Monday, December 15, 2014

Two new diatom species found in Lonar lake

Two new diatom species found in Lonar lake

PUNE: Scientists have discovered two new species of diatoms - a kind of algae - at Lonar Lake in Buldhana district in Maharashra.

Though the environment of soda lakes is usually considered hostile for living beings, often many photosynthesizing organisms like algae, including diatoms are recorded in these places. The Lonar crater lake is a unique saline soda lake formed when a meteor struck around 50,000 years ago, and the discovery of new species points to the thriving biodiversity of the lake.

Karthick Balasubramanian, a scientist in the plant division at Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) and one of the four researchers who discovered these species, explained that diatoms are one of the most ecologically significant group of organisms and each species is specific to their environment with unique characteristics. "These two species were found to be extremely pollution-tolerant, indicating the presence of large quantities of Nitrogen and Phosphate in the water body," he said.

Scientists from city-based ARI have been studying the microbial biodiversity of this ancient lake for more than a decade.

The two species are named Nitzschia kociolekii and Nitzschia tripudio. The first species is named afterProfessor J Patrick Kociolek, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, a known face of diatom research.

"Diatoms are special types of algae that live inside 'glass houses' - they have hard outer shells made of silicon and oxygen, the same elements that make up glass," Balasubramanian said. These outer casings are made of two half cylinders that fit together like a jewellery box. Inside is a single celled organism that can carry out photosynthesis and they are responsible for almost one fourth of the oxygen produced on Earth.

The other scientists involved in the study were Alakananda Batni from Gubbi Labs, Bangalore, Paul B Hamilton from Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada and Jonathan C Taylor associated with North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa.

The species are characterized by minute structures on its surface, known as areolae on diatom valves, that helps in exchange of gases and nutrients. The areolae and the valve shape state the evolutionary pattern of common species due to extreme environments like saline conditions and nutrients.

"This discovery is also significant as this is a relatively unexplored region of peninsular India," Balasubramanian added. "These species also show environmental importance and can be used as biological indicators, as they thrive in polluted regions and could be endemic to Peninsular India."

Another species of the same organism, Nitzschia williamsii, was recently described from Bangalore lakes by the same team and has also been recorded from Lonar Lake. This indicates that several extreme waterbodies in India, like Mangrove forests, estuaries, and waterfalls, might harbor numerous species endemic to Peninsular India.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Newsweek cover - Planet Reboot: Fighting Climate Change With Geoengineering

Planet Reboot: Fighting Climate Change With Geoengineering

Walking the Plankton

The world’s oceans have countless tiny organisms called phytoplankton. Also known as microalgae, these itty-bitty plants eat carbon dioxide from the water and release oxygen into the ocean as a by-product. Once the phytoplankton blooms take up the carbon from the ocean’s surface, they sink down to the deep ocean, where the carbon is effectively sequestered. They’re so productive that scientists think phytoplankton produce about 50 percent of the oxygen humans breathe.
If we could get phytoplankton to boost their uptake of carbon, it could have a huge global impact—and would be very simple to do. When the tiny plants get a boost of nutrients from the water around them, they eat a lot more carbon. And right now the oceans of the world are low in one particular nutrient—iron—although scientists aren’t sure why. So the phytoplankton aren’t nearly as active as they could be. In fact, when big storms blow iron-rich dust into the oceans, satellites see evidence of phytoplankton blooms in areas where they normally aren’t visible.
Over the past decade there have been more than 12 small-scale experiments in which scientists (and one rogue California businessman named Russ George) dumped iron dust into the ocean to test the hypothesis that phytoplankton could be triggered to wake up and start devouring mass quantities of carbon. All of the experiments (except George’s) showed that there was some benefit to seeding the ocean with iron.
Victor Smetacek, a biological oceanographer at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, contributed to one such study in 2009. Though he says there needs to be a lot more research into ocean seeding, he believes it’s a very promising option. “I’m talking about using a natural mechanism that has already proven itself,” Smetacek says. “We need to harness the biosphere and see where we can apply levers to lift the carpet and sweep some of the carbon under.”

