Science & Technology
06 Mar 2013:
Atmospheric CO2 Concentration
Shows Second-Largest Annual Increase
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased by 2.67 parts per million in 2012
, marking the second-biggest jump since levels were first recorded in 1959 and decreasing the chances that the planet will
avoid a dangerous temperature increase of 3.6 degrees F (2 C) or higher, U.S. scientists say. The new data, collected in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, suggests that levels of heat-trapping CO2 are now just under 395 parts per million (ppm) and could hit 400 ppm within two years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The one-year increase was second only to 1998, when CO2 concentrations jumped by 2.84 parts per million; pre-industrial atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were 280 ppm. Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at NOAA's Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory, attributed the latest spike to an increase in fossil fuel burning globally, particularly in China. “It’s just a testament to human influence being dominant,” he told the Associated Press.
28 Feb 2013:
Earth Unlikely to Face
An Ecological Tipping Point, Study Says
A team of international scientists has rejected the idea that the planet could face a sudden and irreversible ecological shift as a result of largely human-driven pressures, suggesting that such global transformations are more likely to occur over a long period of time. While earlier studies have warned that ecological pressures — including climate change, biodiversity loss, and over-exploitation of resources — could drive the planet toward a dangerous “tipping point,” the new paper says the ecosystems of different continents are not sufficiently interconnected for such a global shift to occur
. And while as much as 80 percent of the biosphere includes ecosystems that have been affected by human activities, major ecological shifts driven by these human pressures “depend on local circumstances and will therefore differ between localities,” said Erle Ellis, a scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and co-author of the paper, published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution
22 Feb 2013:
A 1.5 C Temperature Rise Could
Release Greenhouse Gases in Permafrost
A global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius could unleash more than 1,000 gigatons of carbon and methane
currently trapped beneath Siberian permafrost and accelerate global climate change, a new study says. In a study conducted in a frozen cave in Siberia, researchers analyzed stalactites and stalagmites which, since they form only when rainwater and snowmelt drip into the caves, provide a glimpse into 500,000 years of changing permafrost conditions. According to their findings, records of an especially warm period 400,000 years ago suggest that a 1.5-degree increase compared to current temperatures would trigger the thawing of permafrost far north of its existing southern boundary. And since permafrost covers 24 percent of the exposed land surface in the Northern Hemisphere, significant thawing could release huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, said Anton Vaks, a scientist at Oxford University and lead researcher on the study, published in Science Express
. In addition to the effects the loss of permafrost could have on climate, it could have major regional implications, affecting roads, railways, and natural gas facilities built on the frozen landscape.
15 Feb 2013:
Meteor Strike in Siberia
Rains Down Debris and Injures 1,000
A 10-ton meteor broke apart 20 to 30 miles above the ground in western Siberia,
raining chunks of debris over a large area, causing a powerful boom that damaged buildings across a vast territory, and injuring more than 1,000 people, mostly from shattering glass. The Russian Academy of Sciences said the meteor, known as a bolide, streaked through the earth’s atmosphere near the Ural mountain city of Chelyabinsk, 950 miles east of Moscow, around 9 a.m. local time Friday. It lit up the sky with a fireball that could be seen for hundreds of miles and that was captured on video by scores of observers. Pieces of the disintegrating meteor fell into a lake about 50 miles west of Chelyabinsk, and scientists and local officials said the damage and injuries could have been far worse had chunks of the meteor fallen on Chelyabinsk itself. As it was, the meteor strike shattered windows, TV sets, and dishes across a wide area, which caused most of the injuries. Most meteors that strike Earth disintegrate in the atmosphere, but this meteor was made of exceptionally hard material and did not fully burn up as it approached Siberia, scientists said.
13 Feb 2013:
Middle East Water Loss
Is Starkly Documented by NASA Satellites
A pair of gravity-measuring NASA satellites has documented a precipitous drop in freshwater supplies in the arid Middle East
over the past decade. NASA said that since 2003 parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran had lost 144 cubic kilometers of total stored freshwater, an amount roughly equivalent to the water in the Dead Sea. NASA researchers attributed 60 percent of the loss to increased pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs. An additional 20 percent of the loss came from soil drying up and snowpack shrinking, while the remaining 20 percent came from loss of surface water in lakes and reservoirs, according to the NASA study, to be published Friday in the journal Water Resources Research.
