Southern California is losing its clouds, increasing the risk of more intense wildfires

May 31, 2018 by  
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The elevated summer temperatures in California  are causing decreased levels of the low-atmosphere clouds that were once common throughout the southern coastal regions of the state. A new study has found that because these clouds are dissipating from the increased heat, the region is now facing an increased risk of wildfire . “Clouds that used to burn off by noon or 1 o’clock are now gone by 10 or 11, if they form at all,” bioclimatologist and study lead author Park Williams told Phys.org . Due to a warming climate and an expanding urban heat island, cloud cover is trapped in a positive feedback loop where less clouds mean higher temperatures, and higher temperatures mean less clouds. Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters , the new study concludes that there has been a 25 to 50 percent decrease in low-lying summer clouds since the 1970s. “ Cloud cover is plummeting in southern coastal California,” said Williams, “and as clouds decrease, that increases the chance of bigger and more intense fires.” The low-lying stratus clouds in the area typically form in the early morning in a thin, wet layer of coastal air that exists between land and drier air masses. The increased heat from climate change and the urban heat island effect has caused the clouds to dissolve earlier in the day, leaving little cover during the hottest parts of the afternoon. Related: The growing wine industry is threatening California’s Napa Valley To study the changes in cloud cover, Williams and his team analyzed hour-by-hour cloud data gathered by California airports over the past several decades. The data was then compared with vegetation moisture data from the U.S. Wildland Fire Assessment System. This comparison enabled the team to conclude that the decreased cloud cover has led to an increased wildfire risk. “Even though the danger has increased, people in these areas are very good at putting out fires, so the area burned hasn’t gone up,” Williams explained. “But the dice are now loaded, and in areas where clouds have decreased, the fires should be getting more intense and harder to contain. At some point, we’ll see if people can continue to keep up.” +  Geophysical Research Letters Via Phys.org Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Southern California is losing its clouds, increasing the risk of more intense wildfires