Oddly, however, the ocean-seeding option seems to be a controversial one. Smetacek says that although he believes strongly in its benefits, it has never been a popular option among climate scientists. “This ocean iron fertilization is highly unpopular with technocratic geoengineers because it involves biology. But we have to get the biosphere to help,” he says. “The only thing we can do is try and nudge the biosphere as much as possible and try to open up as many carbon sinks as possible.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Researching diatoms as insulation material

Researching diatoms as insulation material

December 2, 2014
Dr. Mufit Akinc is leading a research effort to find and develop better insulation materials for buildings, appliances and other heating and cooling applications. Photo by the Iowa Energy Center.
Dr. Mufit Akinc is leading a research effort to find and develop better insulation materials for buildings, appliances and other heating and cooling applications. Photo by the Iowa Energy Center.
Dr. Mufit Akinc, a professor ofmaterials science and engineering at Iowa State University, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, are working to develop next-generation insulation materials for freezers, refrigerated trucks, buildings and other heating and cooling applications.
The idea is to replace traditional insulating materials such as foam, fiberglass and synthetic silica with better materials. Akinc figures the improvements could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in energy savings. “This study will contribute directly to energy savings in Iowa and beyond,” Dr. Akinc wrote in a project summary.
Back in his Hoover Hall lab, Dr. Akinc and graduate students Landi Zhong and Boyce Chang are working with the support of a two-year, $76,960 grant from the Iowa Energy Center. Mark Petri, director of the Energy Center, said the grant is part of the center’s new effort to help Iowa researchers compete for much larger research grants.
“The Iowa Energy Center is funded by the state of Iowa to support economic development through advances in renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Petri said. “Anything we can do to improve thermal insulation of buildings would go far to improve energy conservation in the United States.”
Dr. Akinc and his students have focused their attention on vacuum insulation panels. The panels are just an inch or so thick and filled with an insulating powder that’s vacuum-sealed inside a foil cover. The vacuum enhances the insulating properties of the powder by eliminating the air molecules that can transfer heat. That’s how an inch-thick panel can provide as much insulating power as 10 inches of foam.
Dr. Akinc said the most common powder inside the panels is fumed silica, a synthetic nano-sized particle made from sand. But it’s expensive to make. And that makes the panels pricey for some applications, especially insulating homes and buildings. “The insulation industry is very cost-conscious and competitive – and right now the issue is cost.”
That has Dr. Akinc and his research group studying the porosity, surface area, density and other characteristics of low-cost alternatives, including glass fiber, fly ash, glass bubbles and diatomite. The most promising material so far is diatomite, the fossilized remains of single-celled algae called diatoms.
Diatoms have silica cell walls and grow just about anywhere there is water and sunshine. The skeletons they leave behind create diatomite. It’s inexpensive and filled with nanopores, just the material he has been working to find.
Dr. Akinc will soon be studying the material with an even bigger research team. The Iowa Energy Center has awarded another $20,000 to support the work of two more Iowa State researchers, Ulrike Passe, an associate professor of architecture, and Ganesh Balasubramanian, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. They’ll collect data about the new material’s potential energy savings and manufacturability.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Breakthrough Nanotechnology to Greatly Reduce Pond Maintenance