A drought in 2007 exacerbated all of these trends, but even without the drought scientists said that the rapidly growing population in the heart of the Middle East was using too much water at a time of increasing concern over intensifying droughts caused by climate change. The GRACE satellites — short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment — measure changes in gravity
, in this case caused by the falling of water reserves, which alters the earth’s mass.
12 Feb 2013:
Norwegian Retrofit Seeks
To Create ‘Energy-Positive’ Office Buildings
Two office buildings in Norway are being retrofitted so they will generate more power than they use
when the project is completed next year. The three- and four-story buildings, in the town of Sandvika, near Oslo, will generate geothermal and solar energy on site, making the buildings “energy positive,” according to the project's backers. The retrofit will use a heat-retaining black façade, top-quality insulation to reduce energy use by up to 90 percent, and an interior design that will allow air to circulate without fans. “We believe this is the first time in the world that a normal office block is being renovated to such strict standards,” Svein Brandtzaeg, chief executive of Norsk Hydro, one of the project’s partners, told Reuters. According to the UN Environment Programme, the building industry has the greatest potential of any economic sector for large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
11 Feb 2013:
Is Launched by NASA at Crucial Moment
NASA is expected to launch today its newest Earth-observing satellite, Landsat 8,
at a time when previous Landsat satellites have either stopped working or have developed serious technical problems. NASA scientists say the launch of the $855 million satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is vital to the space agency’s mission of monitoring the Earth during a period of unprecedented environmental change
— from disappearing glaciers and sea ice, to widespread forest loss, to intensifying destruction from natural disasters. The first Earth-observing satellite, Landsat 1, was launched in 1972. Today, two Landsat satellites remain functional, but NASA engineers have struggled to fix problems with the satellites, including the failure of transmitters to send images back to Earth and a sensor problem on Landsat 7 that blanks out a fifth of each image it collects. Ted Scambos, a senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, called Landsat satelites a “phenomenal” tool for documenting the loss of ice sheets and sea ice."
08 Feb 2013:
Memory of Magnetic Landscape
Guides Salmon to Home Rivers, Study Shows
Although magnetism has been known to play a role in the remarkable homing ability of salmon, a new study clarifies just how the fish use magnetic fields
to travel thousands of miles to their natal rivers to spawn. Researchers at Oregon State University solved this mystery by studying 56 years of fishery data involving the millions of sockeye salmon that annually pour into British Columbia’s Fraser River. Vancouver Island sits in front of the Fraser, and the routes the salmon took around the island in different years offered clues to how the fish decipher shifting magnetic fields. When the magnetic field of the northern passageway around Vancouver Island was similar to that experienced by the fish when they left the river two years earlier, the returning salmon tended to chose the northern route;
the reverse was true when there was a more southerly magnectic field. Lead researcher Nathan Putnam said this showed that juvenile salmon imprint on the magnetic signature of their home rivers and then seek their way back using that signature. The research was published in Current Biology
07 Feb 2013:
Wind Energy Now Cheaper
Than Fossil Fuel Power Plants in Australia
Unsubsidized wind power is now cheaper than electricity produced from new coal- and natural gas-fired power stations
in Australia, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The study said that electricity can be supplied from a new wind farm at a cost of 80 Australian dollars per megawatt hour, compared to 143 Australian dollars from a new coal plant and 116 Australian dollars from a new natural gas plant. Even without a recently imposed carbon price, wind energy is 14 percent cheaper than new coal power and 18 percent cheaper than new natural gas, the study said. The analysis said that Australia’s largest banks are unlikely to finance new coal plants because of concern over emissions-intensive investments and that natural gas has become expensive as Australia exports more liquid natural gas. By 2020, the report said, large-scale solar arrays will also be cheaper than coal or gas when carbon taxes are figured in. “The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Interview: Probing Impact of
Warming on World Food Supply
It has long been thought that climate change could enhance crop growth through the fertilizing effects of carbon dioxide.