6 ways that scientists are hacking the planet

May 28, 2018 by  
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Life on planet Earth is struggling through an historically challenging era, thanks in no small part to the actions of our species. Some scientists have proposed labeling this period as the Anthropocene epoch due to the outsize influence that humans have had on the planet’s ecosystems , especially in the past several centuries. Anthropogenic climate change is wreaking havoc across the planet, from the melting sea ice in the Arctic to the rising sea levels in the Atlantic. Plastic pollution threatens to suffocate aquatic life while deforestation destroys essential habitat; both are contributing to what some scientists have called the sixth mass extinction. As much as humanity has altered this planet in ways that are harmful to itself and other species, some humans are now attempting to hack the planet, in big ways and small, for the good of us all. 1. Refreezing the Arctic As nations around the world race toward carbon neutrality, it is nonetheless clear that the planet will continue to experience significant effects of climate change, even in best-case scenarios. Given that the global community is far from the path toward best-case conditions, some scientists have begun work on radical procedures that, if successful, could return Earth’s ecosystems to a pre-climate change state. Perhaps the region most associated with the fundamental ecological transformations under climate change is the Arctic . To protect this rapidly warming region, a team of 14 scientists led by physicist Steven Desch of  Arizona State University   have created a plan that aims to refreeze sthe Arctic with 10 million wind-powered pumps. The system would pump water onto the sea ice during winter, freezing new layers and reinforcing the sea ice. With the Arctic predicted to be sea ice-free by the summer of 2030, something must be done. “Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning  fossil fuels ,” Desch told the Observer . “It’s a good idea but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.” 2. Puncturing the Yellowstone Supervolcano As the Kilauea volcano destroys buildings and forces major evacuations in Hawaii , the public is once again reminded of the dangers that volcanic eruptions can pose, often unexpectedly. If the supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park were to erupt, it could could trigger a collapse of the global agricultural and economic systems and result in the deaths of potentially millions of people. Although scientists cannot predict when such an eruption would occur, they have already prepared a plan to prevent it from occurring. Related: The world’s tallest active geyser keeps erupting in Yellowstone – and scientists don’t know why Researchers at NASA have proposed drilling into the magma chamber and adding water to cool it down, thereby preventing an eruption. However, researchers recommend drilling into the chamber from below, so as to avoid fracturing the surrounding rock and causing an eruption. Excess heat gathered through such a puncture could be converted into geothermal power. NASA estimates that such a project would cost $3.5 billion; the agency has yet to secure funding. 3. A ‘Spray-on Umbrella’ to Protect Coral Reefs Coral reefs around the world are under severe pressure, with up to one-quarter of all reefs worldwide already considered too damaged to be saved. Climate change , overfishing, and pollution all contribute to the poor health of global coral populations. Even the sun’s UV rays are damaging coral reefs by exacerbating extreme bleaching events. To protect acute vulnerabilities in coral reefs, researchers have created what has been described as a “spray-on umbrella”: an environmentally friendly substance 500 times thinner than human hair, capable of reflecting and scattering sunlight that hits the surface of the ocean. “It’s important to note that this is not intended to be a solution that can be applied over the whole 348,000 square kilometres of Great Barrier Reef ,” Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden told  the Sydney Morning Herald . “That would never be practical, but it could be deployed on a smaller, local level to protect high value or high-risk areas of reef.” Real-world experiments with the lipid-calcium carbonate substance will begin soon. 4. A Chemical Sunshade As global temperatures continue to rise and climate change fundamentally alters ecosystems around the world, scientists are considering what some may see as drastic measures to correct a global climate spiraling into chaos. The deliberate large-scale manipulation of Earth’s climate to compensate for global warming is known as geoengineering. Scientists from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Jamaica, and Thailand have now joined the debate in a new study published in Nature, arguing that if there is to be geoengineering, developing countries must lead the way . Related: Trump administration could open door to geoengineering “The technique is controversial, and rightly so,” they wrote. “It is too early to know what its effects would be: it could be very helpful or very harmful. Developing countries have most to gain or lose. In our view, they must maintain their climate leadership and play a central part in research and discussions around solar geoengineering.” Specifically, these scientists are interested in studying the effect of controlled sprays of water molecules on cloud cover reflectivity. If clouds become more reflective, they could deflect more of the sun’s rays, thus cooling the planet down. While small-scale experiments have been conducted by researchers at Harvard University, geoengineering remains on the not-so-distant horizon for now. 5. Using the Color Spectrum to Cool Down Hacking the planet need not be done on such a large scale; sometimes small, local actions can effect large, global change. In this case, public works officials and workers in Los Angeles have figured out a way to hack the light spectrum by painting its streets white to reduce heat absorption. White-painted streets and rooftops are a low-cost, simple measure to reduce the urban heat island effect, thus saving energy otherwise spent on cooling. To achieve this impact, Los Angeles is covering its streets with CoolSeal, a light-colored paint that has already yielded positive outcomes. Related: Futuristic “spaceship” Lucas Museum breaks ground in Los Angeles “We found that on average the area covered in CoolSeal is 10 degrees cooler than black asphalt on the same parking lot,” said Greg Spotts, the assistant director of the Bureau of Street Services for San Fernando Valley, one of the hottest spots in greater LA. Currently, Los Angeles is one of the only places in the United States where heat-related deaths occur regularly during winter , a public health hazard that is expected to worsen as  climate change  gains strength over the next decades. If enough streets are painted white, relief from the heat may arrive in the City of Angels. 6. The Rain-Making Machine No matter how many streets are painted white, if there is no water, there will be no city. Water held within the air, even as it stubbornly refuses to rain, represents an untapped resource with which to quench the thirst of communities around the globe. The  China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation  (CASC) is currently testing devices in the Tibetan Plateau that could increase rainfall in the region by as much as 10 billion cubic meters, or around 353 billion cubic feet, per year. CASC plans to build tens of thousands of chambers across 620,000 square miles, which will burn fuel to create silver iodide. This silver iodide will then serve as a crystalline cloud-seeding agent. The chambers will be located on steep, south-facing ridges that will facilitate the sweeping of the silver iodide into the clouds to cause rainfall. As the project unfolds, 30 weather satellites will gather real-time data while the chambers work together with drones, planes, and even artillery to maximize the effectiveness of the rain-making machines. While the idea of “cloud seeding” is not new, China is the first country to pursue such a project on a large scale. Images via Good Free Photos,   Depositphotos  (1) (2) ,  Pixabay (1) , NASA/ISS  

