Invasive earthworms harming Great Lakes forests

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    Scott Loss uses a liquid-mustard mixture to sample earthworms. The mustard contains a skin irritant that causes earthworms to come to the surface. A recent decline in ovenbirds (also known as Seiurus aurocapilla), a ground-nesting migrat (SARA SCHMELZER LOSS.)

DENVER –  Gardeners and farmers may love earthworms for their rich castings and composting help, but in forests near the Great Lakes, the creatures are alien invaders.

No earthworms are native to North America’s northern forests (massive ice age glaciers kept the land worm-free). But in the years since settlers arrived, 15 earthworm species have appeared in Minnesota, from Europe and Asia. Some of the invasive species are changing local forests, scientists have discovered.

“After these mixers come in, there’s a loss in plant species,” said Kit Resner, graduate student and soil biogeochemist at the University of Minnesota and lead study author.

The earthworms eat away at the puffy duff layer blanketing the forest floor, where species such as salamanders and ovenbirds live, Resner reported Sunday (Oct. 27) at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting. Duff is fallen organic material, such as leaves, slowly decomposing on the ground.

And in the sugar maple forests near the Great Lakes, the churning worms actually compact the upper soil layers instead of loosening them, Resner said.

“People assume that soils are homogeneous across all areas, and they’re really not,” Resner told LiveScience. “In agricultural areas, where you have compacted soils, [earthworms] aerate the soils. Forest soils are really different than agricultural soils. Here, we have a structure. And in this case, they actually compact it.”

The compaction decreases downward water flow through the soil, drying out the upper soil layers, Resner and her colleagues found. The worms also change the soil chemistry, raising levels of calcium, potassium and phosphorous.

The net result is a loss of understory plants the young trees, ferns and wildflowers that grow in the spaces between big trees. And without the duff layer, some animals lack a place to live.

“It’s like they’ve been pushed out of their homes,” Resner said.

How Google Street View could fight invasive species

Smarter America

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    Researchers used Google Street Views to track caterpillar nests from the pine processionary moth; here, different examples of infested trees located along streets in the region of Orleans, France. (PLOS ONE)

Google’s online street views could help scientists track and fight invasive species over the Internet, researchers say.

Mapping where species are in the world is key to monitoring native and invasive organisms. However, collecting this data can be quite an expensive and time-consuming task.

To help tackle this problem, scientists investigated Google Street View, through which Google supplies panoramic views from the streets of hundreds of cities across the world. Recently, Google Street View has offered vistas of many places off the beaten track as well, such as Antarctica, the Galapagosthe Amazon, Mount Everest’s base camp and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. [7 Amazing Places to Visit with Google Street View]

Researchers focused on the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa), whose caterpillar is one of the most destructive animals targeting pines and cedars in southern Europe, Central Asia and North Africa, devouring the foliage of these trees. These social caterpillars spin large communal white silk nests, which are highly visible, making them potential targets of surveys via Google Street View.

“At the beginning of the work, I had the feeling that we were exploring a very unusual way of working at least one I had never even imagined,” said researcher Jean-Pierre Rossi, an ecologist at France’s National Institute for Agronomic Research.

The scientists concentrated on a region about 18,000 square miles large in France that was recently colonized by the caterpillars. They further divided this area into blocks about 100 square miles in size.

The researchers analyzed data regarding the presence or absence of caterpillar nests collected in these blocks through either direct observation in the field or Google Street View. They found Google Street View was 96 percent as accurate as field data.

However, when the scientists investigated a smaller region only about 185 square miles large divided into blocks 1.5 square miles (4 square km) in size, they found Google Street View matched field data by only 46 percent. The researchers note that smaller regions are more likely to have fewer roads covered by Google Street View, and thus less chance to properly spot these caterpillar nests. This effect may be less of a problem in the future as Google Street View’s coverage expands.

The researchers note that not all species are ideal for survey via Google Street View, but many could be, such as common tree problems whose symptoms are identifiable from the road, including the horse chestnut leaf miner or ash dieback fungus.

