GREAT ATLANTIC GARBAGE PATCH: The Atlantic Ocean is home to a big, nebulous trash vortex similar to the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, researchers announced Tuesday, illustrating how widespread the problem of global plastic pollution has become. The findings are based on more than 64,000 tiny pieces of plastic collected over 22 years by undergraduates at the Sea Education Association, and lead investigator Kara Lavendar Law says the floating trash is "concentrated and remains over long periods of time," presumably due to cycling ocean currents like the ones that concentrate garbage in the North Pacific (pictured). The accumulation is located off the U.S. East Coast north of the Caribbean Sea, and while Law says it's difficult to compare it to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, researchers in both places have collected more than 1,000 bits of plastic during a single tow of a net. "You can think of it in a similar way, but I think the word 'patch' can be misleading," she says. "This is widely dispersed and it's small pieces of plastic." The small sizes and wide dispersal actually makes things worse, she adds, since it's nearly impossible to clean up and may be ingested by sea life. "We know that many marine organisms are consuming these plastics," Law says, "and we know this has a bad effect on seabirds in particular." (Sources: BBC News, Associated Press)

UNDER THE WEATHERIZATION: Making low-income housing more energy-efficient has been a major chunk of President Obama's economic recovery plan since he took office, often touted as a way to save money, reduce emissions and create jobs. The 2009 Recovery Act included $5 billion to weatherize U.S. homes and apartments over a three-year period, up from $450 million the previous fiscal year. But according to a new report from the Energy Department's inspector general, the program has barely left the starting gates a year after it began, with some of the largest states still meeting less than 2 percent of their three-year goals. The delay, the report explains, is due to bureaucratic confusion as well as the recession itself — hiring freezes and furloughs have sidelined many of the workers who would perform the weatherization work, and uncertainty about wage restrictions led many states to wait until last fall to begin using stimulus money to hire those workers. This has led to a lack of progress the inspector general calls "alarming," but a DOE official tells the New York Times that the pace is picking up after a slow start. "Since September 2009, we have tripled the pace of Recovery Act-funded home weatherization," the official said in a statement. (Source: New York Times, U.S. Energy Department)

VAN JONES: Five months after resigning from his post as environmental adviser to President Obama, green-jobs advocate Van Jones finally has a green job of his own again. Jones has been doing consulting work for companies and nonprofits since he stepped down on Sept. 5, but now tells the Washington Post that he's beginning a one-year teaching appointment at Princeton University in June, offering a seminar on environmental and economic policy. He'll also rejoin the Center for American Progress next month, and on Friday he'll receive the NAACP's President's Award for public service. The ambitious Jones seems to be staging a public comeback following last year's resignation, which was fueled by criticism from right-wing talk-show hosts, namely Fox News' Glenn Beck. "I don't have any bitterness or anger about the situation," Jones tells the Post. "The good thing about being an American is you're free to think whatever you want, and you're also free to change your mind." (Source: Washington Post)

BEAR MARKET: The recent plight of polar bears has helped draw attention to climate change in the Arctic, since few people want to see the iconic predators go extinct. But while the loss of polar bears would be tragic, some of their northern neighbors may already be capitalizing on their decline — and not just seals. Biologists have begun to notice grizzly bears expanding into territory once considered the exclusive realm of polar bears, and the sightings seem to be increasing in frequency. Scientists had previously thought the harsh landscape north of Hudson Bay would prevent grizzlies from moving into Canada's Wapusk National Park, but the bears proved them wrong, probably surviving the journey thanks to their flexible diet of berries and meat. They encountered a smorgasbord of caribou, moose and fish in their new territory, and experts say they aren't likely to leave now that they'd found food — which could be bad news for any remaining polar bears. "This is worrying for the polar bears because grizzly bears would likely hibernate in polar bear maternity denning habitat," says one of the study's co-authors. "They would come out of hibernation at the same time and can kill polar cubs." (Source: ScienceDaily)

FIRE BIRDS: Male bowerbirds are plain-looking at first glance, apparently more subdued suitors than flashy birds like peacocks. But their secret to winning over the ladies isn't their looks, but their labor — they build elaborate structures of dry twigs on the ground, decorating the dirt around them with various found objects like snail shells, berries, leaves and even human trash like colored glass or plastic. They pick out colors that will stand out from their own plumage and the surrounding vegetation, all in hopes of wooing the notoriously finicky female bowerbird. But a new study has found that these males' ingenuity doesn't stop at their construction skills or their eye for color — Australian male bowerbirds also seem to design their huts to withstand that continent's frequent brush fires. Japanese researchers studying 23 bowers in Australia's Northern Territory noticed that of the nine reached by brush fires, only three were burned; the surviving six were all located in small areas of unburned ground encircled by scorched earth. Such a survival rate is unlikely to be random, the researchers say, pointing out that the fire probably missed the bowers due to the birds' habit of clearing away all debris from around their home. It's still unclear whether this is an evolutionary adaptation to protect them from fires, or merely a lucky side effect of their meticulous house cleaning. (Source: New Scientist)

Russell McLendon

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Photo (floating trash in the Pacific): Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Mario Aguilera/AP

Photo (worker adding insulation): Nebraska Energy Office

Photo (Van Jones): ZUMA Press

Photo (grizzly bear): U.S. Geological Survey

Photo (western bowerbird): Richard.Fisher/Flickr

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Daily Briefing: Wed. 2/24/2010
Garbage patch found in Atlantic, Van Jones is back, grizzlies replacing polar bears, and more.