Incredibly rare two-headed porpoise found in the North Sea

June 15, 2017 by  
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An unsuspecting fisherman recently stumbled across an incredibly rare two-headed dolphin. Only nine examples of conjoined twins have ever been found among cetaceans , according to Erwin Kompanje, curator of mammals for the Natural History Museum Rotterdam in the Netherlands . So he jumped at the chance to study a rare specimen of conjoined harbor porpoises caught the end of May by Dutch fisherman. But when he reached out to the fisherman, what happened next was a scientist’s nightmare. It’s not unheard of for trawlers to accidentally catch a porpoise. There are hundreds of thousands of the cetaceans near the coast of the Netherlands. But no one has ever caught conjoined twin harbor porpoises. The fisherman snapped photos, which made their way to Kompanje. He couldn’t wait to study the creature in the laboratory. Related: Fish with “human-like teeth” spotted in Michigan lakes Kompanje could tell the twins were male, and had likely recently been born – and he thinks they were born alive. They probably didn’t live for long; either they had two brains which might have told them to swim in different directions, or a single heart may have failed to pump enough blood to keep them alive. Conjoined twins are an extremely rare find. And these looked to be in good condition. Others that have been discovered were undeveloped fetuses – such as one found near Japan in 1970 in a dolphin’s womb – or have started to decompose, such as a dolphin with two beaks found in 2001. Kompanje reached out to the fisherman to try and obtain the specimen for study. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending for science. The fisherman thought it was illegal to catch the conjoined twins, so after the photographs, they tossed the creature back into the sea. Kompanje told The Washington Post, “For a cetologist, this is a real horror.” Based on the photographs he was still able to publish a paper in DEINSEA, the online journal of the natural history museum, joined by one scientist of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and one from Wageningen Marine Research . Sadly, we may never know more about the rare twins. Via The Washington Post Images via Kompanje, E.J.O.; Camphuysen, C.J.; and Leopold, M.F.

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Incredibly rare two-headed porpoise found in the North Sea

Trump administration ‘declares war’ on West Coast turtles, dolphins, and whales

June 13, 2017 by  
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Environmentalists say President Donald Trump’s administration has declared war on California marine animals after an announcement this week from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The administration canceled proposed limits on the amount of endangered whales, sea turtles , and dolphins that can be hurt or killed on the West Coast by sword-fishing nets. The proposed limits were backed by the fishing industry and environmentalists. But NOAA said other protections have helped slash the amount of marine creatures that get trapped in the nets – called gill nets – like better training for fishing boat skippers and sound warnings so creatures can leave the area. NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Michael Milstein told the Los Angeles Times, “The cap would have imposed a cost on the industry to solve a problem that has already been addressed.” Related: Unusually high number of humpback whale deaths prompts NOAA inquiry NOAA statistics reveal injuries and deaths for protected whales dropped from over 50 in 1992 to one or two every year by 2015. For common dolphins, the numbers fell from nearly 400 to just a few. But environmentalists disagree. Turtle Island Restoration Network director Todd Steiner said the Trump administration has declared war. He said the drop in numbers is due to the decline in the gill-net fishing fleet in California. He told the Los Angeles Times, “The numbers caught per set have not gone down. The California gill-net fishery kills more marine mammals than all other West Coast fisheries combined.” The restrictions were strong: if two endangered sea turtles or whales were seriously harmed or killed during two years, the gill net fishery would be shuttered for as long as two years. If any combination of four bottlenose dolphins or short-finned pilot whales were hurt or died, the fishery would also be shut down. Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Catherine Kilduff said rare species are still being killed. And the numbers of some species are so small that the death of just one can be devastating. She told the Los Angeles Times, “Government scientists have said that West Coast fisheries can’t catch more than one leatherback every five years. They estimate that four times that have caught just in the gill-net fishery alone.” Via the Los Angeles Times Images via Salvatore Barbera on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Trump administration ‘declares war’ on West Coast turtles, dolphins, and whales