Breakthrough Nanotechnology to Greatly Reduce Pond Maintenance

Release Date: November 25th, 2014
It is not every day we come across a product that will save you so much time in your pond cleaning routine. Using the power of Diatoms a natural bio filter, Nualgi Ponds stimulates the growth of these microorganisms that give off O2 and consume C02 for healthier and happier fish.
For the past year, Nualgi has been naturally reducing algae in ponds and aquariums across the world with positive reports stating, “I haven’t experienced such a rapid change in all my years…that very dark green thick water in my 3000 gallon holding pond cleared by 60% in less than 14 hours”
Nualgi Ponds Naturally Improves the Aquatic Food Chain
It creates a natural micro food chain that is beneficial to both koi Fish and aquatic plants and even contributes to reducing detritus levels in the pond. Some users experience overnight effects while others wait about 5 weeks depending on the light that the pond receives. After you begin dosing Nualgi the savings will begin to amount as a direct result of not having to buy all the different chemicals. Nualgi’s formula is certified non-toxic by the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research and has successfully been used in large lakes and rivers in India for over ten years. However, adoption in the United States has been limited to private buyers of their Nualgi Aquarium & Nualgi Ponds products due to regulatory approval procedures.
Fight to Eliminate Global Water Pollution
Taking the first major step towards getting the United States to approve Nualgi’s use in fighting the water pollution in our lakes, rivers, bays, and oceans, Nualgi has secured facilities and a team of research scientists from Mississippi State University to perform a yearlong study. This double-blind study will be led by the aquaculture and fisheries staff at MSU to review Nualgi’s safety and effectiveness at reducing water pollution and improving water conditions in a commercial aquaculture setting. Independent aquaculture consultant and leader of the research study, Tom Frese, founder of AquaSol, Inc., is encouraged by the possibilities of large-scale application of this type of nanotechnology. "Water quality management in aquaculture is critical to environmental sustainability as well as commercial success. Nualgi is a promising and rather unique product that has the potential to be an important tool in every farm manager’s toolbox. We look forward to leading the independent study of Nualgi's products in aquaculture."
Help Fund Vital Research for Aquaculture
To help fund the Mississippi State University research study and allow Nualgi to begin treating harmful algae blooms in public waterways, they launched a Kickstarter campaign that will run for two weeks, from Nov. 24th - Dec, 8th 2014. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness as well as generate $100,000 to fund the double-blind research study at MSU. The possibilities are endless for this technology with long term goals including waste water treatment, food processors, aquaculture, foliar fertilizers and beyond. For the pond maintenance professional this product is revolutionary for fish health/vibrancy, plant growth, algae removal, and overall water quality management. Include this new technology to take advantage of the benefits immediately in your ponds for less maintenance, healthier fish, and severely less algae buildup!
Nualgi America, Inc. is the licensed distributor of Nualgi™ products in North America and the maker of Nualgi AquariumTM & Nualgi PondsTM. Support Nualgi and their mission to improve the world’s waterways at the source by donating to their Kickstarter campaign at
For more information contact:
Andrew Rowland

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Great Video about Diatoms

Video - The Diatomist on Vimeo

THE DIATOMIST is a short documentary about Klaus Kemp, master of the Victorian art of diatom arrangement.
Diatoms are single cell algae that create jewel-like glass shells around themselves. Microscopists of the Victorian era would arrange them into complex patterns, invisible to the naked eye but spectacular when viewed under magnification.The best of these arrangements are stunning technical feats that reveal the hidden grandeur of some of the smallest organisms on Earth. Klaus Kemp has devoted his entire life to understanding and perfecting diatom arrangement and he is now acknowledged as the last great practitioner of this beautiful combination of art and science. THE DIATOMIST showcases his incredible work.
Soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bernard Herrmann and Cults Percussion Ensemble.
MATTHEW KILLIP is an English filmmaker living in New York. His documentaries have been broadcast on UK television and exhibited in festivals including Sundance and True/False.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shift in Arabian Sea Plankton May Threaten Fisheries

This is one of the few reports that clearly state that Diatoms have declined and other phytoplankton have increased.

