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Scientists Solve Riddle of Toxic Algae Blooms

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the bet-that-lake's-no-longer-pristine dept.

Earth 237

An anonymous reader writes with an excerpt from the Victoria Times Colonist: "After a remarkable 37-year experiment, University of Alberta scientist David Schindler and his colleagues have finally nailed down the chemical triggers for a problem that plagues thousands of freshwater and coastal ecosystems around the world." Punchline: "Phosphorus."

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Irony! (5, Interesting)

Redfeather (1033680) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290495)

This week's lesson: this discovery comes not long after phosphorus was eliminated from most household laundry detergents by federal law.

According to a chemistry major I know, adding one gram or so of phosphorus can cause more devastating algae ownage than adding two or three kilograms of carbon.

Re:Irony! (4, Funny)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290529)

According to a chemistry major I know, adding one gram or so of phosphorus can cause more devastating algae ownage

Algae ownage? I'd love to read that guy's thesis!

Re:Irony! (5, Funny)

NeuroManson (214835) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291013)

I'm guessing that's British for "Pwnage", correct?

Re:Irony! (5, Funny)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292197)

Actually, I believe the British spelling is 'aenage'.

Re:Irony! (4, Funny)

ePhil_One (634771) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292725)

Its all part of the hip new lingo coming out of the "City of New Jersey"..

One dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is about the size of the city of New Jersey and growing.

Re:Irony! (1)

roaddemon (666475) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292247)

Actually, I think it's 2008 for Pwnage.

Re:Irony! (4, Informative)

Remus Shepherd (32833) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290809)

This week's lesson: this discovery comes not long after phosphorus was eliminated from most household laundry detergents by federal law.

Federal law in America and in most of Europe, apparently. I wonder how much of the developing world still uses phosphorus-based detergents?

Re:Irony! (4, Informative)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291065)

Unfortunately, it is one of the major ingredients in fertilizer. In rural farming comunities, the problems with algea can get very severe from farmers over-fertilizing their fields. The algea bloom might be many, many miles down a river, from the combination of many different farms.

What?!? (4, Insightful)

PRMan (959735) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292261)

It took 37 years to figure out that fertilizer helps plants grow?

The plants, they won't grow...

I'm no scientist...but have you tried, water?

Re:What?!? (4, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292377)

What, like out of the toilet?

Re:Irony! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24292501)

Fortunately, many brands of fertilizer are now eliminating this potentially dangerous substance. It's good for their business since they're advertising it as safer for the environment, and the advertising works -- at least with the younger generations who shop where I work.

Re:Irony! (5, Insightful)

Atari400 (1174925) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291943)

It's not irony, it's phosphorousy!

Re:Irony! (1)

ikono (1180291) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292303)

rimshot! [instantrimshot.com]

Re:Irony! (3, Funny)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292523)

This week's lesson: this discovery comes not long after phosphorus was eliminated from most household laundry detergents by federal law.

FTFA, this discovery "comes not long after" experiments done in the 1960's and 1970's.

Batman (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24290509)

Asia Ferguson waited. The lights above him blinked and sparked out of the air. There were coasters in the park. He didn't see them, but had expected them now for years. His warnings to Dad were not listenend to and now it was too late. Far too late for now, anyway.
Asia was a hat wearing nigga for fourteen years. When he was young he watched the coasters and he said to dad "I want to be on the coasters daddy."
Dad said "No! You will BE KILL BY COASTERS"
There was a time when he believed him. Then as he got oldered he stopped. But now in the park at the base of the coaster he knew there were coasters.
"This is DAD" the radio crackered. "You must fight the coasters!"
So Asia gotted his hat and climbed up the wall.
"HE GOING TO KILL US" said the coasters
"I will shoot at him" said the coaster and he fired the a line of cars. Asia nigged at him and tried to blew him up. But then the ceiling fell and they were trapped and not able to kill.
"No! I must kill the coasters" he shouted
The radio said "No, John. You are batman"
And then John dead.

Re:Batman (1)

DahGhostfacedFiddlah (470393) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290621)

Weird, but I sorta want to know what the hell that was...

Re:Batman (1)

Redfeather (1033680) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290907)

Asia Ferguson was killed by a roller coaster. [News Link [chordata.info] ]

I have NO IDEA where the bloody Batman thing comes from.

