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August 14, 2022

Environmental Science Briefs

By Staff | September 20, 2012

Global warming threatens baby ringed seals

Ringed seals build comfy caves in Arctic snow drifts for their babies. But if the sea ice that they build those caves on keeps shrinking, more than two-thirds of the ice with enough snow cover for the seals will melt.

This could challenge the survival of ringed seals, which are being considered for the threatened species list.

The seals need snow as deep as 20 centimeters to support the caves. University of Washington researchers decided to see if there was a trend in snow depth, especially because it might affect whether or not the seals were listed as threatened.

They found that the area of sea ice that is currently deep enough for the ringed seals will decrease by 70 percent over this century.


Overgrown algae can harm coral reefs

Despite algae’s vast benefits in helping to reduce ocean acidity stemming from carbon dioxide emissions, new research has found that too much algae can do a lot of harm to the ocean’s coral reefs. Macroalgae can grow large enough to smother coral, bring in pathogens, cut off oxygen supplies and disrupt other healthy bacteria growing on the coral.

Researchers at the University of Washington came to these conclusions while studying a coral that had to contend with an excessive growth of macroalgae. Publishing their results in PLoS One, they describe this growth as the “slippery slope to slime,” where factors that regularly keep algae growth in check are not sufficient. Pollution and overfishing are two contributors that the researchers cite as contributing to this slimy algae problem.


Air dries out plants during droughts

The air gets thirsty when it’s hot, too. Droughts in the Southwest cause the atmosphere to pull even more moisture away from the plants, which makes it even harder for them to grow.

Without water, the plants take in less carbon dioxide, which makes them weaker and allows insect pests to attack them.

Researchers from the University of Arizona and the U.S. Geological Survey used weather data to see how droughts impacted plant growth.

They found that it was especially hard for plants to grow during dry conditions in low to middle elevations.

As the atmosphere drains an increasing amount of moisture from the plants, it expands and repeats this cycle for even more water, weakening the plants further.


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