Update: 21 people die and 6 are missing due to mountain flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rainfall in Xi’an, NW China’s Shaanxi Province

Twenty-one people have died and another six are missing as of Sunday evening after heavy rainfall hit Xi’an, Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, and caused mountain floods and mudslides on Friday evening. 

Due to the impact of short-duration heavy rain, mountain floods and mudslides struck a village in Chang’an district in Xi’an around 6 pm on Friday. The disaster has damaged two houses occupying a total area of 300 square meters, destroyed three sections and slightly damaged 21 sections on the National Highway 210, damaged three electric power supply infrastructures and left 900 households out of power, according to Xi’an Bureau of Emergency Management. 

Xi’an city immediately set up an on-site command center, organized a total of 14 rescue teams including firefighting and police departments with more than 980 personnel, and deployed over 1,100 units of equipment and tools including life detectors, satellite phones, excavators, and search and rescue dogs, working around the clock to carry out search and rescue as well as disaster relief operations.

As of Sunday evening, 186 residents have been relocated and resettled, three severely damaged sections of the National Highway 210 have been restored, 21 slightly damaged road sections are under reinforcement, communication services have been restored in 49 affected areas, and power supply has been restored to 855 households.

The city is making every effort to seize the critical period for rescue operations, continuing to search for missing individuals restlessly, as well as remove risks to prevent the occurrence of secondary disasters.  

Preliminary investigations showed that two houses in the village were washed away, a with nearby roads, bridges, power supplies and other infrastructures damaged, leaving local residents partially cut off with the outside world. 

Local media reported that as of Sunday Morning, four people had been confirmed dead, while 14 others remain missing. 

The Xi'an detachment of the armed police force in Shaanxi deployed more than 100 personnel to the impacted area. Preliminary search and rescue operations remain underway. 

As of Sunday morning, rescue forces have transferred 81 residents and 11 vehicles to safe locations, and are assisting with the search and recovery of four deceased villagers, with emergency workers scanning an area 65 kilometers in length along a nearby river.  

According to a local villager surnamed Li (pseudonym), flooding and mudslides began following one or two hours of heavy rain on Friday afternoon. Two dwellings swept away by flood waters operated agritourism business, but there was yet to be confirmation whether guests were inside during flooding. 

Local fire department, police and emergency management authorities are working to coordinate rescue efforts. 

Upon receiving the report, China's Ministry of Emergency Management has dispatched a working group to the disaster site to assist with rescue and response efforts and have also mobilized a local fire and rescue team consisting of 207 personnel to carry out rescue operations.

New tyrannosaur bridges gap from medium to monstrous

A fossil from a new species of dinosaur is helping to bridge a crucial 20-million-year gap in tyrannosaur evolution.

The key fossil is a 90-million-year-old, grapefruit-sized partial skull from Uzbekistan’s Bissekty Formation. This tyrannosaur braincase, the first well-preserved one found from the mid-Cretaceous period, shows that, although still small, tyrannosaurs of the time already had brain and ear features of later tyrannosaurs. Researchers have dubbed the in-betweener Timurlengia euotica, meaning “well-eared.” They describe the new species in a paper to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The braincase sheds light on a long-standing mystery: how tyrannosaurs evolved in the gap from 100 million to 80 million years ago from an “average Joe” horse-sized predator in the Early Cretaceous to the huge apex predators they became in the Late Cretaceous. “Our study is the first to show that the sophisticated brain and hearing of big tyrannosaurs evolved in smaller-bodied species, long before tyrannosaurs got giant,” says study coauthor Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh. These advantages, he adds, may have helped tyrannosaurs become such successful — and eventually enormous — predators.
Analyzed against a database of other tyrannosaur skulls, the braincase shows that Timurlengia’s brain and ear “are almost identical to T. rex, just smaller,” Brusatte says. In particular, the dinosaur’s long cochlea, a part of the inner ear, is a signature of bigger, badder Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurs. “The long cochlea would have meant better sensitivity to low-frequency sound,” Brusatte explains. That sensitivity would have enabled Timurlengia to detect very subtle or distant sounds, giving the dinosaur clear advantages over other predators.

“Timurlengia fills an important gap in both time and evolution,” says Lawrence Witmer, a paleontologist at Ohio University in Athens who was not involved in the study. “Charles Darwin couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

The next step is to determine if the braincase is typical of a mid-Cretaceous tyrannosaur, or just one oddball data point. “We’ve analyzed the heck out of each scrap of Bissekty tyrannosaur bone,” Brusatte says, “so the thing that could move us forward is the discovery of new specimens in other middle Cretaceous rock units in other parts of the world.”