University of Illinois
But recent research conducted by Stephen Long, a professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, indicates that any gains from CO2 fertilization will be offset by damage to plants from higher temperatures, increases in atmospheric ozone, and the greater efficiency of crop pests in a CO2-enriched world. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Long, who recently received a $25 million research grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, talks about the impacts of climate change on some of the world’s key crops, the challenge of boosting crop yields to meet the demands of a burgeoning human population, and how tinkering with the genes involved in photosynthesis may provide the solution scientists are seeking. Read the interview
05 Feb 2013:
Sea Urchins Offer a Clue
To New Way to Capture Carbon Dioxide
British researchers have discovered that sea urchins use nickel particles on their exoskeletons to effectively capture CO2 and turn it into a solid form, an intriguing finding that could offer an inexpensive way to capture and store carbon
from fossil fuel-fired power plants. Scientists from Newcastle University were studying how marine organisms absorb CO2 to make shells and skeletons when they discovered that sea urchin larvae have a high concentration of nickel on their exoskeletons, which helps them absorb CO2. When the researchers added nickel nanoparticles to CO2-saturated water, they discovered that the nickel completely removed CO2 and turned it into calcium carbonate
, a chalk-like mineral. Current efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants involve either pumping it underground or using an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase to convert it to calcium carbonate. But both methods are expensive, and the Newcastle researchers say that using nickel to capture and store CO2 bubbled through water could be a thousand times cheaper than employing carbonic anhydrase. “It seems too good to be true, but it works,” said Lidija Siller, a physicist at Newcastle. The research was published in Catalysis Science & Technology.
01 Feb 2013:
U.S. Carbon Emissions
Fall To The Lowest Level Since 1994
The continuing expansion of renewable energy technologies, advances in energy efficiency, and the rapid shift from coal to natural gas for generating electricity combined to bring down U.S. carbon dioxide emissions last year to their lowest levels since 1994
, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report said that CO2 emissions fell 13 percent in the last five years alone, which means that the U.S. is now more than halfway toward reaching President Obama’s goal of cutting emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The Bloomberg report said that while the shift from burning coal to natural gas is a significant factor in the U.S.’s continued emissions reductions, the adoption of renewable energy technologies is also playing an important role. The report said the cumulative installed solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass-based energy sources in the U.S. reached 86 gigawatts last year,
compared with 43 gigawatts in 2008. Another growing source of emissions cuts is adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles, with 488,000 people in the U.S. purchasing these energy-efficient cars last year.
31 Jan 2013:
Massive UK Wind Turbines
Are a Sign of ‘Super-sizing’ of Wind Power
Two of the world’s largest wind turbines, with blades 60 meters (196 feet) long, have been installed off the Yorkshire coast, a sign of a growing trend toward producing colossal wind turbines to boost generating capacity.
The 6-megawatt turbines, manufactured by Siemens, are so large that they had to be installed using a specially built ship
, Siemens said. The pair of turbines is being erected on an experimental basis to gauge how they perform, but the operator of the offshore wind farm, the Denmark-based DONG energy group, has plans to install dozens more so that production will reach 210 megawatts at the site, located about five miles offshore. DONG says it intends to eventually install 300 of the massive turbines by 2017 at various offshore locations in the U.K., including some in deeper waters. Energy analysts say the 60-meter Siemens turbines reflect growing interest among wind energy companies to deploy ever-larger turbines, with plans in the works to manufacture turbines 100 meters long.
25 Jan 2013:
German Plant to Produce
Methane Using Surplus Green Energy
Audi is building a plant in Germany that will use surplus power produced from renewable sources, such as wind energy generated when demand is low, to produce methane from water and carbon dioxide
. The plant, which will use technology developed by Stuttgart-based SolarFuel, reportedly will produce enough methane to run 1,500 of the new natural-gas vehicles Audi is planning to start selling this year. To produce the methane, the company will utilize a combination of technologies: electrolysis, in which water is split into its hydrogen and oxygen components, and methanation, in which the hydrogen is combined with carbon from carbon dioxide to produce methane. While the combined process would normally be considered impractical because of inefficiencies, the availability of excess energy from renewable sources in Germany, which has increased from 150 gigawatt-hours per year to 1,000 in two years, makes the process economically feasible, according to a report in MIT’s Technology Review
. “That’s electricity that we could use for nothing,” said SolarFuel’s Stephan Rieke.