“The data collected by using Google Street View may be useful in monitoring diseases or invasive organism expansion,” Rossi told LiveScience.

In January, a different team of scientists found Google Street View could also find potential nesting sites in northern Spain for the globally endangered Egyptian vulture. Altogether, these findings suggest Google Street View could help scientists monitor both endangered and invasive species.

The scientists detailed their findings online Oct. 9 in the journalPLOS ONE.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

There’s gold in them thar trees

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    Trees may turn golden for reasons that have nothing to do with the onset of autumn. (REUTERS)

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    A Eucalyptus tree in the Australian Outback, where researchers took samples of branches and leaves from trees to look for tiny particles of gold that could hint at subterranean gold deposits. (MEL LINTERN)

Trees may turn golden for reasons that have nothing to do with the onset of autumn: Eucalyptus trees can hold grains of gold, potentially helping reveal buried treasure, scientists now find.

Many plants root deep into the Earth, drawing up nutrients and minerals they need for life. Researchers hope this fact could one day help miners unearth gold, especially since discoveries of new deposits of the precious metal have dropped 45 percent over the last 10 years.

Scientists in Australia focused on eucalyptus trees, since traces of gold are sometimes found in soils surrounding these plants. However, researchers were not certain until now whether trees could actually absorb the precious metal from underground deposits or if the wind simply blew gold dust there from other sites.

Now one group has discovered the first evidence in nature of gold particles located within living tissue from trees.

Researchers investigated leaves, twigs and bark of eucalyptus trees up to 35 feet tall from two locations in Australia one in the west, another in the south. Past exploratory drilling revealed these sites had gold buried underground, but the areas were undisturbed by further mining activity that might have contaminated the trees with gold dust.

X-ray analysis revealed gold particles up to about 8 microns wide in cells from the trees, or about 10 times thinner than the average human hair. Field samples and greenhouse experiments suggest these gold particles which exist at concentrations not harmful to the trees are absorbed by the roots and transported to its extremities, such as leaves, where the highest concentrations were observed.

These findings, detailed online Oct. 22 in the journal Nature Communications,suggest the trees could tap into gold deposits up to 115 feet below them while searching for water under drought conditions.

“We were astounded at the capability of the eucalyptus trees to bring up gold from the equivalent [height] of a 10-story building,”study lead author Melvyn Lintern, a geochemist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, told LiveScience’s OurAmazingPlanet.

The researchers are not proposing mining these eucalyptus trees for gold, Lintern cautioned. “The amount of gold in the trees is extremely small. You would need 500 trees or more growing over a gold deposit to have enough gold to make a ring.”

Instead, eucalyptus trees could help miners identify where deeply buried gold deposits might be located and therefore avoid wasting time, money and resources hunting for the precious metal over vast tracts of land, Lintern said.

Oklahoma teen finds 3.85-carat diamond at Arkansas state park
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    This photo provided by Crater of Diamonds State Park shows Tana Clymer, 14, of Oklahoma City, with a 3.85-carat canary diamond she discovered Saturday Oct. 19, 2013, at Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park. The park is the only diamond-producing site in the United States that is open to the public. The yellow diamond is teardrop-shaped and about the size of a jellybean. (AP/CRATER OF DIAMONDS STATE PARK)

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    This photo provided by Crater of Diamonds State Park shows a 3.85-carat canary diamond discovered by Tana Clymer, 14, of Oklahoma City, Saturday Oct. 19, 2013, at Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Ark. (AP/CRATER OF DIAMONDS STATE PARK)

MURFREESBORO, ARK. –  A 14-year-old Oklahoma City girl unearthed a 3.85-carat diamond during a family visit to Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Tana Clymer discovered the canary gem Saturday at the park, which is the only diamond-producing site in the United States that is open to the public.

Tana told she noticed something on the surface of the ground after sifting through the search field for about two hours.

“I thought it was a piece of paper or foil from a candy wrapper,” Tana said. “Then, when I touched it, I thought it was a marble. I think God pointed me to it. I was about to sprint to join my family, and God told me to slow down and look. Then, I found the diamond!”

