“Super Sponge” Polymer to Mop Up Oil Spills Created

Something for certain communities to think about using when they inevitably suffer effects of an oil spill, as there are still way too many oil pipelines around the world. It really is stupid for them to still exist at such scale — in the U.S., Keystone XL unfortunately was approved, and in Canada Trudeau keeps campaigning for the oil pipelines, disillusioning a lot of Canadians in the process.

Oil spills could be soaked up by a new floating substance that combines waste from the petroleum industry and cooking oil, according to new research led by South Australia’s Flinders University.

The new polymer, made from sulphur and canola cooking oil, acted like a sponge to remove crude oil and diesel from seawater, according to a new study published in the Advanced Sustainable Systems journal. The polymer can be squeezed to remove the oil and then reused.

The lead researcher, Dr Justin Chalker, said it had the potential to be a cheap and sustainable recovery tool in areas affected by oil spills.

“We anticipate that when we get to economies of scale we will be able to compete in price with other materials that are used to soak up oil,” said Chalker, senior lecturer in synthetic chemistry at Flinders University.

“Our goal is for this to be used globally. It is inexpensive, and we have an eye for it to be used in parts of the world such as the Amazon Basin in Ecuador and the Niger Delta that don’t have access to solutions to oil spills.”

The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation says about 7,000 tonnes of crude oil were spilt into oceans last year.

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The Flinders University research is just six months ago but Chalker said the new polymer had the potential to be less expensive and more sustainable than current clean-up tools such as polypropylene fibres and polyurethane foam.

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New Deep Reef Ocean Zone Discovered

New species of fish are being discovered in what’s being referred to as the Rariphotic zone. Deep reef ecosystems could still be explored much more.

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It’s always been there, but a layer of the ocean is so distinct from the waters above and below it that it needed its own category.

Scientists have just defined the newly named rariphotic zone, a layer of ocean between depths of 130 and 300 metres (400 and 1,000 feet) – a low-light or “twilight zone” in deeper reef regions.

It sits just below the mesophotic zone, between 40 and 150 metres (131 and 492 feet), where medium light penetrates – the optimal waters for tropical coral reefs. And it’s teeming with previously unknown fish – a whole newly discovered ecosystem.

These fish are closely related to reef fish, which researchers didn’t think could live below the mesophotic.

This has led to a hypothesis that the new rariphotic zone may be a refuge for shallower reef fishes seeking respite from the warming waters and coral deterioration caused by climate change.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the ocean, simply because it’s so difficult for us to access. It was only thanks to advances in submersible technology that marine scientists have been able to explore down below the reef off the coast of Curaçao.

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“It’s estimated that 95 percent of the livable space on our planet is in the ocean, yet only a fraction of that space has been explored,” said study lead author Carole Baldwin of the NMNH.

“That’s understandable for areas that are thousands of miles offshore and miles deep. But tropical deep reefs are just below popular, highly studied shallow reefs – essentially our own backyards. And tropical deep reefs are not barren landscapes on the deep ocean floor: they are highly diverse ecosystems that warrant further study. We hope that by naming the deep-reef rariphotic zone, we’ll draw attention to the need to continue to explore deep reefs.”

Unprecedented Oil Spill in the East China Sea

Another dangerous risk of the continued usage of fossil fuels.

Over the last two weeks, the maritime world has watched with horror as a tragedy has unfolded in the East China Sea. A massive Iranian tanker, the Sanchi, collided with a Chinese freighter carrying grain. Damaged and adrift, the tanker caught on fire, burned for more than a week, and sank. All 32 crew members are presumed dead.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities and environmental groups have been trying to understand the environmental threat posed by the million barrels of hydrocarbons that the tanker was carrying. Because the Sanchi was not carrying crude oil, but rather condensate, a liquid by-product of natural gas and some kinds of oil production. According to Alex Hunt, a technical manager at the London-based International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, which assists with oil spills across the world, there has never been a condensate spill like this.

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While studies of condensate’s environmental effects are limited, one lab study found that its toxicity to corals, for example, was greater than expected based on its molecular components.

In the best-case scenario, the fuel will come to the surface in a slick that is massive but thousandths-of-millimeters thin. From there, it would evaporate into the atmosphere. However, as Richard Steiner, an Alaska-based environmental consultant, told BuzzFeed News, “there’s a lot we don’t know about a major condensate spill since we’ve never seen one.” He described a scenario where there was an “invisible, subsurface toxic plume that is spreading outward from the site.”