Science & Technology
26 Feb 2014:
Large Offshore Wind Farms
Could Soften Blow of Hurricanes, Study Says
Offshore wind farms with thousands of wind turbines could have sapped much of the power of hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Isaac, significantly slowing their wind speeds, decreasing their accompanying storm surges, and possibly preventing billions of dollars in damages, according to a new study
. Computer models
used in the study said that deploying tens of thousands of offshore wind turbines could absorb enough energy from a hurricane to reduce peak wind speeds by 56 to 92 mph and storm surges by 6 to 79 percent. "We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane," said Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson, who led the research. "This feeds back to decrease wave height ... which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster." For Hurricane Katrina, a massive turbine array could have slowed wind speeds by 58 percent and storm surge by 79 percent, and for Sandy wind speeds could have been cut by 14 percent and storm surge by 34 percent, according to findings published in Nature Climate Change
25 Feb 2014:
Massive Alaska Avalanche
Depicted in NASA Satellite Photograph
Southeastern Alaska recently experienced the largest landslide the planet has seen since 2010, and the aftermath is captured in this NASA satellite image
Triggered by the collapse of a near-vertical mountain face on the flanks of Mount La Perouse, 75 million tons of snow and sediment formed a debris flow nearly five miles long. The avalanche material appears light brown in contrast to the snow in the photo. Researchers at Columbia University first detected the event when seismic records from the region showed a large number of low-frequency waves; this satellite image and other aerial photos confirmed their hunch. The American Geophysical Union also posted this blog
featuring photographs from an Alaskan pilot who flew over the landslide.
21 Feb 2014:
Rewritable Paper and Water Ink
Could Cut Paper Waste, Scientists Report
A new type of rewritable paper that uses water as ink could slash the amount of paper that's wasted daily, researchers say
. The paper contains hydrochromic dyes — chemicals that change color when wet — and a single
page can be reused dozens of times, the scientists report in Nature Communications
. Other types of rewritable papers have been developed, but they are all more expensive and energy-intensive to produce, and some versions use inks that pose environmental and safety hazards. The new system costs less than 1 percent of standard inkjet printing, the researchers estimate, primarily because ink cartridges are expensive. The researchers found they could refill cartridges with water and use them, along with the rewritable paper, in typical desktop printers. Print on the rewritable paper is only visible for about 22 hours, or as long as it takes the paper to dry completely. The scientists note that, while 90 percent of business information is retained on paper, most printed documents are read only once before being discarded.
20 Feb 2014:
Global Forest Watch Tool
Allows 'Near-Real Time' Forest Monitoring
A new online tool
called Global Forest Watch employs a trove of high-resolution NASA satellite imagery and large amounts of computing power to help governments, conservation organizations, and concerned citizens monitor deforestation in "near-real
time." Organized by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Global Forest Watch
uses satellite data to track changes in forest cover since 2000. It's the first tool with the capability of monitoring forests on a monthly basis, potentially allowing groups to take action against deforestation while it's in progress. Businesses committed to eliminating deforestation from supply chains can also use the tool to verify that vendors are not engaging in practices that harm forests. A custom alert feature can also notify a user when there are signs of deforestation in a region the user has selected. "Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests," said WRI president Andrew Steer. "Now, they have it."
19 Feb 2014:
Loss of Arctic Sea Ice
Has Greater Warming Impact Than Expected
The steady disappearance of Arctic sea ice, which is causing the exposed and darker surface of the Arctic Ocean to absorb more sunlight, is having a more profound impact on global warming
estimated, according to a new study. The decline of albedo, or reflectivity, from the Arctic Ocean equals roughly 25 percent of the warming caused by rising carbon dioxide levels, according to scientists at the University of California, San Diego. The impact of this "albedo feedback," in which the highly reflective white surface of sea ice is replaced by heat-absorbing open ocean, is considerably stronger than climate models had predicted, according to the UCSD research
, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers had thought increasing Arctic cloud cover might slow the albedo feedback, but this study indicates that is not happening.
