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Lake Erie dead zone increased drastically by 2012 drought

Lake Erie just can’t catch a break. The lake has experienced harmful algal blooms and severe oxygen-depleted “dead zones” for years, but now a team of researchers led by Carnegie’s Anna Michalak and Yuntao Zhou has shown that the widespread drought in 2012 was associated with the largest dead zone since at least the mid-1980s.

Until now, the size of the dead zone each summer and the factors explaining the variability from year to year have been elusive. Using 28 years of data collected in and around the lake, the team was able to “measure” the size of the dead zone each summer and identify factors that explain the year-to-year variability for the first time. They found that the 2012 drought, with extremely low water inflow from tributaries, was associated with a record-breaking dead zone in the lake, and that meteorological factors together with agricultural practices explain why these events vary annually. Previous studies have focused on phosphorous from agricultural runoff as the primary driver of the lake’s dead zones, but this analysis shows that the inflow of water from tributaries is actually the largest explanatory factor. The results are published in Environmental Science & Technology.

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Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products Could Taint Pools

A new study suggests pharmaceuticals and chemicals from personal care products end up in swimming pools, possibly interacting with chlorine to produce disinfection byproducts with unknown properties and health effects. Chlorination is used primarily to prevent pathogenic microorganisms from growing. Previous research has shown that many constituents of urine including urea, uric acid, and amino acids, interact with chlorine to produce potentially hazardous disinfection byproducts in swimming pools. However, chemicals from pharmaceuticals and personal care products, or PPCPs, also could be interacting with chlorine, producing potentially harmful byproducts. 

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How exercise can help us age optimally

Getting in shape is one of the most common New Year's resolutions. And whether or not we follow through with going to the gym or watching what we eat, a new study by King's College London and the University of Birmingham reveals that staying active allows us to age optimally-another push to help us keep with our New Year's resolution.

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European Environmental Agency finds air pollution the leading environmental cause of death

Responsible for 400,000 deaths each year globally, air pollution has yet to be sufficiently addressed by the world's governments, researchers have warned. Air pollution damages the heart. According to an expert position paper published in the European Heart Journal, many types of cardiovascular disease are linked to poor air quality.

Not only does air pollution exacerbate existing heart problems, but it also appears to play a role in the development of heart disease in otherwise healthy people, the researchers said. There is particularly strong evidence of the harmful effects of suspended particles, as opposed to gas pollution, they said.

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California drought hard on Chinook salmon

Gushing downpours finally arrived in California last month, when December rains brought some relief to a landscape parched after three years of severe drought. 

But the rain came too late for thousands of Chinook salmon that spawned this summer and fall in the northern Central Valley. The Sacramento River, running lower than usual under the scorching sun, warmed into the low 60s — a temperature range that can be lethal to fertilized 

Chinook, the largest species of Pacific salmon, need cool waters to reproduce. 

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Why we need to reduce our "hidden water" usage

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) is urging coordinated action to reduce the amount of hidden water used in food and drink production – estimated at up to 1.8 million litres per person every year equivalent to an Olympic size swimming pool. Each person consumes between 2,000-5,000 litres of water embedded in their food, every day – or between 730,000-1,825,000 million litres annually. Currently, around 90 per cent of all freshwater is used by agriculture (70 per cent) and industry (20 per cent), leaving just 10 per cent for domestic use.

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Reducing aircraft emissions globally will require effective regulations

Aviation emissions are a major clause of climate change, writes Valerie Brown - yet they remain unregulated. The gap between the best and worst performing airlines demonstrates ample opportunities for improvement - but is the political will there to impose effective regulation?

The performance gap suggests the industry could reduce GHG emissions significantly if the least efficient airlines would emulate the most efficient.

If commercial aviation were a country, it would rank seventh in global greenhouse gas emissions according to a recent report by the International Council on Clean Transportation(ICCT).

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California's regulations on diesel trucks are having a positive impact on air pollution

Ever wonder what's in the black cloud that emits from some semi trucks that you pass on the freeway? Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) scientist Thomas Kirchstetter knows very precisely what's in there, having conducted detailed measurements of thousands of heavy-duty trucks over months at a time at two San Francisco Bay Area locations.

​With a specially outfitted research van equipped with sophisticated monitors for several pollutant types, he and his team are studying emissions levels from diesel trucks to understand and analyze the impact of new control technologies and California air pollution regulations.

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The good role fat cells play in protecting us from disease

When it comes to skin infections, a healthy and robust immune response may depend greatly upon what lies beneath. In a new paper published in the January 2, 2015 issue of Science, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report the surprising discovery that fat cells below the skin help protect us from bacteria. 

Richard Gallo, MD, PhD, professor and chief of dermatology at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues have uncovered a previously unknown role for dermal fat cells, known as adipocytes: They produce antimicrobial peptides that help fend off invading bacteria and other pathogens. 

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Could life thrive on an aquaplanet?

Nearly 2,000 planets beyond our solar system have been identified to date. Whether any of these exoplanets are hospitable to life depends on a number of criteria. Among these, scientists have thought, is a planet’s obliquity — the angle of its axis relative to its orbit around a star.

Earth, for instance, has a relatively low obliquity, rotating around an axis that is nearly perpendicular to the plane of its orbit around the sun. Scientists suspect, however, that exoplanets may exhibit a host of obliquities, resembling anything from a vertical spinning top to a horizontal rotisserie. The more extreme the tilt, the less habitable a planet may be — or so the thinking has gone.

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