PART II: Underwater Park—A Visualization of 20 Months of Frackwater in NYC
By David Manthos
Earlier this week, we posted a report on the quantity of water that has reportedly been used in the U.S. for hydraulic fracturing in the last 20 months. The staggering number, 65.9 billion gallons, was translated into the number of hours it would take for all of that water to flow over Niagara Falls (it was about 24.5 hours in case you wondered). However, with a lot of attention on New York State’s pending decision on fracking, and the drinking water supply for 9 million people in jeopardy, the staff at SkyTruth thought it would be a good idea to create a visual a little more familiar to the residents of the Big Apple.
Consider Central Park. Among the winding paths that twist through the 843-acre green-space, you find a number of lakes and ponds, the largest of which is the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (JKO) Reservoir. We thought about trying to use this lake to represent how much water has been used nation-wide, but the JKO reservoir barely holds 28.5 million gallons, and we need to represent more than 200 times that amount.
To reasonably do this, we need to change our units of measurement to something better suited to massive quantities of water. The volume of most lakes is measured in acre-feet, or the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land with one foot of water, and this will work quite well for our purposes. To make the conversion as simple as possible, this chart will give you a few examples:
At 202,238 acre-feet, all we have to do now is divide the number of acre-feet by the area of the park, and we find it covers the park in 239.9 feet of water! However, Central Park is not a smooth surface and all of the hilltops and valleys make modeling this a little challenging. I recorded more than 60 elevations from around the park and averaged them to find the base elevation of the park to work with. Then, in Google SketchUp, I added a 3D box around the entire park, raising the top to 240 feet above the mean elevation of the park—and the resulting images were even more staggering than I expected.
From the corner of 5th Avenue and W. 58th Street, the mere corner of our 3D pool of frackwater dominates the luxurious Plaza Hotel, and dwarfs the Apple Store’s futuristic glass cube on the lower right of the image. Remember, most of the water used in fracking is laced with toxic (and quite often secret) chemicals and some of this water remains deep underground after the initial frack (the percentage varies from 20-90 percent, depending on geology and the audience) or is disposed of in deep injection wells. Through high-volume slick-water hydraulic fracturing, a significant amount of water is being taken out of the hydrological cycle.
Image 2: Looking south from Harlem toward to Midtown Manhattan.
Some details and caveats to consider regarding this graphic:
- Relative to the Atlantic Ocean or one of the Great Lakes, this may seem like an insignificant amount of water. However, when you consider the relative scarcity of clean, fresh water, highlighted by this year’s record droughts, this volume is an enormous demand on our already strained water supplies.
- While some frackwater is reused, the dataset of industry reports we are working with does not consistently record this amount, so we have not been able to determine what portion of this is reused. However, our graphic is highly likely to be underreporting the actual quantity of water used, because…
- The industry reports we are working with only tell us what industry says it has used, and that only when they have filed a Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Product Component Information Disclosure. In June of this year, SkyTruth posted our findings that in Pennsylvania only 54 percent of wells had filed such a disclosure. There is a lack of complete data to work with because some states either do not require disclose, or they have not strictly enforced any such regulations.
Because of this, we can only definitively say that at least this much water was used in hydraulic fracturing between January 2011 and August 2012. Our knowledge is limited to what was reported, but while we know that some water was reused, we have not been able to tell how much (at least not yet, stay tuned to our blog, we may work this number out eventually) because of inconsistencies in reporting practices. We believe that much more activity has occurred than has been reported, making our estimate still very conservative - even with enough water to drown Central Park in 240 feet of chemical-laden brine.
Image 3: Looking east across the JKO Reservoir, from inside the 3D model.
If you have Google Earth and want take a 3D tour, download the model here. Find a compelling visual? Take a screenshot and share it on our Facebook wall, tweet it #66billion, #SkyTruth or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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