23 Jan 2013:
BPA Alternative Also Disrupts
Development At Low Doses, Study Says
A synthetic chemical developed as an alternative to the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA), and now widely used in many products, also disrupts human development at low doses
, according to a new study. Created after research indicated potential health risks associated with BPA
— a component of polycarbonate plastics found in everything from plastic bottles to cash register receipts — bisphenol S (BPS) was found in the study to disrupt cellular responses to the hormone estrogen, altering biochemical pathways that affect cell growth and hormone release, according to researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. And like BPA, BPS triggers these effects at extremely low doses, the researchers found. According to UTMB's Cheryl Watson, lead author of the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives
, BPS is active at doses in the range of parts per trillion or quadrillion.
21 Jan 2013:
NASA Map Shows Air Pollution
Across Asia and the Middle East
New satellite data released by NASA provide dramatic visual evidence of the dangerous air quality reported from cities across Asia and the Middle East this month.
Based on data collected from its satellite-based Ozone Monitoring Instrument, a map released by NASA scientists
illustrates high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) — shown in orange — over several major cities, including Istanbul, Tehran and New Delhi, during the first week of January. Satellite measurements of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are a good indicator of air quality since NO2 is produced by the same fossil fuel-burning processes that also send sulfur dioxide and aerosols into the atmosphere, such as from vehicles, industrial sites, and power plants. The high concentrations of NO2 shown in the NASA map, based on measurements from Jan. 1 to 8, coincided with reports
from several cities of hazy skies, unhealthy air quality, and elevated cases of lung ailments.
17 Jan 2013:
Journals of Iconic Naturalists
Reveal Plants Are Blooming Much Earlier
An analysis of records kept by iconic naturalists Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold has revealed evidence that some native plants in the eastern U.S. are flowering as much as much as a month earlier
in spring than they did even just six decades ago. Writing in the journal PLoS ONE
, scientists from Boston and Harvard universities and the University of Wisconsin-Madison report that many plant species found in and around Concord, Mass. — including serviceberry and nodding trillium — are now blooming an average of 11 days earlier than when Thoreau kept copious notes in the 1850s. In Wisconsin, where Leopold and his students collected comprehensive data on spring blooms from 1933 to 1945, the evidence of earlier flowering is even more pronounced: During the unusually warm spring of 2012, the study says, plants bloomed an average of one month earlier than they did 67 years earlier. Scientists say the findings could provide critical insights into the effects of climate change on native plants, and the long-term implications this could have on the plants and the animals and insects that depend upon them.
15 Jan 2013:
Key Offshore Transmission Line
To Be Built For U.S. East Coast Wind Power
A group of prominent U.S. investors, including Google, is expected to announce today that it is moving forward with construction on the first leg of an ambitious $5 billion undersea transmission line
that will connect
Atlantic Wind Connection
New Jersey Energy Link
future offshore wind farms along the mid-Atlantic coast, a project they say will avert the regulatory hurdles required in connecting each individual wind farm to land-based electricity lines. The first segment of the project, which will occur in three phases, includes construction of a 189-mile transmission cable along the New Jersey coast. Coordinators of the project, known as the Atlantic Wind Connection, say the cable would deliver more than 3,400 megawatts of electric capacity
from future offshore wind projects to three locations in New Jersey. Construction is expected to begin in 2016, according to the sponsors. The project intends to eventually link offshore wind farms with electricity grids from Virginia to New York.
