Scientists warn of more severe earthquakes in 2018 as Earth’s rotation slows

November 21, 2017 by  
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You wouldn’t have felt it, but sometimes the Earth’s rotation slows down. Sure, the fluctuations are minute – maybe a millisecond here or there. But two geophysicists think there could be more destructive quakes next year because of the phenomenon. There is a silver lining: such small changes also might help us forecast earthquakes. Scientists have charted minuscule changes in the length of a day on our planet for decades. Sometimes we gain a millisecond, sometimes we lose one. But it turns out these tiny changes could impact us in a big way. They could be involved in the release of large amounts of underground energy . Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana and Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado, Boulder presented the idea in a research letter published by Geophysical Research Letters in late summer and at The Geological Society of America’s annual meeting last month. Related: Formerly undiscovered tectonic plates may explain mysterious Vityaz earthquakes Slowdowns in Earth’s rotation have corresponded with global increases of magnitude seven or greater earthquakes during the last century, according to the researchers: Bilham said, “The Earth offers us a five-years heads-up on future earthquakes.” In slowdown periods, Earth often sees two to five more large earthquakes than usual – but these arrive after the slowdown begins. Earth’s magnetic field develops a temporary ripple as day length fluctuates over decades, according to Science Magazine . Both effects could be caused by small changes in molten iron’s flow in the outer core , researchers think. Earth spins 460 meters per second at the equator, according to Science Magazine, and “given this high velocity, it’s not absurd to think that a slight mismatch in speed between the solid crust and mantle and the liquid core could translate into a force somehow nudging quakes into synchrony.” Bendick said the connection may seem crazy. But other researchers are intrigued – and geologist James Dolan of the University of Southern California said we should know if they’re on to something in five years. Based on the research, Earth should see five more major earthquakes than average starting in 2018 and we may have a new tool for earthquake forecasting. Via Science Magazine and The Guardian Images via Lorenzo Bollettini on Unsplash and Depositphotos

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Scientists warn of more severe earthquakes in 2018 as Earth’s rotation slows

Suspicious radioactive cloud over Europe may have originated in Russia

November 16, 2017 by  
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A radioactive cloud of pollution sounds like a plot point out of a B movie – but that’s what multiple European monitoring stations recently detected. Official monitors in Germany and France detected ruthenium 106, a nuclide, in late September, and some people suggested it originated in Kazakhstan or southern Russia . Multiple European monitoring stations confirmed the presence of ruthenium 106, according to France’s Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety , in the atmosphere of the majority of countries in Europe. The cause for alarm appears to have drifted away for now: the institute said since October 13, they have not detected ruthenium 106 in France. They said in a recent statement , “The concentration levels of ruthenium 106 in the air that have been recorded in Europe and especially in France are of no consequence for human health and for the environment .” Related: UNEP chief: Polluters should pay for environmental destruction, not taxpayers But there is some question over how much ruthenium 106 leaked in the first place. The institute said the amounts at the source would have been significant. If such an accident had occurred in France, authorities would have had to implement measures to protect populations for a few kilometers around the point of release. Where did the ruthenium 106 come from? Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection said on October 11 , “Recent analyses as to the source of the radioactive substance suggest a high probability of a radioactive release in the Southern Ural, although other areas in the South of Russia still cannot be ruled out.” Just a few days earlier, on October 8, they’d said in a statement “Russia must be assumed to be the region of origin” and called on Russian authorities to provide information. The German and French agencies did not think the ruthenium 106 came from a nuclear reactor accident, as other nuclides probably would have been detected in such an event. France’s institute said the source could have been “nuclear fuel-cycle facilities or radioactive source production.” French agency senior official Jean-Christophe Gariel said he talked to counterparts in Russia last week, and “they told us that our results were coherent and correct, but that they were not aware of any event that could have caused that.” Via The New York Times , the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety , and the Federal Office for Radiation Protection ( 1 , 2 ) Images via Depositphotos and Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety

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Suspicious radioactive cloud over Europe may have originated in Russia

