Researchers Develop Technology to Harness Energy from Mixing Freshwater and Seawater

Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Los Angeles Image © Doc Searls / Flickr

Salt is power. It might sound like alchemy, but the energy in places where salty ocean water and freshwater mingle could provide a massive source of renewable power. Stanford researchers have developed an affordable, durable technology that could harness this so-called blue energy.

The paper, recently published in American Chemical Society’s ACS Omega, describes the battery and suggests using it to make coastal wastewater treatment plants energy-independent.

“Blue energy is an immense and untapped source of renewable energy,” said study coauthor Kristian Dubrawski, a postdoctoral scholar in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. “Our battery is a major step toward practically capturing that energy without membranes, moving parts or energy input.”

Dubrawski works in the lab of study co-author Craig Criddle, a professor of civil and environmental engineering known for interdisciplinary field projects of energy-efficient technologies. The idea of developing a battery that taps into salt gradients originated with study coauthors Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering, and Mauro Pasta, a postdoctoral scholar in materials science and engineering at the time of the research. Applying that concept to coastal wastewater treatment plants was Criddle’s twist, born of his long experience developing technologies for wastewater treatment.

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© Rob Jordan/Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

El Niño Linked to Crop Failures

Maize crop failure © Uschi Dugulin from Pixabay

The El Niño climate cycle has been responsible for widespread simultaneous crop failure in different regions of the world, a study has found, putting pressure on countries to prepare for future weather events.

A paper published in ScienceAdvances showed that the El Niño Southern Oscillation, a warm water wave that travels across the Pacific every three to five years, causes a variety of irregular weather patterns, which affect crops worldwide.

The findings contradict the long-held assumption that crop failures in geographically distant breadbasket nations such as the United States, China and Argentina are unrelated, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, a partner in the research.

Researchers also looked at the effect of the Indian Ocean Dipole, or Indian Niño, and other climate patterns on crops.

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© Inga Vesper /

Sloppy Sea Urchins

Purple sea urchins munch on kelp off the coast of California. photo © Christie Yorke

Sea urchins have gotten a bad rap on the USA Pacific coast. The spiky sea creatures can mow down entire swaths of kelp forest, leaving behind rocky urchin barrens. An article in the New York Times went so far as to call them “cockroaches of the ocean.” But new research suggests that urchins play a more complex role in their ecosystems than previously believed.

A team led by Christie Yorke, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute, studied how urchins might function to break up tough kelp into more manageable pieces that can feed other scavengers, also known as detritivores, living on the kelp forest floor. The paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to look at sea urchins’ role as shredders in the kelp forest ecosystem.

Urchins can have an out-sized effect on kelp forests, especially when their predators aren’t around to keep their population in check, Yorke explained. Over-hunting of the sea otter, one of urchins’ most significant predators, has allowed some urchin populations to clear cut vast tracts of kelp forest, drastically reducing the productivity and biodiversity of sites they’ve munched through. Some groups have even taken to indiscriminately smashing urchins to stem this scourge.

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© Harrison Tasoff/University of California, Santa Barbara

Climate Change Made June’s European Heatwave Five Times More Likely

Photo © giselaatje via Pixabay

The record-breaking heatwave that struck France and other European nations in June 2019 was made at least five — and possibly 100 — times more likely by climate change, scientists have calculated.

Such heatwaves are also about 4 degrees Celsius hotter than a century ago, the researchers say. Furthermore, the heatwaves hitting Europe are more frequent and more severe than climate models have predicted.

June 2019 was the hottest June since 1880, both in Europe and around the world, according to separate data released on Tuesday by the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. In Europe, the temperature was 3 degrees C above the June average a century ago, and globally it was more than 1 degrees C higher.

The European heatwave broke temperature records at many locations in France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Spain. In France, it was broken by more than 1.5 degrees C on June 28, with 45.9 degrees C recorded near the city of Nîmes.

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© Damian Carrington, The Guardian/Yale Environment 360

The Biggest Seaweed Bloom in the World

The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt (GASB), started in 2011. It has occurred every year since, except 2013, and often stretches from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo © NASA/Earth Observatory. Data provided by Mengqiu Wang and Chuanmin Hu, USF College of Marine Science)

An unprecedented belt of brown algae stretches from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico—and it’s likely here to stay. Scientists at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg’s College of Marine Science used NASA satellite observations to discover and document the largest bloom of macroalgae in the world, dubbed the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, as reported in Science.

Based on computer simulations, they confirmed that this belt of the brown macroalgae Sargassum forms its shape in response to ocean currents. It can grow so large that it blankets the surface of the tropical Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2018, more than 20 million tons of it – heavier than 200 fully loaded aircraft carriers – floated in surface waters and became a problem to shorelines lining the tropical Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and east coast of Florida, as it carpeted popular beach destinations and crowded coastal waters.

“The scale of these blooms is truly enormous, making global satellite imagery a good tool for detecting and tracking their dynamics through time,” said Woody Turner, manager of the Ecological Forecasting Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

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© Ellen/Grey/NASA’s Earth Science News Team

New Racks Hold Boards, Open Beers

It’s important to remember priorities when purchasing a surf rack. © Grant Ellis

Surfers often drive trucks because we tend to hoard gear like someone in need of a reality TV intervention, and that gear needs to go places—namely, to the beach. Obviously there are the boards, which we tirelessly collect in pursuit of the perfect craft for every wave size and shape theoretically possible, but there are also the plastic bins filled with wetsuits and booties, the backpacks stuffed with towels and sunscreen and at least one sandy nub of wax, and the coolers loaded with snacks and beer for the dermatologist-not-recommended marathon beach days.

