Dead-zone Genius, Deep Sea Robots, Pricey Cattle, What Constitutes Crime, and Historical Ecology

Loads of Nooze for Monday morning:

First, Mark Schleifstein with The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reports on a newly-appointed resident genius:

Louisiana "dead zone" scientist wins $500,000 MacArthur "Genius Grant"

Each fall, marine ecologist Nancy Rabalais pours a bottle of oxygen-starved water from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico into an urn at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge. It’s part of an annual water rite at the church. Most congregants bring water they collect from summer vacations – in, say, Perdido Key, or perhaps Cape Cod.

But Rabalais’ water is scooped up in her research aimed at tracking the size of the annual low-oxygen “dead zone” along the coasts of Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. The research is part of a broader effort to identify links between agriculture along the Mississippi River and the annual summer anomaly in the Gulf... Read more.

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Next, Martin LaMonica writes for The Boston Globe, and explores the frontiers of ocean-going robots - and the way they get power:

Deep sea stations could recharge underwater robots

More and more ­torpedo-shaped ­robots are plying the oceans to sniff out mines, gather environmental data, and scan the ocean floor for famous wrecks.

But these underwater vehicles struggle with the same problem that heavy smartphone users have: short battery life.

With a typical run time of about 24 hours, autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs as they are known, have so far been limited in use. If the industry can come up with a way to repower them at sea, these underwater robots could give the military powerful new tools and take on a broader range of commercial and scientific jobs.

Bluefin Robotics’s solution is much like what the auto industry is developing for electric cars: charging stations. Instead of being yanked out of the water for recharging, the robot would pull up to a refueling station on the ocean bottom... Read more.

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Tom Banse reporting for KUOW Public Radio takes a look at the state of the nation's beef cattle:

Drought, Wildfires Force Ranchers to Look for Efficiencies

The people who raise cattle destined to become steak or hamburger on your dinner plate are feeling the pinch. Wildfires this summer have scorched more than a million acres of Northwest rangeland. In addition, the Midwest drought is driving up feed costs across the board.

Now ranches and feedlots are looking to cut their feed costs in the short term... And longer term, have an eye on making the cattle themselves more efficient.

The cost of feed is by far the biggest expense on the ledgers of most Western beef farmers. Since summer, a host of different feeds led by corn have flirted with record highs... Read and hear more.

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Randy Lee Loftis with The Dallas Morning News reports on an interesting ruling about what constitutes "crime" in the environmental arena:

Carjacking or carcinogens - either way, people harmed by lawbreakers are crime victims, federal judge in Texas rules

The judge said that people who breathe noxious fumes from industries that are convicted of environmental crimes should be considered crime victims, just like those defrauded by crooks or mugged by robbers.

Legal status as crime victims elevates community members to formal participants in federal criminal cases against polluters, potentially a powerful tool for neighborhood organizations.

As officially recognized crime victims, they gain the right to be reasonably protected from the accused and notified in advance of court proceedings, and to meet with prosecutors about the case, offer victim impact statements before and during sentencing and receive restitution.

Although Senior U..S. District Judge John D. Rainey’s ruling came in a single case involving a Citgo refinery in Corpus Christi, it could have implications for other communities by supporting a more lenient standard for community members to claim crime-victim status... Read more.

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And finally, from Lauren Sommer, a story on NPR about how to restore a landscape - when you have no idea what the landscape used to look like:

Restore the California Delta! To What, Exactly?

In California, state officials are planning a multibillion-dollar environmental restoration of the inland delta near San Francisco Bay. There's only one problem: No one knows what the landscape used to look like. Ninety-seven percent of the original wetlands are gone, so the state is turning to historians for help.

This detective story begins on a sunny day in a dry field of corn, about an hour east of San Francisco.

Alison Whipple and Robin Grossinger are looking through a pile of maps, trying to piece together the path of William Wright, a man who got hopelessly lost somewhere nearby.

This happened 160 years ago. Whipple and Grossinger are historians — historical ecologists, more precisely — with the San Francisco Estuary Institute. They dig up old photos and hand-drawn maps that provide clues about what this landscape once looked like... Read, hear, and see more.