jakobshavn glacier near western Greenland. A fjord is a narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs created by a glacier. The importance of this project would be similar to other large civil-engineering projects like the Suez Canal in Egypt, Hong Kong airport, Three Gorges Dam in China. However, this project would need 0.1 cubic kilometers of gravel and sand compared to 1, 0.3, or 0.028 cubic kilometers of material needed for the projects in Egypt, Hong Kong, or China.

The Jakobshavn glacier is one of the fastest moving ice masses on Earth, and it contribute to most of the sea level rise than other glaciers located in the Northern Hemisphere. Furthermore, 4% of twentieth century seal level rise can be attribute to this glacier.

For their second solution, Moore and his co-authors they would construct a berm (raised banks bordering river or canal) and islands to artificially pin ice shelves in front of the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica. Ideally, this would temporary prevent the movement of the glacier. Similar to the first plan, these materials need to be outsourced to material to build the berm and island.   Models predict that Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites will be the largest source of se level rise in the next two centuries, contributing 4 centimeters a year.

For dry subglacial streams, they want to reduce the rate of melting by removing the glacier’s ice bed to reduce frictional heating in Antarctica. When they remove the ice bed, they will use a pumping station to extract or freeze the water at the glacier’s base to slow sliding. This process would be important to mitigate sea level rise because glacier ice beds supply 90% of ice in the sea.

With this intensive construction and extraction of materials, do their plans sound plausibly or worthwhile? The authors leave it to other glaciologist and engineers to test their projects.  Also, if this plan does carryon, who will need to approve this project? This project may result in global consequences if they do not structure it properly. What are your thoughts on this project?



Moore, John C. et al. 2018. Geoengineer polar glaciers to slow seal-level rise. Springer Nature 555: 303-305.

4 Herbal Supplements for Anxiety and Depression

Passionflower image
Passionflower; Credit: Martin Thomas, Creative Commons
Saffron flowers
Saffron flowers; Credit: Ioulrc, Creative Commons
Chaste berry
Flowering chaste-tree; Credit: Tatters, Creative Commons
Lavender; Credit: Amanda Slater, Creative Commons














According to a recent study, one-third of cancer patients suffer from anxiety, depression, or adjustment disorder in the months following their diagnosis. As a result, many of them add prescription anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and antidepressant drugs to their cocktail of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, anti-coagulants, and antibiotic drugs.

The problem is that some of these anxiolytic and antidepressant drugs interact with cancer treatments and are less effective in cancer patients. They also trigger a horde of negative side effects that compound the side effects of regular cancer treatments, including seizures, headaches, and addiction.

A group of scientists at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City decided to take a closer look at alternative herbal remedies to treat anxiety and depression in cancer patients. Research done on herbal supplements and plant extracts has been scarce, so the scientists examined a collection of studies completed between 1996 and 2016. By gathering and organizing the data, they noticed that not only are several alternative remedies helpful in ameliorating anxiety and depression, they also counteract aversive effects of chemotherapy and even combat cancer themselves. While not a perfect substitute, the following herbs have promising potential:

1. Extracts of saffron, a spice derived from a Middle Eastern flower, may be able to treat mild to moderate anxiety about as well as fluoxetine (Prozac) and imipramine (Tofranil). It has also been successful in easing anxiety and depression caused by PMS in women.

2. Lavender pills, made from oil of the lavender plant, are able to treat anxiety comparable to the drugs paroxetine (Paxil) and lorazepam (Ativan), but with fewer side effects. Lavender lotions and diffuser oils are often advertised for their calming and relaxation properties, and this holds true for lavender tea and extract drops, which may increase the efficacy of antidepressants citalopram (Celexa) and imipramine (Tofranil).

3. Passionflower, although no better than prescription drugs, seems to perform similarly but with fewer side effects, when compared to oxazepam (Serax) and sertraline (Zoloft). This substance also comes from a flower, which Native Americans have historically used to prevent insomnia.

4. Chasteberry, typically used for PMS symptoms, was compared to fluoxetine (Prozac), and while it didn’t seem to address psychological symptoms of depression, including persistent sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest, it did alleviate physical symptoms, such as sleep trouble, digestive problems, muscle aches, and headaches.

Overall, researchers found that the herbs are not as potent, but are safer than the prescription counterparts. Clinical trials are needed to further analyze the potential of these herbal supplements and determine their benefits, especially within a oncology context. Because these supplements can be purchased over the counter, physicians don’t always know which supplements their patients are taking. It’s important to discuss an alternative treatment plan with a doctor before use.


