Eco-briefs | Nuclear sensors could be used to predict tsunamis and track greenhouse gases

Fish behavior study lead author Tomas Brodin
Photo by Johan Gunseus

A network of sensors used to track nuclear weapons since the Cold War could be used for environmental monitoring instead, according to a study published in Science last week.

The international monitoring system uses more than 254 seismic and water-based sensors to track sound waves, which ripple through the ground after a nuclear explosion. These sensors could have been used, the authors say, to predict the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean that claimed 230,000 lives.

Their study focuses on the sensors’ potential use by the scientific community, but the sensors could also provide a way to avoid governmental control of data, says Christopher Stubbs, an experimental physicist at Harvard University. He envisions citizen scientists, equipped with sensors, contributing to a map of global greenhouse emissions — including in countries unfriendly to emissions tracking.

“Suddenly we find ourselves with 500,000 CO2 sensors distributed around the world without any government intervention whatsoever,” Stubbs told LiveScience.

— Cecelia Gilboy


A common psychiatric medication may affect fish behavior, according to a new study published in Science. Researchers in Sweden exposed wild perch to varying concentrations of Oxazepam, a drug prescribed for anxiety. Like the estrogen from birth control that scientists found “feminizing” fish in Boulder Creek, Oxazepam travels from bathrooms to waterways, escaping wastewater treatment. Researchers reported that fish exposed to Oxazepam became less social and more aggressive eaters. After exposure, “they were totally different fish,” lead author Tomas Brodin told The New York Times.

The repercussions, he says, are unclear. Perch populations could benefit from more aggressive eating habits, or they could be eaten more often, if their chemically induced boldness makes them vulnerable to predators. Their altered behaviors could also affect other species in their ecosystems.

— Cecelia Gilboy


Right-wing billionaires have funneled $120 million through secretive donation channels to fund climate-change skepticism, The Guardian reported last week.

The donations helped create a network of more than 100 think tanks and activist groups intended to re-brand climate change as a partisan issue, rather than a scientific fact.

The funds were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which generally receive donations of more than $1 million.

The chief executive of Donors Trust won’t reveal donors’ names, but their money flows to conservative causes, especially groups opposing environmental regulation and denying human involvement in climate change.

— Cecelia Gilboy