Itty bitty engine puts a single atom to work

A team of scientists has built a heat engine out of a single atom.

Heat engines, like steam engines or internal combustion engines, convert heat into motion. To create the minuscule engine, physicist Johannes Roßnagel of University of Mainz and colleagues heated and cooled a calcium ion with an electric field and a laser, causing it to move and do a tiny amount of work. They report their results in the April 15 Science.

Read more about this and other scaled-down engines in “Ultrasmall engines bend second law of thermodynamics.”

Leptospirosis bacterium still haunts swimming holes

Danger in ‘swimming hole’  — As warm weather approaches, the old swimming hole will again beckon boys and girls in farm areas. But disease germs lurk in waters exposed to cattle and other animals…. One “swimming hole disease” called leptospirosis is caused by water-borne Leptospira pomona…. Warm summer temperatures are ideal for maintaining leptospiral organisms in water, and heavy rains may transport the organisms downstream.  — Science News, May 14, 1966

An estimated 100 to 200 people get leptospirosis annually in the United States. The disease, which can cause fever, headache and vomiting, is most common in tropical and rural regions worldwide. Summertime swimming is also haunted by another single-celled terror that thrives in warm freshwater: the so-called “brain-eating” amoeba, Naegleria fowleri. The amoeba caused 35 reported infections in the United States from 2005 to 2014. If N. fowleri enters a person’s nose, it can travel to the brain, where swelling triggered by the immune system kills most victims (SN: 8/22/15, p. 14).

Despite misuses, statistics still has solid foundation

In many realms of science today, “statistical wisdom” seems to be in short supply. Misuse of statistics in scientific research has contributed substantially to the widespread “reproducibility crisis” afflicting many fields (SN: 4/2/16, p. 8; SN: 1/24/15, p. 20). Recently the American Statistical Association produced a list of principles warning against multiple misbeliefs about drawing conclusions from statistical tests. Statistician Stephen Stigler has now issued a reminder that there is some wisdom in the science of statistics. He identifes seven “pillars” that collectively provide a foundation for understanding the scope and depth of statistical reasoning.
Stigler’s pillars include methods for measuring or representing aggregation (measures, such as averages, that represent a collection of data); information (quantifying it and assessing how it changes); likelihood (coping with probabilities); intercomparison (involving measures of variation within datasets); regression (analyzing data to draw inferences); design (of experiments, emphasizing randomization); and residual (identifying the unexplained “leftovers” and comparing scientific models).

His approach is to identify the historical origins of these seven key pillars, providing some idea of what they are and how they can assist in making sense of numerical data. His explanations are engaging but not thorough (it’s not a textbook), and while mostly accessible, his writing often assumes a nontrivial level of mathematical knowledge. You’ll have to cope with expressions such as L(Θ)=L(Θ)|Χ and Cov(L,W)=E{Cov(L,W|S)}+Cov(E{L|S}, E{W|S}) every now and then.

While Stigler defends statistics from some of the criticisms against it — noting, for instance, that specific misuses should not be grounds for condemning the generic enterprise — he acknowledges that some issues are still a source of concern, especially in the new era of “big data” (SN: 2/7/15, p. 22). Using common statistical tests when many comparisons are made at once, or applying tests at multiple stages of an experimental process, introduces problems that the seven pillars do not accommodate. Stigler notes that there is room, therefore, for an eighth pillar. “The pillar may well exist,” he writes, “but no overall structure has yet attracted the general assent needed for recognition.”

Antibiotics in cattle leave their mark in dung

Overuse of antibiotics in livestock can spread drug-resistant microbes — via farm workers or even breezy weather. But there’s more than one reason stay upwind of drugged cattle.

Dung beetles (Aphodius fossor) make their living on cattle dung pats, which are rich in nutritious microbes. To investigate the effects of cattle antibiotics on this smaller scale, Tobin Hammer of the University of Colorado at Boulder and his colleagues studied the tiny communities around tetracycline-dosed and undosed cows. Compared with untreated cows’ dung, microbes in dung produced by treated cows were less diverse and dominated by a genus with documented resistance, the researchers report May 25 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Beetles typically reduce methane gas wafting off dung, but pats from treated cows showed a 1.8-fold increase in methane output. How this might figure into greater cattle methane production remains to be studied, but Hammer and company speculate that the antibiotics may wipe out the bacterial competition for microbial methane factories.