Re:Batman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24290955)

Batman was the roller coaster.

Re:Batman (1)

strelitsa (724743) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291615)

Very odd link you posted there - chock full of gems like this one:

What Asia LeeShawn Ferguson IV's favorite book or TV show? ...

Duck or The Ultimate Haircut?

If Asia LeeShawn Ferguson IV could have any job, what do you think he/she could have done? ...

Professional Darwin Award winner Emeritus?

We can't kill... (1, Funny)

Notquitecajun (1073646) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290515)

But we can't go and kill all that innocent algae! Humanity is a blight and we must take it as our just desserts! /off whacky enviro rant.

City of... what? (5, Funny)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290523)

From TFA:
There are now 146 coastal regions in the world in which fish and bottom-feeding life forms have been entirely eliminated because of a lack of oxygen. One dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is about the size of the city of New Jersey and growing.

I can understand dumbing-down the units of measure to Volkswagens or Libraries of Congress, but the last time I looked at Wikipedia, New Jersey was still the 3rd state admitted to the Union [wikipedia.org] . I mean, come on... it's already the brunt of every New York comedian's jokes, and now you Brits are trying to demote it to a mere "city"?

(Of course, I'm from Texas, where an "area the size of the STATE of New Jersey" would barely be counted as a moderate-sized ranch.)

Re:City of... what? (4, Informative)

xpuppykickerx (1290760) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290575)

New Jersey, Northumberland, New Brunswick, Canada This is an article from Canada after all.

Satire (5, Funny)

BitterOldGUy (1330491) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290721)

New Jersey, Northumberland, New Brunswick, Canada This is an article from Canada after all.

I'm taking it as a very clever form of satire: confusing New Jersey as a state versus a city; confusing Canada with England.

I mean, it's pretty obvious that it's a Canadian article because it's in English and Canada is the only state in the Union that speaks English.

Re:Satire (1)

code addict (312283) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290801)

Not to mention the article is hosted at canada.com

Re:Satire (4, Funny)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291373)

That proves nothing! It could have been spoofed by those New Mexicans! They are always invading America. They are worse than the old Mexicans.

Re:Satire (1)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291195)

I'm taking it as a very clever form of satire: confusing New Jersey as a state versus a city; confusing Canada with England.

Um yes, yes, YES.

Clever satire. Exactly what I meant.

(at least that's what I told myself after I pushed the "submit" button...)

Re:Satire (1)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292441)

Am I the only one who doesn't get this? Are you trying to imply the article isn't Canadian in origin? What does the 'confusing Canada with England' line mean?

Re:Satire (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292443)

I'm taking it as a very clever form of satire: confusing New Jersey as a state versus a city; confusing Canada with England.

I mean, it's pretty obvious that it's a Canadian article because it's in English and Canada is the only state in the Union that speaks English.

I'm taking that as very clever satire. It's pretty obvious you confused a country with something that can speak!

Re:Satire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24292659)

Canada is the only state in the Union that speaks English.

I see you haven't visited Newfoundland yet...

Re:City of... what? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24291049)

From TFA:
There are now 146 coastal regions in the world in which fish and bottom-feeding life forms have been entirely eliminated because of a lack of oxygen. One dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is about the size of the city of New Jersey and growing.

I can understand dumbing-down the units of measure to Volkswagens or Libraries of Congress, but the last time I looked at Wikipedia, New Jersey was still the 3rd state admitted to the Union [wikipedia.org] . I mean, come on... it's already the brunt of every New York comedian's jokes, and now you Brits are trying to demote it to a mere "city"?

(Of course, I'm from Texas, where an "area the size of the STATE of New Jersey" would barely be counted as a moderate-sized ranch.)

In defense of New Jersey vs Texas, while you have the size advantage on us, we have waaaaaay more toxic Super-Fund sites here, thus ensuring our mutated progeny a leg-up (or tentacle/webbed appendage)on you soon-to-be extinct bipeds from the Lone Star State.

THey are catching up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24292445)

SO give them a lil more time

Re:City of... what? (5, Funny)

ak_hepcat (468765) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291273)

'Course, I'm from Alaska, where an area the size of Texas would be a moderate-sized park.

