YOUR WEEKLY BRIEFING FROM PARLEY
With Europe and the Eastern US facing record heat after the hottest June on record and a devastating heatwave in India, it’s becoming impossible to ignore scientists’ long-predicted warning signs of climate change. Now, a disturbing new study suggests that if past geological history is any indication, increasing greenhouse gas emissions could destabilize the marine carbon cycle and trigger a mass extinction in the oceans.
Using a mathematical model to predict the dynamics of the upper ocean, geophysics researchers at MIT found that once the upper ocean has accumulated a certain amount of carbon, it will trigger a series of chemical reactions that could cause the ocean to become extremely acidic, which would feed back into this ongoing sequence of reactions, and alter the amount of carbon being stored in the planet’s oceans for millennia. In fact, once this threshold is breached, it would take tens of thousands of years for the oceans to return to their original state.
Following similar actions by Malaysia and the Philippines, Cambodia has announced it will send 1600 tonnes of plastic waste found in shipping containers back to the US and Canada, as south-east Asian countries revolt against an onslaught of rubbish shipments. China’s decision to ban foreign plastic waste imports last year threw global recycling into chaos, leaving developed nations struggling to find countries to send their trash. 83 shipping containers full of rubbish were found on Tuesday at Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s main port, according to the country’s environment minister.
Researchers in Mexico have created a biodegradable plastic from the juice of the prickly pear cactus. The new material begins to break down after sitting in the soil for a month and when left in water, it breaks down in a matter of days – plus it doesn’t require crude oil like traditional plastics. The nopal cactus has certain chemical characteristics which researchers used to obtain a polymer, creating a natural, non-toxic, biodegradable plastic. All the materials used can be ingested both by animals or humans without causing any harm, and scaling up should be feasible.
Some of the biggest catfish and sea snakes to ever exist lived in what is today the Sahara desert, according to a new paper that contains the first reconstructions of extinct aquatic species from the ancient Trans-Saharan Seaway. The sea was 50 metres deep and once covered 3000 square km of what is now the world’s biggest sand desert. The marine sediment it left behind is filled with fossils, which allowed the scientists who published the study to build up a picture of a region that teemed with life. Between 100m and 50m years ago, today’s arid, boulder-strewn northern Mali “looked more like modern Puerto Rico.”
THE DEEP SEA
In many cases, deep sea species tend to be much larger than their shallow-dwelling relatives – so why do some deep sea organisms grow so large? In a 2006 study, biologists examined the gradient from the shallow seas to the depths using the framework of a terrestrial system: oceanic islands. Isolated from other landmasses, islands mostly develop indigenous biodiversity through diversification of the few organisms that arrive there. Limited in resources, competitors, and predators, fauna often follows what is known as the Island Rule, where small-bodied organisms tend to grow larger on islands, as is the case with the enormous Galapagos tortoise.