Simon Yeung, K., Hernandez, M., Mao, J.J, Haviland, I., & Gubili, J. (2018). Herbal medicine for depression and anxiety: A systematic review with assessment of potential psycho-oncologic relevance. Phythother Res. [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6033

Poaching: How bad is it?


On March 19th, 2018 the last male Northern White Rhino died. Two of his kind remain, but both are older females that are unable to reproduce. The decline in the Northern White Rhino population is much attributed to uncontrolled mass hunting and poaching. Although, rhinos aren’t in this alone. An increasing number of large mammals are being threatened for their meat and skin. Elephants, are among those.

A recent study examines just how horrific elephant poaching is in the nation of Myanmar. The Asian Elephant population here has declined drastically over the last couple of decades due to poachers who hunt the animals for their meat and skin, which is thought to have medicinal purposes. Researchers collared 19 elephants with a goal of better understanding where conflicts with humans arise and educating local communities on how to live in proximity to the elephants. They studied elephants from three different areas in Myanmar. The first was the Bago Yoma foothills where the creation of two dams and the settlement of dam workers is causing conflicts with the elephants who reside there. Second was the Ayeyarwady Delta where elephants have been displaced due to the increase of agricultural land and highway construction. The last location was in the Tanintharyi region where elephants were also affected by an expansion of agriculture. After a year of GPS tracking the animals, 7 out of 19 were lost. 5 of the 7 elephants bodies were found, with the other 2 unable to be located. Researchers were not able to identify the age or sex of the carcasses because their deaths were so brutal. By the end of the study, the team of researchers and associates had come across numerous elephant carcasses and kill sites throughout the areas of study.

This work shows the need for better management practices and policy geared towards illegal poaching and trafficking of elephant parts, meat, and skin. With 25 known elephants poached in 2016 alone, the population is sure to come to the fate of the Northern White Rhino if nothing is done. In addition to collecting survival data of several elephants in Myanmar, researchers also conducted community outreach programs in all three areas of study. Hopefully people will learn to live with the animals and protect their species from another anthropogenic extinction.


Source: Sampson, C., et al. 2018. New elephant crisis in Asia- Early warning signs from Myanmar. Plos One 13 (3): e0194113.

Image: Flickr


Sea Ice, Warming, and Bears Oh my

Whenever I think of global climate change one of the first images that pops into my mind is that of a polar bear stranded out on a glacier. To me this image alluding to the polar bear’s ‘impending demise’ has in a way become s a rallying point in the fight against global warming. Polar bears always seem to be brought up in conversation when talking about issues that are caused by global warming, yet in the past there’s been little known information about the actual details causing the polar bear’s declining population.

Polar Bear
Polar Bear jumping between masses of ice

Receding and changing sea ice conditions throughout the Arctic is mostly to blame. However, further details of why that is has been relative limited until fairly recently. Researchers from around the U.S. as part of the U.S. Geological survey, Alaska Science Center, attempted to find out more on these causing mechanisms. By simultaneously measuring a number of factors in polar bears lives including body condition, field metabolic rates, daily activity patterns, and their foraging success, the scientists found high metabolism rates and a deficiency in fat-rich food sources resulted in about half of the bears studied having far less energy intake then they should. For 91% of the polar bears time studied (8-11 days each), the animals were located on sea ice, meaning their food source would come almost entirely from ringed seals. Over a course of 10 to 12 days, 1 ringed seal adult, 3 sub-adult ringed seals, or 19 newborn ringed seal pups are needed simply to break even in energy needed to survive as a freelance bear. However, with reducing amounts of sea ice, scavenging for this food source becomes harder and harder. The researchers observed that 4 of the 9 bears lost over 10% of their fat in the 8-11 days they were observed.

What the researchers also found was that during late spring/early summer time, when the bears are supposed to be gaining weight for the coming winter, polar bears would not be able to reach their goal of 1kg of wight to 1kg of lean body mass (the preferred fatness) unless they either reduced their energy demands or increased food consumption. Yet, these two motives are much easier said then done. The polar bears energy needed for survival is directly correlated with how far the polar bears have to roam around in order to find their next meal. And with the fragmenting sea ice caused by global warming the distance they have to travel increases each year leading to increased amounts of energy being used. The end result, is that these fragmentation’s could be a big factor in the declining body condition and mortality of this species.


Pagano, A. M., et al. 2018. High-energy, high-fat lifestyle challenges an Arctic apex predator, the polar bear. Science Magazine, V. 359(6375): 568-572.