How termites draw on solar power for climate control

September 22, 2017 by  
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Termite mounds could hold clues to passive climate control , according to new research. Seven scientists scrutinized African termite mounds to see how they keep their homes cool in the sun while maintaining a uniform concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2). Researchers have looked at south Asian termite mounds in the past, but those are often more shaded; they say uncovering the secrets of African termite mounds could lead to energy-efficient building ideas. Termite mounds are impressive not only because the creatures that construct them are so small, but because they naturally maintain a comfortable temperature – no air conditioner necessary. Researchers led by Samuel Ocko, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student, dug further into climate control in termite mounds, specifically those of the Macrotermes michaelseni termite in Namibia . Their mounds can be around 10 feet high, with millions of workers residing inside. Related: BIOMIMETIC ARCHITECTURE: Green Building in Zimbabwe Modeled After Termite Mounds Ocko and his team measured air velocities and temperatures in the mound over 35 days in Namibia’s autumn and found even though temperatures outside the mound changed by 27 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit, inside temperatures only varied by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The termites drew on the sun more than wind to achieve climate control. According to IFLScience, convection from the temperature gradient between outside the mounds and their centers drove smooth airflow. During 24 hours, CO2 levels stayed around five percent. The mounds have holes that can be up to 0.2 inches in diameter, which IFLScience said creates an array of tunnels and allows for gas exchange. They said the mounds also lean towards the equator. CO2 levels vary more in Indian mounds during the day, while temperatures remain even. African mounds have large thermal gradients between the center and the sun-facing side. The researchers said in their paper abstract that even though African and Indian mounds differ, they can harness periodic solar heating for ventilation ; they said the system functions like as an external lung. The Journal of Experimental Biology published the research this year. Ocko was joined by scientists at institutions in the United States, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Via IFLScience Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Astronomers observe an object in space unlike anything they’ve seen before

September 22, 2017 by  
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Astronomers recently observed a type of object in space unlike anything we’ve come across before. 288P is a binary asteroid – or two asteroids orbiting one other – that has features similar to a comet , like a long tail and bright coma, or cloud of dust and gas surrounding a comet’s nucleus. It is the first binary asteroid we’ve ever found that can also be classified as a comet. Scientists learned of 288P’s existence in 2011, but they weren’t able to really scrutinize the binary asteroid – it was too far away – until recently when it came a little closer to Earth. Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope , a group of scientists led by Jessica Agarwal at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany were able to get a better look at the strange system. Related: Astronomers discover that exoplanet WASP-12b is “darker than asphalt” 288P is a main-belt comet as it’s located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter . Each of the two pieces that make up 288P are about 0.6 miles in diameter, and the research institute said they are unusually far apart: they’re orbiting one another at a distance of around 62 miles. The astronomers also observed ongoing activity in 288P. Agarwal said, “We detected strong indications of the sublimation of water ice due to the increased solar heating – similar to how the tail of a comet is created.” 288P has probably been a binary system for just around 5,000 years. And according to Hubble’s website, we’re not likely to find any more objects like 288P for a long time, since finding the binary main-belt comet “included a lot of luck.” The journal Nature published the research online earlier this week. Agarwal was joined by four other researchers from institutions in the United States. Via Hubble Space Telescope and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research Images via ESA/Hubble, L. Calçada and ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

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Astronomers observe an object in space unlike anything they’ve seen before

Nicaragua joins Paris Accord, leaving the US and Syria as lone dissenters

September 22, 2017 by  
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Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega has announced plans to sign the Paris Accord, leaving President Trump alone with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as the two remaining national heads refusing to support the international agreement. In December of 2015, the leaders of nearly 200 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce global greenhouse emissions and prevent climate change from worsening – including former president Barack Obama. But Trump refused has reneged on that commitment, formerly claiming climate change is a “hoax” invented by the Chinese. According to a report by Managua-based television station 100% Noticias, Ortega said on September 18, “We will soon adhere, we will sign the Paris Agreement. We have already had meetings addressing the issue and we have already programmed the accession.” The Central American nation originally opposed signing the Paris Accord because the goals in the text “did not go far enough.” To elaborate, it had been confirmed by scientists that emissions levels from some of the top polluters — including the US, EU, China, and India — were not low enough to prevent sea levels from rising or to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. As a result, Nicaragua abstained. President Trump has said he will withdraw the US from the historic accord. Despite receiving an environmental encyclical from the Pope himself and being informed by a variety of scientists about the dangers of climate change , he said the action for the US by an executive order which Obama signed while in office puts American workers in the steel, coal and other manufacturing industries at an “economic disadvantage.” Related: Hundreds of Dead Sea Turtles Wash Up on Nicaragua’s West Coast Nicaragua has been a haven for renewable energy . More than half of the country’s energy is sourced from geothermic, wind, solar and wave energy. Nicaragua plans to increase that to 90 percent by 2020. The World Bank referred to the country as “a renewable energy paradise” four years ago. Because the agreement will not go into effect until 2020, Nicaragua has until then to draft a required national action plan and to formalize it into law. No date has yet been set for the signing. Via The Independent Images via Pixabay