Oh, SNAP!

Although we like Canada over here next door. They're like the sassy ol' widow that bakes fresh pie and leaves it on the windowsill for us.

Re:City of... what? (5, Funny)

philspear (1142299) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292703)

I'm from california. Where are Texas, Alaska, and Canada? Are they in the valley?

Re:City of... what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24292823)

Awww...that's sweet! Thanks!

I'll just go put on some hash brownies for you!

Re:City of... what? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24291399)

I'm from Alaska - If we made Alaska into two states, Texas would be the third largest state in the union.

Re:City of... what? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24291777)

which one would have people in it?

Re:City of... what? (5, Funny)

tzot (834456) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292087)

Both. Michael would stay in the bigger new state, and Billy would be in the other.

Re:City of... what? (1)

fitten (521191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291525)

Yeah... keep it up and Alaska will split into two states and move Texas from the #2 state to the #3 state in area. ;)

Re:City of... what? (3, Funny)

ratnerstar (609443) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291899)

Good morning Canada, how are you?
Don't you know me, I'm your neighbor below
I'm the state you called the city of New Jersey
and I've got 500 miles of phosphorus glow

Re:City of... what? (1)

saforrest (184929) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291909)

I mean, come on... it's already the brunt of every New York comedian's jokes, and now you Brits are trying to demote it to a mere "city"

Um, the article is from the Victoria Times-Colonist, in British Columbia, Canada. The fact that the domain name is "canada.com" might have been a tip-off. While Victoria is more British than most Canadian cities, it's still run by us colonials.

I'm assuming it was the extra vowels in "phosphorous" which made you think it was British. We Canadians are remarkably inconsistent in our chemical nomenclature... I personally would write "sulphur" (British) but "aluminum" and "phosphorus" (American).

Jersey City (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24291939)

Maybe they meant Jersey City - it's sometimes called city of New Jersey by outsiders.

Re:City of... what? (1)

rfc11fan (922027) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292055)

Texans should beware: There's a move afoot to split Alaska in two, making Texas the THIRD largest state.

Re:City of... what? (1)

Goobermunch (771199) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292609)

Of course, I'm from Alaska, where we joke that someday we'll cut Alaska in half and make Texas the third largest state in the union.

--AC

At least they solved the mystery (1)

xpuppykickerx (1290760) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290537)

So that terrible M. Night Shyamalan garbage won't become a reality.

Re:At least they solved the mystery (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292559)

> So that terrible M. Night Shyamalan garbage won't become a reality.

I checked, and unfortunately the movie still exists. (Man, that's 91 minutes I'll never see again.)

Who knew (4, Funny)

Narpak (961733) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290539)

Not only does the government have to pull out all stops to control phosphorous, he says, it needs to protect wetlands that remove these nutrients from runoff before they reach lakes and streams. It also needs to set up rules that create natural buffer zones that protect lakes and rivers from agricultural, municipal and cottage developments.

Who knew that pumping phosphorous and toxic waste into the rivers and ocean would have negative consequences.

Re:Who knew (2, Interesting)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290625)

What's interesting is that I was taught this over eight years ago, and I'm certain the information was available before that. The only thing new about this is the name on the research paper.

Re:Who knew (2, Informative)

maestro371 (762740) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291155)

Not really a new name; the article indicates that this is a re-examination by the same folks who published the study in the 70s to combat the concept that nitrogen was a significant culprity. They wanted to re-emphasize that it's phosphorous that's the real issue and that nitrogen control usually just exacerbates the problem.

Re:Who knew (2, Informative)

mikael (484) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292231)

Common sense would tell you that if a lake was pristine before someone started using fertilizers on farm fields, and that there were algae blooms after that time, that it was something to do with the fertilizers. Most articles in the past have talked about fertilizers and nitrates.

What the scientist guy has done, is proved scientifically through trial and error, that it is the phosphorous alone, and not anything else that controls how large the algae blooms get. If other scientists can reproduce his experiment, he gets to publish the paper with his name on it.

Re:Who knew (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24292361)

What the scientist guy has done, is re-proved scientifically through trial and error...

There. Fixed it for ya.