The yellow diamond is teardrop-shaped and about the size of a jellybean.

“This canary diamond is very similar to the gem-quality, 4.21-carat canary diamond found at the Crater of Diamonds by Oklahoma State Trooper Marvin Culver of Nowata, Oklahoma, on March 12, 2006, a gem he named the Okie Dokie Diamond,” said Bill Henderson, assistant park superintendent.

Tana named the diamond “God’s Jewel,” park officials said.

“Tana told me that she was so excited, she couldn’t sleep last night,” Henderson said Sunday. “She’s either going to keep the diamond for a ring, or, if it’s worth a lot, she’ll want that for college.”

Many diamonds have been found close to the surface so far this year, Henderson said, noting that heavy rainfall pushes dirt away, leaving the diamond exposed.

In July, a 12-year-old North Carolina boy unearthed a 5.16 carat diamond while on vacation with his family at the park. He named it “God’s Glory Diamond.”

Her gem is the 396th diamond found so far this year at the park in southern Arkansas. Other gems discovered at the state park include amethyst, garnet, peridot, jasper, agate, calcite, barite, and quartz.

More than 75,000 diamonds have been found at the site since the first discovery in 1906 by John Huddleston, the farmer who owned the land at the time.

The largest diamond ever discovered in the United States was unearthed at the site in 1924 and weighed 40.23 carats.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Antarctic ozone hole hits 2013 peak size

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    The ozone hole reached its biggest extent for the year on Sept. 26, 2013. (NOAA)

The Antarctic ozone hole reached its biggest extent for the year on Sept. 26, 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced yesterday.

At its maximum, the ozone hole over the South Pole measured a whopping 7.3 million square miles, making it almost twice the area of Europe. [See the ozone hole form over Antarctica]

The ozone hole is a region of the stratosphere, the second layer up in Earth’s atmosphere, where the concentration of ozone, a molecule made of three oxygen atoms, is less than 220 Dobson units (a measure of the density of a gas in an entire column of the atmosphere). The ozone layer, which stretches between 12 miles to 19 miles above the Earth’s surface, provides the planet with an invaluable service: Ozone absorbs ultraviolet light, which can help cause skin cancer and sunburn. It is also the culprit behind damage to plants and plankton.

In the 1980s, scientists first detected a depletion of ozone concentrations over Antarctica. The hole forms every year aboveAntarctica between September and November. The hole developed because of the proliferation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals that were once widely used in refrigerants. In several chemical reactions, CFCs bind to oxygen atoms, breaking ozone down into ordinary oxygen molecules.

Through an international treaty called the Montreal Protocol (first signed in 1987), 197 countries have agreed to phase out the use of CFCs, and the ozone layer is gradually recovering. In February, scientists reported that the ozone hole reached a record lowand was smaller than it had been the entire previous decade. Scientists estimate the ozone hole will be closed by the middle of the century.

The southernmost continent is particularly prone to ozone depletion because the frigid winds circulating over Antarctica make CFCs particularly good at stripping oxygen atoms away from ozone molecules.

The ozone hole also has effects on climate, because it alters the wind patterns over the icy continent, thereby altering cloud cover and the levels of radiation that reach the Earth’s surface there.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Reluctant anglers drafted in war on fish

The Wall Street Journal
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    June 21, 2011: A fly fisherman on the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. (REUTERS)

Balancing on some boulders along the Lamar River here on a recent afternoon, Dave Hallac clutched his fly-fishing rod and reeled in one of the outlaws.

“This is the enemy here,” the park’s chief scientist said after a close inspection of the trout, which had a silvery body with pale pink streaks and black speckles. “A full-blown rainbow.”

Rainbow trout have been swimming the waters of Yellowstone, the U.S.’s first-ever national park, for more than a hundred years since early park administrators introduced them to enhance the fish offerings. For decades, fishermen have reveled in catching the prized game fish.

But Yellowstone officials are now worried that the rainbow is pushing out a native fish, cutthroat trout, named after the distinctive blood-red slashes along its jawline. So to restore cutthroats, the park this year started requiring visitors to kill all other fish they hook in the Lamar and two of its tributaries where the native trout still exist.