14 Jan 2013:
Tidal Energy Can Meet 20%
Of UK Electricity Needs, Study Says
UK officials are underestimating the vast energy potential of marine tides
, a renewable and reliable energy source that could meet 20 percent of the nation’s
Kawasaki Heavy Industries
electricity needs, according to a new report. Writing in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A
, researchers explain that while the process of exploiting tidal energy remains expensive, it has the potential to be a more reliable energy source than wind or wave energy and to be more easily managed on electricity grids. While the technology is in the early stages, the researchers say they are optimistic that the two principle means of exploiting tidal energy — construction of barrages across tidal estuaries that generate power from the ebb and flow of the water, and adding underwater turbines in fast-flowing currents — can be implemented in the near future. “From tidal barrages you can reasonably expect you can get 15 percent of UK electricity needs,” Nicholas Yates, a researcher at the National Oceanography Centre and co-author of the report, told BBC News
08 Jan 2013:
Using Fireflies As a Model,
Scientists Boost Efficiency of LED Lights
Drawing inspiration from the structure of a firefly, scientists say they have improved the efficiency of a light-emitting diode (LED) by 55 percent
. While studying the insects, the researchers noticed that
LED inspired by fireflies
a pattern of sharp, jagged scales on the fireflies’ bodies enhanced the amount of light emitted by the fireflies’ lantern, an abdominal organ that creates the flashes of light to attract mates. After mimicking that structure in the production of a LED design, the researchers found that the amount of light extracted was significantly increased. Light-emitting diodes are made from semi-conductors and represent a major advance in lighting efficiency over traditional incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs. “The most important aspect of this work is that it shows how much we can learn by carefully observing nature,” said Annick Bay, a Ph. D. student at the University of Namur in Belgium and one of the authors of a paper published in the journal Optics Express
07 Jan 2013:
New Arctic Experiments Yield
Insights Into State of Permafrost Carbon
A team of U.S. researchers recently deployed a suite of technologies in the Arctic tundra that they say will provide a better understanding of the carbon contained in permafrost soils
and how much is likely to be released as the planet warms. At an experimental plot near Barrow, Alaska, scientists are using several techniques, from ground-penetrating radar systems dragged on sleds to airborne instruments that measure micro-topography, to better understand how different layers of permafrost are interrelated and react as the soil warms. Ultimately, the scientists say, the research will provide critical information on how these permafrost systems change over time, and how much of their vast stores of carbon might be released. “This approach allows us to sample over large spatial regions with minimal disturbance to the ecosystem — two important criteria when it comes to studying the vast and delicate Arctic landscape,” said Susan Hubbard, a geophysicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
31 Dec 2012:
Network of Smartphone-Based
Sensors Track Air Pollution Levels
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a network of smartphone-based air pollution monitors
that allow individuals to track
pollution levels in real time and feed a central database of air quality trends citywide throughout the day. The so-called CitySense devices are equipped with sensors that measure ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, and a digital app that illustrates the color-coded results based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality ratings. During a four-week test, in which the phones were distributed to 30 volunteers, the system showed hotspots of elevated pollution that shifted over the course of the day. Ultimately, the developers hope to deploy hundreds of devices in order to generate a public database on air quality levels. “We want more data and better data, which we can provide to the public,” said William Griswold, a computer science professor at UC San Diego. “We are making the invisible visible.”
27 Dec 2012:
Group Collecting DNA Codes
Of Endangered Species Gets Google Boost
The Consortium for the Barcode of Life
(CBOL), a global initiative assembling the “DNA barcodes
” of the world’s endangered species, received $3 million from Google this month to create an online database organizers hope will emerge as a critical tool in the enforcement of international wildlife protection laws. Since it was formed in 2004, the consortium’s 200 participating organizations have collected genetic information for more than 100,000 species. With tens of thousands of species currently in danger of extinction, project organizers hope the database will provide a quick and inexpensive way to identify species, including many that are regularly smuggled through airports. In some cases, law enforcement officials would be able to send a small tissue sample to a laboratory for identification rather than requiring an expert to identify the species.
Interview: What’s Damaging U.S.