Re:Who knew (1)

OS24Ever (245667) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291871)

Almost every Marine Aquarium enthusiast with half a brain.

It's always in big print in all the materials if you want anything prettier than nemo.

Re:Who knew (1)

parcel (145162) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292071)

Who knew that pumping phosphorous and toxic waste into the rivers and ocean would have negative consequences.

It's not "negative consequences", it's Localised Phosphorus Content Change.

Common knowledge? (2, Insightful)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290611)

Isn't the fact that phosphorus stimulates algae growth, which suffocates other lifeforms, common knowledge? I seem to recall being taught this in school...

Re:Common knowledge? (2, Informative)

wiggles (30088) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290675)

Right -- Phosphate free soaps have been on the market for environmentally minded people for years: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/03/ask_treehugger_whats_the_dirt_on_phosphate-free_soaps.php [treehugger.com]

The City of Chicago even banned (but can't enforce) phosphates in soap since the 70's: http://whoshomewithyourkids.blogspot.com/2007/07/dish-washing-detergents.html [blogspot.com]

Re:Common knowledge? (1)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291191)

Kudos to Chicago then, for keeping excess phosphorus off of all the farmland within city limits!

Re:Common knowledge? (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290813)

Yeah, I can remember being told when I was growing up (back in the early 90s!) that phosphorous was directly linked to explosive growth of blue-green algae, which would choke out all other life in a body of water by sucking all of the free O2 out of it.

I'm guessing that this is a case of a scientist finally nailing down the exact biological process for something we've already known--we knew that phosphorous caused algae to grow, but we didn't know why exactly.

Re:Common knowledge? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24290935)

I'm guessing that this is a case of a scientist finally nailing down the exact biological process for something we've already known--we knew that phosphorous caused algae to grow, but we didn't know why exactly.

Actually, the news-worthy part of this is... that it's JUST phosphorous.

Many areas have phosphorous and nitrogen removal strategies, assuming both contribute to blooms.

This guys research shows that removing nitrogen from the effluent may actually worsen the situation.

When you've got people building $60M processing plants to control algae blooms... and the plant will actually end up creating them when you're done... that's news :D

Re:Common knowledge? (4, Funny)

notnAP (846325) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291397)

phosphorus leads to flora growth? They ought to look into using that stuff in fertilizers.

Re:Common knowledge? (1)

jason.sweet (1272826) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292131)

I seem to recall being taught this in school...

about 37 years ago.

Re:Common knowledge? (1)

not_potable (916929) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292137)

Yes. It's been known at least since my high school days 8 years ago that phophorus (fertilizer runoff was specifically mentioned) will cause huge algal bloom. The way this study was summarized in the article it really isn't anything new - and there was certainly no "riddle" to it.

Re:Common knowledge? (2, Informative)

Chosen Reject (842143) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292829)

Here are select quotes from the article:

Schindler seemed to solve the problem ... in the 1960s and early 1970s.

That might have been the end of the debate. But over the years, the idea that nitrogen removal is needed to control the chemical buildup that causes algae blooms ... has persisted.

Schindler's latest series of long-term experiments shows that nitrogen removal completely fails to control blue-green algae blooms.

Nitrogen control, he found, only encouraged algae blooms.

So yes, it was already known that phosphorous causes the problems, and it was known well before you went to high school 8 years ago. In fact, it was known before you were born, and it was discovered by this very scientist. His latest studies are showing however that it is the phosphorous and phosphorous alone that causes it. Nitrogen doesn't cause it or even contribute to the problem like people previously thought. Quite the contrary, nitrogen control worsens the problem.

Alternate punchline: nitrogen (5, Informative)

OglinTatas (710589) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290613)

I was wondering what was so important about this study because the effects of phosphorous on aquatic life have been known for decades (hence the phosphate ban on detergents) but then I RTFA (which also mentioned the ban) and what the experiment really showed was that efforts to control nitrogen runoff are useless because it turns out nitrogen is not the problem (the implication being we are wasting money^Weffort controlling it).

Bottom line: nitrogen is not the problem, phosphorous is _still_ the problem and needs more effective pollution control measures.

Re:Alternate punchline: nitrogen (1)

diverscuba023 (615113) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291183)

If you RTFA then you will see that the removal of nitrogen without the removal of phosphorous seems to make the problem worse.