Tiny plastics cause big problems for perch, lab study finds

Editor’s note: On May 3, 2017, Science retracted the study described in this article. Based on findings from a review board at Uppsala University, Science cites three reasons for pulling the study: The experiments lacked ethical approval, the original data do not appear in the paper and questions emerged about experimental methods.

Microscopic pieces of plastic rule Earth’s oceans, with numbers in the billions — possibly trillions. These tiny plastic rafts provide homes to microbes (SN: 2/20/16, p. 20), but their ecological effects remain murky.
In a lab at Uppsala University in Sweden, researchers exposed European perch (Perca fluviatilis) larvae to a microplastic called polystyrene to see how they might react. The exposure triggered a slew of potentially negative effects: Fewer eggs hatched, growth rates dropped and feeding habits changed, with some larvae preferring polystyrene to more nutritious food options. Exposed larvae were also sluggish in responding to scents that signal approaching predators in the wild, the team reports in the June 3 Science.

European perch, a keystone species in the Baltic Sea, have recently experienced a population dive. Because the drop has been linked to juvenile feeding issues, the researchers argue that microplastics could be to blame.

Bird nest riddle: Which shape came first?

WASHINGTON — To human thinking, songbird nests now seem to have evolved backwards: The most distant ancestor probably built complex, roofed structures. Simple open-top cup nests came later.

More than 70 percent of songbird species today build some form of that iconic open cup, evolutionary biologist Jordan Price said August 18 at the North American Ornithological Conference. Yet looking at patterns of nest style across recent bird family trees convinced him that the widespread cup style probably isn’t just a leftover from deepest bird origins.
Old bird lineages thought to have branched out near the base of the avian family tree tend to have plentiful roof-builders. Price, of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and coauthor Simon Griffith of Macquarie University in Sydney reconstructed probable nest styles for various branching points in the tree. That reconstruction suggests that open cups showed up independently four times among songbirds, such as in bowerbirds and honeyeaters, the scientists conclude. Also, here and there, some of the earlier cup builders reverted to roofs.

Price said he began musing about nest history while reveling in Australia’s birds during a sabbatical with Griffith. Evolutionary biologists have proposed that the broader Australasia region was probably the starting point for the rise of songbirds. Price said that it isn’t clear what drove a switch from protective roofs to what looks like the quick and dirty alternative of open cups.

Juno transmits first intimate snapshots of Jupiter

Swirling clouds blanket Jupiter’s northern and southern poles in the first closeup images of the planet taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Such intimate views of Jupiter have never been seen before.

Juno snapped a shot of the gas giant’s northern side in an August 27 flyby, from a distance of 195,000 kilometers. The prominent bands that ring Jupiter’s middle fade at the poles, replaced with hurricane-like whorls. The poles are nearly invisible from Earth, making a specialized space mission like Juno necessary to capture such rare images.
Jupiter’s poles are unlike those of its fellow gas giant, Saturn. That planet has a giant cyclone encircling each of its poles (SN: 11/8/08, p. 9).

During the flyby, Juno’s eight science instruments were furiously collecting data. An infrared camera imaged Jupiter’s southern aurora, observing the phenomenon in detail for the first time. And another instrument recorded 13 hours of radio emissions from Jupiter’s auroras, which scientists converted into an eerie-sounding audio clip (listen to the audio clip in video below).

Juno is designed to study Jupiter’s interior, to better understand what lies beneath its clouds (SN: 6/25/16, p. 16). The spacecraft arrived at Jupiter on July 4. Its science instruments were switched off during its approach, so this is the first nearby glimpse scientists have seen. Juno will perform 37 orbits of Jupiter during its mission.