17 Feb 2014:
New Maps Pinpointing Wind
Turbines Will Help Track Effects on Wildlife
More than 47,000 wind turbines dot the U.S. landscape, predominantly clustered in the Midwest and Great Plains, as a new interactive tool
developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows. The maps — the first
publicly-available, nationwide data set for wind energy generation — show the locations of every turbine in the U.S., from large wind farms to single turbines, and are accurate to within 10 meters. The maps are part of the USGS's effort to assess how wind turbines impact wildlife, and they show detailed technical information such as the make, model, height, area of the turbine blades, and capacity of each turbine. Turbine-level data will improve scientists’ ability to study wildlife collisions, the wakes causes by wind turbines, the interaction between wind turbines and ground-based radar, and how wind energy facilities overlap with migratory flyways, the USGS says.
Five Questions for Elizabeth Kolbert
On Facing Up to the Sixth Extinction
Elizabeth Kolbert's new book, The Sixth Extinction
, focuses on one of the most troubling realities of our age:
We are living in a period when, for only the sixth time in earth’s history, the diversity of species is contracting suddenly and rapidly — but now, we humans are the cause. For her reporting, Kolbert, an e360 contributor
and New Yorker
staff writer, traveled from the Peruvian Andes to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, probing the fate of a dozen species. Yale Environment 360
asked Kolbert five questions about the book and what she discovered in researching it.
11 Feb 2014:
Shrinking Household Size
May Offset Progress in Curbing Population
Household size — the number of people living together under one roof — has been shrinking worldwide, and the trend could have major consequences for resource consumption
, new research finds
. Although global population growth has been somewhat curbed in the developed world, the number of households has continued to grow at a much faster pace in nearly all countries, Michigan State University researchers found. Average household size in developed nations declined from approximately five members in 1893 to 2.5 in 2000, while the rapid decline in household size in developing nations began around 1987, according to the research
, which analyzed trends between the years 1600 and 2000. Smaller households are typically less efficient, with fewer people using proportionally more land, water, and energy. Constructing housing units also consumes lumber and building supplies, and generally requires building more roads and commercial areas. "This will put enormous strain on the environmental life support system we rely on, even if we achieve a state of zero population growth," one study author said.
10 Feb 2014:
New Plant Found in Andes
Supports up to 50 Species, Researchers Say
Researchers working in the Ecuadorian Andes have discovered a new species of black pepper plant
that is a nexus of biodiversity. The plant, named Piper kelleyi
, supports roughly 40 to 50 insect species, the scientists estimate, many of which are entirely dependent on the
Specialist herbivore Eios feeds on P. kelleyi
plant for survival. P. kelleyi
produces chemical compounds that are known to deter most herbivores, but a single type of caterpillar has adapted to overcome the toxicity of the plant's defenses. That caterpillar, in turn, is preyed upon by species of wasps and flies dependent on that specific caterpillar species — and ultimately the plant — for survival. Altogether, an assemblage of up to 50 species of herbivorous and predatory insects are dependent on P. kelleyi
, the researchers report in the journal PhytoKeys
05 Feb 2014:
Vast Forests and Frequent
Fires Were Key Causes of Ancient Warming
The release of volatile organic compounds from forests and smoke from wildfires had a far greater impact on global warming 3 million years ago than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new study finds
. During the mid-Pliocene epoch, forests covered a much larger percentage of the planet, releasing large amounts of volatile organic compounds, according to Nadine Unger of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Those compounds are precursors to ozone and organic aerosols, which are both potent greenhouse gases. The dark foliage of the planet's abundant forests also absorbed large amounts of solar energy, another reason why the Pliocene was a relatively warm era even though atmospheric levels of CO2 were not exceptionally high. The research — based on earth-system modeling that used a supercomputer capable of processing 52 trillion calculations per second — provides evidence that dynamic atmospheric chemistry played an important role in past warm climates, underscoring the complexity of climate change, the authors write in Geophysical Research Letters
04 Feb 2014:
NASA Image of Alaska
Depicts Spring-like Temperatures and Thaw
As the continental U.S. faced frigid weather and major winter storms in January, Alaska experienced record high temperatures.
A map based on NASA satellite data
shows that the last half of January was one of the warmest winter periods in Alaska’s history, with temperatures as much as 40 degrees F (22 C) above normal on some days in the central and western portions of the state. A high pressure system off the state's western coast sent warm air and rain through Alaska instead of down into California, which is in the midst of a record drought. The warmest January temperature ever observed in Alaska was tied on January 27, when the thermometer hit 62 F (16.7 C) at Port Alsworth, in southern Alaska. Combined with rainstorms, the heatwave set off a host of spring-like effects, including avalanches and swollen rivers, which carried major sediment loads into the Gulf of Alaska. Inland, Arctic lakes are also seeing consequences of Alaska's long-term warming trend. A new study
found that lakes in the region froze almost six days later and broke up about 18 days earlier in the winter of 2011 compared to the winter of 1950.
