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Environmental news from Delaware and the surrounding region.

UDaily: Research on trace metals in soil highlighted in Nature Communications
09/23/2014 -

A research team at the University of Delaware has developed a new method for observing chemical reactions in real and rapid time at the boundaries between soil mineral particles and water.

Details of the new method and the revealing data obtained with it were published Sept. 19in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications.

According to lead author Matt Siebecker, a former doctoral student in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, the research will benefit the design of cost-effective remediation strategies for contaminated soils as well as improve conceptual models of what happens to metal ions in soils.

UDaily: Four UD graduate students receive two-year fellowships from DENIN
09/19/2014 -

The Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) has announced its first cohort of DENIN Environmental Fellows. The new fellowship program assists doctoral students whose research interests demonstrate a clear bridge between science and society.

The four recipients were selected based on their proposals for doctoral research that will benefit the environment in Delaware and beyond, as well as their demonstrated experience and commitment to communicating and transferring the benefits of their research to the wider world.

09/18/2014 -

The life cycle of the blue crab is that females migrate to the saltier water in lower Delaware Bay to spawn, outbound tides form a current that transports them away from the coast and then, several weeks later strong, northeast winds push them back toward shore and into the estuaries.

Scientists who figured out this blue crab transport model can't really predict blue crab stock size based on this complex connection between tides, winds and currents in the estuary and ocean because of the many variables in the weather, tides and timing of the crab hatch, along with crab mortality, said Charles Epifanio, Harrington Professor Marine Science at the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and the Environment.

UDaily: Undergrads invited to apply for DENIN environmental research opportunities by Oct. 3
09/18/2014 -

The Delaware Environmental Institute is now accepting applications for up to 20 paid undergraduate research internships focused on environmental topics during the 2014-15 academic year. 

The purpose of the DENIN Environmental Scholars Program is to provide interested students with a sustained research experience over the academic year.

Internships will be carried out during the fall, winter and spring semesters, beginning Nov. 1. Fall and spring semesters are a part-time commitment, while Winter Session is considered a full-time commitment for five weeks. Interns will receive a stipend of $4,250.

UDaily: Ducks Unlimited RSO, Philadelphia Flower Show plants shore up UD wetland
09/16/2014 -

When Mike Popovich needed help to restore wetland habitat located near the apiary in the center of the University of Delaware’s Newark farm, he found it in the form of the Ducks Unlimited registered student organization and a donation of trees and shrubs from the UD exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

The plants from the flower show were donated by Jules Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences who serves as one of the professors for the design process practicum class that created the flower show exhibit. 

Bruck said that one of the aims of the Philadelphia Flower show project is to make the entire exhibit more sustainable. “One way to do that is to make sure the plants from the exhibit go to a good home,” said Bruck. “We focused our exhibit this year on native riparian buffer plants. These plants were perfect for the wetland restoration project.”

09/16/2014 -

Developing robots able to go deeper has been a technical challenge, but scientists think they are about to lick it, permitting temperature measurements of virtually the entire ocean — a milestone in science. The experts say a replacement for the pollution-measuring satellite that exploded is also an urgent priority.

While scientists scramble for better information, this might be the most important thing for citizens to know about the warming hiatus: It has happened before.

In fact, surface warming has always proceeded in fits and starts, with the longest hiatus lasting roughly 30 years, from the 1940s to the 1970s. Scientists do not really understand that one, either. But it ended, and a period of extremely rapid warming followed.

Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist and head of Harvard’s Center for the Environment, said the inability of scientists to explain these ups and downs highlighted a deeper problem. At a time when people are causing profound changes on the planet, he said, governments had failed to invest enough in monitoring systems like satellites, causing gaping holes in the information that scientists have to work with. Even though they have the big picture right, they’re struggling to predict shifts that really matter in the near term.

“I think the most likely thing is that we’re going to see a rapid warming in the next five or 10 years,” Dr. Schrag said, “and we still won’t know why.”

UDaily: Vargas hosts Borlaug Fellow to study carbon cycle science, policy in Mexico
09/16/2014 -

Karla Toledo of the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) in Mexico arrived at the University of Delaware to conduct research with Rodrigo Vargas, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), to review the state-of-the-art carbon cycle science and policy in Mexico.

