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Sargassum algae

Researchers discover the largest seaweed bloom ever found which is continuously increasing

Scientists have measured the largest seaweed bloom on record as of today. It stretches close to 8,850 kilometers across the Atlantic Ocean and is expected to be made up of 20 million metric tons of Sargassum Algae. The study has been published in Science journal.

The weight is equivalent to that of 200 fully loaded aircraft carriers. It is called the Great Atlantic Sargassum belt and it is continuously expanding. It receives the nutrients from the Amazon river on one side and the West African coast on the other side, part of which is due to the increased deforestation and use of fertilizers.

As per the satellite images and data received from NASA as well as the samples which were collected on the field, the researchers have identified a tipping point which dates back to 2011. From 2011 onward there has been a major bloom almost every year and the trend continues even today which stretches from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists have associated the increase in deforestation and use of fertilizers in Brazil and the Amazon which began at the start of the decade however this is not a clear cut association. The researchers are not in a position to confidently put forward the cause of this bloom but are confident that it will not go away anytime soon.

There are preliminary evidence and limited field research which cannot confirm their hypothesis as they need more data as well as research according to study leader Chuanmin Hu from the University of South Florida. The belt may have a new normal based on 20 years of data. What could this mammoth bloom do to our oceans is a question waiting to be answered and that seaweed blooms are not necessarily bad for the ocean as this provides habitat for turtles, crabs, fish and birds and produces oxygen for marine life.

Too much algae can cause problems by restricting movement and breathing of certain marine species and if the seaweed dies it can choke the corals and seagrass due to its huge volume. It produces a rotten egg smell due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide when left rotting and can impact the health of residents and tourists. The size of bloom peaks between April and July before slowly reducing but leftover seeds contribute in the next summer.

Many factors like salinity and temperature as well as nutrient levels of all the years play a major role in the sargassum growth. More nutrients from the Amazon and rising of sea levels off West Africa contribute more nutrients. Knowing the extent of bloom the researchers will further investigate its causes and consequences on precipitation, ocean currents and humans. 


plastic pollution forming plasticrust ocean shores

Researchers discover a different type of plastic pollution at the shoreline

Scientists have recently discovered crust of plastic particles that were forming up on shoreline rocks. This ‘plasticrust’  is a huge threat to the creatures inhabiting on rocks and there could also be a possibility of plastic entering into their food chain. The study was published in Science of the Total Environment

A Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre (MARE) team from Portugal has been observing the building up of plastics across the shore of the volcanic island of Madeira by evaluating their impact on the local ecosystem since 2016. Ignacio Gestoso, a marine ecologist said that the crusts are developed due to the crashing of large pieces of plastics against the rock shores similar to how algae or lichens do.

The plasticrust looks similar to a chewed piece of gum or a squeeze of toothpaste on the rocks and their shape is similar to that of inhabitants on the rock and this way the plastic is fixing itself into the environment. Several researchers like Gestoso are researching on the reason behind its formation and their effects and thus it was discovered that they are formed due to the usage of polyethylene, the material found in plastic bags and food packaging. Now according to the scientists, this polyethylene which is sticking to the shoreline covers nearly about 10 percent of the surface of the rock.

The researchers and their team also discovered a proof which shows that the winkle sea snails which eats algae are as comfortable being in the plasticrust as they are on the rocks and thus they might be sucking the plasticrust and the algae on the rock as well. As of now, the researchers just want us to make aware of this problem. If we don’t reduce the usage of plastics then the rocks which are getting covered by plastics will bring serious issues to the microorganisms.

However, sadly this is not the first time this has occurred. In the year 2014, there was a discovery of plastiglomerates which is a substance similar to rock made from melted plastics and organic debris. The scientists say that plastic is hugely used and if it continues this way then we’ll leave huge sediments of plastics for the future generation. Gestoso told that he, as a marine ecologist researcher would like to choose to report about other types of discoveries than describing a sad new way of plastic pollution in his research paper.


Algae Curtain Architects with the System

Algae curtains designed to curb urban pollution

Recently, two European architects Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto, have developed plant-filled plastic curtains called “living walls” that help purify dirty and smokey air.

The curtains contain a mazelike network of tubes filled with microscopic algae, which remove carbon dioxide from the air, pumping out oxygen via the carbon-sequestering process known as photosynthesis. Air flows into the bottom of the curtains and rises through the tubes, feeding the microalgae along the way.

Algae curtains and cladding can capture and store up to one kilogram of carbon dioxide per day.
“Microalgae have unique properties that have been discovered by the biologists that allow them to re-metabolize some of the waste that our city generates. What we’ve done is try to understand how we can integrate microalgae in the urban environment,”  said Claudia Pasquero, an architect with the London-based firm EcoLogicStudio.

Marco Poletto said that they foresee a strong market for the eco-friendly curtains, especially for use on warehouses and other large buildings valued more for their function than their appearance. They said the curtains might sell for $350 a square meter.

Poletto said that they were inspired to develop the eco-friendly curtains after noticing an abundance of algae in ponds near their office.

Last month, the architects displayed an early demo of the curtains in Ireland, covering the first and second floors of Dublin Castle with more than a dozen of the drapes.

Algae Curtain Building Wall

These algae-filled curtains are designed to cover the facades of buildings to help cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions. (Credit: NAARO)

The curtains used to cover the castle can suck more than two pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each day, according to the architects. That’s roughly the amount removed each day by 20 large trees, they said.

According to the design team, this particular module “is particularly suitable for retrofit as it is very lightweight, soft, adaptable, and does not require heavy substructures to be installed.”

“As we collaborated with microbiologists and learned more and more about the algae’s potential, it became kind of an obsession,” Poletto said. “For us, the aspect of design is really essential,” Pasquero said, “so it’s not simply a technological innovation — it’s a design solution.”

Smart cities, smart homes, autonomous vehicles, robotic factories, etcetera dominate the current panorama of popular futuristic scenarios, but they all desperately need spatial and architectural re-framing to engender beneficial societal transitions,” said EcoLogicStudio.

Designers such as Nicolas Roope answered to the UN report, by calling the need to avert climate change “the greatest design challenge in history”.

Presently, the firm is researching a mass-market prototype that will aim the large shed or warehouse typology, with a goal to cover the large surfaces of malls, distribution centers, and data centers.