30 Jan 2014:
NASA Animation Shows
Relentless Pace of Warming Since 1950
A 15-second NASA animation
shows the steady and rapid warming of the planet since the middle of the 20th century, with regions in the Arctic and Siberia warming as much as 2 to 4 degrees C (3.6 to 7. 2 degrees
F) above a long-term average. The animation begins in 1950, but the intensity of the yellow, orange, and red colors shows how much temperatures have increased compared to baseline temperature data collected from 1880 to the present. NASA said that nine of the planet's 10 warmest years have occurred since 2000, and worldwide surface temperatures continued to rise in 2013
, according to satellite and meteorological data. Since 1880, when atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were 285 parts per million (ppm), the average global temperature has risen 1.4 degrees F; atmospheric CO2 concentrations crossed a milestone of 400 ppm last year. "Long-term trends in surface temperatures are unusual and 2013 adds to the evidence for ongoing climate change," NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt said.
28 Jan 2014:
Peru Park Holds Record
Reptile and Amphibian Diversity, Study Finds
A new study crowns Peru's Manu National Park
as the place with the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians — 287 species in all. The park's 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species outnumber those in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park
, which, with 271 reptile
A glass frog from Manu's cloud forests
and amphibian species, was previously believed to contain the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians. Although Manu National Park represents only 0.01 percent of the world's land area, it houses 2.2 percent of all amphibian species and 1.5 percent of all reptile species, the researchers note. They attribute the rich diversity to the park's elevation gradient, which spans the Western Amazon's tropical rainforest up through high Andean cloud forests, providing a wide range of habitats. Manu also has record bird diversity — with 1,000 species, or 10 percent of the world's total species — and tremendous butterfly diversity, with 1,200 species. Scientists say the inventory of the national park's richness is far from complete. DNA analyses, frog call studies, and other techniques will likely reveal even more diversity, the authors note in the journal Biota Neotropica
Interview: How Citizen Science Is
Aiding and Democratizing Research
When biologist Caren Cooper
carries out her avian studies, she’s aided by thousands of assistants, none of whom are paid for their work. That’s because Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
, relies on the help of so-called citizen scientists, volunteers from across the country who contribute data
to her research projects. These lay people provide information that enables her and other scientists to study bird life in ways that would otherwise be impossible. But, as Cooper notes in an interview with Yale Environment 360
, the uses of citizen science go well beyond bird research. Bushmen in the Kalahari are using apps to document wildlife and natural resources that need to be protected. Environmental activists also are employing open-source technology to measure and monitor pollution, including the deployment of kites and balloons to document such events as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “A lot of the ways for us to move forward in certain fields require massive collaboration,” says Cooper. “And so we’re building all the infrastructure for these collaborations, all of the web tools — whatever we need to make that happen.”
Read the interview.
27 Jan 2014:
Changes in Humidity
Are Used to Generate Electricity
Researchers have created a new kind of generator that uses bacterial spores to harness the untapped power of evaporating water
. Scientists from Harvard and Columbia universities have created small, prototype generators by coating a sheet of rubber with a soil
Bacillus subtilis bacterial spores
bacterium, Bacillus subtilis
, that greatly expands and contracts with changes in humidity. Building a generator out of Legos, a miniature fan, a magnet, and the spore-covered sheet of latex, the researchers used the humidity-driven flexing of the rubber sheet to drive the movement of the magnet, which generated electricity. The developers of the potential renewable energy technology said that large electrical generators could one day be powered by changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors. The scientists said that moistening and then drying a pound of the spores produces enough force to lift a car one meter. “If this technology is developed fully, it has a very promising endgame,” said Columbia University researcher Ozgur Sahin.
24 Jan 2014:
Future Olympic Winter Games
At Risk as Climate Warms, Researchers Warn
As few as six of the world's previous 19 Olympic Winter Games sites will likely still be wintry enough to host snow sports at the end of the century, according to a report
by Canadian and Austrian researchers. Iconic locales such as Squaw Valley, Utah, and Vancouver,
Vancouver, 2010 winter games host, is warming.
