Thursday, August 14, 2008

Postcard from Germany; the Future Belongs to Dead Zones; Clean and Natural

First, a note that this blog is not solely about jellyfish. That said, the glorious jellyfish photo above was sent to me by my good friend the Tonic Blotter. He took this photo in Travem√ľnde, Germany. He reports that the harbor there was full of these jellyfish. Normally, he takes fantastic pictures of birds.

Speaking of the march of the jellyfish, dead zones are appearing at a terrifying rate in coastal waters, doubling every decade since the 1960s:
In the latest sign of trouble in the planet's chemistry, the number of oxygen-starved "dead zones" in coastal waters around the world has roughly doubled every decade since the 1960s, killing fish, crabs and massive amounts of marine life at the base of the food chain, according to a study released yesterday.

"These zones are popping up all over," said Robert Diaz, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who led the study, published online by the journal Science.

Diaz and co-author Rutger Rosenberg of the University of Goteborg in Sweden counted more than 400 dead zones globally, ranging from expansive ones in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to small ones that episodically appear in river estuaries. Collectively, they cover about 95,000 square miles.

Low oxygen, known as hypoxia, is in significant measure a downstream effect of chemical fertilizers used in agriculture. Air pollution, including smog from automobiles, is another factor. The nitrogen from the fertilizer and the pollution feeds the growth of algae in coastal waters, particularly during summer.

The result is feast-then-famine: The algae eventually die and sink to the bottom, where the organic matter decays in a process that robs the bottom waters of oxygen. The ensuing die-off of marine life cuts down on the productivity of commercial fisheries. The "biomass" missing because of depleted oxygen in the Chesapeake Bay, Diaz estimated, is enough to feed half the number of crabs that are commercially harvested in a typical year.
Wash. Post.

And I am obligated to post the story the NYT ran in last Sunday's magazine on the growing number of cities implementing toilet to tap to process waste water into potable drinking water. Coming to a tap near you.