Friday, September 20, 2013

Super-Eruption Launched Algae Army Into the Sky

Super-Eruption Launched Algae Army Into the Sky

Slimy brown algae not only survived a wild ride into the stratosphere via a volcanic ash cloud, they landed on distant islands looking flawless, a new study finds.

"There's a crazy contrast between these delicate, glass-shelled organisms and one of the most powerful eruptions in Earth's history," said lead study author Alexa Van Eaton, a postdoctoral scholar at both the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Washington and Arizona State University.

The diatoms were launched by the Taupo super-eruption on New Zealand's North Island 25,000 years ago. More than 600 million cubic meters (20 billion cubic feet) of diatoms from a lake flew into the air, Van Eaton reported Sept. 6 in the journal Geology. Lumped together, the microscopic cells speckled throughout Taupo's ash layers would make a pile as big as Hawaii's famed Diamond Head volcanic cone.

Some diatoms drifted as far as the Chatham Islands, 525 miles (850 kilometers) east of New Zealand. "They just hitched a ride," Van Eaton said. The pristine shells in the Chatham Island ash suggest diatoms could infect new niches by coasting on atmospheric currents.
"If they made it there alive, this is one way microorganisms can travel and meet each other," Van Eaton told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet. "We know that ash from smaller events easily travels around the world." [5 Colossal Cones: Biggest Volcanoes on Earth]

World domination, cell by cell

Diatoms, a golden brown algae, rule Earth's waterways. From Antarctica's glacial lakes to acidic hot springs to unkempt home aquariums, diatoms are everywhere. It's a good thing. The tiny creatures pump out up to 50 percent of the planet's oxygen, said Edward Theriot, a diatom expert and evolutionary biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the study.

The algae look like little petri dishes or footballs,depending on the species, and spend most of their lives drifting on currents. How diatoms manage to colonize new homes remains a mystery: They can't swim.

Yet diatoms get around. When Wyoming's Yellowstone Lake emerged from its mile-thick ice cover 14,000 years ago, diatoms quickly arrived, Theriot said. "They had to be blown in by some mechanism or carried in by water birds," he added.

Diatoms particularly love volcanic lakes, because they are the only creatures that build shells of glass. (Glass sponges, for instance, produce a skeleton of glass spicules — tiny spike-like structures — but not a hard shell.) Silica-rich magma often causes the volcanic explosions that leave behind lake-filled craters, and silica is the key ingredient in diatom shells. Yellowstone Lake, which sits in a caldera created by a super-eruption, contains so many diatoms that the lake sediments are mostly shells (85 percent by weight), Theriot said.

Now scientists know what happens to diatoms when a massive volcanolike Yellowstone blasts through a big lake.

Immaculate preservation

The Taupo Volcano super-eruption slammed through a deep lake that filled a rift valley, similar to the elongated lakes in East Africa. The combination of water and ash created a hellish dirty thunderstorm, with towering clouds and roaring winds. The detonation flung ash and algae upward at more than 250 mph (400 km/h), Van Eaton said. Volcanic hail (called accretionary lapilli) pelted the landscape for miles.

Van Eaton discovered the diatoms while examining the volcanic hail with a scanning electron microscope.

"The first time I ever saw them I was looking at these volcanic ashaggregates and, bam, these gorgeous little symmetrical shells were there," she said. "Their shells are immaculately preserved."

Van Eaton soon determined that one of the three diatom species entombed in the ash only lives on the North Island of New Zealand. This meant she could track the 25,000-year-old ash layers around the South Pacific with a unique biologic marker. The unique North Island diatoms turned up in a few inches of ash on the Chatham Islands. The diatoms' trip to the Chatham Islands took longer than it looks on a map. The prevailing winds blew west at the time, so the shells circled the Southern Hemisphere before landing on the islands, Van Eaton and her colleagues think.

Some of the diatoms even kept their color, both in ash close to the volcano and at the Chatham Islands. The color suggests they weren't cooked to extreme temperatures in the volcanic eruption, Van Eaton said.

Spores infect the sky

But even though the Taupo diatom shells are pristine, Theriot is doubtful any diatoms lived through the eruptions. Instead, he suspects diatom resting spores could travel the atmospheric currents, dropping out and colonizing new ecosystems. Diatoms fashion spores to ride out inhospitable changes in their environment. Two years ago, Danish researchers revived 100-year-old resting spores from muck in a local fjord. Resting spores have been found in clouds. The eruption could have launched spores from the lake bottom into the atmosphere, Theriot said.

"I and many others have joked about Yellowstone blowing up again and dispersing the diatomite that is being created at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake," Theriot said. "This is the most thoroughly studied and best documented example of this phenomenon, and so it really says maybe we can add volcanoes to the list of possibilities [of how diatoms spread]. And volcanoes would be particularly effective." [Infographic: The Geology of Yellowstone]
Van Eaton hopes the discovery will prompt other scientists to search for microscopic life in "wet eruptions," where magma hit water.

"This is potentially another tool to pinpoint where ash deposits come from," Van Eaton said. "If the work is done to characterize the kinds of microbes that are unique to an area, then it could give you a biogenic fingerprint for your eruption deposits. This has likely been going on in modern eruptions, but no one has taken the time to look for them."