"We were blown away" – researchers eliminate obstacles to fusion energy

November 15, 2017 by  
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Fusion powers the sun, and if we could harness it here on Earth, we could obtain unlimited clean energy . Scientists have been working on that aim for years, and now researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory , Massachusetts Institute of Technology , and Texas A&M University just made a huge leap forwards. Helium , a byproduct of the process, typically bubbles and weakens the materials comprising a fusion reactor . But inside of nanocomposite solids, instead of the metal of regular fusion reactors, helium doesn’t form into destructive bubbles – it actually tunnels vein-like channels to potentially escape. Fusion energy isn’t easy to generate in part because of the difficulty in finding materials able to withstand the grueling conditions inside a fusion reactor’s core. These researchers may have found an answer by exploring how helium behaves in nanocomposite solids – and the results surprised them. Because while helium doesn’t endanger the environment , according to Texas A&M University, it does damage fusion reactor materials. Inside a solid material, helium bubbles out, akin to carbon dioxide in carbonated water. Related: These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030 Michael Demkowicz, Texas A&M associate professor, said, “Literally, you get these helium bubbles inside of the metal that stay there forever because the metal is solid. As you accumulate more and more helium, the bubbles start to link up and destroy the entire material.” But inside nanocomposite solids – which Texas A&M describes as “materials made of stacks of thick metal layers” – helium didn’t bubble. Instead, it actually made channels similar to human veins. Demkowicz said, “We were blown away by what we saw. As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system.” And the researchers think the helium could then flow out of the material “without causing any further damage,” according to Texas A&M. The surprising discovery could have more applications than in just fusion reactors. Demkowicz said, “I think the bigger picture here is in vascularized solids…What else could be transported through such networks? Perhaps heat or electricity or even chemicals that could help the material self-heal .” The journal Science Advances published the research this month. Via Texas A&M University and Futurism Images via Wikimedia Commons and Texas A&M University

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"We were blown away" – researchers eliminate obstacles to fusion energy

One Bitcoin transaction takes more energy than a household uses in a week

November 13, 2017 by  
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Although Bitcoin has suffered a dramatic fall in value over the past several days, 2017 has seen Bitcoin’s value reach new heights. But with its increased value comes an increased strain on energy consumption. According to cryptocurrency analyst Alex de Vries, also known as Digiconomist , it would be profitable to use 24 terawatt-hours of electricity, about the equivalent annual energy consumption to Nigeria, a nation of 186 million, to “mine” Bitcoins each year. Even simple transactions with Bitcoin consume large amounts of energy; 215 kilowatt-hours (KWh), or enough electricity to power an American household for a week, are required to complete each of the roughly 300,000 Bitcoin transactions that occur each day. Bitcoins are created by “ mining ,” a process which involves running a powerful computing system so that it may solve complex cryptographic puzzles and produce a Bitcoin. The price of Bitcoin is proportional to the amount of electricity that can profitably be used to extract Bitcoin from a computing rig. When the price rises, miners must compensate by adding more powerful computing components, which then adds to the energy bill. Motherboard estimates that, at a minimum, the energy used by global Bitcoin extraction network at present could power 821,940 average American homes daily. Related: This Russian cottage is heated for free with Bitcoin mining What does this energy consumption mean for climate change and the environment? Using data available from a coal-powered Bitcoin mine in Mongolia , the Digiconomist determined that this single mine produces the emissions equivalent of 203,000 car kilometers traveled per hour of mining. When asked by Motherboard whether this energy problem might be fixed as the system matures, the Digiconomist responded that “Blockchain is inefficient tech by design, as we create trust by building a system based on distrust.” Bitcoin transactions are thousands of times less efficient than credit card transactions, by design. In the brave new world of Bitcoin, it seems that unless drastic changes are made, the cryptocurrency will continue to consume enormous amounts of energy. Via Motherboard Images via Depositphotos (1)

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One Bitcoin transaction takes more energy than a household uses in a week

United Kingdom joins Europe in banning bee-killing pesticides

November 10, 2017 by  
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The United Kingdom is joining Europe on a key environmental issue by supporting a total ban on neonicotinoids, pesticides that have decimated bee populations across the world. According to British environment secretary Michael Gove, the United Kingdom has reversed its previous opposition to such a ban after new research has shown that neonicotinoids cause significant damage to bee colonies. Gove was also moved to adopt this new policy position after reading reports of 75% declines in insect populations in Germany . “The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood,” said Gove, according to The Guardian . “I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.” Although neonicotenoids are the world’s most used insecticide, their use on flowering crops was banned by the European Union in 2013. The United Kingdom nonetheless opposed the ban, though the times have changed. As the EU moves towards a total ban on neonictenoids outside of greenhouses, the United Kingdom’s change in its policy position adds momentum to the European reform effort. Related: “Bee-friendly” plants sold in the UK are coated in harmful pesticides “As is always the case, a deteriorating environment is ultimately bad economic news as well,” said Gove, citing figures that pollinators boost the profitability of UK crops by £400m-£680m each year. Gove also pointed out that, in the face of declining pollinator populations, British gala apple growers are forced to spend £5.7m per year to compensate for the loss of the natural ecological services provided by pollinators. Environmental and science groups are applauding Gove’s decision. “We warmly welcome the UK’s change of position,” said Matt Shardlow, of the insect conservation group Buglife, according to The Guardian . “Brexit will give the UK more control over the health of our ecosystems and it is essential in doing so that we apply the highest standards of care.” Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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United Kingdom joins Europe in banning bee-killing pesticides

