Science & Technology
06 May 2013:
Solar-Powered Airplane Finishes
First Leg of Coast-to-Coast U.S. Trip
A Swiss pilot this weekend completed the first portion of a five-leg trip across the U.S. in an airplane powered by solar energy
. The so-called Solar Impulse
aircraft, which runs on energy collected from 12,000 solar cells
View from the cockpit
in its long wings, flew from San Francisco to Phoenix in 18 hours and 18 minutes. The solar cells simultaneously power four batteries with the storage capacity of an electric car, which allows the plane to fly in darkness. The airplane, with a 208-foot wingspan, is made of lightweight, carbon fiber materials that help it conserve energy, but its spindly structure also makes the plane unable to fly in windy or stormy conditions. Project organizers hope the five-leg journey — which will include stops in Dallas, St. Louis, and Washington and end in New York — will demonstrate the feasibility of long-distance air travel without fuel. By 2015, the project's co-founders, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, hope to complete a flight around the world.
03 May 2013:
Seawater Energy Technology
Is Focus of Pilot Project in China
The U.S. defense and aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, is partnering with a major Chinese company to build a pilot project off the southern Chinese coast that will use temperature differentials between the deep and shallow ocean to generate electricity
. The technology, known as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), uses the heat from warm surface waters to boil a fluid with a low boiling point, such as ammonia, producing steam to drive turbines. Colder water is then pumped from 2,500 to 3,000 feet under the sea, which condenses the steam into liquid; the liquid can then be boiled again to produce more steam and power. Lockheed Martin and its Chinese Partner, the Beijing-based Reignwood Group, said their project — the largest OTEC plant ever built — will produce 10 megawatts of power when it opens in 2017, enough to provide electricity for a large, planned resort that Reignwood is building.
Interview: Telling the Life Story of
Ginkgo, the Oldest Tree on Earth
Botanist Peter Crane sees the ginkgo as more than just a distinctive tree with foul-smelling fruits and nuts prized
Ginkgo leaves in autumn
for reputed medicinal properties. To Crane, author of a new book, Ginkgo
, the tree is an oddity in nature because it is a single species with no known living relatives; a living fossil that has been essentially unchanged for more than 200 million years; and an inspiring example of how humans can help a species survive. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Crane, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, talks about what makes the ginkgo unique and what makes it smell, how its toughness and resilience has enabled it to thrive as a street tree, and what the ginkgo’s long history says about human life on earth. The ginkgo, which co-existed with the dinosaurs, “really puts our own species — let alone our individual existence — into a broader context,” says Crane. Read the interview
30 Apr 2013:
U.S. Government Backs
New Way to Make Diesel from Biomass
The U.S. Energy Department is investing up to $4.3 million in a pilot biomass project that will convert the stalks and leaves of corn plants into diesel fuel using a new chemical process.
The pilot plant in Indiana will be run by Mercurius Biofuels, whose goal is to convert the corn biomass into fuel at prices cheap enough to compete with petroleum. Mercurius’s process uses recyclable acids to break down cellulose and make a chemical called chloromethylfurfural, which can be converted into diesel or jet fuel. The inventor of the process, Mark Mascal, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Davis, says the technology makes more efficient use of the carbon in cellulose and avoids the significant releases of carbon dioxide involved in a common way of making fuel from biomass — converting the cellulose into sugar and fermenting it to make ethanol. Mercurius says the corn stalks and leaves can be converted into chloromethylfurfural at small, local plants and then shipped to larger refineries to make diesel fuel, thus avoiding the high cost of shipping the biomass itself to a central refinery.