Shift in Arabian Sea Plankton May Threaten Fisheries

Growing "Dead Zone" Could Short-Circuit Food Chain

A growing "dead zone" in the middle of the Arabian Sea has allowed plankton uniquely suited to low- oxygen water to take over the base of the food chain. Their rise to dominance over the last decade could be disastrous for the predator fish that sustain 120 million people living on the sea's edge.
The rise of <em>Noctiluca scintillans </em>at the base of the Arabian Sea food chain threatens fisheries in Oman and other countries bordering the sea. (Joaquim Goes)
The rise of Noctiluca scintillans at the base of the Arabian Sea food chain threatens fisheries in Oman and other countries bordering the sea. (Joaquim Goes)
Scientists at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and their colleagues are the first to document the rapid rise of green Noctiluca scintillans, an unusual dinoflagellate that eats other plankton and draws energy from the sun via microscopic algae living within its cells. Noctiluca's thick blooms color the Arabian Sea an emerald green each winter, from the shores of Oman on the west, to India and Pakistan on the east.
In a study published this week in Nature Communications, the researchers show how the millions of green algae living within Noctiluca's cells allow it to exploit an oxygen-starved dead zone the size of Texas. They hypothesize that a tide of nutrient-rich sewage flowing from booming cities on the Arabian Sea is expanding the dead zone and feeding Noctiluca's growth.
"These blooms are massive, appear year after year, and could be devastating to the Arabian Sea ecosystem over the long-term," said the study's lead author, Helga do Rosario Gomes, a biogeochemist at Lamont-Doherty.
Winter blooms of <em>Noctiluca</em> are so vast they can be seen from space. (Norman Kuring, NASA)
Winter blooms of Noctiluca are so vast they can be seen from space. (Norman Kuring, NASA)
Until recently, photosynthetic diatoms supported the Arabian Sea food chain. Zooplankton grazed on the diatoms, a type of algae, and were in turn eaten by fish. In the early 2000s, it all changed. The researchers began to see vast blooms ofNoctiluca and a steep drop in diatoms and dissolved oxygen in the water column. Within a decade, Noctiluca had virtually replaced diatoms at the base of the food chain, marking the start of a colossal ecosystem shift.
Green Noctiluca lives in the tropics while its close relative, red Noctiluca scintillans, whose blooms can sometimes kill fish with their high ammonia content, prefers temperate waters. Green Noctiluca is remarkably willing to eat anything. It feeds on other plankton, living or dead, flushing diatoms and other plankton into its gullet with a flick of its flagellum. It also draws energy from the millions of green algae, or "endosymbionts," living within its transparent cell walls. The algae fix carbon from sunlight and pass the energy, like rent, on to their host.
A varied diet gives Noctiluca its edge. "They can swim down to find nutrients, up to find light, and they can eat other small organisms," said Sharon Smith, a plankton ecologist at the University of Miami who works in the Arabian Sea but was not involved in the study.
To understand the key to Noctiluca's success, the researchers spent three successive winters aboard the Indian research ship Sagar Sampada, starting in 2009. Sailing off the coast of Goa, they sampled blooms and performed experiments. Putting Noctilucaand itsdiatom competitors in oxygen-starved water they found that Noctiluca's carbon-fixation rate rose by up to 300 percent while the diatoms' fell by nearly as much. They also found Noctiluca grew faster in light than in dark, thanks to its sun-loving endosymbiont-algae, which are thought to have evolved 1.3 billion years ago on an oxygen-scarce Earth.
The researchers tried to also identify Noctiluca's predators. They had heard reports of Omani fishermen seeing more gelatinous salps, jellyfish and sea turtles. Could they be eating the Noctiluca? Scooping up several salps from the sea, the researchers dropped them into buckets of seawater thick with Noctiluca blooms. In an hour, the water became visibly clearer. By measuring the drop in chlorophyll, the researchers estimated that one salp can polish off about two-thirds of a bucket of Noctiluca in an hour.  
"They chowed on Noctiluca, like rabbits in a lettuce patch," said Gomes. "This is a creature that few other marine animals want to eat."
Noctiluca is too big for the crustacean grazers that normally feed on diatoms, leading to concerns that it could spawn an alternate food chain lacking the predator fish people like to eat.  Many fisheries in the Arabian Sea are already on a slow decline. Eighty-five percent of fishermen surveyed in the fishing-dependent states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra in India reported a smaller catch from 20 years and 12 years earlier, according to a 2014 study in the journal Oryx. Similarly, a rise in puffer fish off the coast of the Indian state of Kerala has been attributed to a crash in predator cobia fish since 2007, according to a 2013 study in Current Science. In Oman, the catch of large fish fell 18 percent in 2013 from the year before, the Times of Oman reported.
When Noctiluca isn't feasting on plankton, it grabs free energy from the millions of green algae living within its cells. (Joaquim Goes)
When Noctiluca isn't feasting on plankton, it grabs free energy from the millions of green algae living within its cells. (Joaquim Goes)
Whether Noctiluca or overfishing is to blame, one major factor stands out: massive sewage flows into the Arabian Sea as the coastal population has exploded. As the study authors point out, Mumbai's population has doubled to 21 million in the last decade. The region now sends 63 tons of nitrogen and 11 tons of phosphorus into the Arabian Sea each day. Karachi's 15 million people send 70 percent of their wastewater into the sea untreated. Much of the fertilizer used to boost yields on farms in South Asia also eventually washes into rivers that drain into the sea.
"All of these cities are growing so rapidly they don't have the capacity to treat their sewage," said study coauthor Joaquim Goes, a biogeochemist at Lamont-Doherty. "The amount of material being discharged is humongous."
From the Gulf of Mexico to Chesapeake Bay, dead zones and degraded fisheries are on the rise globally. Doubling in size each decade, and now covering more than 95,000 square miles, they are "probably a key stressor on marine ecosystems," according toa 2008 study in Science. Shifting ocean currents due to climate change can make the problem worse by dredging up nutrients from the ocean bottom.
The Arabian Sea fishery may already be in decline. In Goa, India, women sort through the morning catch. (Joaquim Goes)
The Arabian Sea fishery may already be in decline. In Goa, India, women sort through the morning catch. (Joaquim Goes)
In the Arabian Sea, stronger summer monsoon winds have boosted algae growth by bringing more nutrients from the deep ocean to the surface. In a2005 study in Science, Goes, Gomes and colleagues showed that biomass from summer blooms off Somalia, Yemen and Oman, jumped nearly 350 percent between 1997 and 2004. They hypothesize that receding snow cover in the Himalaya-Tibetan plateau is making the Indian subcontinent hotter in summer compared to the Arabian Sea, strengthening the winds that blow toward India, bringing up more nutrients off Somalia, Yemen and Oman.
The researchers expected gentler monsoon winds in winter, as the process reversed itself, leading to fewer algae blooms. But NASA satellite maps showed just the opposite: more winter blooms. After several years of sampling what they thought were sporadic Noctiluca blooms, the researchers realized in 2006 that the blooms seen from space were not diatoms but recurring Noctiluca blooms.
They wondered if falling oxygen levels could explain the diatom-to-Noctiluca shift. Sure enough, the experiments aboard theSagar Sampada seemed toconfirm their hypothesis.
The study has attributed much of Noctiluca's rise to growing sewage flows into the Arabian Sea, an intriguing connection that should be followed up on, says Andrew Juhl, a microbiologist at Lamont-Doherty who was not involved in the study. "It's unusual for Noctiluca to bloom in the open sea and return year after year," he said "All of these observations suggest that something dramatic has changed in the Arabian Sea."
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, Indian Space Research Organization and India's Council of Industrial Research. Other authors: Prabhu Matondkar, National Institute of Oceanography in Goa; Edward Buskey, University of Texas at Austin; Subhajit Basu, Goa University; Sushma Parab, Kent State University and Prasad Thoppil, Stennis Space Center.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rising CO2 Levels Will Intensify Phytoplankton Blooms in Eutrophic and Hypertrophic Lakes

