August 2011, Vol. 23, No.8


Water treatment system becomes focal point for artistic expression

When thinking about a water treatment plant, art is not the first thought that comes to mind. But it was for Turkish artist Ayse Erkmen, who has made a mobile water treatment plant the center of her presentation that will be shown as part of the Turkish contribution to the 2011 Biennale contemporary art exhibition in Venice.

The BERU 4000/800 water treatment plant, supplied by Elga Berkefeld, a subsidiary of Veolia Water Solutions and Technologies (Saint Maurice, France), consists of prefiltration with back-flushing-enabled disc filters, ultrafiltration, and reverse osmosis components. As part of the art exhibit, the plant’s interconnected components will take water from a canal, treat it, and return it to the canal. This process will be portrayed as being similar to human blood circulation, the artist explained in a press release.

Erkmen’s presentation, titled “Plan B,” will color the plant’s components in a pattern defined by the artist and will be exhibited in a 300-m2 room as part of the Pavilion of Turkey at the 54th international art exhibition, which will be held from June to November.


Smartphone app for locating drinking fountains in the works

On a hot summer day, did you ever wonder where the nearest drinking fountain was? Well, Pacific Institute (Oakland, Calif.) President Peter Gleick is collaborating with Google (Mountain View, Calif.) to launch a smartphone app to answer that question. Called WeTap, this app could help users find, support, and expand the nation’s public drinking water fountains, according to a Pacific Institute news release. 

WeTap users can search for working water fountains in their location and can add new fountains into a national database. The database includes information on the fountain’s location, condition, and quality. Users can even upload a photo of the fountain or add comments about it. The application was created to provide information about public water fountains and to help identify those that need maintenance or cleaning, the release says.

Volunteers in Berkeley, Calif., who own Android-capable phones currently are testing the application, taking and uploading photos of fountains, and providing feedback about the application, the release says.

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Fish ears track dead zones

Scientists have found another way to track “dead zones” in coastal waters. Research by Karin Limburg of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF; Syracuse, N.Y.) shows that fish pick up a chemical “signature” from dead zones, areas depleted of oxygen from excess nutrients, according to an ESF news release.

Limburg led an international team in a study of the chemical patterns in otoliths — small, calcified structures in the inner ear — of cod from the Baltic Sea. The team discovered that manganese, which becomes dissolved in sediments during low-oxygen or hypoxic conditions, enters the otoliths of cod in proportion to the intensity of their exposure to hypoxic waters.

When otoliths grow, they create a record of fish age and store trace elements and isotopes to reflect conditions in the fish’s living environment. This record reveals how long fish were exposed to hypoxia, how long it was a juvenile in the nursery habitat, and when and where it migrated offshore.

Two other trace elements, strontium and barium, also are taken up in proportion to environmental conditions. These elements reveal details about salinity and temperature of different habitats fish live in throughout their lives, the release says.

The team analyzed a collection of cod otoliths from the Neolithic Stone Age, about 4500 years ago, to find that fish from that period did not show evidence of exposure to hypoxic conditions. But when analyzing two otoliths from the Iron Age, about 700 to 1000 years ago, one showed exposure to hypoxic conditions, revealing a long history of hypoxia in the Baltic Sea. Limburg also has found that other fish species’ otoliths can show the same manganese in hypoxic environments including lakes or estuaries, the release says.


Controlling floodwaters in Louisiana

In May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a flood control structure, or spillway onto the Morganza Floodway, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth Observatory Web site.

A total of 17 bays on the spillway were opened by May 18, and an estimated 3200 m3/s (114,000 ft3/s) of water flowed out of the Mississippi River into the floodway. Five days after the floodway was opened, water had spread 24 to 32 km (15 to 20 mi) south across Louisiana. Water flow was expected to reach Morgan City near the coastal marshes of Louisiana between May 21 and 23, the release says.

NASA’s Terra satellite Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer on May 18 captured a false-color image, which combines infrared, red, and green wavelengths to help distinguish between water and land, of the floodway, the Web site says.


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