Monthly Archives: February 2018

Rock Moisture

A little studied underground layer of rock may provide a vital reservoir for trees, especially in times of drought.

Researchers took a look at the water stored inside the layer of weathered bedrock that lies under soils in mountain forest ecosystems. This transitional zone beneath the soil but above groundwater is often overlooked. The water contained in the fractures and pores of the rock could play an important part in the water cycle at local and global levels.

Researcher s found that the water in the rock can sustain trees long after the ground is parched. At the test site in Northern California’s Mendocino County scientists found that up to 27% of annual rainfall is stored in the rocks. The impact of the rock moisture can vary depending on the region and topography. However, this moisture probably explains why trees in the study area showed little effect from the severe drought of 2010-2015, which killed more than 100 million trees throughout California.

How trees survived extended periods of extreme drought was always a mystery. Now with this new study revealing large reservoir of trapped water that had gone unnoticed in the past.

Beluga whales are changing their behavior

The loss of sea ice in the Arctic has a clear impact on animals such as polar bears that need the frozen surface for feeding, mating , and migrating. The reduction in sea ice is changing Arctic habitat and affecting other species in more direct ways.

Beluga whales spend their summers in the Arctic feeding. A new study finds they now have to dive deeper and longer than before to find their food than when sea ice-covered more ocean for longer periods. This study is one of the first to consider the indirect effects of sea ice loss on Arctic species that live near the ice, but do not necessarily need it for survival.

Changes in sea ice affect oceanographic properties which in turn affect the distribution, abundance or species composition of prey for Belugas.

There are two genetically distinct beluga populations that winter in the Bering Sea, then swim north in spring as sea ice melts and open water allows passage into the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. In their summer waters they feast on fish and invertebrates.

Researchers were able to collect migration data from the two groups from two different time periods through the use of satellite linked tags. Dive depth data was only collected from the Chukchi group as the tags for the other group did not have this capability.

Sea ice coverage was also recorded during these periods. The sea ice declined rapidly from the first to the second period.

Sea ice loss appears to affect how the Chukchi group dove for their food. They went longer and deeper than before. The belugas might be diving longer and deeper to follow prey that has dispersed or been driven deeper itself from changing ocean conditions. it is also possible that less sea ice means better feeding possibilities. it is unclear whether this change is positive or negative, but it should be noted that these movements are energy costly. Studies are required to establish body condition and overall health.

The good news is that with the almost two decades of data we can say that the belugas are thriving in their summer and fall ocean habitats, despite less ice cover. They have adapted.

Montreal’s Crumbling Watermains

Watermain pipe breaks are common all over the city. Some areas get hit harder than other causing leaks, gushers, floods, and real inconvenience.

Montreal has invested great amounts of money in upgrading its water infra structure, and it shows with less pipes breaking. With help from the federal and provincial governments, the city’s administration has nearly tripled the money for pipe upgrades from $93 million to $261 million over 3 yrs.

The present administration has announced a program to better train blue collar workers to fix pipes more efficiently, and has pumped more money into water related infrastructure. Even so , more has to be done as 13%  of 3,600 kilometres  of pipe are in urgent need of repair/replacement. The city losses millions of litres of treated water to,leaks daily.

Pipes should last between 80-120yrs..Montreal’s pipes are on average 61yrs old, older than other large Canadian cities.

Why do so many pipes break?

There are five main reasons..age, pipe material, soil conditions, freezing water, and “water hammers” the effect caused by sudden valve closure.

Also iron pipes without anti corrosion additives can wear out quickly, and concrete is susceptible to salt corrosion. Montreal in particular has clay heavy soil which expands when wet, so a leaky pipe can cause soil to shift, breaking the pipe. Rocks in the soil can also break pipes.

14 yr old Killer Whale learns to say” Hello”, and more..

Wikie, a 14 yr old Orca who has spent most of her life at a water park in France was used to mimicking her trainer’s actions in exchange for fish. She was perfect to test the theory that killer whales learn sounds from social settings.

The team began by presenting Wikie with sounds that she was familiar with, then new sounds, at each step she succeeded. The ultimate test was to see if she could replicate human sounds.

Click on the videos below and see for yourself how she did.





Salmon hatchlings use geomagnetic field to learn which way is up

Researchers have known for years that salmon use the Earth’s geomagnetic field to guide their migrations, now it has been found out that when the young emerge from gravel nests they use the field to tell them which way is up.

The salmon’s use of the geomagnetic field is important to understand in terms of how salmon navigate across a wide range of habitats. From early in the life cycle the field is important to the fish. This matters because we need to know how rearing conditions might impact the fish, particularly in the case of hatcheries. In hatcheries there has been some evidence that exposure to unnatural magnetic fields can disrupt the ability of steelhead trout to orientate properly. 

Research has shown that in the magnetic sense salmon can be used for 3 dimensional a map, a compass, and an indication of which way is up.

At spawning the females bury their fertilized eggs in the gravel. Upon hatching they remain in the gravel until they deplete their yolk sacks, then they emerge into the open water.

The hatchlings appear to use the electromagnetic field lines to determine which way is up. The magnetic cues are used for 3 dimensional orientation across a wide spectrum of spatial scales and habitats. In previous studies the importance of light, temperature, and current were considered on the hatchlings…all could be used by the fish , but none was essential because in the absence of these clues the fish still moved out of the gravel.

Researchers set up experiments using copper wire coils to simulate an electromagnetic field. Experiments were carried out in darkness and no current. The group of salmon that were exposed to the normal magnetic field moved significantly more than others that were exposed to different conditions.

The conclusion is it seems like salmon use the direction of field lines to orientate vertically during their emergence from the gravel.

The Old Water in the Newspaper Trick Revealed

The weekend is here…challenge your kids to learn this “magic trick”. Good family fun and kills some time.

Protecting Hawaii’s Water Supply.

Recently in Hawaii a group of conservationists made their way through the bog and difficult terrain of the Ka’ala Natural Area Reserve. Their purpose is to reintroduce Native plants to the rainforests, in turn preserving the freshwater.

The water supply in O’ahu has been cut in half in the last 100 years.

That group of conservationists was heading to the highest point on O’ahu to scale down the steep ridges and find places to plant one of Hawaii’s most endangered species…the kamakahala.


The Native Hawaiian forest holds water better than any other forest in Hawaii. In areas of non native forest rain goes right through it and washes the soil away. Native forest traps the water, slows it down, and it gets the chance to percolate into the aquifer where it can be harvested for human use.

Planting native species like the kamakahala is very important to restoring the forest. It is an example of the beautiful native trees and mosses that are the sponge of the local rainforest that work together and provide the fresh water humans require. These plants and tress work in conjunction with each other, if one is missing , problems arise with others.

The experts say that protecting mauka forest areas is the most cost-effective and efficient way to absorb rainwater and replenish groundwater. The less water there is the more expensive it is to harvest, pump it, and supply it to everyone. Without the water there is no agriculture, no economy, no tourism. No one can live without it.

The forests are so critical to the Hawaiian water supply there is even an ancient proverb to describe the relationship. Hahai no ka ua i ka ulula au…meaning ” the rain follows the forest”.

The conservationists want to make sure there is plenty of water for future generations. Water is the source of life and being stuck out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean they have to take very good care of what they have.