Canada, will likely be too warm by the middle of this century. Even under conservative climate change scenarios, only 11 of the 19 sites would remain climatically stable enough to reliably host the games, the study found
. Olympic organizing committees consistently cite poor weather as a major challenge for the winter games, and it's likely to get more challenging: The average February daytime temperature of winter games locations has steadily increased — from 0.4 degrees C at games held in the 1920s to 1950s, to 3.1 degrees C in the 1960s to 1990s, to 7.8 degrees C so far in the 21st century. These sites will likely warm by an additional 2.7 to 4.4 degrees C by the end of the century, according to the report.
22 Jan 2014:
New Virus Associated With
Massive Bee Die-Offs, Researchers Report
A rapidly mutating virus may be partially responsible for the massive bee die-offs known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has wiped out a third of commercial bee colonies annually for the past seven years, a group of U.S. and Chinese researchers reports
. Most scientists, including the study's authors, believe CCD is triggered when colonies are weakened by a combination of factors
, such as viruses, parasites, and perhaps pesticides. The study, published
in the journal mBio
, found in bees a variant of the tobacco ringspot virus, an RNA virus that likely jumped from tobacco plants, to soy plants, to bees. Weak bee colonies began succumbing to massive die-offs in autumn, and the researchers found those bees were heavily infected with tobacco ringspot — which is believed to affect honeybees' nervous systems — and other viruses. Strong colonies that made it through the winter showed no evidence of infection by tobacco ringspot. The researchers believe the virus jumped from plants to bees through "bee bread," a concoction of pollen, nectar, and saliva they feed their larvae. Bee infection by tobacco ringspot is the first known instance of a virus from pollen jumping to bees.
20 Jan 2014:
Soil Microbes Can Alter DNA
In Response to Climate Change, Study Says
A 10-year study of soil ecosystems
has determined that microbes alter their genetic code in response to a warming climate so they can process excess carbon being absorbed by plants from the atmosphere, a team of U.S. researchers reports in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology
. A 2-degree Celsius temperature increase spurred microbes in soil ecosystems to, over many generations, tweak their DNA, amping up their respiratory systems and converting extra organic carbon in the soil to CO2. The soil contained extra carbon because the 2-degree temperature increase made plants grow faster and higher; when those plants began to die, the carbon in their leaves, stems, and roots was added to the soil and taken up by the microbial community. Understanding the "black box" of carbon's fate in soil ecosystems holds important clues for better forecasting an ecosystem's response to climate change, says Georgia Institute of Technology researcher Kostas Konstantinidis, an author of the study. "One reason that models of climate change have such big room for variation is because we don’t understand the microbial activities that control carbon in the soil," he said.
15 Jan 2014:
West African Lions Are
Critically Close to Extinction, Study Says
West African lions are close to extinction, and vulnerable populations could be wiped out in the next five to 10 years, according to new research
led by the wild cat conservation group Panthera. West African lions, which are genetically distinct from other African lions, once numbered in the tens of thousands. Now the
Male West African lion
population has been reduced to around 400 individuals spread across 17 countries, largely due to habitat loss, a shortage of prey, and poaching, according to the study published in PLOS ONE
. Of the remaining lions, only about 250 are mature enough to reproduce, but in many cases those individuals are spread too far apart to breed. West African lions are now present in only 1.1 percent of their original habitat and should be considered "critically endangered," according to the study. Running low on habitat and prey, the lions sometimes kill livestock. Villagers then kill the lions in revenge. "It's become very complicated for this carnivore at the top of the food chain to find enough space and food to survive," one scientist told Reuters.
14 Jan 2014:
Google's Acquisition of Nest
Expected to Boost Smart Grid Expansion
Google's purchase of Nest, a leading manufacturer of smart thermostats, further deepens the Internet search giant's involvement in the green energy sector and is likely to help accelerate development of a more efficient
smart grid, experts say
. Google has already invested $300 million in distributed solar companies, which have been helping homeowners install photovoltaic panels to offset their conventional grid-based power consumption. The success of distributed solar hinges on effective smart-metering, and acquiring Nest — whose thermostats can be controlled remotely and can track and reduce energy consumption — could help Google gain valuable insight into millions of individuals' daily power consumption patterns, Quartz reports. As power grids and meters get "smarter," demand for technology like Nest's thermostats will likely grow; incorporating distributed solar energy sources should become easier for households, as well. The $3.2 billion deal will also give Google access to Nest Energy Services, a branch of the company that manages partnerships between Nest and U.S. power companies.