Fish escapes from marine farms raise concerns about wildlife

On the dock in Buenaventura, Colombia, the fisherman needed help identifying his catch. “I don’t have any clue what this is,” he said, holding a roughly 50-centimeter-long, grayish-brown fish. Gustavo Castellanos-Galindo, a fish ecologist, recalls the conversation from last October. “I said, ‘Well, this is a cobia, and it shouldn’t be here.’ ”

The juvenile cobia had probably escaped from a farm off the coast of Ecuador that began operating earlier in 2015, Castellanos-Galindo and colleagues at the World Wildlife Fund in Cali, Colombia, reported in March in BioInvasions Records. Intruders had probably cut a net cage, perhaps intending to catch and sell the fish. Roughly 1,500 cobia fled, according to the aquaculture company Ocean Farm in Manta, Ecuador, which runs the farm. Cobia are fast-swimming predators that can migrate long distances and grow to about 2 meters long. The species is not native to the eastern Pacific, but since the escape, the fugitives have been spotted from Panama to Peru.
The cobia getaway is not an isolated incident. Aquaculture, the farming of fish and other aquatic species, is rapidly expanding — both in marine and inland farms. It has begun to overtake wild-catch fishing as the main source of seafood for the dinner table. Fish farmed in the ocean, such as salmon, sea bass, sea bream and other species, are raised in giant offshore pens that can be breached by storms, predators, fish that nibble the nets, employee error and thieves. Global numbers for escapes are hard to come by, but one study of six European countries over three years found that nearly 9 million fish escaped from sea cages, according to a report published in Aquaculture in 2015.

Researchers worry that these releases could harm wildlife, but they don’t have a lot of data to measure long-term effects. Many questions remain. A study out of Norway published in July suggests that some domesticated escapees have mated extensively with wild fish of the same species, which could weaken the wild population. Scientists also are investigating whether escaped fish could gobble up or displace native fish.

Worst-case scenario: Escaped fish spread over large areas and wreak havoc on other species. From toxic toads overrunning Australia and Madagascar (SN Online: 2/22/16) to red imported fire ants in the United States, invasive species are one of the planet’s biggest threats to biodiversity, and they cost billions of dollars in damage and management expenses. Not every introduced species has such drastic effects, but invasives can be tough to eliminate.
While researchers try to get a handle on the impact of farm escapes, farmers are working to better contain the fish and reduce the ecological impact of the runaways. Some countries have tightened their aquaculture regulations. Researchers are proposing strategies ranging from new farm designs to altering fish genetics. As aquaculture becomes a widespread means to feed the planet’s protein-hungry people, the ecological effects are getting more attention.
If escapees weaken native wildlife, “we’re solving a food issue globally and creating another problem,” says population geneticist Kevin Glover of Norway’s Institute of Marine Research in Bergen. Norway, a top producer of marine fish, has done much of the research on farm escapes.

Not born to be wild
Fish farming is big business. In 2014, the industry churned out 73.8 million metric tons of aquatic animals worth about $160 billion, according to a report in July from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome.

Nearly two-thirds of this food comes from inland freshwater farms such as ponds, used in Asia for thousands of years. The rest is grown on marine and coastal farms, where farmed fish live in brackish ponds, lagoons or cages in the ocean.
Freshwater fish can escape from pond farms during events such as floods. Some escapees, such as tilapia, have hurt native species by competing with and eating wild fish. But sea farming has its own set of problems. The physical environment is harsh and cages are exposed to damaging ocean waves and wind, plus boats and predator attacks.

Salmon is one of the most heavily farmed marine fish. In some areas, the number of farmed salmon dwarfs wild populations. Norway’s marine farms hold about 380 million Atlantic salmon, while the country’s rivers are home to only about 500,000 wild spawning Atlantic salmon.

In the four decades that farmers have been cultivating Atlantic salmon, farmed strains have diverged from their wild cousins. When both are raised in standard hatchery conditions, farm-raised salmon can grow about three to five times heavier than wild salmon in the first year of life.

Salmon raised in farms also tend to be less careful; for instance, after being exposed to an artificial predator, they emerge more quickly from hiding places than wild fish. This risky behavior may have arisen partly because the fish haven’t faced the harsh challenges of nature. “The whole idea of a hatchery is that everything gets to survive,” says Philip McGinnity, a molecular ecologist at University College Cork in Ireland. Farmed fish don’t know better.
These differences are bad news for hybrid offspring and wild fish. In early experiments, hybrid offspring of farmed and wild salmon tended to fare poorly in the wild. In the 1990s, McGinnity’s team measured these fish’s “lifetime success” in spawning rivers and the ocean. Compared with wild salmon, hybrid offspring had a lifetime success rate about a fourth to a half as high. Around the same time, a team in Norway found that when wild fish swam with farmed fish in their midst, the number of wild offspring that survived long enough to leave the river to head to the ocean was about one-third lower than expected, perhaps because the fast-growing farmed offspring gobbled a lot of food or claimed territory.