Re:Alternate punchline: nitrogen (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24292835)

The title of the summary and the summary itself are still misleading. The study has not found the chemical triggers for what makes a normally harmless harmless bloom turn on toxin production. We just have even more confirmation that algae like P. Nothing new there. As for the control of N: Several varieties of toxic cyanobacteria (toxic reshwater blooms are primarily cyanobacteria) have nitrifying bacteria living symbiotically. You can't effectively limit their N as a result and they flourish in N starved conditions. Being a researcher in the field I am pretty surprised that this study is getting any sort of mainstream press. The questions are truly still unanswered. We still look for the chemical cues for toxin production...

Why is this a plague?? (4, Interesting)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290629)

Harvest the stuff. Make fuel out of it. It's way better than using corn. You're throwing away free gas...ok diesel.

Re:Why is this a plague?? (1)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290755)

Why is this a plague??

because it kills stuff, lots of stuff to be specific

Re:Why is this a plague?? (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290837)

So do we. Doesn't mean we should kill ourselves off though. Algae is a big solution to our fuel problems. And it's pretty and green. And it absorbs CO2, no?

Re:Why is this a plague?? (4, Informative)

thelexx (237096) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290993)

Words fail. From the Red Tide wiki page:

"Marine and fresh waters teem with life, much of it microscopic, and most of it harmless; in fact, it is this microscopic life on which all aquatic life ultimately depends for food. While most of these species of phytoplankton and cyanobacteria are harmless, there are a few dozen that create potent toxins given the right conditions. Harmful algal blooms may cause harm through the production of toxins or by their accumulated biomass, which can affect co-occurring organisms and alter food-web dynamics. Impacts include human illness and mortality following consumption of or indirect exposure to HAB toxins, substantial economic losses to coastal communities and commercial fisheries, and HAB-associated fish, bird and mammal mortalities. To the human eye, blooms can appear greenish, brown, and even reddish- orange depending upon the algal species, the aquatic ecosystem, and the concentration of the organisms."

Re:Why is this a plague?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24291687)

Mod parent up. Being "against" toxic algae blooms isn't about some kind of liberal anticapitalist touchy feely "Kill Ourselves to Save the Earth from CO2" crap, that shit kills us.

Re:Why is this a plague?? (2, Interesting)

RingDev (879105) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290995)

Yes, but we can grow more efficient hydrocarbon eating algae in isolated raceway ponds in the desert where they will have no effect on other organisms. The type of algae being produced in these dead zones is no where near as efficient in the bio diesel production loop.

In addition, using these highly specialized algae as an emissions filter for coal fed power plants can have a huge effect on existing power production emissions with out running the risks or costs associated with converting to a different source of centralized power.

-Rick

Re:Why is this a plague?? (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292141)

The type of algae being produced in these dead zones is no where near as efficient in the bio diesel production loop.

Yeah, but there's lots of it and it's causing problems with its existence. If it could be harvested and put to use it'd be a good thing.

Re:Why is this a plague?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24291053)

From the beginning of TFA (3rd sentence in) "... the annual scourge of blue-green algae blooms spoiling the swimming, killing the fish and occasionally poisoning local drinking water."

So you could include humans in that lot of "stuff." And humans have been known to eat fish. Swimming is nice, but not as critical as drinking water.

And how is "lots of stuff" the specification of "stuff"? Just wondering ...

Re:Why is this a plague?? (1)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291057)

So do we. Doesn't mean we should kill ourselves off though

but maybe we should stop feeding it

Algae is a big solution to our fuel problems

you may be right, but I don't think you are referring to the "plague" variety. I think what you want is to collect the phosphorus pollution and sell/give it to people who grow fuel-producing algae?

And it's pretty and green.

and smells delicious

And it absorbs CO2, no?

Just long enough to get it into your gas tank so you car can liberate the CO2.