26 Apr 2013:
NASA Tests Affirm Viability
Of Biofuel-Powered Commercial Jets
In recent test flights, NASA researchers have confirmed that commercial airliners can safely fly on an alternative jet fuel blend
and that under some conditions the biofuel mix produced 30 percent fewer emissions than
Contrails from a NASA DC-8 aircraft
typical jet fuel. After flying DC-8 aircraft using a biofuel blend containing 50 percent camelina plant oil
, scientists from Langley Research Center in Virginia say they observed no noticeable difference in the jets’ engine performance. And specially equipped planes that measured the exhaust emissions from the jets’ contrails found the biofuel blend produced fewer emissions, according to NASA. “In terms of these fuels being acceptable for use in commercial aircraft, they’re quite acceptable,” Bruce Anderson, a senior research scientist at Langley Research Center, told the Associated Press. “But we’re still digging into the data.” But while camelina plant oil might eventually emerge as an attractive biofuel source, since it can be grown in arid regions, researchers noted that it is currently cost-prohibitive. Currently, Anderson said, camelina oil costs about $18 per gallon, compared to $4 per gallon for typical jet fuel.
24 Apr 2013:
New Web Site to Track
CO2 Levels As Planet Approaches 400 PPM
As atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide approach the milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm), a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has launched a Website
that will publish daily readings of CO2 concentrations, an online resource he hopes will drive home the urgent threat of rising greenhouse gas emissions. Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps CO2 program and son of the first scientist to measure CO2 concentrations, hopes the daily tracker will attract more attention than weekly or monthly postings, providing a stark index of humanity's effect on the global climate. “I hope that many people out there in decades to come will say, ‘Gosh, I will remember when it crossed 400,’” Keeling told ClimateWire
. The measurements will come from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. Keeling’s father, Charles David Keeling, first started collecting CO2 concentrations in the 1950s from the same observatory, when few believed that carbon dioxide concentrations were in fact rising. His ongoing recording of CO2 concentrations came to be known as the “Keeling Curve
.” As of April 22, CO2 concentrations had reached 398.36 ppm, according to the site, well above pre-industrial concentrations of about 280 ppm.
23 Apr 2013:
Conservation of Forests
Can Prevent Malaria Spread, Study Says
The conservation of woodlands and biodiversity can actually help prevent the spread of malaria
in tropical forests, a new study says. Using a mathematical model of different conditions in a forest region of southeastern Brazil, scientists found that the circulation of the parasite Plasmodium vivax
— which is associated with 80 million to 300 million malaria cases worldwide — is likely to decrease in less developed forests where populations of non-malarial mosquitoes and warm-blooded animals are abundant. While no malaria cases have been reported in 30 years within the biodiverse study area, located in the Atlantic Forest, researchers say a primary malaria mosquito is found nearby. According to their study, published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
, the findings suggest that malarial and non-malarial mosquito populations are likely to compete for blood feeding, and that the animals act as “dead-end reservoirs” of the malaria parasite. “These aspects of biodiversity that can hinder malaria transmission are services provided by the forest ecosystem,” Gabriel Zorello, an epidemiologist at the University of Sao Paulo and lead researcher of the study, told ScieDev.Net.
19 Apr 2013:
New Solar Cell Process
Achieves Record Efficiency, MIT Says
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they have achieved a major breakthrough in the conversion of sunlight into electricity
, surpassing what was long believed to be an absolute limit to the efficiency of solar cell devices. While the process used in the typical photovoltaic (PV) cell process knocks loose one electron inside the PV material to produce an electrical current — but wastes any excess energy carried by a photon — a new process described in the journal Science
utilizes that extra energy to produce two electrons. That exploits so-called singlet exciton fission and makes the process far more efficient, creating more electrical energy. An exciton is the excited state of a molecule after absorbing energy. While the material used in the organic solar cell, known as pentacene, was previously known to produce two so-called excitons from one photon, researchers say this is the first time anyone has demonstrated the principle within a photovoltaic device. While the typical solar panel achieves efficiencies no greater than 25 percent, the scientists believe this process can be utilized to achieve efficiencies of more than 30 percent.