“There was truly reason to be concerned,” says Ian Fleming, an evolutionary ecologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, Canada, who was part of the Norway team.

Recent work supports the idea that farmed fish could crowd out wild fish by hogging territory in a river. In a study published last year in the Journal of Fish Biology, researchers found that the survival rate of young wild salmon dropped from 74 to 53 percent when the fish were raised in the same confined stream channels as young farmed salmon rather than on their own. When the channels had an exit, more wild fish departed the stream when raised with farmed salmon than when raised alone.

“These are fish that give up the territory and have to leave,” says study coauthor Kjetil Hindar, a salmon biologist at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Trondheim.

A weaker mix
To find out how much escaped fish had genetically mingled with wild fish, Glover’s team obtained historical samples of salmon scales collected from 20 rivers in Norway before aquaculture became common. The researchers compared the DNA in the scales with that of wild salmon caught from 2001 to 2010 in those rivers.

Wild salmon in five of the 20 rivers had become more genetically similar to farmed fish over about one to four decades, the team reported in 2013 in BMC Genetics. In the most affected population, 47 percent of the wild fish’s genome originated from farmed strains. “We’re talking about more or less a complete swamping of the natural gene pool,” Glover says. Imagine buckets of paint — red, blue, green — representing each river, he says, and pouring gray paint into each one.

Interbreeding was less of an issue where wild fish were plentiful. The farmed fish aren’t good at spawning, so they won’t mate much if a lot of wild competitors are present. But in sparse populations, the farm-raised salmon may be able to “muscle in,” Glover says.
A larger study by Hindar’s team, published in July in the ICES Journal of Marine Science, showed that genetic mixing between wild and farmed salmon is happening on a large scale in Norway. Among 109 wild salmon populations, about half had significant amounts of genetic material from farmed strains that had escaped. In 27 populations, more than 10 percent of the fish’s DNA came from farmed fish.

What does that mean for the offspring? Each salmon population has adapted to survive in its habitat — a certain river, at a specific temperature range or acidity level. When farmed fish mate with wild fish, the resulting offspring may not be as well-suited to live in that environment. Over generations, as the wild population becomes more similar to farmed salmon, scientists worry that the fish’s survival could drop.

Scientists at several institutions in Norway are exploring whether genetic mixing changes the wild salmon’s survival rates, growth and other traits. Making a definitive link will be difficult. Other threats such as climate change and pollution also are putting stress on the fish.

If escapes can be stopped, wild salmon may rebound. Natural selection will weed out the weakest fish and leave the strongest, fish that got a lucky combination of hardy traits from their parents. But Glover worries that, just as a beach can’t recover if oil is spilled every year, the wild population can’t rally if farmed fish are continually pumped in: “Mother Nature cannot clean up if you constantly pollute.”

Uncertain consequences
In places where the species being farmed is not naturally abundant, researchers are taking a look at whether escapes could upset native ecosystems. For instance, European sea bass sometimes slip away from farms in the Canary Islands, where (except for a few small populations on the eastern end) the species doesn’t normally live.

In February 2010, storms battered cages at the island of La Palma, “like a giant tore up all the nets,” says Kilian Toledo-Guedes, a marine ecologist at the University of Alicante in Spain. About 1.5 million fish — mostly sea bass — reportedly swam free.

A couple of weeks later, the number of sea bass in nearby waters was “astounding,” he says. “I couldn’t see the bottom.” Sea bass density in waters near the farm was 162 times higher than it had been at the same time the previous year, his team reported in 2014 in Fisheries Management and Ecology. Fisheries data showing a spike in catches of sea bass by local fishermen that January also suggested that large unreported escapes had occurred before the storm.

Despite being raised in captivity, where they are fed pellets, some of the farmed fish learn to hunt. The researchers found that escaped sea bass caught four months after the 2010 farm breakdown had eaten mostly crabs. Sea bass from earlier escapes that had been living in the wild for several years had eaten plenty of fish as well. The results, reported in 2014 in Marine Environmental Research, suggest that escapees start by catching easy targets such as crustaceans and then learn to nab faster-moving fish.

So far, though, scientists have not seen clear signs that the escapees damaged the ecosystem. The density of sea bass around La Palma had fallen drastically by October 2010 and continued to decline the next year, probably because some fish couldn’t find enough to eat, while others were caught by fishermen or predators, according to a 2015 study by another team in the Journal of Aquaculture Research & Development.

