Sometimes value lies deep below the surface

People tend to notice jellyfish only when they are a bother (stinging beachgoers or showing up in massive blooms) or a beauty (tamed in an aquarium case). Surprisingly little has been known about their wild lives, as Susan Milius describes in her feature “Seeing past the jellyfish sting,” largely because they are difficult to study.

Now research is revealing aspects of their lives that are seldom appreciated. Some jellies are sophisticated hunters of the open ocean. Others harbor an array of hangers-on, serving as mobile mini-ecosystems. Leatherback sea turtles fatten up on jellyfish. These and other surprises about jellyfish serve as a reminder of all that people don’t know about ocean ecosystems, and of how shortsighted notions to intervene — a la jellyfish-killing robots — may turn out to be.

Shortsightedness could also be at play in the issue of controlling carbon emissions, particularly for coal-burning power plants, which generate almost half of global carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon capture and storage technologies that would dramatically reduce power plant emissions already exist. But, as Beth Mole’s “Carbon quagmire” feature describes, convincing power plants to add the technologies has been a tough sell.

As currently formulated, the technologies siphon off a good chunk of a plant’s energy output. And they are expensive to install and run. Still, a few utilities are trying. By implementing the techniques, one of which has been around for 80-plus years, utilities may be able to improve the methods and pave the way for more widespread use. And that surely would have a large impact on global carbon levels, and thus on future climate.

Also in this issue, read about signs of heart disease in the blood vessels of mummies, illustrating just how old this age-old problem is. And in our ongoing Ebola coverage, learn what scientists have discovered about the transmissibility of the Ebola virus.

We tend to pay the most attention to things, be it jellies, carbon, heart disease or Ebola, once they are a problem. But when we do, what’s learned is often amazing and useful, and may just help keep people and this planet healthy.

More Stories from Science News on Earth