Rise of just 0.5 degrees C in India has already resulted in deadly heat

June 9, 2017 by  
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As the world works to keep temperature increase from climate change below 2 degrees Celsius , a smaller increase than that has already led to deadly heat in India . A new study reveals an average temperature increase of just 0.5 degrees Celsius means the country is two and a half times more likely to be hit with a deadly heat wave than it was 50 years ago. Between 1960 and 2009, average temperatures in India increased by 0.5 degrees Celsius, which is under one degree Fahrenheit. The probability of a large heat-related mortality event – where more than 100 people perish – skyrocketed by 146 percent, according to the new study. Researchers also found the amount of heat wave days increased by 25 percent in much of the country. Between 1985 and 2009 part of south and west India saw 50 percent more heat wave events, or extreme heat that lingers for more than three or four days, compared to the 25 years prior. Related: India shatters records with temperature of 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit Climatologist Omid Mazdiyasni of the University of California, Irvine and lead author on a study from 11 researchers in the United States and India said, “It’s getting hotter, and of course more heat waves are going to kill more people. We knew there was going to be an impact, but we didn’t expect it to be this big.” This is bad news for a region already grappling with heat. Neighboring Pakistan experienced the hottest ever temperature recorded in May in the world with a temperature of 53.5 degrees Celsius, or 128.3 degrees Fahrenheit, in the city of Turbat on May 28. And in New Delhi , temperatures have spiked higher than 44 degrees Celsius, or 111 degrees Fahrenheit, in the last couple of weeks. Study co-author Amir AghaKouchak, another UC Irvine climatologist, said, “The general public may think that a one or two degree temperature rise is not that significant, but our results show that even small changes can result in more heat waves and more death.” The journal Science published the study this week. Via Phys.org Images via Abhishek Singh Bailoo on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Rise of just 0.5 degrees C in India has already resulted in deadly heat

Episode 77: Fleets drive fuel standards; activist businesses rise

May 26, 2017 by  
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On this week’s podcast: California comes out on top for climate change, businesses want carbon pricing and fleet owners come together for sustainable transportation.

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Episode 77: Fleets drive fuel standards; activist businesses rise

Vivobarefoot is launching a sneaker made out of algae

May 25, 2017 by  
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Vivobarefoot , a London-based purveyor of so-called “barefoot” footwear , is going green in an altogether unexpected way. Together with Bloom , a materials innovation firm from San Diego, the company is poised to debut the world’s first molded shoe derived from algae. No, swamp couture hasn’t suddenly become en vogue. Rather, Bloom harvests biomass from ponds and lakes, particularly those at risk for algal overload, and turns it into closed-cell foam known as ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA for short. Typically made from petroleum-based sources, EVA is what gives sneakers that extra-cushy feel. Vivobarefoot’s new lace-up is made almost entirely from the stuff, a fact that not only makes it equally at home on land and in water, but it also gives the environment a much-needed boost. Related: Researchers use algae to treat wastewater and generate biofuel A single pair of men’s size 42 Vivobarefoot x Bloom shoes, according to Vivobarefoot, returns 57 gallons of clean water to ecosystem while removing the equivalent of 40 balloons worth of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “This is a true revolution for the footwear industry with the first plant based alternative to the petro-foams in ubiquitous use,” said Galahad Clark, founder and managing director of Vivobarefoot, in a statement. “We are thrilled to be the first company to use Bloom in our shoes and further our mission to make the perfect shoe—perfect for feet and minimal impact on the planet.” Related: Mexico-sized algae bloom in the Arabian Sea connected to climate change The Vivobarefoot x Bloom shoe will be available for purchase online and in stores this July. + Vivobarefoot x Bloom

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Vivobarefoot is launching a sneaker made out of algae

