Catching waves while tracking ocean acidification, surfing meets citizen science

A weekly roundup of the best in science journalism, doodled.

May 28, 2015

A neurologist–turned–environmental filmmaker and a surfer/structural engineer have teamed up to create a data-collecting device that could turn surfers into citizen scientists. Outside reports that this fall, 50 scientists from the Scripps Oceanographic Institute will take these Smartphin sensors for a pilot spin off the San Diego coast. As they hang ten outside the lab, their boards will measure ocean salinity, pH, and temperature—helpful information when tracking climate change and ocean acidification. So what’s in it for the surfers? The sensors have built-in tech that will tip them off to where the sickest swells are.

A new forensic and genetic laboratory in Kenya will analyze DNA samples from suspected wildlife contraband to aid the prosecution of poachers. Until now, proof against poachers has hinged on government chemists determining whether a specimen came from a wild or domestic animal. But this evidence hasn’t proven solid enough to hold up in court. The lab will use DNA to link wildlife seized at borders to specific regions, populations, and even individual animals. Noble researchers are trying to protect our planet’s noblest beasts.

Whenever a phrase like “an evolutionary innovation that led to gigantism” is thrown around a science research paper, I’m all ears. This delightful study shows that large whales like fin whales have absurdly stretchy nerves in their mouths, enabling them to “lunge feed” on huge amounts of krill in one gulp. The whale first accelerates while opening its jaw, flips its tongue backward to create a crazy oral pocket in its mouth, then swallows a volume of water larger than its own body. My favorite reporting on the matter comes from Ed Yong, but Stanford and Reuters also explain the adaptation well.


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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