The goal, said Mr. Hallac, who oversees Yellowstone conservation programs, is to increase cutthroat fish stocks, benefitting both the park’s biodiversity and anglers’ fortunes. But the restoration plan is controversial among some fish lovers, who fear it will reduce the overall number of fish—and the tourists they lure.

Every year, Yellowstone’s lakes, rivers and creeks draw more than 40,000 anglers that feed a multimillion-dollar industry of tours, tackle shops and hotels, according to the park.

“It’ll devastate the whole community and we won’t be able to make our living,” said Chris Herpin, a local fishing guide. Like him, most fly fishers release hooked fish back into the water to avoid depleting stocks.

The trout dispute is part of a broader struggle at Yellowstone as park officials try to fulfill a government mandate to return the park’s wilderness to its original state when possible, while also paying respect to the way the attraction is used for recreation today. Park managers have figured out how to successfully bring back wildlife in numerous instances. But managing how the changes affect Yellowstone’s surrounding communities has proved more difficult.

The bison population recovered from near extinction—and started knocking down fences when the big animals roamed outside the park. Wolves, which had disappeared from Yellowstone, are now back in healthy numbers—and killing off elk, hunters complain.

The cutthroat restoration program has the potential to alter the fishing industry around Yellowstone, which is nearly as old as the park, created in 1872.

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal.

Charges possible for Boy Scouts leaders who toppled Utah rock formation
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    This undated photo released by Utah State Parks shows rock formations at Goblin Valley State Park. (AP/UTAH STATE PARKS)

A group of Boy Scouts leaders may face criminal charges after purposely knocking over an ancient Utah desert rock formation and posting a video of the incident online, authorities say

The men were leading a group of 14 to 16-year-old Boy Scouts on a trip to Goblin Valley State Park when they said they noticed the top of the rock formation was loose and feared it was dangerous.

“This is about saving lives,” Dave Hall, who shot the video, told The Associated Press on Friday. “One rock at a time.”

The rock formation is about 170 million years old, Utah State Parks spokesman Eugene Swalberg said. The park in central Utah is dotted with thousands of the eerie, mushroom shaped sandstone formations.

In a video posted on Facebook, Glenn Taylor of Highland, Utah, can be seen last Friday wedging himself between one formation and a boulder to knock a large rock off the formation’s top. Taylor and his two companions can then be seen cheering, high-fiving and dancing.

“This is not behavior that is appreciated or should exist in state parks,” Swalberg told the Deseret News. “This has been formed for literally millions of years, and it’s supposed to last for a long time. It doesn’t need individuals doing the work of Mother Nature.”

Hall, who is also a scoutmaster from Highland, said some of their Scouts were jumping on the structures and they noticed a large boulder on top of one structure was loose.

“My conscience won’t let me walk away knowing that kids could die,” Hall said.

While safety was their motivation, Hall said, it was exciting to knock it over, and that’s why they reacted with high-fives and cheers in the video.

“You can’t have a rock the size of a car that you can push with one hand, and have it roll, and not have an adrenaline rush,” Hall said. “It was a crazy, exciting moment.”

Taylor told Salt Lake City news organizations on Thursday that he felt the rock move when he put his hand on it.

He said after he knocked the formation over, he wished he hadn’t and he realized he should have contacted a park ranger. But he also said he feels he did the right thing.

“As it is, I feel guilty because I have a conscience,” he told the Deseret News. “But my conscience also says I did the right thing.”

Hall, too, said he wished they had contacted a park ranger, but did not wish they hadn’t knocked it over.

Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith confirmed the men are members of the organization, saying in a statement that the organization is “shocked and disappointed by this reprehensible behavior.”

Boy Scout troops spend countless hours in state and national parks, guided by the principle of leaving nature the way they find it, Smith said.

“The isolated actions of these individuals are absolutely counter to our beliefs and what we teach,” Smith said. “We are reviewing this matter and will take appropriate action.”

Swalberg said State Parks authorities are conducting a criminal investigation.