New biodegradable semiconductor could make e-waste a thing of the past

May 8, 2017 by  
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50 million tons of electronics are expected to be trashed this year, according to a United Nations Environment Program report . A Stanford University team was concerned over the escalating epidemic of e-waste , so they created a semiconductor – a component in most of our electronics – that can actually be broken down with a weak acid such as vinegar. Nine Stanford researchers, joined by one scientist from Hewlett Packard Labs and two engineers from the University of California, Santa Barbara , set out to rethink electronics. Engineer Zhenan Bao, who heads up the Bao Research Group at Stanford, said they found inspiration from human skin . Skin stretches, can heal itself, and is ultimately biodegradable . The researchers wanted to take these characteristics and apply them to electronics. Related: INFOGRAPHIC: The dangerous untold story of e-waste They created a flexible polymer able to decompose. Postdoctoral fellow Ting Lei said it’s the first ever “semiconductive polymer that can decompose.” But that’s just one part of a semiconductor. The team also designed a degradable electronic circuit and a biodegradable substrate material. They used iron – a nontoxic, environmentally friendly product – instead of the gold usually used for electronic components. They made a paper-like substrate with cellulose ; the transparent substrate allows the semiconductor to adhere to rough or smooth surfaces, like onto an avocado as seen in the picture above or on human skin. The semiconductor could even be implanted inside a body. According to Stanford, “When the electronic device is no longer needed, the whole thing can biodegrade into nontoxic components.” The team envisions a number of uses for their semiconductors, like in wearable electronics . They could be made into patches allowing people to track their blood pressure, for example, or could be dropped via plane into a forest to survey the landscape, and eventually they would biodegrade instead of littering the environment . The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America published the research online the beginning of May. Via Stanford University and New Atlas Images via Stanford University/Bao lab

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New biodegradable semiconductor could make e-waste a thing of the past

ESA 3D prints extraterrestrial bricks with concentrated sunlight and moondust

May 4, 2017 by  
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The European Space Agency (ESA) is getting in on the 3D-printing fun with extraterrestrial materials. They used simulated lunar material and the sun’s heat to print bricks that are as strong as gypsum . Their project demonstrates how lunar explorers could one day use a similar method to construct Moon colonies. Future travelers to both the Moon and Mars could use locally-sourced materials to build habitats. Recently University of California, San Diego engineers funded by NASA were able to create super-strong bricks with simulated Mars dirt, and now ESA scientists have been able to use dust with similar composition and grain size as the material on the moon to 3D print bricks. Related: Scientists create super-strong bricks from Mars-like soil Materials engineer Advenit Makaya said they cooked successive layers of moondust 0.1 millimeters thick in a solar furnace at temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius – or 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit. The team can finish a 7.9 by 3.9 by 1.1 inch brick in about five hours. The solar furnace is located at the DLR German Aerospace Center , a place you may be familiar with because they recently built the world’s largest artificial sun . The bricks will now go through extensive mechanical testing. They’re not perfect yet; for example, some have warped at their edges because the center cools slower than the edges. Advenit said they’re looking into ways to manage the warping, “but for now this project is a proof of concept, showing that such a lunar construction method is indeed feasible.” The European Union’s Horizon 2020 program will back a follow-up project, RegoLight , which aims to develop 3D printing technology to shape lunar regolith, or the “loose layer of dust, soil, and broken rocks on the Moon surface.” Advenit said the recent ESA project occurred in normal atmospheric conditions, but RegoLight will attempt to 3D print with moondust in the high temperature extremes and vacuum conditions you’d find on the Moon. Via the European Space Agency Images via ESA – G. Porter and ESA/Foster + Partners

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ESA 3D prints extraterrestrial bricks with concentrated sunlight and moondust

Indiana governor delivers blow to solar industry

May 4, 2017 by  
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The solar industry provides three times as many jobs in the state of Indiana as natural gas, but governor Eric Holcomb doesn’t seem to care. Despite Department of Energy statistics that show the industry’s potential benefits to his constituents, Holcomb just signed a bill reducing incentives for solar power , impacting both installers and customers. Holcomb signed Senate Bill 309 this week. It’s better than a previous variant, which would have treated homeowners as power plants and consumers simultaneously, requiring them to sell all of the power generated on their own rooftops at the wholesale rate, around four cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh), and then buy it back at the retail rate of about 11 cents per kwh. That version didn’t go through; but the new bill hits net metering , or the opportunity for homeowners to sell excess energy at the retail rate in Indiana. Now they can only sell it at just above the wholesale rate. Related: Solar power now provides twice as many jobs as coal in U.S. That’s not all. Utilities can now charge those homeowners with rooftop solar an extra fee for “energy delivery costs.” Some people think the bill’s ambiguous language also ends net metering entirely for people obtaining power from community solar, or those leasing their panels. People who get rooftop solar installed after 2022 won’t be able to benefit from net metering at all; neither will those people who replace or expand the system they have now after 2017. The public were against the bill, according to Hoosier Environmental Council executive director Jesse Kharbanda who said, “Ask Republicans , ‘What kind of feedback are you getting from your constituents?’ They’ll tell us that they have gotten dozens and dozens of calls opposing the bill, but zero supporting the bill.” Solar installer Paul Steury of Indiana-based Photon Electric said the law could hurt sales since it’s stripped away incentives. He said he knows many representatives who didn’t listen to the people. Indiana rooftop solar owner Lanette Erby told Nexus Media, “We’re currently on an inverter with the electric company, but obviously if the net metering bill were to go through, we’d be purchasing battery backups. That’s where we’re at. The same kind of legislation killed the solar industry in a couple of other states…which is terrible because it’s creating so many jobs.” Via Nexus Media Images via Rectify Solar Facebook

