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Seagulls Eat Garbage in Landfills and Then Poop Pollution Into Our Waters

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What goes around comes around. Scientists say chemicals from trash in our landfills are making their way into our waters via the seagulls’ gastrointestinal tracts. A report on this delightful state of affairs was published in the journal Water Research.

We generally stop thinking about our trash the moment the garbage truck comes to collect it. But it doesn’t just disappear. No, our coffee filters and corn-chip bags head to the landfill, where they sit and sit and sit … unless they get eaten first. Then their nutrients, their nitrogen and phosphorus, disappear into an animal’s gullet and reappear on the other side, sometimes a few days later, sometimes miles away—and sometimes in our lakes, rivers, and streams.

Researchers wondered how much of an impact these trash-picking critters could have. They were especially interested in seagulls, whose poop has previously been shown to carry traces of toxic chemicals from our plastic-filled seas.

The first step was to figure out just how many landfill-mooching seagulls we have. Authors Scott Winton and Mark River of the Duke University Wetland Center used documented seagull sightings in the eBird citizen science database to estimate the number of landfill-living gulls across the entire United States. Their calculations came up with about 1.4 million birds.

"But the actual population is probably greater than 5 million,” Winton said in a statement. “That means the amount of nutrients deposited in the lakes, and the costs of preventing or remediating the problem, could be substantially higher."

The scientists then used that 1.4-million figure to calculate the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus the birds might collectively be dumping.

"The idea that gull feces can be a major water quality problem may sound comical—until you look at data from an individual lake," Winton said, noting the impact on North Carolina's Jordan Lake, home to a 14,000-acre state recreation area and more than 1000 campsites. "In Jordan Lake, for instance, we found that a local flock of 49,000 ring-billed gulls deposit landfill feces containing nearly 1.2 tons of phosphorus into the lake annually."

That phosphorus changes the water's chemical composition and could lead to more algae blooms, which can kill off other organisms in the lake’s ecosystem.

Winton and River suggest that rather than clean our waters after they're polluted, a better approach might be to stop the problem at the source: our trash. They recommend limiting landfill size and covering existing garbage heaps to keep the seagulls from ever finding it.

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AI Could Help Scientists Detect Earthquakes More Effectively
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Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earthquakes are becoming more frequent in the U.S. Even though it doesn't fall on a fault line, Oklahoma, where gas and oil drilling activity doubled between 2010 and 2013, is now a major earthquake hot spot. As our landscape shifts (literally), our earthquake-detecting technology must evolve to keep up with it. Now, a team of researchers is changing the game with a new system that uses AI to identify seismic activity, Futurism reports.

The team, led by deep learning researcher Thibaut Perol, published the study detailing their new neural network in the journal Science Advances. Dubbed ConvNetQuake, it uses an algorithm to analyze the measurements of ground movements, a.k.a. seismograms, and determines which are small earthquakes and which are just noise. Seismic noise describes the vibrations that are almost constantly running through the ground, either due to wind, traffic, or other activity at surface level. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between noise and legitimate quakes, which is why most detection methods focus on medium and large earthquakes instead of smaller ones.

But better understanding natural and manmade earthquakes means studying them at every level. With ConvNetQuake, that could soon become a reality. After testing the system in Oklahoma, the team reports it detected 17 times more earthquakes than what was recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake catalog.

That level of performance is more than just good news for seismologists studying quakes caused by humans. The technology could be built into current earthquake detection methods set up to alert the public to dangerous disasters. California alone is home to 400 seismic stations waiting for "The Big One." On a smaller scale, there's an app that uses a smartphone's accelerometers to detect tremors and alert the user directly. If earthquake detection methods could sense big earthquakes right as they were beginning using AI, that could afford people more potentially life-saving moments to prepare.

[h/t Futurism]

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New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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