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6 ways that scientists are hacking the planet

CO2 levels averaged above 410 ppm ‘for the first time in recorded history’ in April

May 4, 2018 by  
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Just over a year ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels hit 410 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in millions of years. And we just hit another worrying threshold in April: levels averaged higher than 410 ppm throughout the whole month for the first time. Geochemist Ralph Keeling said , “We keep burning fossil fuels . Carbon dioxide keeps building up in the air. It’s essentially as simple as that.” The Keeling Curve , a daily record of atmospheric CO2 levels made at the Mauna Loa Observatory, started in 1958. Back then measurements were around 315 ppm. 60 years later, we’ve passed the 410 ppm threshold, and in April, the average concentration was 410.31 ppm. According to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, “This marks the first time in the history of the Mauna Loa record that a monthly average has exceeded 410 ppm.” Today marks the 60th anniversary of the #KeelingCurve , a daily record of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. This record is considered the foundation of modern climate change research. pic.twitter.com/XJgGIj8Z1S — Scripps Oceanography (@Scripps_Ocean) March 29, 2018 Related: CO2 levels just reached 410 ppm — the highest in millions of years The Washington Post pointed out CO2 levels have hit 400 ppm in the past — such as over three million years ago in the mid-Pliocene warm period. But the Pliocene level “was sustained over long periods of time, whereas today the global CO2 concentration is increasing rapidly,” according to scientists in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume 1 , a 2017 federal report. Before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels fluctuated over thousands of years, but according to the institution, never exceeded 300 ppm once in the past 800,000 years. Around 1880, CO2 levels were about 280 ppm. Today, they’re around 46 percent higher. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said about the milestone on Twitter , “It’s as if we discovered that something we eat every day is causing our body to run a fever and develop all kinds of harmful symptoms — and instead of cutting back, we right keep on eating it, more and more. If that isn’t alarming, I don’t know what is.” + Scripps Institution of Oceanography Via The Washington Post Images via Devin McGloin on Unsplash and Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

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CO2 levels averaged above 410 ppm ‘for the first time in recorded history’ in April

Astronomer maps massive hydrogen clouds zipping through space

December 6, 2017 by  
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In the halo of the Milky Way , there are mysterious gigantic clouds that zoom around at high speeds through space, and we may have finally unlocked a key that will help us understand them. Using telescopes, a scientist has created a detailed map of the clouds, revealing clumps, branches and filaments that have never been seen before. Astronomer Dr. Tobais Westmeier at the University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research created a map that helps us understand these space phenomena. It revealed massive clouds of hydrogen: some are 80,000 light-years in diameter and have millions of times the mass of the sun. They move incredibly fast, between 43 and 56 miles per second. And they cover up to 13 percent of the sky. Related: Scientists find a massive black hole swirling in the Milky Way Scientists don’t know where these clouds originated, but some suggest that they could be leftover material from the formation of the galaxy, material falling into or out of our galaxy, or from interaction with nearby Large and Small Magellanic clouds. Dr. Westmeier has made the map available to anyone so that we can continue to learn more about these incredible formations. Via Science Alert

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This wild Brussels restaurant is topped with a tank of slithering eels

December 6, 2017 by  
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This tiny restaurant in Brussels is topped with an aquaponic farm that grows eels! Leopold Banchini Architects designed the unique space where clients literally eat under the fish tank. The Aquaponic Eel bar, located at the Recyclart Gallery in Brussels, is an experimental fishery that produces both the meet and the herbs necessary to cook the famous Belgium dish Paling in ‘t groen. The Aquaponic Eel bar was inspired by the mysterious reproductive cycle of the European Eel, which transforms several times during its lifetime. Although the eel has become the primary ingredient in a famous Belgian dish, this animal has been notoriously hard to breed in captivity. Related: IKEA’s Space10 is working on on-site hydroponic farms for restaurants The eels above produce excretions that serve as nutrients for the plants, while the plants filter the water for the fish. The entire food production cycle happens in and around the metal structure, providing visitors with an unforgettable dining experience. + Leopold Banchini Architects + Café Recylart Photos by Dylan Perrenoud