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Indiana governor delivers blow to solar industry

Scientists create super-strong bricks from mars-like soil

April 28, 2017 by  
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Future Mars dwellers may actually be able to use locally-sourced materials for their buildings. Four University of California, San Diego engineers were able to press Mars-like dirt into bricks in a study funded by NASA . No other materials were necessary to keep the blocks together. And the bricks were incredibly tough – even more than steel-reinforced concrete . A high-pressure hammer helped the engineers pack dirt – with the same chemical composition and grain size and shape as soil on Mars – into strong bricks. Since storage will be limited on any craft carrying astronauts to Mars, they may be able to devote room to other equipment if they know they can construct habitats with the red planet’s resources. Related: Scientists use Martian dust to 3D print tools On Earth we typically have to employ some type of adhesive to keep construction materials together. But simulated Mars dirt actually has a chemical ingredient that helps bind it. Structural engineer Yu Qiao told The Verge the chemical ingredient “gives the soil strength when it’s compacted.” It may be feasible for humans to hammer out bricks on the red planet as well. NASA life sciences expert Jon Rask, not part of the study, told The Verge, “It’s really easy to swing a hammer on Mars. You can imagine a Mars explorer swinging a hammer to make strong building blocks.” The team worked with lunar soil in the past, when NASA aimed to go back to the moon . Lunar dirt requires a binder, but since the binder would have to be shipped from Earth, the team worked with the lunar dirt until they were able to take the binder content below the 15 percent construction materials on Earth generally require to just three percent. When NASA shifted its focus to Mars, the team did too, and decided to test their lunar dirt findings on Mars dirt. They first tried packing the dirt into blocks with six percent binder, and when that worked well, they decided to test the Martian dirt further and discovered it necessitated no binder whatsoever. The journal Scientific Reports published the engineers’ findings online yesterday. Via The Verge Images via the University of California, San Diego

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Scientists create super-strong bricks from mars-like soil

Humans may have lived in America 115,000 years earlier than we thought

April 27, 2017 by  
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For years, scientists have believed that humanity was a relatively recent visitor to the North American continent, migrating from Siberia only 15,000 years ago. Now, more accurate dating of mastodon fossils from California shows that an early human ancestor likely existed on the continent 130,000 years ago , far further back than even the most extreme estimates made by previous researchers. The fossils consist of elephant-like teeth and bones, which were discovered in Southern California during the construction of an expressway in 1992. The fossils bear clear signs of deliberate breakage using stone hammers and other early human tools – but until recently, dating technology was not sophisticated enough to accurately pinpoint the era from which they originated. Related: Archaeologist suggests ancient humans helped catalyze the Sahara’s desertification Using new methods to measure traces of natural uranium in the bones, researchers with the US Geological Survey and the Center for American Paleolithic Research found these bones were far older than the era when humans are generally accepted to have lived in America. While these people were clearly somehow related to modern-day humans, and were advanced enough to create and use stone tools, researchers say that they wouldn’t have been Homo sapiens as we know them. Our species didn’t leave Africa until 80,000 to 100,000 years ago. Instead, some likely candidates are Homo erectus, the Neanderthals, or perhaps a little-known hominid species called the Denisovans , whose DNA can still be found in Australian aboriginal populations today. It’s likely this ancient human population died out before Homo sapiens eventually crossed the Pacific. It’s believed they did not interbreed with modern humans and likely are not direct ancestors of any Native American groups. The new findings have been published in the journal Nature . Via Phys.org Images via San Diego Natural History Museum

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