Athabasca Oil Sands Pollute Nearby Lakes * Finding a Shooting Star * A Fish Climbs with its Mouth * Reconstructing the Olduvai Environment * Manitoba on the Ancient Equator * Question of the Week: Measuring Time

Development of the Alberta Athabasca oilsands has been accompanied by controversy about environmental impacts, including whether the operations are polluting the local environment.  In a new study, Canadian researchers have found what one calls the "smoking gun" that links contaminants in local lakes to oilsands development.  Also today, we'll hear about a little fish that  uses its mouth  to...
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Development of the Alberta Athabasca oilsands has been accompanied by controversy about environmental impacts, including whether the operations are polluting the local environment.  In a new study, Canadian researchers have found what one calls the "smoking gun" that links contaminants in local lakes to oilsands development.  Also today, we'll hear about a little fish that  uses its mouth  to climb a waterfall; and the story of a Canadian meteorite hunter who tracked the fall of a spectacular shooting star.  We'll also learn how climate change might have rocked the cradle of civilization, and how the ancient equator ended up in Manitoba. Plus our Question of the Week, which marks time.

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oilsands.jpgImage copyright and courtesy of Kevin Timoney, Treeline Ecological Research
Commercial production of oil from the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta began in 1967 and has increased steadily since then.  By some industry estimates, production may triple in the next 25 years.  Although the economic benefit from the oil sands is undeniable, the environmental impact has been a source of debate.  Now, a new study by Dr. John Smol, a Professor of Biology at Queen's University in Kingston, and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, and scientists from Environment Canada, has found that sediment in lakes near the oil sands shows a dramatic increase in the level of a toxic chemical called PAH, specific to oil production, since mining of the sands began.  Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH's, are known carcinogens.  The study also concludes that the damaging effects are further reaching than previously thought, as one lake examined is 90 kilometres from the centre of major production.
          
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sutters_meteorites.jpg Meteorite fragments - courtesy NASA Ames Research Center
In April of last year, people across California and Nevada were treated to a spectacular sound and light show, as a meteor, the size of a small car, hit the Earth's atmosphere and broke up into pieces.  Meteorite hunters sprang into action, tracing the fall of the many fragments of this object, and they ultimately found dozens of small pieces.  Now, scientists have analyzed these fragments, and discovered that this was a rare kind of meteorite - a carbonaceous chondrite - that was probably knocked off its parent object near Jupiter fairly recently.  Dr. Peter Brown, from the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Western University in London, was part of the team that analyzed and tracked the object.

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The Nopili rock-climbing goby is a small fish found in Hawaii.  Shortly after the goby hatch in streams above waterfalls, they get washed out into the ocean, where they live for about six months.  At that point, the 2-centimetre-long juveniles need to return to the streams once again, where they live most of their lives above the waterfalls.  A new study by Dr. Richard Blob, a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Clemson University, has revealed the remarkable way the goby are able to climb the rocks of waterfalls, sometimes as high as 100 metres.  These fish climb by using two suckers on its body.  Once is located on its underside, the other is its mouth.  Similar to an inchworm, the goby propels itself upward by alternating these two areas of suction.  The suction created by the mouth is the same mechanism used for scraping algae off rocks when feeding.      

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Reconstructing the Olduvai Environment

Olduvai-Gorge-by-Gail-Ashley.jpg Olduvai Gorge, courtesy Dr. G. Ashley
Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, East Africa, is often considered the cradle of humanity.  Fossils of several early human ancestral species have been discovered there, dating back two million years.  Dr. Gail Ashley, a geologist in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has been working to try to reconstruct the environment of Olduvai Gorge through history, in order to understand the conditions in which these early human species lived and evolved.  In her latest work, she and her colleagues have found sedimentary evidence of a constantly fluctuating climate, from warm to dry, in cycles of 20,000 years.  This, they suspect, may have been one of the things that influenced human evolution, driving adaptation to changing circumstances.


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Manitoba on the Ancient Equator

equator_manitoba.jpgAncient equator 0° running through Manitoba
During the Ordovician period, 450 million years ago, the continents were in very different positions than today.  The equator would have been in the same position relative to the poles, but would have traversed different regions.  Finding its exact location was the subject of a new study by Dr. Philip McCausland, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Western University in London, Ontario.  Using the fact that the equator today is a hurricane-free belt around the Earth, scientists were able to look for evidence of undisturbed trace fossils and shell beds in an equally calm Ordovician equator.  They found them in dolomite limestone deposits, in a line from Northern Greenland, through Manitoba and down into Utah and Nevada - the ancient equator.  During the Ordovician, a largely flooded North America was rotated nearly 90 degrees clockwise, and sat at a more southern latitude.

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Question of the Week: Measuring Time  

This is another edition of our occasional feature, the Quirks Question of the Week.
And today's question comes from Don Wilson in Ottawa, who asks, "What was the first clock maker's standard for one second?"

For the answer, we thought it was time to call Dr. Louis Marmet, Senior Research Officer, with the National Research Council in Ottawa.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0

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