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Science & Technology


27 Jun 2013: New Bird Species Identified
In Crowded Outskirts of Phnom Penh

A team of scientists in Cambodia has identified a new species of lowland tailorbird recently captured in the densely populated outskirts of Phnom Penh. Originally
Cambodia tailorbird
J.A. Eaton/WCS
An adult male Cambodia tailorbird
caught and photographed in 2009 during a routine sampling for avian influenza, the small wren-sized bird was initially misidentified as a known type of tailorbird until the photographs caught the attention of scientist Simon Mahood of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Following genetic analysis of other individuals collected in the region, scientists confirmed that the bird — which has white cheeks, a rich cinnamon-colored crown, and distinct vocal characters — was indeed a new species. According to an article co-authored by Mahood in Forktail, a journal of the Oriental Bird Club, the so-called Cambodia tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk) is known to exist only in a dense, lowland scrub ecosystem that is declining in size and quality.
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17 Jun 2013: Changes in Jet Stream Triggered
Record Greenland Melt in 2012, Study Says

An unusual shift in the jet stream triggered the historic level of surface ice melt that occurred across Greenland last summer, a new study says. Using satellite data and a computer model simulation, scientists from the University of Sheffield found that a high-pressure system developed in the mid-troposphere over Greenland for much of the summer, pushing warm southerly winds over the western edge of the ice sheet and creating a “heat dome” over Greenland. According to the study, published in the International Journal of Climatology, this unprecedented event caused record melting across virtually the entire ice sheet, including on Summit Station, Greenland’s highest peak. Ocean temperatures and Arctic sea ice retreat, meanwhile, played a minimal part in the record surface ice melt, the scientists reported. The study predicted that the record ice melt of 2012 is not likely to be “climatically representative of future ‘average’ summers” during the coming century.
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12 Jun 2013: Bird-Mimicking Mobile Apps
Harmful to Species, UK Groups Say

Wildlife officials in the UK are urging people not to use mobile phone apps that mimic bird songs in nature reserves, warning that the devices can harm some sensitive species, particularly during breeding season.
Chirp Bird Song App
iSpiny
Icon for Chirp! app
The increasingly popular apps, which use recordings of bird calls to lure the birds closer for photographs or better viewing, can distract birds from critical tasks, such as feeding their young, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT), a conservation group that oversees 42 reserves, is discouraging the use of the mobile apps at its reserves, calling it an intentional disturbance of sensitive species such as the Nightjar, a nocturnal bird that has experienced a recent recovery in the area. “I’m sure visitors would be devastated if they realized the possible disturbance they were causing to wildlife,” said Chris Thain, a manager at DWT’s Brownsea Island reserve.
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11 Jun 2013: Growing Number of Pests
Developing Resistance to GM Crops

An increasing number of pest species are developing resistance to crops genetically engineered to be toxic to insects, according to new research. In an analysis of 77 studies conducted in eight countries, a team of U.S. and French scientists found that five of 13 major pest species had become resistant to so-called Bt cotton or corn plants, which are genetically modified to exude a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, that is toxic to insects. While researchers say all insects inevitably adapt to threats such as pesticides, the study found that farmers who planted non-Bt crops in nearby “refuges” were more likely to slow that resistance. “Either take more stringent measures to delay resistance, such as requiring larger refuges, or this pest will probably evolve resistance quickly,” said Bruce Tabashnik, a professor at the University of Arizona and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The total land area planted annually with Bt crops has increased from 1.1 million hectares in 1996 to more than 66 million hectares in 2011.
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07 Jun 2013: New Map of Antarctica Provides
Clearest Glimpse of Subglacial Continent

British scientists have unveiled the most detailed topographical map available yet of Antarctica, a vast dataset that provides a penetrating 3-D view of the