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Nicaragua joins Paris Accord, leaving the US and Syria as lone dissenters

Soaring timber tower could clean up contaminated water in NYC’s Central Park

September 22, 2017 by  
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New York-based DFA Studio has unveiled plans for a soaring wooden tower in Central Park that could actually purify the heavily contaminated Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The proposed tower measures 712 feet tall with a 112-foot-tall spire – and if it comes to fruition, it will be the world’s tallest timber tower. The tower’s helix structure is wrapped with a lattice of curved timber beams . The building would be anchored securely to a pre-cast concrete base with tensile steel cables. A transparent material covers the tower’s exterior, providing 360-degree views as visitors climb up to the top. Related: LAVA breaks ground on sustainable energy tower in Heidelberg The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir currently contains an estimated one billion gallons of stagnant, contaminated water . The tower’s filtration system could potentially convert the body of water into a clean pond. “Aside from supplying water to the pool and Harlem Meer, the Reservoir sits stagnant and fenced off due to its current state as a health threat to millions of New Yorkers, tourists and animals,” said DFA studio founder Laith Sayigh. “DFA envisions a temporary landmark that is remarkably of its time to creatively transform the reservoir into one of New York’s boldest urban amenities.” The tower’s integrated filtration system (as well as the elevators) would be powered by a wind turbine installed at the top of the tower. Sayigh believes that the NYC project would serve as an example for urban design around the world, “The Central Park Tower has the potential to be a model project for other cities aiming to fix existing infrastructure, build tall to capture views and elevate the urban public realm.” + DFA Via Dezeen

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Soaring timber tower could clean up contaminated water in NYC’s Central Park

Kenyan activists are using human poop to make affordable cooking fuel

August 15, 2017 by  
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Resources are scarce in Kenya, and nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line , but they do have poop. Activists with Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company are providing clean fuel for local residents in the form of small balls of human feces. The group takes in truckloads of sewage from septic systems and pit latrines and transforms the waste into safe, economical briquettes that burn cleaner and longer than coal. And don’t worry: they are odor-free. Ordinarily, human feces can pose various health problems if left untreated or if disposed of improperly. Sometimes, it can even lead to cholera outbreaks or other sanitation -related diseases. However, because it is the most abundant and widely available human resource, Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company developed a method to turn it into an affordable, clean-burning fuel. To create the briquettes, the company slowly sun-dries the feces. Then, it treats it at a high temperature of 300 Celsius (572 Fahrenheit) in a kiln via a carbonizing process where sawdust is added to it. TreeHugger reports that the resulting product is then mixed with a small amount of molasses to act as a binder. It is then rolled into balls and dried. One kilo of the briquettes is said to cost just 50 cents USD — a very reasonable price for Kenyan citizens. John Irungu, the site manager at Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company, describes carbonization as “a process whereby we increase the carbon content of your materials.” He added, “In this case we are using the drum kiln whereby the sludge is fed, the drum has some holes at the bottom, these holes allow the oxygen to come in, in a controlled manner, that oxygen will only support combustion but to a certain level so that it doesn’t burn completely into ash. In this way, you are able to eliminate all the volatile matters, all the harmful gasses, and it is at this point that you ensure that your sludge doesn’t smell it is safe for handling when you are carrying out the other processes which is milling and briquette production.” Related: First-ever dog poop composting program in NYC comes to Brooklyn park It took some time to overcome the stigma that surrounds the use of human feces, but the company succeeded by informing residents that they could obtain a cleaner-burning cooking fuel for a fraction of the cost. (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.10”; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’)); Turning poop into fuel These Kenyan entrepreneurs built thousands of special toilets to turn poop into sustainable fuel. Posted by Al Jazeera English on Saturday, July 15, 2017 Every month, Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company produces about two tons of the human waste briquettes. By the end of the year, the goal is to produce 10 tons per month. This will occur once additional de-watering and carbonization equipment is procured, as it will scale up and optimize the present production methods. The company is also invested in the construction of more than 6,000 toilets that can collect waste. Someday, the company will expand its offerings elsewhere in Kenya, Africa. + Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company Via TreeHugger Images via  Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company

