Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Sand


Just a bit of water enables one to turn a pile of dry sand into a spectacular sandcastle. Too much water however will destabilize the material, as is seen in landslides. Here we investigated the stability of wet sand columns to account for the maximum height of sandcastles. We find that the columns become unstable to elastic buckling under their own weight. This allows to account for the maximum height of the sand column; it is found to increase as the 2/3 power of the base radius of the column. Measuring the elastic modulus of the wet sand, we find that the optimum strength is achieved at a very low liquid volume fraction of about 1%. Knowing the modulus we can quantitatively account for the measured sandcastle heights.

Concepts: Volume, Liquid, Length, Earthquake engineering, Beach, Sand, Column, Buckling


Current understanding of the factors influencing hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) hatch success is disparate and based on relatively short-term studies or limited sample sizes. Because global populations of hawksbills are heavily depleted, evaluating the parameters that impact hatch success is important to their conservation and recovery. Here, we use data collected by the Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project (JBHP) to investigate hatch success. The JBHP implements saturation tagging protocols to study a hawksbill rookery in Antigua, West Indies. Habitat data, which reflect the varied nesting beaches, are collected at egg deposition, and nest contents are exhumed and categorized post-emergence. We analyzed hatch success using mixed-model analyses with explanatory and predictive datasets. We incorporated a random effect for turtle identity and evaluated environmental, temporal and individual-based reproductive variables. Hatch success averaged 78.6% (SD: 21.2%) during the study period. Highly supported models included multiple covariates, including distance to vegetation, deposition date, individual intra-seasonal nest number, clutch size, organic content, and sand grain size. Nests located in open sand were predicted to produce 10.4 more viable hatchlings per clutch than nests located >1.5 m into vegetation. For an individual first nesting in early July, the fourth nest of the season yielded 13.2 more viable hatchlings than the initial clutch. Generalized beach section and inter-annual variation were also supported in our explanatory dataset, suggesting that gaps remain in our understanding of hatch success. Our findings illustrate that evaluating hatch success is a complex process, involving multiple environmental and individual variables. Although distance to vegetation and hatch success were inversely related, vegetation is an important component of hawksbill nesting habitat, and a more complete assessment of the impacts of specific vegetation types on hatch success and hatchling sex ratios is needed. Future research should explore the roles of sand structure, nest moisture, and local weather conditions.

Concepts: Coral reef, Sand, Hawksbill turtle, Leatherback turtle, Sea turtle, Green turtle, Kemp's Ridley, Sea turtles


The successful establishment of agricultural crops depends on sowing quality, machinery performance, soil type and conditions, among other factors. This study evaluates the operational quality of mechanized peanut sowing in three soil types (sand, silt, and clay) with variable moisture contents. The experiment was conducted in three locations in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The track-sampling scheme was used for 80 sampling locations of each soil type. Descriptive statistics and statistical process control (SPC) were used to evaluate the quality indicators of mechanized peanut sowing. The variables had normal distributions and were stable from the viewpoint of SPC. The best performance for peanut sowing density, normal spacing, and the initial seedling growing stand was found for clayey soil followed by sandy soil and then silty soil. Sandy or clayey soils displayed similar results regarding sowing depth, which was deeper than in the silty soil. Overall, the texture and the moisture of clayey soil provided the best operational performance for mechanized peanut sowing.

Concepts: Soil, Erosion, Silt, Sand, Clay, Loess, Statistical process control, W. Edwards Deming


We report that male pufferfishes (Torquigener sp., Tetraodontidae) constructed large geometric circular structures on the seabed that played an important role in female mate choice. Males dug valleys at various angles in a radial direction, constructing nests surrounded by radially aligned peaks and valleys. Furthermore, they created irregular patterns in the nest comprising fine sand particles. The circular structure not only influences female mate choice but also functions to gather fine sand particles in nests, which are important in female mate choice. Strangely enough, the males never reuse the nest, always constructing a new circular structure at the huge cost of construction. This is because the valleys may not contain sufficient fine sand particles for multiple reproductive cycles.