Catches of small fish that sea bass eat, such as parrot fish, did not drop significantly after the 2010 escape or after a similar large escape in 1999, says study coauthor Ricardo Haroun, a marine conservation researcher at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain. While he agrees that the industry should try to prevent escapes, he sees no evidence that the runaways are suppressing wild species.
If the escaped fish can breed and multiply, the risk of harming native species rises. In a study published in Marine Ecology in 2012, Toledo-Guedes and colleagues reported finding sexually mature sea bass around the central island of Tenerife. But Haroun says the water is too warm and salty for the fish to reproduce, and his team did not see any juveniles during their surveys of La Palma, nor have they heard any reports of juveniles in the area. Toledo-Guedes says that more extensive studies, such as efforts to catch larvae, are needed before reproduction can be ruled out.

Similarly, researchers can’t predict the consequences of the cobia escape in Ecuador. The water is the right temperature for reproduction, and these predators eat everything from crabs to squid. Castellanos-Galindo believes that farming cobia in the area is a mistake because escapes will probably continue, and the fish may eventually form a stable population in the wild that could have unpredictable effects on native prey and other parts of the ecosystem. He points to invasive lionfish as a cautionary tale: These predators, probably released from personal aquariums in Florida, have exploded across the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic and are devouring small reef fish.

The situation for cobia may be different. Local sharks and other predators will probably eat the escapees, whereas lionfish have few natural predators in their new territory, argues Diego Ardila, production manager at Ocean Farm. Milton Love, a marine fish ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, also notes that lionfish settle in one small area, but cobia keep moving, so prey populations might recover after the cobia have moved on.

Not all introduced species become established or invasive, and it can take decades for the effects to become apparent. “Time will tell what happens,” says Andrew Sellers, a marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City. “Basically, it’s just up to the fish.”

A slippery problem
Once fish have fled, farmers sometimes enlist fishermen to help capture the escapees. Professional fishermen caught nearly one-quarter of the sea bass and sea bream that escaped after the Canary Islands breach. On average, though, only 8 percent of fish are recaptured after an escape, according to a study published in June in Reviews in Aquaculture. Given the recapture failures, farmers and policy makers should focus on preventing escapes and maintaining no-fishing zones around farms to create a “wall of mouths,” local predators that can eat runaway fish, says coauthor Tim Dempster, a sustainable aquaculture researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Technical improvements could help. The Norwegian government rolled out a marine aquaculture standard in 2004 that required improvements, such as engineering nets, moorings and other equipment to withstand unusually strong storms. Compared with the period 2001–2006, the average number of Atlantic salmon escaping annually from 2007–2009 dropped by more than half. Ocean Farm in Ecuador has tightened security, increased cage inspections and switched to stronger net materials; no cobia have escaped since last year’s break-in, says Samir Kuri, the company’s operations manager.
Some companies raise fish in contained tanks on land to avoid polluting marine waters, reduce exposure to diseases and control growth conditions. But the industry is largely reluctant to adopt this option until costs come down. The money saved from reducing escapes probably wouldn’t make up for the current start-up expense of moving to land. The 242 escape events analyzed in the 2015 Aquaculture study cost farmers about $160 million. By one estimate, establishing a land-based closed-containment farm producing about 4,000 metric tons of salmon annually — a small haul by industry standards — would cost $54 million; setting up a similar-sized sea-cage farm costs $30 million.

Another solution is to raise fish that have three sets of chromosomes. These triploid fish, produced by subjecting fertilized eggs to a pressure shock, can’t reproduce and therefore wouldn’t proliferate or pollute the wild gene pool.

“The only ultimate solution is sterility,” Norway’s Glover says. “Accidents happen.” Escaped triploid salmon are less likely to disrupt mating by distracting females from wild males, the researchers wrote in Biological Invasions in May. But triploid fish don’t grow as well when the water is warmer than about 15° Celsius, and consumers might be reluctant to accept these altered salmon.

Although the ecological effects of fish farm escapes may take a long time to play out, most researchers agree that we shouldn’t take chances with the health of the oceans, which already face threats such as climate change, pollution and overfishing. With the aquaculture industry expanding at about 6 percent per year, farmers will have to keep improving their practices if they are to stay ahead of the runaway fish.