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Kenyan activists are using human poop to make affordable cooking fuel

Leonardo DiCaprio launches a new fund to save the lions

August 11, 2017 by  
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Lions are in trouble – there are around 20,000 today, down from 200,000 around 100 years ago. But everyone’s favorite eco-warrior, Leonardo DiCaprio , isn’t going to sit by while the big cats’ populations plummet. His foundation, together with the Wildlife Conservation Network , is starting the Lion Recovery Fund (LRF), a nonprofit with a lofty goal: double the amount of lions by 2050. Lion populations have plunged as they suffer from habitat loss , and the loss of prey to sustain them. The animals are gone from 80 to 90 percent of their range in the past, and the lion populations of 26 countries have vanished. But it’s not too late for lions – if African parks were effectively managed while nearby communities were supported, there could be three to four times the number of lions, according to the LRF. The fund will support groups working for lion conservation in Africa – and 100 percent of every dollar given to the fund will go to partners. Related: West African Lion Alarmingly Close to Extinction, New Study Finds (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.10″; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’)); Lion Recovery Fund In just the last 25 years alone, half of the wild lion population has been lost. Proud to launch the Lion Recovery Fund today on #WorldLionDay- an initiative of Wildlife Conservation Network and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Find out how you can help #savelions at: www.lionrecoveryfund.org Posted by Leonardo DiCaprio on Thursday, August 10, 2017 The LRF has already allocated over $800,000 to partners like Panthera in Senegal, the Wildlife Crime Prevention Project in Zambia, and the African Parks Network in Benin. Money will go towards efforts to combat poaching , secure space for lions to recover, and lower conflict between the big cats and humans. Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation executive director Justin Winters said in a statement, “With the population of Africa expected to double by 2050, this is an opportunity to show the world that development does not have to come at the expense of wild landscapes and species. Humans and the natural world can coexist and thrive.” DiCaprio called for people to get involved. In a statement, he said, “We’re losing our planet’s wildlife – even such iconic species as the African Lion – at a dangerously rapid pace. An astonishingly small amount of philanthropic dollars go towards protecting wildlife, but together we can turn that around.” You can donate to the fund here . + Lion Recovery Fund + Wildlife Conservation Network + Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation Via the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation Images via Bram Vranckx on Unsplash and Christine Donaldson on Unsplash

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Leonardo DiCaprio launches a new fund to save the lions

Cameroon student nonprofit recycles plastic bottles into boats

August 10, 2017 by  
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Humanity has a plastic bottle addiction, purchasing one million a minute , and many bottles wind up not in recycling bins but in our oceans. Cameroon -based nonprofit Madiba & Nature is pioneering a creative use for all those polluting bottles: boats . They’re fabricating floating canoe-shaped crafts out of collected empties in an effort to prompt people to think differently about how they consume and dispose of plastic bottles. A group of students is transforming plastic trash into boats. They aim to promote a circular economy in Africa ; according to their website: “…we want to help change people’s attitudes and bad habits on the management of plastic waste that degrades sensitive ecosystems.” One Green Planet reports Cameroonian Essome Ismael invented the boats. Related: The world’s population buys one million plastic bottles every single minute Madiba & Nature volunteers have gathered to pick up thousands of plastic bottles near Cameroon’s largest city, Douala, to use those bottles for what they call ecological canoes. The boats could help not just the environment , but the local community as well. In a video, Ismael said there’s a great need for fishing boats in his area, and the plastic bottle boats could meet that need. Local fisherman Emmanuel Japa said at first they thought the plastic bottle boats were a joke, but it turns out the crafts are actually strong and seaworthy. Ismael also said plastic bottles clogging their waterways have led to flooding in the local area. The boats are just the beginning. Madiba & Nature’s website says in around a year of work, they’ve started a program for students and engineers to learn more about green business , and have developed an environmental awareness and education program. They’ve also helped develop a local waste management system and have supported other groups laboring to protect the environment. Their website also says they aim to research how to use recycled plastic in building or paving systems. + Madiba & Nature Via One Green Planet Images via Madiba & Nature Facebook

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Cameroon student nonprofit recycles plastic bottles into boats