“This is highly, highly inappropriate,” Swalberg told the Salt Lake Tribune. “This is not what you do at state parks. It’s disturbing and upsetting.”

Brent Langston with the Emery County Attorney’s Office said his agency is aware of the incident has not yet started evaluating whether they’ll file charges.

“The county attorney’s office has spoken with the state park representative but as of this date, no reports have been submitted and no charges have been filed. The county attorney’s office will review the case upon completion of the investigation and determine what action to take at that point,” the office said in a press release obtained by ETV 10 News Friday afternoon.

The men involved could face a misdemeanor or a felony depending on how much officials determine the formation was worth, Langston told the Tribune.

“Some things can’t be replaced, like photographs in a family album, but they have great sentimental value,” he said.

Hall said he and Taylor were both “immensely sorry for any damage that we may have caused,” or any embarrassment they brought to the Boy Scouts or anyone else.

But he also said, “One more rock falling to the ground is not going to destroy the beauty of the park. Eventually, the erosion brings all of them down.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here for more from the Deseret News.

Click here for more from ETV 10 News.

South Dakota ranchers reel after ‘catastrophic’ storm leaves up to 100,000 cattle dead
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    Oct. 7, 2013: Frozen cattle are seen along Highway 34 east of Sturgis, S.D., another casualty of the early October blizzard. (AP/Rapid City Journal, Kristina Barker)

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    Oct. 7, 2013: Major roads are plowed, but piles of snow are melting causing potential flood hazards in Rapid City, S.D.. (AP/Rapid City Journal, Benjamin Brayfield)

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    Oct. 7, 2013: Josh Schumaker, 27, left, and Karl Knutson, 25, ride through pasture east of Sturgis, S.D., along Highway 34. Knutson and Schumaker were checking on cattle at Knutson’s father’s place. “This is the worse than I’ve ever seen for loss of livestock,” said Knutson, who was born and raised in Belle Fourche. (AP/Rapid City Journal, Kristina Barker)

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    Oct. 7, 2013: This photo shows the TMone building in Spearfish, S.D., which collapsed onto itself from the weight of snow and pounding winds brought on by this weekend’s blizzard. (AP/Rapid City Journal, Kristina Barker)

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    Oct. 4, 2013: Zack Ruml, 20, of Rapid City, S.D, lifts a heavy crab apple tree branch off of his 1998 Pontiac Gran Prix. The branch smashed the rear window and dented the trunk of the car. Trees in the city are still fully leaved and the heavy snow is breaking trees throughout the city. (AP/Steve McEnroe)

Ranchers in South Dakota fear they may lose everything after a freak storm dumped up four feet of snow in parts of the state last week, killing as many as 100,000 cattle.

Matt Kammerer, a 45-year-old rancher whose family has operated in South Dakota’s Meade County since 1882, told that he lost 60 cattle in the storm, or one-third of his entire herd.


” … It’s just dead cow after dead cow, where they’ve gotten caught in dams, streams, fences, you name it. They’re dead everywhere.”

– Rancher Matt Kammerer


“You’re talking about $120,000 of assets that are just gone,” Kammerer said Friday by phone. “And we still owe the banks, too. It’s like driving a brand-new pickup off a cliff and still having to make payments.”

Kammerer painted a gruesome scene north of Rapid City, where a record 23 inches of snow fell.

“It’s just unreal,” he said. “There are cattle that are 8 or 9 miles away from the pasture they were in, just lying dead. And within that whole stretch, it’s just dead cow after dead cow, where they’ve gotten caught in dams, streams, fences, you name it. They’re dead everywhere.”

Carcasses of mature cows as well as calves were floating downstream local waterways in droves, Kammerer said, stoking fears of a potential outbreak of disease.

“If you don’t get those picked up and buried, you’re looking at the possibility of disease or possibly contamination,” he said. “You’ve got to get them all picked up.”

Most ranchers in the state lost anywhere between 50 to 75 percent of their herds, according to Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, which represents 1,500 ranching operations.

“We’re certainly looking at tens of thousands if not pushing 100,000 at this point,” she said of the dead livestock.