Click to enlarge
Antarctica Map

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Antarctica's subglacial terrain
frozen continent down to the bedrock level and could offer insights into how it will respond to climate change. Based on millions of measurements collected over decades, the British Antarctic Survey’s Bedmap2 project illustrates the continent with a level of clarity not previously available, including a vivid look at the mountain landscapes buried in ice and valleys that run deeper than had been known. The scientists say better understanding the landscape will help them predict the behavior of Antarctica’s ice sheet in future decades and the extent to which melting could increase sea levels. The map was based on data collected by satellites, land-based surveys, and ice-penetrating measurements of the subglacial bedrock.
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05 Jun 2013: First Amphibian Declared Extinct
‘Rediscovered’ in Israel’s Hula Valley

A team of scientists says it has “rediscovered” in northern Israel the first amphibian declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a species of frog that turns out to be the only

Click to enlarge
Hula painted frog

Sarig Gafny
A Hula painted frog
surviving member of an extinct genus of frogs. First discovered in Israel’s Hula Valley in the 1940s, the Hula painted frog was presumed gone when Hula Lake dried up in the late 1950s, and it was declared extinct in 1996. But since an individual frog was discovered during a patrol in Hula Nature Reserve in 2011, an additional 10 specimens have been found, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. And while the frog had originally been categorized as a member of the Discoglossus group of painted frogs, which are found across northern and western Africa, genetic analysis has revealed that the Hula frog is more closely related to a genus of frogs, Latonia, that were common across Europe during prehistoric periods but considered extinct for a million years. “In other words,” the study says, “the Hula painted frog is a living fossil.”
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04 Jun 2013: Nanofilter System Can Deliver
Clean Water to Rural Families for $2.50

Indian scientists have developed a filter system they say can provide clean water to rural families for less than $2.50 per year and help reduce incidences of diarrhea that cause tens of thousands of deaths in the developing world annually. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) describe the filter, which contains a composite of nanoparticles, held within a sieve, that emit a stream of silver ions that eradicate water-based microbes. In producing the filter, the team used a material called aluminium oxyhydroxide-chitosan, which, because of its structure and the diameter of the silver nanoparticles, is optimal for releasing the silver ions at temperatures of between five to 35 degrees C. In addition, the material is widely available, and environmentally friendly, and it keeps concentrations of the silver ions below safe drinking water standards, lead author Thalappil Pradeep told ScieDev.Net. So far, the scientists have installed the filters in water treatment plants in West Bengal, but are now seeking a company to produce the devices for widespread use.
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03 Jun 2013: Genetic Study Reveals Cheaper
Process to Convert Sawdust to Biofuel

A team of genetic engineers reports it has developed an inexpensive process that uses fungus to convert raw materials such as straw and sawdust into a productive biofuel. While it was previously known that the Trichoderma fungus produces the enzymes needed to break down such lignocellulosic wastes into a form of biofuel, the process was prohibitively expensive since the molecular switch required stimulation from a pure substance known as disaccharide sophorose, which is worth 60 times more than gold. Through genetic analysis, scientists from the Vienna University of Technology identified the specific gene that triggers the process — as well as the protein that the gene mutation affects — enabling them to mimic the same mutation in other strains of fungus. “We have understood the mechanism of this molecular switch and, consequently, many wonderful possibilities are opening up for us,” said Astrid Mach-Aigner, leader of the study published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.
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31 May 2013: Getting More ‘Crop-per-Drop’
In World’s Driest Agricultural Regions

Improvements in irrigation in the world’s driest regions could significantly boost food production and water sustainability, according to a new study. In an analysis of how water is used for 16 staple food crops worldwide, including in regions with similar climates, a team of researchers identified specific areas where major efficiency improvements can be made in the so-called “crop per drop” — or the amount of food produced per liter of water. According to their findings, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, about 40 percent of the available water in some dry regions is used to produce about 20 percent of the food calories. But in other regions with similar climate conditions, the productivity is much greater, said Kate A. Brauman, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. If these less-productive regions could improve their crop-per-drop productivity by even a modest amount, she said, “this would increase annual production on rain-fed croplands by enough to provide food for about 110 million people.”
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Interview: Pollan Explores Links
Between Biodiversity and Health