Inexpensive new battery generates power with just a drop of saliva

August 10, 2017 by  
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In addition to aiding digestion, it turns out saliva can also power batteries. Researchers at Binghamton University discovered this while inventing a small, paper-based battery that generates energy when mixed with a drop of saliva. The batteries, which are more like tiny microbial fuel cells, are inexpensive to make and could be used in natural disasters and remote settings where on-demand power is hard (if not impossible) to come by. As a result, access to medical care and screenings in rural settings could improve. Binghamton University Electrical and Computer Science Assistant Professor Seokheun Choi spent the past five years developing the micro-power sources. His ultimate goal was to find a way to power medical diagnostic tests in poverty-stricken regions; finally, he succeeded at developing paper-based bacteria -powered batteries “On-demand micro-power generation is required especially for point-of-care diagnostic applications in developing countries,” said Choi. “Typically, those applications require only several tens of microwatt-level power for several minutes, but commercial batteries or other energy harvesting technologies are too expensive and over-qualified. Also, they pose environmental pollution issues.” Related: Indian startup pioneers new battery swapping system for electric buses The batteries contain freeze-dried exoelectrogenic cells which generate power when saliva is added. Astonishingly, with just one drop of spit, the paper batteries can produce enough power for low-power biological sensors in just a matter of minutes. Eureka Alert reports that a benefit of freeze drying the cells is that they can be stored for a long time before use. This means they can be stocked in medical clinics around the world. An additional perk is that the required biological fluid (saliva) can be easily obtained anywhere, anytime. At present, the battery can only produce a few microwatts of power per square centimeter. However, Choi and his research assistant, Maedeh Mohammadifar, are working on boosting the output. In the future, the team hopes to make the paper batteries more robust so they can sustain devices other than LED lights when connected in a series. The paper, “A Papertronic, On-Demand and Disposable Biobattery: Saliva-Activated Electricity Generation from Lyophilized Exoelectrogens Preinoculated on Paper,” was published in Advanced Materials Technologies. + Binghamton University Via Eureka Alert Images via  Binghamton University , Pixabay

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Inexpensive new battery generates power with just a drop of saliva

Watch the solar eclipse from a private plane AND stay in an amazing Airbnb dome

August 10, 2017 by  
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The upcoming solar eclipse is slated to be the event of the century , so it seems only fitting to celebrate in style. National Geographic and Airbnb have teamed up to treat two budding astrophysicists (or just you and your mom) to a stay in this cool geodesic dome in a remote area in Oregon the night before the eclipse. However, the real prize is watching the momentous occasion from the comfort of a private jet that will fly the winners high in the sky, following the eclipse’s path. The dreamy geodesic pod is located in a remote area of Oregon, and comes complete with an observation deck and with a variety of telescopes. Upon arriving on the 20th, the winners will be met by their hosts: Dr. Jedidah Isler, a National Geographic Explorer and the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Yale University and, Babak Tafreshi, a renowned National Geographic photographer and science journalist. Related: Coming Total Solar Eclipse to be an ‘event of the century’, scientists say Right before the actual eclipse is visible from the ground, the two lucky winners will board a small private jet at the nearby Redmond Municipal Airport. The pilot will take off over the Oregon shore – flying west while following the Path of Totality – in order to be witness to the very first moments of the eclipse from high in the sky. + Airbnb Solar Eclipse Stay

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Watch the solar eclipse from a private plane AND stay in an amazing Airbnb dome

Doctor warns falling sperm counts could lead to human extinction

July 26, 2017 by  
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Will our lifestyle lead to our extinction ? New findings from an international team of eight researchers indicate sperm counts in men from North America, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe have halved in under 40 years. Lead author epidemiologist Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told the BBC, “If we will not change the ways that we are living and the environment and the chemicals that we are exposed to, I am very worried about what will happen in the future.” Sperm count studies have been controversial in the past. This recent one, published this week in the Oxford Academic journal Human Reproduction Update , is one of the biggest assessments ever undertaken, according to the BBC. Researchers pored over 185 studies between 1973 and 2011. Levine detected a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and 59.3 percent drop in total sperm count in the men from those regions of the world listed above. The rate of decline continues and may even be increasing, according to the researchers. They didn’t see the same decline in men from Africa, Asia, or South America, but said there have been fewer studies from these regions. Related: Alarming new study suggests Zika virus could cause infertility in men Levine told the BBC, “Eventually we may have a problem, and with reproduction in general, and it may be the extinction of the human species.” Skeptics say a large proportion of past studies that have pointed to sperm count drops have been flawed, such as only including men who have gone to fertility clinics, and would be likely to possess low sperm counts. But the researchers involved in the new study said they accounted for some of the flaws. Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University told the BBC, “I’ve never been particularly convinced by the many studies published so far claiming that human sperm counts have declined in the recent past. However, the study today by Dr. Levine and his colleagues deals head-on with many of the deficiencies of previous studies.” Other scientists praised the quality of the new study but said it may be too soon to come to the conclusion that humans could be on the path to extinction. Researchers at institutions in Denmark, the United States, and Spain were also part of the research. Via the BBC Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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