Aside from the economic losses, which will be severe once finally tallied, the unprecedented storm has left an “incredible emotional burden” on the state’s ranchers, Christen said.

“They know how dependent these livestock are on them and they’re absolutely emotionally devastated at the losses they’re seeing,” she said. “It’s been extremely difficult.”

In the days since the storm, Christen said ranchers are now focusing on providing medical care to the animals that did survive.

“That really has to be the priority before we start counting loss,” she said. “They need to make sure they’re safe and that they stay healthy now.”

Complicating matters is this weekend’s forecast, which calls for heavy rain and strong winds just a week after the early fall blizzard. Crews in South Dakota and North Dakota are also still working to restore power to thousands of customers left in the dark.

The storm also killed a man in the Lead-Deadwood area of South Dakota and damaged numerous buildings, causing at least one to collapse from the weight of snow and relentless winds.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., flew over the affected areas during an aerial assessment Thursday afternoon. The state’s congressional delegation has also vowed to push ahead for quick passage of the stalled farm bill to provide immediate financial relief to ranchers.

“We need to be doing everything we can to help the livestock producers whose livelihoods have been endangered by this storm,” Thune said in a statement. “Last weekend’s devastating storm is another example of why we need to complete work on the Farm Bill for our farmers and ranchers.”

Christen said passage of the legislation is critical for the region.

“It’s a disaster situation here, like a hurricane in other parts of the country,” she said. “We’re not looking for a handout or any kind of special subsidy, however, we’ve had a devastating loss to our industry. It’s critical to our economy in South Dakota and frankly the entire agriculture industry that we pass that. These cows feed a lot of this country.”

Gary Cammack, a 60-year-old rancher near Union Center in Meade County, said he lost about 15 percent of his herd, including 70 cows and some calves, which normally sell for $1,000. A mature cow usually brings in $1,500 or more, he said.

“It’s bad. It’s really bad. I’m the eternal optimist and this is really bad,” Cammack told The Associated Press. “The livestock loss is just catastrophic … It’s pretty unbelievable.”

Livestock were initially soaked by 12 hours of rain before 48 consecutive hours or snow and winds up to 60 mph, Cammack said.

“It’s the worst early season snowstorm I’ve seen in my lifetime,” he continued.

Kammerer said his ranch will be able to recover, but he’s more worried about his fellow cattlemen.

“We just had one of the worst droughts ever and now we take a hit like this,” Kammerer said, his voice cracking with emotion. “It’s just catastrophic. I’m going to be fine; it’s my counterparts … it’s my neighbors, my friends, the people you can’t even look in the face to tell them that you’re sorry.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Toxins from algae in Lake Erie pose threat to drinking water

Associated Press
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    White foam created by a release of chemicals from dying algae blooms on western Lake Erie washes up on the break wall at West Harbor in Port Clinton, Ohio. (AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, D’Arcy Egan)

TOLEDO, OHIO –  Toxins from blobs of algae on western Lake Erie are infiltrating water treatment plants along the shoreline, forcing cities to spend a lot more money to make sure their drinking water is safe.

It got so bad last month that one township told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps.

The cost of testing and treating the water is adding up quickly — the city of Toledo will spend an extra $1 million this year to combat the toxins while a neighboring county is considering a fee increase next year to cover the added expenses.

Algae blooms during the summer and early fall have turned the water into a pea soup color in recent years. The unsightly surface has scared away tourists, and toxins produced by the algae have contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can’t survive.

The toxins also are a threat to the drinking water that the lake provides for 11 million people.

The annual algae blooms have been concentrated around the western end of Lake Erie — though a few have spread to the Cleveland area — and have affected water treatment plants in Toledo and other cities that dot the water’s edge in northern Ohio.

The algae growth is fed by phosphorous from farm fertilizer runoff and other sources, leaving behind toxins that can kill animals and sicken humans.

Tests on drinking water in Carroll Township, which is just west of Toledo, showed the amount of toxins had increased so much in early September that officials decided to order residents to stop using the water for two days until they could hook up to another water supply.