Concepts: Human, Male, Reproduction, Female, Hermaphrodite, Sand, Tetraodontidae, Torquigener


Sedimentary dispersal systems with fine-grained beds are common, yet the physics of sediment movement within them remains poorly constrained. We analyze sediment transport data for the best-documented, fine-grained river worldwide, the Huanghe (Yellow River) of China, where sediment flux is underpredicted by an order of magnitude according to well-accepted sediment transport relations. Our theoretical framework, bolstered by field observations, demonstrates that the Huanghe tends toward upper-stage plane bed, yielding minimal form drag, thus markedly enhancing sediment transport efficiency. We present a sediment transport formulation applicable to all river systems with silt to coarse-sand beds. This formulation demonstrates a remarkably sensitive dependence on grain size within a certain narrow range and therefore has special relevance to silt-sand fluvial systems, particularly those affected by dams.

Concepts: Sediment, River, Erosion, Silt, Yellow River, Sand, Sediment transport, Sedimentology


It is predicted that the coastal zone will be among the environments worst affected by projected climate change. Projected losses in beach area will negatively impact on coastal infrastructure and continued recreational use of beaches. Beach nourishment practices such as artificial nourishment, replenishment and scraping are increasingly used to combat beach erosion but the extent and scale of projects is poorly documented in large areas of the world. Through a survey of beach managers of Local Government Areas and a comprehensive search of peer reviewed and grey literature, we assessed the extent of nourishment practices in Australia. The study identified 130 beaches in Australia that were subject to nourishment practices between 2001 and 2011. Compared to projects elsewhere, most Australian projects were small in scale but frequent. Exceptions were nine bypass projects which utilised large volumes of sediment. Most artificial nourishment, replenishment and beach scraping occurred in highly urbanised areas and were most frequently initiated in spring during periods favourable to accretion and outside of the summer season of peak beach use. Projects were generally a response to extreme weather events, and utilised sand from the same coastal compartment as the site of erosion. Management was planned on a regional scale by Local Government Authorities, with little monitoring of efficacy or biological impact. As rising sea levels and growing coastal populations continue to put pressure on beaches a more integrated approach to management is required, that documents the extent of projects in a central repository, and mandates physical and biological monitoring to help ensure the engineering is sustainable and effective at meeting goals.

Concepts: Sediment, Weather, Coast, Beach, Sand, Coastal geography, Extreme weather, Beach nourishment


Dune slacks are a seasonal coastal wetland habitat, whose plant assemblages and soil properties are strongly linked to a fluctuating water table. Climate change is predicted to cause major shifts in sand dune hydrological regimes, yet we know remarkably little about the tolerance of these communities to change, and their precise hydrological requirements are poorly quantified. Dune slack vegetation and soils were sampled within five vegetation types across four west coast UK sites. Relationships between vegetation assemblages, and parameters of soil development (moisture, loss on ignition, pH, KCl extractable ions) and groundwater hydrological regime (annual maximum and minimum water levels and range, duration of flooding) were established to define the environmental tolerances of different communities. In multivariate analysis of the vegetation, the dominant gradient was hydrological: dry to wet, followed by a secondary soil development gradient: young calcareous organic-poor soils to acidic/neutral soils with greater organic matter contents. Most measured hydrological and soil variables explained a significant proportion of observed variation in species composition when tested individually, with the exception of soil nitrate and soil calcium concentrations. Maximum water level was the key hydrological variable, and soil moisture and soil pH were the key soil variables. All hydrological and soil parameters together explained 22.5% of the total species variation. There were significant differences in hydrological and soil parameters between community types, with only 40cm difference in mean annual minimum water levels (averaged over 4years) separating the wettest and the driest dune slack communities. Therefore, predicted declines in water level exceeding 100cm by 2080 are likely to have a major impact on the vegetation of these priority conservation habitats.