In his new book, Cooked, author Michael Pollan once again delves into issues relating to the connections
Michael Pollan
Photo by Fran Collin
Michael Pollan
between the environment and what we eat, and, more broadly, to humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Taking control of cooking, he argues, may be the single most important step an individual can take to help make the food system healthier and more sustainable. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Pollan talks about how his research led him on a journey that ranged from the monoculture fields of U.S. commodity agriculture to the bacterial world inside the human body. And he notes the fundamental importance of biodiversity — in the landscape and the farm field, as well as in people’s diets. “This may prove to be the key legacy of ecology — what it teaches us about health,” Pollan says. “Who would have thought?”
Read the interview
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22 May 2013: Whale’s Battle with Nets
Is Revealed Through Monitoring Device

A small monitoring tag attached to an entangled North Atlantic right whale revealed just how much fishing gear impairs a whale’s ability to swim, dive, and feed, scientists say. After locating a two-year-old whale,
Entangled Right Whale EcoHealth Alliance
EcoHealth Alliance, under permit number 594-1759
The entangled whale
dubbed Eg 3911, with fishing gear entangled around her mouth and pectoral fins, a team of scientists was able to attach a so-called Dtag in January 2011 that recorded her movements before, during, and after the team removed the nets. The whale “altered its behavior immediately following the disentanglement,” according to the study published in the journal Marine Mammal Science. She swam faster, dove twice as deep, and stayed underwater for longer periods. Scientists say the added buoyancy, increased drag and reduced speed caused by such gear may overwhelm an animal's ability to forage for preferred prey, delay its arrival to feeding or breeding grounds, and ultimately drain its energy. Indeed, two weeks after disentangling Eg 3911 from the nets, an aerial survey spotted her dead at sea.
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20 May 2013: System Converts Pig Waste
Into Biogas at Chinese Pig Farms

An international team of researchers has developed a system that will help Chinese farmers convert massive amounts of pig waste into a renewable source of energy
Pig Waste Biogas
Getty Images
and fertilizer. The project, led by Australia-based Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE), uses a two-step anaerobic biodigester that is able to treat 73,000 tons of waste annually, producing 380 cubic meters of biogas daily and about 5,600 tons of fertilizer per year. According to its developers, it will also provide a solution to a growing waste disposal challenge in China, where pigs generate more than 1.4 million tons of excrement annually. “Only 10 percent of this waste is currently treated, posing a considerable disposal headache, as well as health and water quality risks,” said Ravi Naidu, managing director of CRC CARE. While the system is being introduced at pig farms across China, Naidu says the technology could eventually help solve critical waste management challenges worldwide and make the pork industry more sustainable.
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17 May 2013: ‘Artificial Forest’ Nanosystem
Mimics Photosynthesis, Researchers Say

U.S. scientists have developed what they say is the first integrated nanosystem capable of replicating the process of photosynthesis, a sort of “artificial forest” that could one day lead to the production of hydrogen that could be used to power fuel cells. Composed of nanowire structures — including silicon “trunks” and titanium oxide “branches” — the system mimics the role played by chloroplasts in promoting photosynthesis in green plants. By assembling the “trees” in a dense array, resembling a miniature forest, the network lowers sunlight reflection and provides more surface area for hydrogen-producing reactions, the scientists say. “We’ve integrated our nanowire nanoscale heterostructure into a functional system that mimics the integration in chloroplasts and provides a conceptual blueprint for better solar-to-fuel conversion efficiencies in the future,” said Peidong Yang, a chemist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of the study, published in the journal NANO Letters. The lab of Daniel Nocera at Harvard University is doing related research into so-called artificial leaves.
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16 May 2013: Scientist’s U.S. Road Trip
Reveals Unexpected Methane Emissions

Methane measurements collected during a scientist’s road trip across the U.S. indicate that local emissions of the potent greenhouse gas are higher than previously known in many regions. Using a gas chromatograph mounted to the roof of a rented camper, Ira Leifer of the University of California, Santa Barbara, collected air samples from Florida to California, finding the highest methane concentrations in areas with significant refinery activity — such as Houston, Texas — and in a region of central California with oil and gas production. He found that methane concentrations exceeded the levels estimated by the U.S. Department of Energy, particularly in areas near industrial fossil fuel extraction sites. The results point to the importance of targeting these “fugitive” methane emissions in parallel with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. Leifer's findings were published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.
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15 May 2013: Glaciers on Everest Disappearing
As Temperatures Rise, Snowfall Declines