Salt Marshes and Why It Matters
For centuries, salt marshes along the U.S. coast have been disappearing, with some experts estimating that 70 percent have been lost to development, rising seas,
and other threats. One factor scientists always thought marshes could withstand was nutrient enrichment, such as the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and septic systems. But a nine-year study led by Marine Biological Laboratory scientist Linda Deegan shows that an over abundance of nutrients may be contributing to the demise of these salt marshes. In a Yale Environment 360
interview, Deegan describes the study's implications and the vital services that would be lost if marshes disappear, from nourishing marine species to providing a barrier for coastal communities during storms such as Hurricane Sandy. Read the interview
20 Dec 2012:
‘Peel-and-Stick’ Solar Cells
Expand Potential for Photovoltaic Systems
Stanford University researchers say they have developed a “peel-and-stick” solar cell that can be attached to a variety of hard surfaces
, an innovation they say could vastly expand the potential for solar
Click to enlarge
Chi Hwan Lee/Stanford School of Engineering
“Peel-and-stick” solar cells
energy technology. Normally, thin-film solar cells are attached to rigid, often heavy, silicon and glass substrates because most unconventional surfaces aren’t compatible with the thermal and chemical processes involved in producing the cells. The new process gets around that challenge, the scientists say, because it does not require any fabrication to occur on the final substrate surface. Instead, it involves pressing an ultra-thin film of nickel, a silicon/silicon dioxide wafer, and a protective polymer into a “sandwich,” and then attaching a layer of thermal release tape. When dipped in water, the thin-film solar cell can be peeled from the original wafer and attached to a wide range of surfaces, from window glass to cellphones, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports
19 Dec 2012:
Climate Already Altering
Ecosystems and Biodiversity, Report Says
Climate change is causing plant and animal species across the U.S. to shift their geographic ranges and life events — from flowering to migration — are being transformed at a faster rate than observed even a few years ago, a new analysis by 60 scientists says. According to the report, “Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services
,” some terrestrial species are moving up in elevation at rates 2 to 3 times greater than previously believed, while the range shifts for some marine species have been even greater. These rapid changes in ranges, distributions, and life cycles are forcing species to interact in ways that they never have before and could alter the timing and availability of natural resources critical to biodiversity and ecosystem health. “These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems... creating mismatches between animals and their food sources,” said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at Arizona State University and lead author of the report.
14 Dec 2012:
Car-Mounted Sensor Able to
Pinpoint Sources of Natural Gas Leaks
A U.S.-based company has developed a sophisticated sensing technology capable of detecting and pinpointing the source of even minor natural gas leaks from great
distances, an innovation that could provide critical insights into the still largely unknown climate impacts of natural gas drilling. Using a car-mounted system — which combines an advanced methane detector, wind-direction sensors, isotope detectors, and specially developed algorithms — technicians from California-based Picarro
are able to collect data on concentrations of methane, a major component of natural gas, at regular driving speeds. The so-called Picarro Surveyor technology logs the data and, in real time, plots the source of natural gas leaks using Google Maps. In a recent survey, the system identified more than 3,350 specific locations in Boston where methane levels were 15 times higher than normal, according to MIT’s Technology Review
Interview: Creating Clouds in a Lab
To Better Forecast Climate Change
At the CERN research laboratory in Switzerland, scientists are conducting experiments to help solve a key riddle: the role of clouds in future
climate change. Leading that study is British physicist Jasper Kirkby, who oversees complex experiments in a large steel chamber that are designed to help resolve one of the biggest uncertainties of climate change — how clouds form and what role they play in regulating Earth’s temperature. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Kirkby talks about the role that cosmic rays — charged particles that hit the Earth from outer space — may play in cloud formation, the pitfalls of geoengineering the planet by trying to mimic the formation of clouds, and why his experiments could help clear up uncertainties about climate change. “We’ve got to reduce that uncertainty if we’re to really sharpen our understanding for future climate projections,” says Kirkby. Read the interview
12 Dec 2012:
Large Cellulosic Biorefinery
Will Convert Corn Stalks into Biofuel
Chemical giant DuPont has started construction of a large-scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Iowa capable of converting corn stalks and leaves into
Corn stover in bales
a biofuel that could be used in place of fossil fuels at some power plants. The $200 million facility, which will be among the first and largest of its kind in the world
, will produce more than 30 million gallons of ethanol annually
using so-called corn stover, the remains of corn plants after the harvest, DuPont says. The company plans to collect the stover from more than 500 local farmers within a 30-mile radius, and the plant could be operational as soon as mid-2014. DuPont plans to license the production system internationally and work on designs that will expand this aspect of the biofuel industry.
05 Dec 2012:
African Lion Populations
Plummet as Habitat Disappears, Study Says
More than two-thirds of Africa’s lions have disappeared over the last 50 years as the continent’s once-vast savannah regions have been lost to human
A lion in South Africa
development, a new study has found. Using high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth and human population data, Duke University researchers calculated that about 75 percent of the original savannah has been lost since 1960
, driven by land-use changes and deforestation. On the entire continent, they found, there are now just 67 remaining pockets of savannah suitable for lion habitat; only 10 of those areas would be considered lion “strongholds.” Overall, lion populations have dropped from 100,000 to roughly 32,000 in just five decades, according to the study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation
. Continued habitat loss projected over the coming decades could put these populations at increased risk, the study said.