November 2010, Vol. 22, No.11


Dropping the curtain on phosphorus

A new buffer system strengthens farmers’ abilities to prevent pollutants from escaping their fields through runoff. The industrial byproduct, synthetic gypsum, can help clean up water by trapping agricultural pollutants, specifically phosphorus, according to a U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) news release.

Ray Bryant, an ARS soil scientist, developed a buffer system that uses a series of “curtains” of synthetic gypsum parallel to an existing drainage ditch. Synthetic gypsum is a byproduct produced by scrubbing sulfur from smokestacks of coal-fired power plants.

Soluble calcium in the gypsum captures the soluble phosphorus in the water passing through the ditch, the news release says. Bryant found that the gypsum trench reduced soluble phosphorus in subsurface drainage by at least 50%. The underground gypsum curtains can last for 10 years and can be excavated so the trapped phosphorus can be used for fertilizer again, the news release says.

'Drink NYC Water'

New York City tap water is so good that it deserves its own line of merchandise. That’s the message of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which decided to promote its tap water in a new, inventive way when it unveiled a line of products sporting the “Drink NYC Water” logo.

The products promote New York City’s tap water as a high-quality, healthy, affordable, and sustainable alternative to bottled water. DEP manages the city’s water supply, which is delivered from a watershed extending more than 200 km (125 mi) from the city, providing more than 3.8 billion L (1 billion gal) of water each day to more than 9 million residents.

“New York City’s excellent tap water is one of our city’s outstanding features, and we’re happy to highlight it by featuring NYC Water merchandise at the city’s official store,” said Martha K. Hirst, commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The merchandise, produced through the partnership between DEP and Fishs Eddy (New York), includes glasses, coasters, shirts, decanters, and water bottles. The public can purchase these items at the CityStore, the city’s official store for all things New York operated by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, in person or online at, or in person at Fishs Eddy.


Canadian students win 2010 Stockholm Junior Water Prize

In September, a team of students from Canada beat out contestants from more than 30 countries participating to win the 2010 Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP)competition, the world’s most prestigious youth award for water-related science. Each September, Stockholm draws the brightest young researchers who are taking on some of our toughest water challenges from around the world to participate in the SJWP competition.

This year, Alexandre Allard and Danny Luong from Canada earned the award for their research,titled“Novel Biodegradation of Polystyrene.” The team created an approach to break down polystyrene plastic using microroganisms and enzymes to reduce the amount that end up in the world’s waters.

Allard and Luong received a $5000 scholarship and a blue crystal sculpture in the shape of a water droplet, presented by SJWP’s patron, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.

Yingxin Li, Zhaonan Yang, and Wanling Chen from China received a Diploma of Excellence for their project, titled “Novel Soil Remediation Technology for South China.” The team developed a report dealing with several water-quality-related problems in the agricultural sector, including fertilizer loss, recycling of waste, and improvement of soil fertility.

At the competition, Rebecca Ye, the 2010 U.S. SJWP winner from Maine, presented her research, which identified a method combining microbiology and nanotechnology to create a biosensor capable of rapid identification of strains of Escherichia coli.

Pinning down how glaciers break up

Glaciers that lose their footing on the sea floor and begin floating behave very erratically, according to a new study reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Floating glaciers produce larger icebergs than their grounded cousins and do so at unpredictable intervals.

The study presents the first detailed observation of the transition from grounded to floating glaciers, which is currently ongoing at Columbia Glacier, one of Alaska’s many tidewater glaciers. Tidewater glaciers flow directly into the ocean, ending at a cliff in the sea, where icebergs are formed. Prior to this study, Alaskan tidewater glaciers were believed to be exclusively grounded (resting on the ocean floor) and unable to float without disintegrating.

However, Columbia Glacier unexpectedly developed a floating extension in 2007 that has endured far longer than researchers expected. The research team believes that this floating section may have been caused by the speed at which the glacier is receding, according to U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Shad O’Neel, who co-authored the report.

Columbia is one of the fastest receding glaciers in the world, having retreated 4 km (2.5 mi) since 2004 and nearly 20 km (12.4 mi) since 1980.

The ongoing study, led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography (San Diego) glaciologist Fabian Walter and funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, seeks to understand and incorporate the formation of icebergs through the process of “calving” in large-scale glacier models.

This study will help scientists analyze the mechanics of calving in both glaciers and ice shelves to better understand and predict iceberg production and provide a more accurate estimate of future sea-level rise.


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