Our Antidepressants Are Harming Marine Animals

iStock
iStock

An estimated 13 percent of Americans are currently taking prescription medication for depression, a 65 percent increase since the early 2000s. These drugs typically act as stimulants for neurotransmitters in the brain, which help regulate mood. While the effect is often beneficial for humans, scientists are beginning to learn it's having some unintended consequences for other species.

In a study recently published in Ecology and Evolution and covered by Newsweek, researchers at Portland State University took a closer look at how discarded antidepressants that wind up in inhabited waters impact marine life. The authors introduced fluoxetine, the main ingredient in Prozac, into a laboratory body of water inhabited by Oregon shore crabs, or Hemigrapsus oregonensis. Normally, the crabs are nocturnal foragers, avoiding confrontation and hiding in sediment when predators appear.

After being exposed to the drug, the crabs exhibited a dramatic change in behavior. Instead of shying away from predators—in the lab study, the larger red rock crab—they became more confrontational, increasing the risk of an early death. They also became more active during the day and displayed aggression towards other crabs, engaging in fights.

Drugs like fluoxetine end up in inhabited waters in a number of ways. Some people flush unwanted medication down the toilet, a measure that's even recommended by the FDA when users need to quickly dispose of dangerous drugs like OxyContin. Contamination from trash or human urine and stool can also be sources of pollution; a USGS study published earlier this year found antidepressants in the brains of fish living downstream from wastewater treatment plants. The study's authors warn that increased populations near coastal regions may worsen the issue. It's also unknown how concentrations of several different drugs can combine to alter behavior. Right now, it looks like our solution to one problem—depression—may have a host of ecological repercussions.

[h/t Newsweek]

How to Build an Igloo, According to a Canadian Film From 1949

iStock.com/vovashevchuk
iStock.com/vovashevchuk

Centuries before you started building snow forts in your backyard, the Inuit had mastered using snow as construction material. This 1949 video, produced by the National Film Board of Canada (and with narration that uses some outdated terminology), illustrates how exactly people native to the Arctic can erect warm, temporary homes using nothing but a knife and the snow beneath their feet. The artifact was spotted by The Kid Should See This.

The igloo (or iglu in Inuktitut) in this footage takes around 90 minutes to erect, but a similar structure can be built by a skilled person in as little as 40 minutes. To put together the shelter, the two men carve up firm, packed snow into blocks that are about 2 feet tall, 3 feet wide, and 4 inches thick.

After the first row of blocks is placed in a circle on the ground, the builder slices a section of the blocks to create a slope. Each row that's placed on this foundation will spiral upward, creating a shape in which the blocks support their own weight. By the time the keystone block is fitted into the top, the igloo is strong enough to support the weight of a man.

The final steps are carving a doorway out of the bottom of the structure and plugging up the cracks with additional snow from outside. Even on a frigid Arctic night, the temperature of a well-insulated igloo can reach 40 degrees above the temperature outside. And the warmer the igloo gets over time, the stronger it becomes: The heat from the Sun and the bodies of the inhabitants melt the outer layers of the blocks, and that water eventually freezes to ice, giving the home more insulation and structural integrity.

If you aren't ready to build an igloo, here are some less intimidating snow projects to tackle this winter.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

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