‘Great American Desert’ threatens to swallow eight US states as massive aquifer dries up

November 27, 2017 by  
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The Ogallala aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground bodies of water upon which many ecosystems and communities in the American West depend, is in rapid decline due to over-exploitation of its resources. According to the Denver Post , farmers in eight American states (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and South Dakota) are putting a particular strain on the aquifer by overdrawing water from beneath the soil they cultivate in a $35 billion dollar per year industry. If allowed to continue, this could threaten both the livelihood of farmers and the ecosystems of the West, which could be replaced by a ‘Great American Desert.’ Because of the region’s intensive farming practices , agricultural wells are extracting water from the Ogallala aquifer significantly faster than it is being replenished. This trend appears to have accelerated in recent years. Federal data indicates that the aquifer contracted twice as fast in the past six years as it had in the previous sixty, with a significant impact on everyday water use in the West. “Now I never know, from one minute to the next, when I turn on a faucet or hydrant, whether there will be water or not,” said Lois Scott, who lives on a family farm in Cope, Colorado , in an interview with the Denver Post . “The aquifer is being depleted. This will truly become the Great American Desert.” Related: Dead Sea salt reveals drought on a scale never recorded – and it could happen again As a result of the exploitation of the Ogallala, at least 358 miles of rivers and streams have dried up within a 200-square-mile area in Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. If trends continued, an additional 177 miles of rivers and streams are expected to dry out by 2060. “We have almost completely changed the species of fish that can survive in those streams, compared with what was there historically,” said Keith Gido, author of a recent scientific report on the aquifer’s depletion, in an interview with the Denver Post . “We’re not living in as sustainable a fashion as we need to be. Much of the damage has been done.” The over-exploitation of the Ogallala aquifer and the plight of the American West is sadly not unique to the region. “It is happening all over the world in places such as Pakistan . It causes conflicts,” said Gido. “As human populations grow, the demand for water is going to be greater. Conflicts are going to increase—unless we become more efficient in using the water we have.” Via EcoWatch and the Denver Post Images via Depositphotos  and USGS/Flickr

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‘Great American Desert’ threatens to swallow eight US states as massive aquifer dries up

Affordable new device uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity

November 27, 2017 by  
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Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have advanced the field of hydrogen power by creating a hybrid device that uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity in a cost-effective manner. “People need fuel to run their vehicles and electricity to run their devices,” said Richard Kaner, lead author of the study and a UCLA distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “Now you can make both fuel and electricity with a single device.” The new invention is a significant step forward in the quest to harness the power of hydrogen as a fuel source, particularly in transportation. “Hydrogen is a great fuel for vehicles: It is the cleanest fuel known, it’s cheap and it puts no pollutants into the air — just water ,” said Kaner, “and this could dramatically lower the cost of hydrogen cars.” In addition to positive and negative electrodes typically found in battery systems, the UCLA device includes an electrode with the ability to either store electrical energy or use it as a catalyst for water electrolysis, the process by which hydrogen and oxygen atoms are split from a water compound. To increase the device’s efficiency, the researcher team maximized the surface area upon which water makes contact. This additional surface area then allows greater production of hydrogen as well as increased energy storage. Related: New nanomaterial pulls hydrogen from seawater to power fuel cells Although commercial production of hydrogen has often proven to be costly and carbon intensive , the usage of ever-cheaper and clean solar power could change the game. The materials used in the UCLA device to create hydrogen, such as nickel, iron, and cobalt, are also significantly cheaper and more abundant than precious metals like platinum typically used in the process. Finally, the device, powered by the sun, is designed to be accessible even in isolated areas, thus increasing the viability of hydrogen as a fuel source for vehicles on long trips. Although the current model can be held in the palm of one’s hand, the principles behind the device may be applied at a greater scale. Via New Atlas / UCLA Images via Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

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Affordable new device uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity

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