10 Apr 2013:
New Satellite-Based System Will
Track Illegal Deforestation in Real Time
A coalition of organizations has unveiled a digital tool its developers say will help governments, environmental groups, and local communities monitor illegal logging in the world’s forest regions in close to real time. Using satellite technology, data sharing, and a global network of local contributors, the so-called Global Forest Watch 2.0 system will enable users to track forest loss that has occurred within the last 30 days
and allow local forest managers to upload geo-referenced photographs to support data on deforestation. Developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and other contributors — including Google, the University of Maryland, and the United Nations Environment Program — the technology was unveiled this week at a UN forum on forests and will be available next month
. WRI hopes the system will allow government leaders and companies to make more timely forest management decisions
09 Apr 2013:
Artificial Leaf’s ‘Self Healing’
Could Expand Its Practical Use Globally
The so-called “artificial leaf,” a solar cell being developed by MIT and Harvard scientists to produce low-cost electricity, is now capable of “self healing” the damage
that occurs during energy production, clearing
The artificial leaf
a hurdle to deploying the device in the developing world, the researchers say. When dipped into water, the leaf — which is actually a catalyst-coated wafer of silicon about the size of a playing card — is able to split water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be collected and used as fuel to power a fuel cell. “Surprisingly, some of the catalysts we’ve developed for use in the artificial leaf device actually heal themselves,” Daniel Nocera of Harvard, the leader of the research team, told a meeting of the American Chemical Society. While earlier versions of the device required pure water, the self-healing properties enable users to operate the leaf using impure, bacteria-contaminated water. According to the researchers, the leaf is now able to generate 100 watts of electricity 24 hours a day with just a quart of water.
08 Apr 2013:
Project to Test Promise of
Small, Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines
A wind farm being planned in a remote Alaska village will seek to demonstrate that small, vertical-axis turbines can produce more energy than conventional wind turbines and cause less environmental damage.
Vertical-axis wind turbines
While the turbines used in most standard wind farm projects can produce turbulence that actually decreases the output of the turbines downstream, John Dabiri, a California Institute of Technology professor, says that small, vertical-axis turbines can create a wake that actually boosts the output of adjacent turbines
if positioned strategically. In addition, the smaller turbines can be placed closer together without causing aerodynamic interference, are cheaper to produce, and are less likely to kill birds, Dabiri told MIT’s Technology Review
. Dabiri says he hopes his Alaska project, which could eventually include 70 turbines in the village of Igiugig, can generate as much energy as the diesel generators currently used by the community. Critics argue that the vertical-axis turbines aren’t as efficient as conventional turbines.
03 Apr 2013:
Arctic Air Pressure System
Causes Unusual March Temperatures
A pronounced shift in Arctic air pressure systems has triggered unusually cold temperatures across North America, Europe, and northern Asia, while allowing a
flood of warmer air into Greenland and northeastern Canada, according to NASA. In recent weeks, the so-called Arctic Oscillation (AO) index — which tracks the relative pressure differential between the Arctic and mid-latitudes — dropped to the fifth-lowest reading ever recorded, NASA scientists said
. When the AO reaches this “negative” phase, scientists say, the pressure gradient between the Arctic and mid-latitudes weakens, allowing Arctic air to stream south. This NASA graphic
depicts unusual land surface temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere, with Europe, Russia, and the U.S. experiencing temperatures as high as 5 to 15 degrees C below normal, while temperatures in Greenland were as high as 15 degrees C above normal. Britain recorded its fourth-coldest March since 1962, Germany experienced its coldest March since 1883, and Moscow had its coldest March since the 1950s.