Concepts: Soil, Hydrology, Aquifer, Potassium, Maxima and minima, Surface runoff, Sand, Level


European foredunes are almost exclusively colonised by Ammophila arenaria, and both the natural succession and the die-out of this plant have been linked to populations of plant-parasitic nematodes (PPN). The overarching aim of this study was to investigate top-down control processes of PPN in these natural ecosystems through comparative analyses of the diversity and dynamics of PPN and their microbial enemies. Our specific aims were, first, to identify and quantify PPN microbial enemies in European sand dunes; second, to assess their life history traits, their spatial and temporal variation in these ecosystems, and third, to evaluate their control potential of PPN populations. This was done by seasonal sampling of a range of sites and making observations on both the nematode and the microbial enemy communities in rhizosphere sand. Nine different nematode microbial enemies belonging to different functional groups were detected in European sand dunes. Their high diversity in these low productivity ecosystems could both result from or lead to the lack of dominance of a particular nematode genus. The distribution of microbial enemies was spatially and temporally variable, both among and within sampling sites. Obligate parasites, either with low host-specificity or having the ability to form an environmentally resistant propagule, are favoured in these ecosystems and are more frequent and abundant than facultative parasites. Three microbial enemies correlated, either positively or negatively, with PPN population size: Catenaria spp., Hirsutella rhossiliensis and Pasteuria penetrans. Microbial-enemy supported links in the food-web may be involved in the control of PPN populations through indirect effects. The endospore-forming P. penetrans was the most successful top-down control agent, and was implicated in the direct control of Meloidogyne spp. and indirect facilitation of Pratylenchus spp. Overall, our findings suggest strong and diverse top-down control effects on the nematode community in these natural ecosystems.

Concepts: Parasites, Nematode, Ecosystem, Beach, Sand, Ecological succession, Dune, Ammophila


Numerous studies on microplastics (MPs; Ø < 5 mm) in the aquatic environment have been published, but knowledge about the occurrence and ecological risks of MPs is limited. This is in part because current data on the distribution of MPs are comparable only to a limited extent, due to the many different methods of investigation. In addition, sample preparation is often difficult such that standard procedures are lacking. The aim of this work was to simplify the preparation of different kinds of MP samples. Our method makes use of the electrostatic behavior of plastic particles to facilitate their separation from sample matter, with up to 99% of the original sample mass removed without any loss of MPs. To determine the efficacy of this approach, four different materials (quartz sand, freshwater suspended particulate matter, freshwater sediment, and beach sand) were spiked with MPs (size: 0.063-5 mm from the seven most common types of plastics, one bioplastic type, polyethylene fibers, and tire wear. A modified electrostatic metal/plastic separator was used to reduce the sample mass and concentrate the plastics based on their physical separation. The recovery achieved with this method was as high as nearly 100% for each type of material. The method was then tested on plastic particles of different shapes and types isolated from the Rhine River. These were successfully electroseparated from the four materials, which demonstrated the utility of this method. Its advantages include the simplified handling and preparation of different field samples as well as a much shorter processing time, because after the last separation step there is hardly any biological material remaining in the sample fraction.

Concepts: River, Plastic, Germany, Particulate, Visibility, Air pollution, Sand, Rhine


Limbless organisms such as snakes can navigate nearly all terrain. In particular, desert-dwelling sidewinder rattlesnakes (Crotalus cerastes) operate effectively on inclined granular media (such as sand dunes) that induce failure in field-tested limbless robots through slipping and pitching. Our laboratory experiments reveal that as granular incline angle increases, sidewinder rattlesnakes increase the length of their body in contact with the sand. Implementing this strategy in a physical robot model of the snake enables the device to ascend sandy slopes close to the angle of maximum slope stability. Plate drag experiments demonstrate that granular yield stresses decrease with increasing incline angle. Together, these three approaches demonstrate how sidewinding with contact-length control mitigates failure on granular media.

Concepts: Crotalinae, Snake, Sand, Dune, Crotalus, Keeled scales, Cable railway, Crotalus cerastes