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Environmental news from Delaware and the surrounding region.

Humboldt fellowship:  Levia awarded fellowship to conduct research on insect-forest interactions
12/20/2011 -

On the underside of a beech leaf, there may be small, white clumps that look like cotton candy. Upon closer look, these sticky fibers encase wriggling insects harming the tree’s health – and potentially the surrounding ecosystem.

The University of Delaware’s Delphis F. Levia, associate professor in the Department of Geography with a secondary appointment in plant and soil sciences, recently received a Humboldt Research Fellowship to examine the effects of these tree-damaging insects on forests and the water that flows through them.

“Whether insects, droughts, hurricanes or climate change, all of these things cause stress on our forests,” Levia said. “Our aim is to better understand how pest infestations affect the rainfall that passes through foliage, down tree trunks and into the watershed.” (full article)

Polar quest: Will Antarctic worms warm to changing climate?
12/19/2011 -

Researchers at the University of Delaware are examining tiny worms that inhabit the frigid sea off Antarctica to learn not only how these organisms adapt to the severe cold, but how they will survive as ocean temperatures increase. 

The National Science Foundation study, led by Adam Marsh, associate professor of marine biosciences in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, also will compare the process of temperature adaptation in the polar worm, known scientifically as Capitella perarmata, with that of a close relative that inhabits temperate waters, Capitella teleta.

UDRF grants: University of Delaware Research Foundation awards six projects
12/15/2011 -

 The University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF), a nonprofit organization supporting fundamental research in all fields of science at UD, has awarded six strategic initiative grants for collaborative research in the life and health sciences, energy and the environment -- areas emphasized in the University’s Path to Prominence. One of the awards went to a pair of DENIN-affiliated faculty.

Clara Chan, assistant professor of geological sciences, and Thomas Hanson, associate professor of marine biosciences, will explore how a single microbe can both synthesize and degrade a mineral. Their focus is Chlorobaculum tepidum, a bacterium that both forms and consumes globules of sulfur — the mineral that is responsible for the “Yellow” in Yellowstone National Park, is used as a slow-release fertilizer in agriculture, and is the desired end product for industrial processes to remediate toxic hydrogen sulfide. The researchers will work to identify the genes involved using advanced microscropy and proteomic techniques.

Energy conservation:  White House highlights Delaware's SEU among nationwide energy conservation programs
12/15/2011 -

The White House announced nearly $4 billion in combined federal and private sector energy upgrades to buildings over the next two years in a Dec. 2 press release.  The Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility’s Bond Program was one of several initiatives highlighted by the White House as a positive example of how to capture the enormous potential of energy efficiency and to lead the country in achieving a clean energy economy and green workforce.

Former President Bill Clinton also praised the Delaware bond in an interview on the TV news program PBS NewsHour. (The reference to Delaware begins at 3:40.)

The SEU, and its tax-exempt bond program, is a Delaware-grown idea conceived and developed at the University of Delaware by John Byrne, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy and Distinguished Professor of Energy and Climate Policy in the College of Engineering. (full article)

Blackbirds, fly: Colossal flocks of blackbirds are a common wintertime phenomenon in Delaware
12/14/2011 -

If your holiday shopping takes you to Christiana Mall, time your drive for a half hour before sunset. That’s when you’re most likely to see a massive flock of black birds winging its way to Churchmans Marsh.

This flock of several million birds forms a solid black carpet in the sky; if it was earlier in the day, when the sun is higher, the flock would blot it from view.  The mixed flock consists of true blackbirds (red-winged, specifically) but also common grackles, brown-headed cowbirds and starlings.

“It’s an amazing spectacle,” says Derek Stoner, past president of the Delmarva Ornithological Society. “The sky is filled with birds returning to roost in the marsh after a day of feeding. You get the very best views of this super flock around the intersection of Route 7 and Churchmans Road -- as long as you time it right.”

A flock of blackbirds so colossal that they block the sun sounds like something straight out of Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds, but it’s a common wintertime phenomenon in Delaware.

12/09/2011 -


Contact: Melanie Rapp, Public Affairs, 302-739-9902

DNREC, Clean Air Council and DuPont announce air quality investments in New Castle
Electrifies outlets at Trinity Distribution Services improve quality of life for neighbors

NEW CASTLE, (Dec. 9, 2011) – Neighbors of Trinity Distribution Services in New Castle are benefitting from an environmentally-friendly project that improves air quality and the quality of life for residents in neighborhoods adjacent to the facility. Twenty diesel generators used to power refrigerated storage containers at the company’s Roger Road site have been replaced with electrified outlets, significantly reducing air pollutants, diesel fumes and noise in the community.

 “We’re looking for ways to make our air cleaner to breathe,” said Governor Jack Markell. “These electrified outlets provide a cleaner, safe, effective alternative to diesel. Together, we’re making progress eliminating odors and noise while reducing health risks in the community.”

Six newly-hatched green sea turtles to make journey to North Carolina for eventual release into ocean
12/07/2011 -

LEWES (Dec. 6, 2011) – This morning, three more siblings have joined the three baby green sea turtles that hatched Sunday in a climate-controlled room at the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment in Lewes. Early tomorrow morning, the six tiny turtles will embark on the first leg of their journey back to the sea.Since ocean temperatures off the Delaware coast are now too cold for the newly hatched turtles, the turtles, along with more than 180 unhatched eggs, will be transported to Morehead City, N.C., where they will be released into warmer waters.


12/06/2011 -

The first phase of the pilot body burden research study for the Millsboro area has been completed by Delaware’s Division of Public Health (DPH) and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), in collaboration with  Research Triangle Institute (RTI). Funded by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) and DNREC, the study is an important first step in the expanded analysis of air quality and environmental exposure levels in humans and the factors that may contribute to a higher than average rate of cancer and other respiratory illnesses in the area.

Centered on ethics:  New center and website serve as a focal point for ethics education, research and outreach at UD
12/06/2011 -

The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), in collaboration with the Delaware Environmental Institute, has launched the new Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy (SEPP) at the University of Delaware and with it a revamped website.

Since the founding of the SEPP program at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute in 2007, participating faculty have sponsored educational, research and outreach initiatives both on and off campus. The Center for SEPP will continue these activities, including the Science Café, the RAISE research ethics seminar for graduate students, a yearly research ethics workshop for undergraduates, support for undergraduate and graduate student research, and (with Arizona State University) a two-week science and technology policy orientation in Washington, D.C.

“The experience and support that we've gained from collaborations on eight federal and state grants—in areas as diverse as research ethics, nanotechnology, nature-inspired engineering and food security—have enabled us to lead inquiry into the ethical and public policy dimensions of science, engineering and emerging technologies,” said Thomas M. Powers, assistant professor of philosophy and director of the center. (full article)

It's elemental: Paper in prestigious international journal celebrates discovery of iodine
12/06/2011 -

It's not every day that an element gets to celebrate a bicentennial, and a University of Delaware professor is pleased to have been invited to the "birthday party" for iodine, which was discovered in 1811.

George Luther, Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor at UD, is one of 11 internationally recognized co-authors on a paper commemorating 200 years of iodine research. The paper appeared on Friday, Dec. 2, in Angewandte Chemie, one of the prime chemistry journals in the world.

Most of us think of iodine as a liquid that comes in a little brown bottle to help heal cuts or as something that gets mixed in with table salt to prevent goiter. But the element that appears as number 53 in the periodic table was actually discovered during the Napoleonic Wars when French chemist Bernard Courtois was searching for an alternative to wood ashes as a feedstock for the production of saltpeter. Today, iodine has applications ranging from pharmaceuticals to semiconductors. (full article)