Here's Evidence That Alberta's Oil Fields Are Polluting the Water

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Discovered: Canadian tar sands impact regional water supplies; therapy doesn't necessarily stop teens from becoming suicidal; first images of the high-energy cosmos; city birds grow up fast.

Tar-sand development pollutes water. A team of researchers from Canada has come up with evidence to confirm environmentalists' worst fears: the controversial tar-sand development in Alberta appears to be polluting water supplies in the region. Queen's University biologist put it this way in a paper published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Assertions that [hydrocarbon pollution] in the [Athabasca River] watershed are entirely caused by natural erosion of bitumen are no longer tenable.

So what is causing the pollution, then? New research shows that hydrocarbon pollution in five lakes near the tar sands went up from 1967 (the year tar sands first opened to development) to 2010. "By linking the rates of increase to rates of oil sands production, there is concern that projected increases in oil sands expansion will cause toxic contaminations to be present in lake sediments in 10 years or so," comments University of Alberta biologist David Schindler. [Scientific American]

Therapy doesn't always erase suicidal impulses in teens. The majority of teens who attempt or plan to attempt suicide have at some point received mental health treatment, a new study in JAMA Psychiatry finds. The scientists involved in the study interviewed 6,000 teenagers across the U.S., finding that one in eight teens has contemplated suicide. The revealing new finding here is that 55 percent of the suicidal teens had at some point been in therapy. "I think one of the take-aways here is that treatment for depression may be necessary but not sufficient to prevent kids from attempting suicide," comments University of Pittsburgh psychiatry professor David Brent. [The New York Times]

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Here's a first look at high-energy cosmos. Images from the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) have been beamed back to Earth, and they give us a look at space that penetrates through interstellar gas and dust better than any telescope has done before. The image to the right—revealed by Cal Tech's Fiona Harrison this week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society—shows the previously unviewable high-energy X-rays coming off the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. These images have a combination of crispness and sensitivity that is orders of magnitude better than ever made before in this region of the electromagnetic spectrum," Harrison says.  [New Scientist]

City light makes birds develop early. When it comes to the birds and the bees, city birds have a head start on their rural counterparts according to new research conducted by Davide Dominoni of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. The reason has to do with artificial light. Dominoni and his colleagues found that male blackbirds kept under city lights in lab conditions started secreting elevated levels of testosterone almost a month earlier than those exposed to natural light. They think the fake light throws a wrench in birds' reproductive clocks, keeping them from resetting at the end of their first breeding season.  [Science News]

Inset image: DSS/JPL-Caltech/NASA 

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