Re:Why is this a plague?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24291147)

It is not growing in a controlled environment like a farm. It is growing in areas that choke out life that we feed on and the whole food chain thing depends on. Yes we could grow it for fuel but that is missing the point

Re:Why is this a plague?? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24292655)

It depends on the algae. Some are indeed harmless. Some of them produce some of the most potent toxins known. I mean, we're talking biological weapon kind of potent if they were produced in significant quantities. Nasty neurotoxins. Some are so bad that if there is an algal bloom [wikipedia.org] in the area, just visiting the beach and exposing yourself to the low concentration of aerosols generated by the waves can be harmful (though not deadly). Maybe you've heard of ciguatera toxins [wikipedia.org] and paralytic shellfish poisoning [wikipedia.org] ? These are caused by eating fish and shellfish contaminated with toxins that were originally produced by algae.

Oh, and many algae aren't green, but orange, reddish-brown, pinkish-purple, yellow, yellow-green, etc. It depends upon the pigments present.

Re:Why is this a plague?? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291735)

Assuming the algae in question are suitable for such usage.

Re:Why is this a plague?? (0, Flamebait)

zullnero (833754) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291945)

Harvest the stuff. Make fuel out of it. It's way better than using corn. You're throwing away free gas...ok diesel.

What everyone else is saying is that this statement doesn't seem to take into count that the algae is TOXIC. You're talking about harvesting and therefore growing TOXIC algae. Do you want to run your car on TOXIC algae, when there is tons of wastewater algae freely available? You can't take two steps in Minnesota in the late spring without stepping in some. It grows in mud puddles in less than a week.

Re:Why is this a plague?? (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292155)

Diesel is toxic - what's it matter if the algae it comes from is too?

Re:Why is this a plague?? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292433)

Diesel is toxic - what's it matter if the algae it comes from is too?

Grandparent's post is wacky FUD, but diesel's toxicity would be of greater relevance if you had to fish your dinner out of it.

As for the original post, harvesting the stuff would be making the best of a bad situation, but the better answer is to keep it from happening in the first place.

Re:Why is this a plague?? (1)

Reziac (43301) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292685)

Also, let's not get confused here -- not all algae is toxic. A fairly good rule of thumb is that if it's green it's safe, but if it's some other colour (notably red) it's not good for you.

As to phosphorus (ie. a major component of fertilizer) being the problem, we've known that for decades -- it's why phosphates were phased out of laundry detergents. Not that there isn't plenty of phosphate in nature already, but detergents in wastewater provided an oversupply which promoted atypical algae growth.

Algae growth can literally FILL a lake in just a few years, in fact this is part of the natural cycle for small lakes, which as they silt up and the water warms up, will fill first to algae beds, then to marsh, and finally to meadow; once started, the entire process can take as little as ten years (I've watched it happen to small natural lakes in Montana). When the incoming water has unnaturally high levels of phosphorus, the process is radically accelerated.

That's great and all. (1)

Higaran (835598) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290677)

Ok, I read the article and everything, but one thing still bugs me, why aren't we figureing out a way to get rid of the all the alge since in the 60 we already figured out how it is growing in the first place.

well duh (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290689)

Why anyone thought nitrogen was the problem I don't know. Nitrosomonas are a natural part of the aquatic process transforming fish waist into nitrogen.

Re:well duh (5, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292279)

...fish waist...

Fish don't have waists. That's why they seldom wear pants.

Huh? (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290759)

I thought it was widely known that the phosphorous in fertilizer was a root cause for eutrophication [wikipedia.org] ?

Is there something I'm missing here?

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24290849)

Nope. But the Canadians are.

Re:Huh? (2, Insightful)

faloi (738831) | more than 6 years ago | (#24290905)

Is there something I'm missing here?

A shot at enough money to fund an experiment for 37 years, apparently.

Re:Huh? (2, Funny)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291125)

Yea, jesus, that's a whole career with only one deliverable.

Re:Huh? (4, Informative)

FlyingOrca (747207) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291785)

Ahem. I happen to know Dave Schindler--he and my father were colleagues--and his contribution to our knowledge of aquatic ecosystems has been quite important. Among other seminal research out of ELA were definitive papers on phosphorus and nitrogen loading (per TFA) and a little thing called acid rain. Not long ago Schindler was given a $1M award for lifetime contributions to science, and I'm not aware of anyone who would say it wasn't richly deserved.

