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News and Trends in the Geosciences

 May 2000

News Notes

Field Notes

Runoff warning
Seacoasts and estuaries around the country need  immediate protection from nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, the National Research Council of the National Academies reported April 4. Use of synthetic fertilizers is contributing to more than half of the increase in nitrogen pollution damage since the 1960s. Nitrogen and phosphorous act as limiting nutrients for plant life in marine ecosystems. An abundance of the nutrients can result in an explosion of phytoplankton and other organisms that sop up oxygen from the water. The report found environmental damage along almost all of the nation’s estuaries and found severe problems in Washington, California, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, New York and Massachusetts.

The committee suggests implementing a national strategy to ensure the safety of today’s healthy coastlines and reduce the number of severely damaged areas by at least 25 percent before 2020. More information on the report, “Clean Coastal Waters: Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution,” is available at

Christina Reed

  Manatees in Florida are at high
  risk from red tides caused by 
  excess nutrients, as are some 
  fisheries, coral reefs and other
  marine habitats.
  Patrick Rose, Save the Manatee Club

Icebergs on the move

Peeling off Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, an iceberg nearly the size of the island of Jamaica has polar scientists buzzing. Remote sensing images from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Antarctic Meteorological Research Center show that it is one of the largest ever observed, measuring approximately 183- by 23 miles. Satellite imagery taken on March 30 revealed the massive iceberg’s break-away from the Ross Ice Shelf northeast of Roosevelt Island and not far from U.S. McMurdo Station, the “gateway” station and largest of the three U.S. research stations in Antarctica. University of Chicago researcher Doug MacAyeal is attempting to model the potential path of the iceberg as it drifts away from the ice shelf. Scientists are concerned that the huge iceberg will drift into McMurdo’s shipping lanes, blocking vessels bringing supplies to researchers during the austral summer.

Laura Wright

Detecting nuclear waste

The Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Crated Waste Assay Monitor (CWAM) was installed at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge, Tenn., during March.  CWAM was developed to cut spending on nuclear waste disposal by analyzing crates of nuclear-weapons waste to determine the amount of radioactive material present. Finding crates with allowable radioactive waste amounts will save an estimated $3.7 million each year in transport and off-site disposal, according to the DOE.  Waste is packaged in a 4- by 6-foot steel box and placed inside a device the size of an average car garage, where neutrons are fired at the box for 30 minutes.  The sensitive detectors can find the equivalent of half a packet of sugar  of radioactive material sprinkled into the waste crate, according to Sheila Melton, the device’s creator.

Laura Wright

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