Do we need an entire quiver and all this peripheral crap every time we go to the beach? No, but if you’re going on a road trip and want to be prepared for every eventuality, or you’ve got friends piling into your ride for a beach day, a little extra space never hurts.

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© Grant Ellis/Yakima Racks/

Clouds Dominate Uncertainties in Predicting Greenland Ice Melt

The Greenland ice sheet at sunset © Research team University of Bristol

New research led by climate scientists from the University of Bristol suggests that the representation of clouds in climate models is as, or more, important than the amount of greenhouse gas emissions when it comes to projecting future Greenland ice sheet melt.

Recent research shows that the whole of the Greenland ice sheet could be gone within the next thousand years, raising global sea level by more than seven meters.

However, most of the predictions about the future of the Greenland ice sheet focus on the impact of different greenhouse gas emission scenarios on its evolution and sea level commitment.

New research published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that in a warming world, cloud microphysics play as an important role as greenhouse gases and, for high emission scenarios, dominate the uncertainties in projecting the future melting of the ice sheet.

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© S. Hofer, A. Tedstone, X. Fettweis and J. Bamber/University of Bristol

Further information – Paper:
‘Cloud microphysics and circulation anomalies control differences in future Greenland melt’ by S. Hofer, A. Tedstone, X. Fettweis and J. Bamber in Nature Climate Change

How to put on a traction pad

The new Channel Islands 50/50 Flat Pad

Featuring the New Channel Islands 50/50 Flat Pad

Have you ever got a new board, ran down to the beach, slapped on a fresh tail pad to only have it fall off during your first session? So lame! Or maybe in your haste couldn’t decide where exactly to place it on the board? Watch and listen to Channel Islands Santa Barbara surf shop manager Evan Gambetta talk you through how to prep your board for that new traction pad.

This video features our all-new 50/50 Flat Pad that facilitates movement and maximizes grip, addressing the need to constantly move your back foot around and adjust placement for tube-riding, turns and hitting ramps. CI’s ulta-thin (2.5mm) Vertical Groove pattern is featured in the leading portion of this pad, which provides a sensitive, close-to-the-board feel when riding more forward on your board. It also allows for ease of forward or backward adjustments while remaining super grippy for any kind of side-to-side foot movement. Additionally, the 50/50’s Vertical Groove area minimizes knee rash when trunking it. The (4.5mm) Mixed Groove pattern in the back portion of the pad runs all the way into the medium tail kick (28mm) and locks your placement in when you really need to rely on that back foot. The Mixed Groove is also a great reference point, signaling by feel that your foot is in the sweet spot to rip a turn. The combination of our two signature groove patterns has culminated into the perfect grip for all situations.

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Create a custom surfboard

© Evan Gambetta/Channel Islands Surfboards

Patagonia ice sheets thicker than previously thought.

Glaciers in South America’s Patagonia region, including Argentina’s Viedma Glacier (pictured), are much thicker than expected, according to a seven-year survey conducted by scientists from UCI, Chile and Argentina that will enable researchers and planners to more accurately model the effects of global warming and plan for potential disruptions in freshwater resources. (© Jeremie Mouginot / UCI)

After a comprehensive, seven-year survey of Patagonia, glaciologists from University of California, Irvine and partner institutions in Argentina and Chile have concluded that the ice sheets in this region of South America are considerably more massive than expected.

Through a combination of ground observations and airborne gravity and radar sounding methods, the scientists created the most complete ice density map of the area to date and found that some glaciers are as much as a mile (1,600 meters) thick.

“We did not think the ice fields on the Patagonian plateau could be quite that substantial,” said co-author Eric Rignot, Donald Bren Professor and chair of Earth system science at UCI. “As a result of this multinational research project, we found that – added together – the northern and southern portions of Patagonia clearly hold more ice than anticipated, roughly 40 times the ice volume of the European Alps.”

Patagonia is home to the largest ice fields in the Southern Hemisphere outside Antarctica, and its glaciers are among the fastest-moving in the world. Surface elevation observations from satellite radar altimetry and optical imagery have shown that most of the ice slabs in the region have been thinning rapidly over the past four decades. The contribution to global sea level rise from their melting has increased at an accelerating pace during that time.

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© University of California – Irvine

Melting Small Glaciers Could Add 10 Inches to Sea Levels

Kennicott Glacier, Wrangell Mountains, Alaska © Regina Hock

A new review of glacier research data paints a picture of a future planet with a lot less ice and a lot more water. Glaciers worldwide are projected to lose anywhere from 18% to 36% of their mass by 2100, resulting in almost 10 inches of sea level rise.

The review is the most comprehensive global comparison of glacier simulations ever compiled.

“The clear message is that there’s mass loss—substantial mass loss—all over the world,” said lead author Regine Hock, from the University Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

The anticipated loss of ice varies by region, but the pattern is evident.

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Fritz Freudenberger © University of Alaska Fairbanks