Science & Environment

Science news

Len Blumin /

October, the season of asters and goldenrods, of sparrows and seabirds, is perhaps my favorite month in New England, and not just because I look better in pants than shorts. October is a time of many significant transitions in the bird world, and I’m going to try to cover as many of them as I can this week, so buckle your seat belts.

Most of the plastic in the ocean is smaller than your pinkie fingernail - microbeads, and pieces of broken plastic.
5 Gyres Institute

You may have heard that there’s a floating island of plastic trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The truth is, there isn’t. In fact, the problem is far more insidious, more akin to smog. One estimate found that there are hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic - more than five trillion pieces, most about the size of a grain of rice - floating around in the world’s oceans.

Humans are taking a toll on ocean ecosystems – pollution, overfishing, climate change. Jeremy Jackson has watched human impacts sap the ability of Caribbean coral reefs to recover from natural disasters. But he says the greatest threat to ocean health is right inside our heads.

When Jackson first started studying coral reefs in the late 1960s, he was drawn by their beauty, by the fun and excitement of learning new things about corals. Over time, he and colleagues began to notice changes caused by human impacts.

Cape Cod Cyclist /

This is our last Fishing News of the 2016 season – but that doesn't mean the fishing season is over. Not by a long shot. Between now and the end of November, you can find plenty to keep your reel in action.

This week, Kevin Blinkoff of On The Water magazine serves up a menu of fishing options for fall weather, including:

Mark Faherty

It’s a late summer afternoon on Lieutenant Island in Wellfleet, and some suspicious characters are hanging around by the bridge. Some are crouching behind the railings, and others are peering through high powered optics.

Infrared image of the core of the Milky Way Galaxy. Our solar system orbits the galactic center once every 225-250 million years.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stolovy (SSC/Caltech) / Public Domain

Thanks to Galileo, it's common knowledge that the Earth orbits the sun. What's not as commonly known is that the sun - and our entire solar system - is orbiting around a massive black hole at the center of the galaxy. It takes 225 million Earth years to make one loop around the Milky Way.

A small group of science enthusiasts thinks we should all stop and ponder this and other amazing facts about our place in the universe once in a while, and they’ve declared a holiday this Thursday for exactly this purpose. It’s called Galactic Tick Day.

At least ninety percent of household dust contains chemicals that pose a health risk.
Heather Goldstone / WCAI

As if you need one more reason to hate household dust, science increasingly indicates it could be a hazard to your health. A recent review of research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, finds that the vast majority of household dust contains potentially toxic chemicals.

Mark Faherty

Recently, a saltmarsh in Sandwich was visited by an inconspicuous little bird with an incredible migration story to tell. The Northern Wheatear is a rare and obscure visitor to the lower 48 states, despite the fact that it breeds on Arctic tundra from Eastern Canada to Alaska.

Roger Hanlon

We all know camouflage when we see it, or when we don’t, as the case may be. But what does that actually mean?

“Qualitatively, it’s pretty easy for people to say ‘that’s camouflaged’ or ‘it’s not,’” says Roger Hanlon, a senior scientist at MBL, whose research focuses on camouflage in marine animals. “But to grade camouflage or to quantify it somehow, really has hardly ever been attempted until very recently.”

Local fishermen will tell you two things about false albacore: they're thrilling to fish for, and they taste terrible.

The first is indisputable.  But the second has long been a lingering question.