Perfect Weather for Malaria; Fertilizing the Ocean with Iron to Save Salmon

Discovered: The temperature at which malaria thrives; 140 billion cubic meters of gas goes up in flames every year; seafloor methane could rise; could iron boost fish populations?

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Discovered: The temperature at which malaria thrives; 140 billion cubic meters of gas goes up in flames every year; seafloor methane could rise; could iron boost fish populations?

Not too hot, not too cold, just right for spreading malaria. Scientists have long predicted that with rising temperatures, cases of malaria will become more common. But UC Santa Barbara's Kevin Lafferty and colleagues are revising theories about the temperature at which this "rampant" malaria transmission kicks in. It was previously thought that temperature would have to climb to an average of 31°C (88°F) before the epidemic-level spread of malaria kicks in. Lafferty thinks it could come at much lower temperatures, locating the malaria sweet-spot between 25°C and 28°C (77°F and 82°F). "Past models showed the whole world was going to light up with malaria," says Lafferty, who brought variables like insect physiology into his study. "It was quite terrifying." The new findings aren't good for places with mild climates (Europe, the U.S., and African highlands, for example), but actually bode well for more tropical regions that already suffer from widespread malaria. If the world heats up any more, they may be placed above the range at which malaria's spread falls off sharply. [New Scientist]

Can dumping iron into the ocean save salmon? It sounds like a far-fetched solution. But Russ George (chief scientist with the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp.) assures us: To save salmon, we need to unload 110 metric tons of iron dust, 91 metric tons of iron sulfate fertilizer, and 20 metric tons of iron oxide into the ocean. The plan is to recreate the fertilizing effects of a volcanic eruption, which have created conditions that allow plankton to thrive in the past. The plankton boom would trickle up the oceanic food chain, causing a growth in the salmon population. "There are three volcanic events in the last 100 years, and we had record sockeye salmon runs in those three volcanic dust events," George says. "That's pretty good data." But George's plan isn't without its skeptics. The University of British Columbia's phytoplankton researcher Maite Maldonado says of the region George has targeted, "There's not evidence that the region is iron-limited." And Canadian government scientists wrote in a recent paper on plankton surges in the wake of volcanic eruptions, "The 2010 phenomenal run ... may forever remain an enigma due to the lack of precise ecological and chemical data." George is known for previous big-idea environmental projects to abate CO2's rise through reforestation and ocean fertilization. [Scientific American]

Tempers flare over burning gas. The World Bank estimates that gas flaring—the practice of burning off byproduct oil—wastes up to 140 billion cubic meters of gas per year, roughly equivalent to a third of all the gas consumed in the E.U. over the same period. Oil companies flare gas in remote regions that they can't process for consumption, and in doing so they emit about 400 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Today's Global Gas Flaring Reduction conference brought scientists and policy makers together in London, where they resolved to cut gas flaring by 30 percent by 2017. They hope the cuts will approximate the effect of taking 52 million cars off the road. "I think as they are now moving into a phase where their legislation, their companies and their challenges are lining up, they will also be more ready to join the rest of us on this issue," says Hela Norheim, who works with Norway's government oil producer Statoil. [BBC News]

Seafloor methane bubbling up. One of the most dangerous things lurking in the deep isn't a hungry Kraken—it's a frozen form of methane. Off the East Coast in the Warm Gulf Stream, deposits of frozen methane hydrate are already starting to evaporate. Not only would that speed up climate change, but it could also cause underwater erosion and landslides. Southern Methodist University earth scientist Benjamin Phrampus has a new paper out on the phenomenon, which claims that warmed waters of the Gulf of Mexico have heated the seabed by 8 degrees Celsius, unleashing 2.5 billion metric tons of methane. Most of that won't reach the surface of the ocean, or climb into the atmosphere. As U.S. Geological Survey scientist Carolyn Ruppel puts it, "You'd have to add quite a bit of methane to the atmosphere to really move the needle much." But in triggering underwater landslides, these methane releases could increase exponentially and potentially cause tsunamis. [ScienceNews]

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