01 Apr 2013:
Genetic Discovery May Allow
Lettuce Growth Even in Hot Temperatures
A team of scientists has identified the specific gene in lettuce that causes the plant’s seeds to stop germinating in warm temperatures, a discovery they say could allow production of the food crop year-round even in the planet’s hotter regions. Writing in the journal The Plant Cell
, the researchers say they identified a chromosome in the wild ancestor of commercial lettuce varieties that enabled seeds to germinate even in warm temperatures. When the chromosome was crossed with commercial varieties of lettuce, they too were able to germinate at warmer temperatures
. After further testing, the scientists found the specific gene that governs a plant hormone known as abscisic acid — which inhibits seed germination in most lettuce plants when exposed to moisture at warm temperatures — and were able to “silence” the mechanism. Because this mechanism occurs in many plant species, the results suggest similar modifications can be made in the growth of other crops, said Kent Bradford, of the University of California Davis, who is one of the study’s authors
Interview: Tracking Causes of
The Decline of the Monarch Butterfly
University of Kansas insect ecologist Orley R. Taylor, who has been observing monarch butterflies and their spectacular migrations across North America for
Monarch Watch/ Catherine I Sherman
decades, says he has never been more concerned about their future. A new census taken at the monarchs’ wintering grounds in Mexico found their population had declined 59 percent over the previous year and was at the lowest level ever measured. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Taylor talks about the factors that have led to the drop in the monarch population. Among them, he says, is the increased planting of genetically modified corn in the U.S. Midwest, which has led to greater use of herbicides, which in turn kills the milkweed that is a prime food source for the butterflies. “What we’re seeing here in the United States,” Taylor says, “is a very precipitous decline of monarchs that’s coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans.”
Read the interview
25 Mar 2013:
Peach Genome Offers Hints
For Better Biofuel Production, Study Says
A long-term genomic analysis of the common peach has revealed important insights into how scientists can improve the biofuel potential of other plant species
, including the fast-growing poplar tree, a new study says.
Three years after a team of scientists first released a draft description of the annotated peach genome, researchers make the case that the 265-million base sequence can be used to better understand the biology of related tree species, including the poplar, which like the peach is a member of the rosid superfamily. Writing in the journal Nature Genetics
, the scientists describe how a comparison of the peach’s genetics with six other fully sequenced plant species revealed metabolic pathways that lead to the formation of lignin, the durable biopolymer that holds plant cells together — and a barrier to breaking down biomass into fuels. “One gene we’re interested in is the so-called ‘evergreen’ locus in peaches, which extends the growing season,” said Daniel Rokhsar, a U.S. Department of Energy scientist who leads the sequencing of the peach genome. According to Rokhsar, that gene could be manipulated to increase the biomass accumulation of related species.
21 Mar 2013:
U.S.-Spain Energy Companies
Plan World’s Largest Solar Towers
A U.S.-based company that will soon finish construction of one of the world’s largest solar thermal power plants in the Mojave Desert, is now looking to build an even larger plant
in Southern California. BrightSource
Click to enlarge
The Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave Desert
Energy, which is expected to begin producing up to 370 megawatts of electricity per day from its Mojave plant beginning this summer, last week announced plans to build, in partnership with Spain-based Abengoa Solar, a 500-megawatt plant in Riverside, California
. Like the Mojave project, the new solar array will utilize thousands of mirrors that reflect sunlight onto central towers to produce steam. While the company's first project, the so-called Ivanpah plant, will use three towers to generate 130 megawatts each, the new $2.6 billion project involves construction of two 750-foot towers capable of producing 250 megawatts each, which combined would provide enough electricity to power 200,000 households and prevent 17 million tons of carbon emissions during the life of the plant, BrightSource says.
Interview: A Marine Biologist
Works to Create a ‘Wired Ocean’
Even as populations of sharks, bluefin tuna, and other large fish are being severely over-exploited, scientists still know surprisingly little about when and where the ocean’s biggest predators congregate to feed and spawn,
making it difficult to protect biological hotspots. Stanford University marine biologist Barbara Block is seeking to narrow that knowledge gap by deploying an armada of satellite tags on the backs of ocean creatures. Block envisions a wired ocean, a blue fount of data in which tags, smart buoys, and mobile robots reveal the secrets of marine life. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Block discusses the wealth of data gathered by the latest electronic tags and explains why it’s important to put the fruits of this research into the public’s hands “What we need is environmental interest and awareness that connects humans to the world,” says Block, "or else we're going to end up with the same problem we had on the continents, where the large mammals are gone."