13 Jan 2014:
Pine Island Glacier Has
Melted Beyond Tipping Point, Study Says
A major Antarctic ice mass, the Pine Island Glacier, is melting irreversibly and could add as much as a centimeter to global sea level rise over the next 20 years alone, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change
. Calculations show that the Pine Island Glacier's "grounding line" — where land-based ice meets a floating ice shelf that is an extension of the
glacier — has retreated roughly 10 kilometers in the past decade. Scientists say that the grounding line is in the process of a 40-kilometer retreat that could push it beyond an important tipping point. Pine Island Glacier is a major contributor to global sea level rise
and has been losing massive amounts of ice for decades, accounting for 20 percent of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet's total ice loss
. An international research team says that the Pine Island Glacier has been losing 20 billion tons of ice annually for the past two decades and could lose 100 billion tons annually over the next 20 years. The glacier "has started a phase of self-sustained retreat and will irreversibly continue its decline," says Gael Durand, a glaciologist with France's Grenoble Alps University.
02 Jan 2014:
Stranded Antarctic Expedition
Rescued After Being Icebound for Nine Days
Passengers trapped on an icebound Russian research ship off the coast of Antarctica were rescued today after being stranded
for more than a week. A helicopter from China shuttled the 52 scientists, journalists, and tourists to an Australian icebreaker. The chartered ship was attempting to recreate the century-old travels and scientific work carried out by the East Antarctic research expedition led by Douglas Mawson in 1911. The Russian ship, which set out from New Zealand on December 8, became trapped in thick pack ice that even icebreakers could not penetrate. Because it was a privately chartered expedition, the voyage was not subjected to the same rigorous safety requirements that a research trip funded by government agencies would have been, scientists said. Some scientists contended that the lack of preparation sparked a rescue effort that diverted ships, crew, and other important resources
from other research efforts elsewhere in Antarctica.
31 Dec 2013:
Atlantic Ocean Zooplankton
Are Now Reproducing in Arctic Waters
For the first time, scientists have discovered species of Atlantic Ocean zooplankton reproducing in Arctic waters
. German researchers say the discovery indicates a possible shift in the Arctic zooplankton community as
The amphipod Themisto compressa
the region warms, one that could be detrimental to Arctic birds, fish, and marine mammals. Studying traps that have been suspended for 13 years in the Fram Strait, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute found that small species of crustaceans common to the Atlantic are increasingly moving into Arctic waters. The researchers found fertile females as well as individuals at all stages of development, showing that the Atlantic species is reproducing in the frigid waters. The one-centimeter amphipods are smaller than respective Arctic species, meaning that the spread of the Atlantic crustaceans northward could reduce the volume of food available to Arctic predators. The research was published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series
30 Dec 2013:
Hydropower "Battery" Could
Even Out Wind Energy Supply, Scientists Say
Norwegian hydropower stations could be linked to wind farms
and serve as giant "batteries" to even out power supply fluctuations, a Scandinavian research organization says. A major hurdle for renewable energy suppliers is intermittent power production — sometimes too much power is generated, other times too little, and periods of peak demand often don't coincide with periods of peak supply. By using excess electricity from windy periods to pump water uphill into reservoirs, hydroelectric power stations could smooth out the intermittent power supplied by large wind farms, Scandinavian researchers from the firm SINTEF say. At times of low wind energy supply, the stored water could be released through dam turbines and hydroelectricity would fill the gap. The plan requires updating and refurbishing existing Norwegian hydropower plants, which could increase their output potential by 11 to 18 gigawatts, enough to provide an adequate backup power supply.
26 Dec 2013:
Solar Activity Not a Major
Factor in Climate Change, Study Finds
Solar activity has had minimal impact on climate over the past millennium, new research
from the United Kingdom indicates. The findings counter the long-held view that periodic fluctuations in the sun's energy output have led to lengthy periods of warm or cold weather in the past. Looking at climate records from the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,000 years, the scientists found that greenhouse gases have been the primary drivers of climate change since about 1900. Volcanic activity, which adds particles to the atmosphere that block sunlight, dominated climate patterns until roughly 1800, the study found. "Until now, the influence of the sun on past climate has been poorly understood," said Andrew Schurer of the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the study, which was published in Nature Geoscience
. "We hope that our new discoveries will help improve our understanding of how temperatures have changed over the past few centuries, and improve predictions for how they might develop in future."