It was believed to be the first time a city has banned residents from using the water because of toxins from algae in the lake.

“I wasn’t sure how dangerous it was, but we wanted to be cautious,” said Henry Biggert, the township’s water plant superintendent.

The township’s treatment plant is now back online, but the water is being filtered and treated over a longer period to remove the toxins, he said.

What makes combating these toxins a challenge for operators of water treatment plants is that there are no standards on how to handle the problem or federal guidelines on what is a safe amount in drinking water. Plus, each water treatment facility is unique.

Plant operators along the lake in Ohio have been teaming up to figure out what works best.

“We’re out there scrambling around,” said Kelly Frey, Ottawa County’s sanitary engineer. “It’s just been do the best you can.”

The county, he said, tests the water three times a week while adding a chemical called activated carbon to absorb the algae before filtering it. The expense of treating the water may require an increase in water rates next year of a couple of dollars a month for the average family, Frey said.

Toledo officials anticipated spending $3 million this year to treat its water, but the cost increased to $4 million because it has needed more chemicals to treat the toxins from the algae. That’s about double what the city spent just a few years ago.

“We can throw a little more money and defeat it for a while,” said David Leffler, the city’s commissioner of plant operations.

But the larger issue, he said, is how to cut down on the amount of phosphorus from farm fertilizer and other sources that run off into the lake and feed the algae blooms.

His biggest fear is that the toxins could overwhelm Toledo’s treatment plant and force officials to shut down its water supply to the state’s fourth largest city and its suburbs. “It keeps me up at night,” he said.

New photos of Pakistan’s ‘Earthquake Island’

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    An aerial photo from Pakistan’s National Institute of Oceanography suggests the new island is 60 to 70 feet (15 to 20 meters) tall.(PAKISTAN’S NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF OCEANOGRAPHY/NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY)

The Earth performed the ultimate magic trick last week, making an island appear out of nowhere. The new island is a remarkable side effect of the deadly Sept. 24 earthquake in Pakistan that killed more than 500 people.

A series of satellite images snapped a few days after the earthquake-triggered island emerged offshore of the town of Gwadar reveals the strange structure is round and relatively flat, with cracks and fissures like a child’s dried-up mud pie.

The French Pleiades satellite mapped the muddy hill’s dimensions, which measure 576.4 feet long by 524.9 feet wide. Aerial photos from Pakistan’s National Institute of Oceanography suggest the gray-colored mound is about 60 to 70 feet tall. [Gallery: Amazing Images of Pakistan’s Earthquake Island]


Geologists think the new island is made of erupted mud, spewed from the seafloor when trapped gases escaped.


Gwadar is about 230 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter. The magnitude-7.7 earthquake was likely centered on the Chaman Fault, Shuhab Khan, a geoscientist at the University of Houston told LiveScience last week..

Geologists think the new island, named Zalzala Koh, is made of erupted mud, spewed from the seafloor when either trapped gases escaped or subsurface water was violently expelled.

The new island could be a mud volcano. Mud volcanoes form when hot water underground mixes with sediments and gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. If the noxious slurry finds a release valve, such as a crack opened by earthquake shaking, a mud volcano erupts, said James Hein, a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Santa Cruz, Calif, said in an earlier interview. Geologists from the Pakistan Navy report that Zalzala Koh is releasing flammable gas. But seafloor sediments commonly hold methane-producing bacteria, so the possible methane coming from the island isn’t a clincher to its identity.

Shaking from the powerful Sept. 24 earthquake could have also loosened the seafloor sediments offshore of Pakistan, jiggling them like jelly. The great rivers coming down from the Himalayas dump tons of water-saturated sediment into the Arabian Sea every year. The new island could be a gigantic example of a liquefaction blow, when seismic shaking makes saturated sediments act like liquid and trapped water suddenly escapes, Michael Manga, a geophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, told LiveScience last week.

Similar islands have appeared offshore of Pakistan after strongearthquakes in the region in 2001 and 1945. If the earlier examples hold, the soft mud island won’t last a year, disappearing under the erosive power of the pounding of waves from monsoon storms.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.