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This wild Brussels restaurant is topped with a tank of slithering eels

Modern aluminum addition blends seamlessly in with 19th century rowhouses

July 17, 2017 by  
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It’s never easy to blend new buildings into traditional neighborhoods, but Toronto-based Aleph-Bau , has skillfully managed to fit a wonderfully modern aluminum-clad home – called Twelve Tacoma – into a section of 19th century rowhouses in Toronto without encroaching on the historic neighborhood’s charming character. From the outside, Twelve Tacoma’s sophisticated white paint and corrugated aluminum cladding certainly stands out from the colorful brick rowhouses, but its subtle design and neutral tones manage to quietly blend into it surroundings. Additionally, certain details such as the simple front railing and plexiglass door awning – although more contemporary – mimic its neighbors in a respectful nod to the area’s vernacular. Related: Swedish architect surprises mum with dazzling corrugated aluminum home The upper floor of the home is the only section visible from the front of the rowhouses , but the home’s beautiful design is best seen from the back. To squeeze the contemporary addition into the established architecture, the architects used a steel structure to create the frame of the house in between the existing wooden parameters. The finished product is a series of stacked volumes that create a very modern and open home. According to Delnaz Yekrangian, Aleph-Bau’s director, the home design relied on a number of elements to blend it into its natural and manmade surroundings, “Architectural elements disappear in favor of the atmosphere – one that is an amplified reflection of the outside; light, the sky, the clouds, the neighbors’ tree, the sound of rainfall and the shabby structures in the laneway are inside now.” On the inside, the home is open and airy, with a minimalist interior design scheme. Modular sliding storage units are found throughout the home in order to avoid clutter.  Numerous floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors on every level allow for optimal natural light, also adding a sense of transparency to the home. Further connecting the home to its surroundings is the large rooftop terrace , which, thanks to its many asymmetrical shapes, provides a fun and private space for the homeowners. + Aleph Bau Photography by Tom Arban  

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Modern aluminum addition blends seamlessly in with 19th century rowhouses

Worlds tallest skyscraper design hangs off an orbiting asteroid

March 24, 2017 by  
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What if your daily commute involved parachuting down to earth rather than being stuck in vehicular traffic? That’s the vision in Clouds Architecture Office’s incredible proposal for a skyscraper suspended off an orbiting asteroid. The design, called Analemma, would be powered by space-based solar panels and capture water in a semi-closed loop system that draws from the moisture in clouds and rainwater. While some may write off Analemma as an early April Fools’ Day joke, we think the unusual design is a fun and unconventional thought experiment worth exploring, if only to get our creative juices flowing. The conceptual design begins with the placement of a large orbiting asteroid set on a figure-eight geosynchronous path that moves between the north and southern hemispheres on a predictable daily loop. The skyscraper , suspended from the asteroid via a high-strength cable, would allow residents to parachute down to work when the orbit slows down and gets closest to midtown Manhattan. The proposed building is split into four main areas: business activities at the lower end of the tower, sleeping quarters placed approximately two-thirds of the way up, prayer rooms at the very top of the building, and surface transfer points at the bottom. The tower would be prefabricated in Dubai —which the architects say is “a specialist in tall building construction at one-fifth the cost of New York City construction”—and the modules transported and assembled above earth. Related: This 3D-printed space igloo just won NASA’s Mars habitat competition “Analemma Tower is a proposal for the world’s tallest building ever,” writes CAO. “Harnessing the power of planetary design thinking, it taps into the desire for extreme height, seclusion and constant mobility. If the recent boom in residential towers proves that sales price per square foot rises with floor elevation, then Analemma Tower will command record prices, justifying its high cost of construction.” + Clouds Architecture Office Via Dezeen Images via Clouds Architecture Office

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Worlds tallest skyscraper design hangs off an orbiting asteroid

This timber kindergarten is embedded into the hills of small Northern Italian village

