NASA: New Danger from Glacier Melt

Water Wonk Wednesdays

A weekly column on water news, tips, and innovations.


Rink Glacier in western Greenland, with a meltwater lake visible center. Credits: NASA/OIB

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory using novel techniques revealed in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters that Greenland’s glaciers are prone to losing mass faster than expected. In the record hot Greenland summers of 2010 and 2012 glacier melt water pulsed toward the ocean more powerfully than previously observed or predicted, likely providing a preview of a warming Earth. With that melting will come sea level rise that threatens coastal habitations like New York City.

More here:

NASA Scientists Reveal a New Mode of Ice Loss in Greenland


Nerds Unite Across the Seas


The scientists at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) who helped launch the Ocean Health Index to objectively measure the value and sustainability of marine services are now pioneering new means of collaboration in global research. Ocean scientists of all stripes, from Indonesia to Scandinavia, are sharing data in real time along models established by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and academics. If your eyes are glazing over, you’re missing a vital point: we have no time to spare in adapting shoreline management and fishing practices to a world in which oceans are both rising and dying.

Mote here:



Gotham’s Little Brown Bats

Flora and Fauna Fridays

A weekly entry about the life of our estuary and watershed.


Little Brown Bat. Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program.

by Erik Baard

A single Little Brown Bat, which is New York City’s most common bat species, eats up to 1,000 mosquitoes per hour. That might not be the stuff of comic books, but in our book that makes each one a true hero of Gotham.

These highly intelligent and sociable mammals protect human health and well-being by removing these disease-spreading insects and agricultural pests. Little Brown Bats rarely have rabies and they’re so unobtrusive that many New Yorkers don’t realize that so many live among us. Two terrific places to see them are the Conservatory Water (aka the model boat pond) in Central Park and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. They love to live near water. You won’t hear the high pitched echolocation used by bats to locate their prey, but you might catch some squeaks and clicks as they pass overhead.

Sadly, a fungal disease called white nose syndrome has killed millions of these marvelous creatures. In the Eastern U.S., 94% of Little Brown Bats died over the past few years. Other bat species have been devastated too. HarborLAB is building bat boxes for donation to waterfront parks and natural preserves throughout NYC to help this species replenish itself. The boxes are simple to make. The interior is slotted to create the narrow nooks bats enjoy. The wood is scraped inside to create grooves for the bats to grip when sleeping upside down. We paint them a medium shade and face them south to absorb heat. Little Brown Bats both migrate and hibernate, with males and females sleeping together when food is scarce. The sexes separate in warmer months when insects are plentiful, though they still sleep quite a bit — almost 20 hours a day.



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Volunteer for Water Quality Monitoring!

Water Wonk Wednesdays

A weekly column on water news, tips, and innovations.




HarborLAB will kick off our 2017 season of water sampling water at Gantry Plaza State Park on May 18, to help ensure the safety of our programs and contribute to a better understanding of human impacts on our estuary. We welcome new volunteers and prospective interns to help out! Email with the subject “Water Sampling” if you’d like to join the crew.

On Thursday volunteer Patricia Vidals-Aquino will take a sample from the dock at Gantry and bring it to the laboratory of HarborLAB Board Member, Holly Porter-Morgan, PhD, director of the environmental science program at CUNY LaGuardia Community College. Our work is part of a citywide program organized through NYC Water Trail Association.

HarborLAB Environmental Monitoring Manager Josue Silvestre describes the process:

1. Selection of a sampling point is extremely important. This sampling point should be located where current is visible, no still water.

2. Sampling material includes a sterilized sampling bottle, ziplock bags, and ice cubes, additionally a cooler bag/lunch box to keep it cool and out of light/sun. If you cannot get a cooler bag/ lunch box, Erik kindly offer to provide one.
3. Make sure to use the sterilized sampling bottle, if it’s open it may be contaminated and the sample wouldn’t be representative.
4. Mark the sampling bottle with location, date and precise time that the sample is taken.
5. Rinse the bottle in water from the sampling site three times before taking the sample. Fill up the bottle entirely and cap the bottle immediately and put it inside the ziplock bag with ice cubes or ice pack.
6. Place the sample inside the cooler bag/lunch box to keep the sample cool and out of light/sun.
7. Take the sample to the drop off location. This CWQT season, the drop off location is the NBBC at 437 McGuinness Blvd Brooklyn, NY 11222. Willis Elkins from from Newtown Creek Alliance and NBBC will take the samples for enterococcus testing to Dr, Porter-Morgan’s lab at Laguardia Community College.
8. Take a new sterilized sampling bottle from the same drop off box/bucket for next time you sample.
Josue will train new participants in the program in the near future.  Drop us a note if you’d like to help!



Nontoxic Transformer Oil

Water Wonk Wednesdays

A weekly column on science, policy, and innovations.


By Erik Baard

A Con Ed transformer burst in a Dumbo, Brooklyn electrical substation, releasing about 37,000 gallons of insulating oil. A significant amount of oil made its way underground into the East River, upon which it was carried as far north as Gantry Plaza State Park.

Con Ed uses dielectric fluid, a toxic synthetic mineral oil. The utility has the option of using natural and synthetic esters and pentaerythritol, which are common transformer fluid upgrades now for coastal applications because they are nontoxic and biodegradable. They also have a higher flash point (a safety bonus atop the environmental advantages) and other superior qualities for daily functioning. Another option under development is using vegetable oils, but the load demands and weather extremes of NYC so far preclude that option. Nanotech enhancements might make coconut or other natural oils more suitable in the future. Many of these products are already marketed.

Other substitutes for mineral oil , like silicone and fluorocarbons, are safer and superior within the transformer, but a hazard to the environment if released.

After the transformer explosions we witnessed during Hurricane Sandy, perhaps it’s time to explore more modern transformer fluid.

Furure accidents needn’t result in a threat to the environment and paddlers. HarborLAB volunteers provide paddling programs at Gantry to hundreds of children. Paddlers were restricted this week from entering a wide zone.

HarborLAB contributed to the safety response by reporting the sheen at Gantry to the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Spill Hotline:

NYS Spill Hotline: 1-800-457-7362
National Response Center: 1-800-424-8802