The glaciers on Mount Everest and the surrounding region have shrunk by 13 percent in the last five decades as temperatures have risen and snowfall has declined in
Mount Everest
Pavel Novak
that section of the Himalaya, according to a new study. Using satellite imagery and topographic maps, a team of scientists found that the majority of glaciers on Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, and in the surrounding Sagarmatha National Park are retreating at an accelerating rate. In the last 50 years, the snowline in the Everest region has shifted up by an average of 590 feet (180 meters), said Sudeep Thakuri, a Ph. D. student at the University of Milan and leader of the research team, which presented its findings at a conference in Cancún, Mexico. Because glaciers are melting faster than they are being replenished, researchers say, rock and debris that were previously hidden under snow are now exposed and absorbing heat.
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13 May 2013: Project Looks to Quantify
Power Emissions Through Crowdsourcing

A team of scientists is enlisting public support to help produce a more comprehensive inventory of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants globally, urging citizens to identify power plants in their communities with a new digital app. While data from some of the
Ventus Carbon Dioxide Map
Google Earth
world’s industrialized regions — including the U.S. and Europe — are already widely available, researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) say specific information on carbon emissions from most parts of the world is difficult to obtain. “It turns out that we know far less about fossil fuels than we thought we did,” Kevin Gurney, an emissions modeler at ASU and co-leader of the so-called Ventus Project, told Nature. “We could use some help.” Using a simple Google Earth application, the technology enables users to upload exact coordinates of local power plants, and, if possible, information on the type of fuels used or the quantity of CO2 emissions. Organizers hope that the crowdsourcing initiative will fill data gaps on the world’s roughly 30,000 power plants.
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10 May 2013: U.S. Web Tool Aims to Bolster
Research on Climate and Health Links

The Obama Administration this week introduced an online tool to improve research into the link between climate change and human health and promote innovative responses to future threats. As climate change triggers more extreme weather events and temperature shifts, it is becoming increasingly important to determine how these changes will affect respiratory illnesses, infectious diseases, allergies, and other human ailments, said Tom Armstrong, executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Writing on the department’s blog, Armstrong said the so-called Metadata Access Tool for Climate and Health, or MATCH, will provide an accessible portal of metadata from more than 9,000 health, environment and climate science data sets. “MATCH will help researchers and public health officials integrate the latest information from across environmental and health disciplines in order to inform more effective responses to climate and health threats,” he said.
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07 May 2013: Battery-Equipped Wind Turbine
Better Integrates Green Energy Onto Grid

General Electric recently introduced a wind turbine equipped with a storage battery, creating a type of “hybrid” turbine that industry leaders hope will improve the integration of intermittent energy sources onto the grid and reduce the costs of wind power. The GE battery is able to store less than one minute of the turbine’s energy potential, but by pairing the battery with advanced wind-forecasting algorithms, wind farm operators could guarantee a certain amount of power output for up to an hour, MIT’s Technology Review reports. Even small amounts of storage are able to compensate for rapid changes in output from renewable sources — such as when wind speeds fall — and thus exert less stress on conventional power plants in responding to the variability of wind and solar. This flexibility will become increasingly important as renewable energy accounts for a greater share of grid capacity, since major shifts in output can trigger voltage problems or blackouts.
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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
Solar Impulse
Solar Impulse
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.
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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.
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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
AJYI
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
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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.
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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
NASA Biofuel Test Flight
NASA
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.
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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.
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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.
PERMALINK

 

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.
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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.
PERMALINK

 

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
Artificial Leaf
Dominick Reuter/MIT
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.
PERMALINK

 

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.
Small Vertical Axis Wind Turbines
Caltech
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.
PERMALINK

 

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

Click to enlarge
NASA Arctic Oscillation Affects Temperatures

NASA
Surface temperature anomalies, March 2013
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.
PERMALINK

 

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