Toledo came to UD thanks to the Norman E. Borlaug International Agriculture Science and Technology Fellowship Program funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program promotes food security and economic growth by providing training and collaborative research opportunities to Borlaug Fellows from developing and middle-income countries.

Toledo will spend 10 weeks at UD before returning to Mexico, with Vargas in turn traveling to Mexico sometime in the near future to continue the collaboration. “The idea is that the fellow will have developed a skill applied to the place where he or she works and that this will strengthen the international collaborations of the University,” said Vargas.

With global challenges requiring new international partnerships and solutions, UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) is always looking for ways to collaborate with researchers in developing countries.

09/11/2014 -

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey rushed into the field and installed dozens of high-tech sensors designed to pick up tide levels and storm surge in the days before Superstorm Sandy hit in late October 2012. But safety concerns and equipment issues kept them from getting to every site.

"By the time we finished deploying sensors," said Mark R. Nardi, a geographer with the survey based in Dover, "the wind was starting to pick up and the first rain was starting to come ashore."

We ended up in Ocean City, Maryland. The last site we wanted to deploy was on the state park pier on the south end Isle of Wight off of Rt 90. It was dark and rainy by the time we got there and in the end we decided against putting the sensor out."

Now Nardi and a team of researchers are setting up the sensor network system in advance thanks to a grant in the federal Superstorm Sandy relief package.

The idea, Nardi said, is to pre-stage the equipment and do the necessary survey work now, when the weather is calm and fair.

Then, when a storm is forecast, scientists can deploy each sensor at each predetermined location in a matter of minutes.

The project is part of the survey's Integrated Surge, Wave and Tide Hydrodynamic Network. Several types of sensors and monitoring tools will be deployed, Nardi said.

Some will collect data on wind and water levels every five minutes and others will sample wave action every 2.4 seconds. Those sensors will collect and store the data and then, within 36 hours after they are collected, the findings will be posted online for researchers, government officials and the public, Nardi said.

NSF: Mercury in the world's oceans: On the rise
09/11/2014 -

Little was known about how much mercury in the environment was the result of human activities, or how much "bioavailable" mercury was in the world's oceans. Until now.

The first direct calculation of mercury pollution in the world's oceans, based on data from 12 oceanographic sampling cruises during the last eight years, is reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

The scientists involved are affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, Wright State University in Ohio, the Observatoire Midi-Pyréneés in France and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research in the Netherlands.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the European Research Council. It was led by WHOI marine chemist Carl Lamborg. The results offer a look at the global distribution of mercury in the marine environment.

"Mercury is an environmental poison that's detectable wherever we look for it, including the ocean abyss," says Don Rice, director of the NSF's Chemical Oceanography Program.

"These scientists have reminded us that the problem is far from abatement, especially in regions of the world's oceans where the human fingerprint is most distinct."

Mercury is a naturally occurring element as well as a by-product of such human activities as burning coal and making cement.

"If we want to regulate mercury emissions into the environment and in the food we eat, we should first know how much is there and how much human activity is adding every year," says Lamborg.

09/11/2014 -

It is low tide along the Mispillion River at a rapidly receding mudflat near the inlet to Delaware Bay. Josh Moody and a team of scientists and volunteers are working to hold the shoreline in place and maybe even build upon it using nature as a guide.

"Historically, in the pictures, you can see it's moving back," Moody said of this marsh.

Their tools to fight that: coconut fiber logs, bags of oyster shells, wetland plants and 30-pound, Lego-like blocks that connect together. They are called "oyster castles" and from a distance, they really do look like whimsical castles on a muddy beach.

With less wetland, the adjacent DuPont Nature Center is at risk, increasing flooding in the area and taking away a valuable habitat for birds, fish, crabs and surprisingly, oysters.

The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, working with state environmental officials, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and nonprofits, see this ecologically fragile site as a test plot for Living Shorelines. They also are building two other demonstration and study shorelines in Coastal Delaware – another along the Lewes & Rehoboth Canal and a third at Indian River Inlet. Those two projects cost a total of $125,000. The Mispillion project, which is larger, will cost around $100,000.

Moody, the restoration coordinator for the estuary program, said the Mispillion site uses four different living shoreline configurations because scientists want to see which is most effective along an eroding saltmarsh. There are the coconut fiber logs alone; the logs surrounded by oyster shell; bags of oyster shell; and the oyster castles.