Rising CO2 Levels Will Intensify Phytoplankton Blooms in Eutrophic and Hypertrophic Lakes


Harmful algal blooms threaten the water quality of many eutrophic and hypertrophic lakes and cause severe ecological and economic damage worldwide. Dense blooms often deplete the dissolved CO2 concentration and raise pH. Yet, quantitative prediction of the feedbacks between phytoplankton growth, CO2 drawdown and the inorganic carbon chemistry of aquatic ecosystems has received surprisingly little attention. Here, we develop a mathematical model to predict dynamic changes in dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), pH and alkalinity during phytoplankton bloom development. We tested the model in chemostat experiments with the freshwater cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa at different CO2 levels. The experiments showed that dense blooms sequestered large amounts of atmospheric CO2, not only by their own biomass production but also by inducing a high pH and alkalinity that enhanced the capacity for DIC storage in the system. We used the model to explore how phytoplankton blooms of eutrophic waters will respond to rising CO2 levels. The model predicts that (1) dense phytoplankton blooms in low- and moderately alkaline waters can deplete the dissolved CO2concentration to limiting levels and raise the pH over a relatively wide range of atmospheric CO2conditions, (2) rising atmospheric CO2 levels will enhance phytoplankton blooms in low- and moderately alkaline waters with high nutrient loads, and (3) above some threshold, rising atmospheric CO2 will alleviate phytoplankton blooms from carbon limitation, resulting in less intense CO2 depletion and a lesser increase in pH. Sensitivity analysis indicated that the model predictions were qualitatively robust. Quantitatively, the predictions were sensitive to variation in lake depth, DIC input and CO2 gas transfer across the air-water interface, but relatively robust to variation in the carbon uptake mechanisms of phytoplankton. In total, these findings warn that rising CO2 levels may result in a marked intensification of phytoplankton blooms in eutrophic and hypertrophic waters.