18 Dec 2013:
Mapping Course and Software
Make Forest Monitoring Widely Accessible
Citizen scientists interested in tracking the health of the planet's forests have a new tool at their disposal. New software that uses satellite technology to map and
monitor changes in forested areas is being made available to the public
through a free online course. Users who complete the course, hosted by Stanford University
, can receive a license to operate the software, called CLASlite. CLASlite, or the Carnegie Landsat Analysis System lite, is a highly automated system for converting satellite imagery from its original, raw format into maps that can be used to detect deforestation, logging, and other disruptions. It was developed by Carnegie researcher Greg Asner to help governments, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions conduct high-resolution mapping and monitoring of forests
. "We are making the science of forest monitoring broadly available to people who want and need to participate in tracking and managing the health of their forests," said Asner.
Photo Essay: Documenting the Swift
Change Wrought by Global Warming
For 25 years, photographer Peter Essick has traveled the world for National Geographic
magazine, with many of his recent assignments focusing on the causes and consequences of climate change. In a Yale Environment 360
photo essay, we present a gallery of images he took while on assignment in Antarctica, Greenland, and other far-flung locales affected by climate change. View the photo gallery.
16 Dec 2013:
Volume of E-Waste
Projected to Soar by 2017, Study Says
The volume of electronic waste generated worldwide is expected to climb by 33 percent by 2017
to 65 million tons, according to a study conducted by a partnership of United Nations organizations, industry, governments, and scientists. So many computers, televisions, mobile
phones, and other devices are being tossed away annually that within four years the volume of e-waste would fill a 15,000-mile line of 40-ton trucks, the report
said. The report, released by a group called StEP
( Solving the E-Waste Problem Initiative) said that in 2012, 50 million tons of e-waste was generated worldwide, about 15 pounds for every person on the planet. China generated the most electronic waste last year, with 11.1 million tons, followed by the U.S. with 10 million tons. But in per capita generation, the U.S. dwarfed China and most other countries, with each American producing 65 pounds of e-waste, the study said. “The explosion is happening because there is so much technical innovation,” said Ruediger Kuehr, executive secretary of StEP.
13 Dec 2013:
U.S. Energy Department
Invests in Small-Scale Nuclear Reactors
Small, nearly meltdown-proof nuclear reactors are receiving a big boost from the U.S. Department of Energy
. The department will give a company in Corvallis, Oregon, as much as $226 million to develop so-called "small modular reactors," which can be used with many local power grids that can't accommodate conventional nuclear reactors. Because of the extremely low likelihood of meltdown, the next-generation, small-scale reactors are safer than many currently operating reactors, engineers say. The company, NuScale Power, plans to encase their reactors in something akin to a large thermos, which would sit at the bottom of a pool. If a reactor fails and threatens to overheat, the container would fill with water and remove excess heat without pumps or valves, which can sometimes fail. The Energy Department's investment is the second one in a $452 million, multi-year program to accelerate the development of such reactors. The reactor designs use water as a coolant, which is technologically conservative and increases the likelihood that the small modular reactors would be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory commission, The New York Times
03 Dec 2013:
Microplastic Pollution Harms
Worms at Bottom of Food Chain, Study Finds
As plastic trash accumulates in ocean ecosystems, it may be damaging worms and other sensitive marine life at the bottom of the food chain, scientists report. Two British studies found
that microplastics — tiny remnants, less than 5 mm in diameter, from the breakdown of plastic trash — made seafloor worms eat
Beach sediments churned by a lugworm
less and transferred pollutants from the plastics to the worms. Because they ate less, the worms had less energy to invest in important functions
such as growth, reproduction, and churning sediments, one of their most important roles in the ocean ecosystem. The worms also absorbed harmful chemicals from the debris
, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, researchers said. Lugworms, often called the "earthworms of the sea," are considered an indicator species because they feed on ocean floor sediments. Microplastics have been accumulating in those sediments since the 1960s, and, although each particle is nearly invisible, taken together microplastics are the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on the planet.