Ash travels hundreds of miles, but once it's far from its source, linking a few inches of glass back to a single volcano becomes difficult, particularly in regions like the South Pacific, where volcanoes pop off all the time.

But Theriot is skeptical that diatoms will prove to be a useful tool for tracking volcanic ash. Diatoms are so global that endemic species — known only to one place — are hard to find, he said. "If you found diatoms in ash deposits in a bog in Ohio, you would have no idea if it was from Yellowstone or from that bog," Theriot said. "It would take a really extraordinary set of circumstances, like this New Zealand [diatom] that is clearly out of place, to be convincing that the diatoms had blown in with the ash."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Koocanusa algae bloom kills thousands of salmon

Koocanusa algae bloom kills thousands of salmon

Two weeks ago there was a mass die-off of Kokanee Salmon in Lake Koocanusa. Thousands of fish floated on the surface near the Canada-US border.
Area B Director Heath Slee brought up the subject at the Regional District of East Kootenay meeting Friday, Sept. 6.

"Some of the local people complained that they saw all these carcasses of kokanee salmon floating upside down on the lake and in the reservoir," Slee said. That was the first thing he's heard about it happening two weeks ago.

He found that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists attributed the die-off to a blue-green algae bloom.

The kokanee, 8-10 inches in size, came to the surface because of the long stretch of hot, dry weather this summer on Koocanusa.

"The two-year-old salmon came up to feed on this algae, which they typically do, and once they ingest this algae, it affects their bladder and so they are not able to dive down into the cooler waters again,"
he said, adding that unless they can reach those cooler depths, they cannot thrive.

"So consequently there was a huge die-off. It hasn't affected the over-species, from what I've been told, it's not harmful, it's not going to affect the wildlife," Slee said, adding that if you're out there fishing and catching salmon there's also no concern about eating the salmon.

Slee said it has happened before and biologists believe it is the algae that caused it.

The salmon would be becoming mature and spawning in the fall of 2014, so it may have an effect on future stock.

"Unfortunately a lot of those salmon have died," Slee said. "I don't know what the end result will be or how it will affect the salmon fishery next summer, but it has been a major die-off at this stage and it has hurt in the past."

According to an article in the Tobacco Valley News, Montana biologist Mike Hensley estimated that 10,000 juvenile kokanee were dead as a result of the algae bloom.
Slee said he hadn't heard of any local biologists looking into the situation, but said they were probably aware of the die-off.

The kokanee were introduced into Koocanusa a number of years ago and this year's salmon will begin spawning in the creeks and rivers in the next few weeks.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fertilizer grows crops and kills fish ???

The Gulf of Mexico’s Zombie Dead Zone

"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hypothesizes the annual agricultural and treated sewage discharge into the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River exceeds 1,700,000 tons or 3,400,000,000 pounds of potassium and nitrogen. To put that into perspective, it’s the equivalent of dumping 168 million 20 pound bags of fertilizer directly into the Gulf."

Conundrum. Sadly, the Dead Zone is created by essential agriculturally-based, nutrient rich (i.e., phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium) fertilizers. These elements find their way into the warm waters of the Gulf via the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Scientists point to the recent spree of heavy rains and floods in the Midwest and subsequent agricultural crop run-offs for the heavy influx of nutrients. Interestingly, the most negatively affected species are shellfish, as they have limited mobility and are typically unable to escape the devastating effects of the Dead Zone."

Agriculture and Plants killing animals / fish ?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Lake Ontario algal bloom is big enough to be seen from space

Lake Ontario algal bloom is big enough to be seen from space

Astronauts on board the International Space Station spotted something unusual as they flew over North America on August 24th — the normally blue waters of Lake Ontario had changed to a vibrant green hue!
The reason for this was a population explosion blue-green algae in the lake water. These 'algal blooms' are seen quite often in the Great Lakes during the summer months, but ones of this extent are usually seen in Lake Erie (you can even see that the western part of Lake Erie has a smaller bloom going on at the same time). According to NASA's Earth Observatory, the Aqua satellite captured a view of this at the same time (you can see it here).
Algal blooms happen when there's a combination of warm water and lots of nutrients, from sources like sewage and fertilizers making their way into the lakes. The algae feast on the nutrients, spurred on by the warmth, and multiply rapidly.
Algal blooms can cause health problems for anyone drinking the water or swimming in it, as the algae, called cyanobacteria, can produce toxins as they eat. Even without the toxins, the blooms also threaten life in the lake, as the algae consume all the oxygen in the water, causing the fish to suffocate.
Although these blooms still happen due to other sources, it was scientists working at theExperimental Lakes Area, in northwestern Ontario, that discovered the link between these blooms and phosphates in our cleaning products. The future of the ELA was in jeopardy until recently, but the scientists there will now be continuing their world-renowned work, thanks to new commitmentsby the Ontario government and the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Manitoba.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The beauty of Diatoms - Video

The beauty of Diatoms

by Dr Mark Hildebrand
Scripps Institute of Oceanography