January 5, 2017 by  
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Austrian architects feld72 to have unveiled a stunning timber-clad kindergarten building located in the small village of Valdaora di Sotto in South Tyrol. The contemporary structure’s subtle presence is encased by a solid wall and tucked into the hilly landscape, blending in respectfully with the more traditional buildings in the village According to the architects’, the building’s design was inspired to be “an embracing gesture between tradition and modernity”. Although contemporary in nature, the design of the 950-square-meter building manages to be a quiet addition to the adjacent historic parish church and elementary school, in no way overshadowing the village’s existing architecture . Related: Playful nursery in Japan invites children to frolic among the clouds The kindergarten’s design and layout is characterized by its natural boundaries. The elongated and asymmetrical volume follows the uneven terrain, strategically using the space to its advantage. The existing landscape this way enables the architects to give the children optimal outdoor space with a protective barrier. The open green courtyard is enclosed with a tall circumferential fence that provides both privacy and security. On the interior, large windows provide optimal natural light into the inside play areas. Stone masonry and wooden accents were used to bring a soothing modest atmosphere and the rooms were equipped with partition furniture and walls to give flexibility to the space. The assembly room and multi-function rooms can be adapted as one large space or separated to be used as individual functions. + feld72 Via Platforma Arquitectura Photography by Hertha Hurnaus

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This timber kindergarten is embedded into the hills of small Northern Italian village

Contemporary library melds into the landscape thanks to locally-sourced materials

December 28, 2016 by  
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There are few things as joyous as curling up with a good book while snow lightly falls outside the window. Local bibliophiles in Canada’s La Malbaie region can now get cozy and enjoy the city’s picturesque snowy landscape from the sophisticated Laure Conan Library and City Hall, built by Bisson Associés and ACDF Architecture using locally-sourced materials . Located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, the La Malbaie region was one of Canada’s first resort towns. According to the architects, the contemporary design of the library pays homage to role the stunning landscape has played in the area’s history, “The project’s main narrative focuses on the value of the site’s historic landscape as it symbolizes the reconciliation between the present city, and the historical landscape closely linked to the St. Lawrence River.” To further pay respects to the local community, the architects chose to implement a strong eco-conscious focus from the start, concentrating on creating a compact and energy efficient design as well as using locally-sourced materials and resources. Related: Spectacular library in Chile built with locally-sourced wood from earthquake-stricken town The library, which was built on the dramatic slope leading to the river, stands out visiually for its contrasting exterior of wood, stone and glass. Dark timber siding from Quebec was used to clad the exterior, including the cantilevered library space, which sits on top of a concrete volume housing the City Hall. The extended form provides a covered outdoor space underneath, which is used as event space as well as a rest area for cyclists and pedestrians exploring the river’s walking and biking trails. + Bisson Associés + ACDF Architecture Via Architizer

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Contemporary library melds into the landscape thanks to locally-sourced materials

World’s tallest and longest glass bridge closes after only 13 days

September 6, 2016 by  
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The hype surrounding the world’s tallest and longest glass bridge was was intense when it opened on August 20. Located in China , the record-breaking Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge is 984 feet high and 1,410 feet long. But only 13 days after opening, the bridge has closed due to “the volume of visitors” – and there’s no word on when it might open again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFoWV8malws A spokesperson told CNN , “We’re overwhelmed by the volume of visitors.” Around 800 people can be on the bridge at once, and 8,000 can visit a day, but according to the spokesperson, 80,000 people had tried to visit the glass bridge every day. The spokesperson said there were no “accidents,” and that “there was no problem” when asked about the glass breaking or cracking. According to a statement on the management’s Weibo account, the government decided to close the bridge because of the “urgency to improve and update.” Related: World’s highest and longest glass bridge in China whacked with a sledgehammer Designed by Haim Dotan , the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge is part of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. The bridge is comprised of a steel frame with glass panels that offer dizzying views of the ground below. When it opened, Dotan referred to the bridge as the “Bridge of Courageous Hearts.” He said , “The Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge was designed to be as invisible as possible – a white bridge disappearing into the clouds. As the designer of this bridge located in an incredible and magical national park, I believe in nature, harmony, balance, and beauty. Nature is beautiful as is. One wants to make the least impact upon it.” There were plans for the bridge to include three swings and a bungee jump. In addition to being a destination for tourists and thrill-seekers, there was talk of the bridge serving as a runway for fashion shows. Via CNN and Dezeen

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