Read the interview
19 Mar 2013:
New Carbon Storage Method
Reduces Earthquake Risk, Study Says
A team of researchers says it has demonstrated a method of underground carbon storage that reduces the risk of triggering earthquakes
, a safety concern cited by some scientists about the emerging field of carbon capture and sequestration. While often cited as a potentially key option in reducing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, earlier studies
have suggested that the use of carbon sequestration technologies in some rock formations can result in leaks that ultimately cause minor tremors. But in a new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
, Yale University researchers say that storing carbon in a common type of volcanic rock, known as reactive mafic rock, offers a far safer alternative. According to their findings, injecting carbon into the mafic rock causes a chemical reaction that generates carbon minerals, creating a so-called “mineral-trapping” phenomenon that reduces fluid pressure and distributes the stress load, which in turn minimizes seismic risks.
14 Mar 2013:
U.S. Grants Will Promote
Small-Scale, Modular Nuclear Reactors
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) this week announced a new series of cost-sharing grants to promote the development of small-scale, factory-made nuclear reactors
, an emerging energy source that Obama administration officials say could help replace the coal-fired plants expected to cease operations in the coming decades. The administration, which has allocated $452 million for the program, hopes to spur the production and licensing of as many as 50 so-called modular reactors annually by 2040, said Rebecca Smith-Kevern, director of light water reactor technology at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. DOE officials say these modular reactors, which would be about one-third the size of typical nuclear power plants, also include scalable designs that will provide safety and economic benefits
. “We have a vision of having a whole fleet of [modular reactors] produced in factories,” Smith-Kavern said at a conference. “We envision the U.S. government to be the first users.” Citing a 2011 paper
, she said plants could cost $3 billion to $5 billion apiece.
13 Mar 2013:
New Desalination Process
Slashes Costs of Producing Fresh Water
Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest military contractors, has developed a process that company officials say significantly reduces the amount of energy needed to desalinate water
, an innovation that could help communities worldwide tackle the growing threat of water scarcity. According to the company, the new process uses ultra-thin carbon membranes with holes large enough to allow water to pass through, but small enough to block the salt molecules in seawater, Reuters reports. Because the membranes have holes as thin as a single atom, the process would require far less energy than existing desalination technologies, which rely on reverse osmosis, the company says. “It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” said John Stetson, a Lockheed Martin engineer. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.” A 2011 study
found that desalination technology could be the cheapest approach to meeting the planet’s growing water needs.
11 Mar 2013:
New Arctic Survey Shows
Major Advances of Vegetation to North
Declining snow and ice coverage in the northern latitudes and rising temperatures have triggered a significant increase in vegetation
across large swaths of the Arctic, with some circumpolar regions seeing the
Click to enlarge
Goddard Space Flight Center
Vegetation shift in northern latitudes
type of plant growth that just a few decades ago occurred hundreds of miles to the south, according to a new study. In a comprehensive analysis of ground and satellite-based data, a team of scientists found that across a region covering more than 9 million square kilometers — roughly equal to the size of the U.S. — vegetation is growing more vigorously and spreading north. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, said that since the early 1980s, the kind of vegetation that was once found at 57 degrees north — typified by tall shrubs and trees — is now spreading into former regions of tundra as far as 64 degrees north. The paper said that 17 climate model simulations suggested that bv the end of this century rising temperatures could lead to northward shifts of vegetation of more than 20 degrees latitude compared with the period 1951 to 1980.
08 Mar 2013:
Largest U.S. Dam Removal
Releases Huge Amount of Sediment
Scientists tracking the aftermath of the largest dam removal in U.S. history say the dismantling of a dam in northwestern Washington state has unleashed about 34 million cubic yards of sediment and debris
that built up
A plume of sediment at the mouth of the Elwha River.
for more than a century. While about one-third of the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River still stands, vast amounts of sediment are already flowing downstream, allowing University of Washington (UW) scientists a rare opportunity to track the discharges and study their ecological impacts. Scientists say it is unclear where much of the sediment will end up — or what the environmental consequences will be. In an ongoing study, they will use sophisticated technology to track particles in the water and monitor their accumulation on the ocean floor. Scientists say the sediment — enough to fill 3 million truckloads — could create murkier water conditions, threatening the reproduction of salmon and blocking light for marine life.
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