1971 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24292333)

Yep. I was in 3rd grade in 1971 in a town where the treehugger hippies had just gained control of the local govt and I distinctly remember all the banter in the environmental news and advocacy organizations of the early 1970's complaining about phosphorus causing seaweed and algae blooms and killing fish in the bays where the rivers ran into the oceans. This is very old knowledge.

Re:Huh? (1)

lpangelrob (714473) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291119)

According to TFA, getting rid of phosphorus is the only way to eliminate algae blooms. Getting rid of carbon and nitrogen is useless. The guy happens to have 37 years of data backing him up.

The less money spent on getting nitrogen out of the water, the more money spent on getting phosphorus out of the water. Assuming that's even economical... it's probably far easier eliminating it from the source(s).

Re:Huh? (1)

IceCreamGuy (904648) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291797)

You are correct; it has been known for years. The poster clearly didn't read the article. The actual news is that limiting nitrogen is bad, and causes more algae blooms and eutrophication. Apparently people thought that along with phosphorus, nitrogen should also be controlled, this experiment confirmed that it does not.

Carpenter predicts that a single-minded focus on nitrogen control would have disastrous consequences for aquatic resources around the world.

"Life's Bottleneck" (5, Interesting)

Svartormr (692822) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291221)

...is an essay by Isaac Asimov, first published in the April 1959 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, then latter in his collections Fact and Fancy (1962) and Asimov on Chemistry (1974).

In it the Gentle Doctor argued that phosphorous has the greatest relative concentration increase going from its abundance in the natural environment to that in life of all sorts. It thus was often the limit to growth of life as it was scavenged up and held in the biomass.

It's always important to confirm by testing in specific cases, as with this one, as there are other limits, such as dissolved iron. I can't remember where, but I recently read that low blood iron may be a defensive mechanism to make it hard for bacteria to grow during some infections--and that treating the low iron may be the wrong treatment here.

ROFL (1)

SleptThroughClass (1127287) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291581)

Punchline: "Phosphorus."

ROFL. Stop it, you're killing me.

Worst part of algae blooms (2, Informative)

syrinx (106469) | more than 6 years ago | (#24291655)

The worst part of the algae blooms are the damn mindworms.

Also, I'm not sure what phosphorus has to do with it; I thought algae blooms were caused by drilling too many thermal boreholes.

Indeed (1)

Technopaladin (858154) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292595)

If you become one with the planet you need not fear the Mind Worms..Increasingly our bond with them will make us a force to be contended with.

-Lady Deirdre Skye

So is there fertilizer without Phosphorus? (1)

ZipR (584654) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292039)

I'm not a chemist. I'm not a farmer. But I'd imagine that most of the Phosphorus getting into the water comes from fertilizer runoff. Is/does fertilizer always contain phosphorus? Are there any alternatives?

Re:So is there fertilizer without Phosphorus? (0)

PRMan (959735) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292371)

I'm no scientist, but doesn't it stand to reason that whatever helps a farmer's plants grow also helps algae grow, because, you know, it's a plant?

If you are growing a plant with similar characteristics (desired pH, etc) to algae, your runoff will necessarily grow algae as well, regardless of what it is...right?

Re:So is there fertilizer without Phosphorus? (4, Informative)

demachina (71715) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292491)

"Is/does fertilizer always contain phosphorus?"

It does if you order it that way. The three numbers on fertilizer bags are:

  Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potash(Potassium).

If the middle number is zero it doesn't have any Phosphorous. You can get a number of trace elements like Sulfur, Calcium, Magenesium, Iron and other assorted trace elements.

Properly educated farmers, gardner and landscapers certainly can reduce the problem by:

A. Getting their soil tested before they apply fertilizer and apply only what is indicated by the test. Using a lab is best if you are fertilizer some acreage, or you can make an educated guess using a home test kit.

B. Be careful when irrigating after applying fertilizer to avoid washing it off, sprinklers being much preferred over flood irrigation

Another factor that is probably reducing the Phosphorous pollution problem is its so expensive lately, along with Nitrogen and Potash, that farmers either can't afford it or are very careful when they do splurge on it.

This isn't new information! (1)

jrnchimera (558684) | more than 6 years ago | (#24292683)

Aquarists have known this for a long time. Phosphorous and Silicate removing products have been around for aquarium owners for many years to stave off algae blooms..
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