Living solar panel wallpaper harvests energy thanks to photosynthesis

November 7, 2017 by  
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Researchers created an incredible  energy-harvesting wallpaper by inkjet-printing circuitry and cyanobacteria on paper. The cyanobacteria lived through the printing process, and then performed photosynthesis to harvest power. Imperial College London described the product as a two-in-one solar bio-battery and solar panel , and said an iPad-sized piece of the wallpaper could energize a digital clock or LED light bulb. Imperial College London, University of Cambridge , and Central Saint Martins researchers worked together on the project. They utilized cyanobacteria as ink, printing the bacteria with an inkjet printer onto electrically conductive carbon nanotubes , which had also been inkjet-printed on the paper, according to Imperial College London . The cyanobacteria – still alive – performed photosynthesis, allowing the bio-solar panel to harvest electrical energy. Related: Brilliant conductive wallpaper shows the energy running through your walls The researchers think there could be several applications for their living wallpaper. Marin Sawa of Imperial College London said in a statement, “Imagine a paper-based, disposable environmental sensor disguised as wallpaper, which could monitor air quality in the home. When it has done its job it could be removed and left to biodegrade in the garden without any impact on the environment.” The research offers a development in microbial biophotovoltaics (BPV) technology , exploiting “the ability of cyanobacteria and other algae that use photosynthesis to convert light energy into an electrical current using water as the source of electrons,” according to Imperial College London. Cyanobacteria can not only generate electricity during the day, but at night as well, from molecules they produced in daylight. BPVs can be difficult to scale up – two obstacles being expense and lifespan – but the team’s use of an off-the-shelf inkjet printer could allow them to scale up the technology easily. Andrea Fantuzzi, also of Imperial College London, said paper-based BPVs wouldn’t be used to produce solar power on a large scale, “but instead could be used to construct power supplies that are both disposable and biodegradable. Their low power output means they are more suited to devices and applications that require a small and finite amount of energy, such as environmental sensing and biosensors .” The journal Nature Communications published the research online yesterday. Via Imperial College London Images courtesy of Imperial College London

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Living solar panel wallpaper harvests energy thanks to photosynthesis

Delhi residents struggle to breathe as doctors declare air pollution health emergency

November 7, 2017 by  
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Doctors in Delhi, India’s capital region, have declared a public health emergency over the densely populated, metropolitan area’s extremely high level of air pollution , the breathing of which has been described as the equivalent of smoking 50 cigarettes in a day. The Indian Medical Association has called for the capital city’s upcoming half-marathon to be cancelled to avoid “disastrous health consequences” and urges residents to remain inside to protect themselves from the pollution. Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, described the city as “a gas chamber,” according to the Guardian , while he and other officials work to determine an effective response to the crisis. As the region struggles to breath, state and federal government have been urged to take action to protect its citizens. In response to the public health emergency, schools have been closed while transportation routes have suffered delays under the decreased visibility. While the smog contains a number of noxious chemicals, the most destructive are concentrations of fine pollutants smaller than 2.5 micro-meters, which are so tiny that they are able to slip through natural filters in the human body. These fine pollutants, which include lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, have reached concentrations in the air eleven times the level defined as safe by the World Health Organization. “It has terrible effects on every part of your body,” said Dr. Arvind Kumar, chest surgery chairman at Sir Ganga Ram hospital in Delhi, according to the Guardian . “It can precipitate an acute asthma attack and in the long run it will increase their risk of lung cancer .” Related: India to only sell electric cars by 2030 Delhi’s air is polluted for much of the year due to open burning of trash, road dust, exhaust from vehicles, and byproducts of industrial activity. However, it becomes even more unbearable in winter when seasonal changes trap the pollution closer to the ground. Attempts to improve Delhi’s air quality have included traffic rationing, shuttering of local coal power plants , and even banning fireworks during Diwali. Unfortunately, to truly tackle this urgent problem, local, state, and federal governments will need to examine the complex systems that result in an outpouring of pollution and craft comprehensive policies to discourage unhealthy practices and encourage healthy ones. Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Delhi residents struggle to breathe as doctors declare air pollution health emergency

This modular orphanage in Thailand was built using local and recycled materials

November 7, 2017 by  
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This cluster of tiny shelters for Burmese children in Thailand was built using reclaimed wood and locally sourced materials . Following the success of his Casa Techo emergency dwellings in Colombia, Chilean architect Sebastián Contreras Rodriguez developed a modular design that can be adapted to local conditions and material availability. The Hua-Fai – Youth Center is located in the city of Mae Sot in northwest Thailand close to the Burmese border. As this part of the country is prone to floods, the architect designed raised modules that stand 2.62 feet (80 cm) off the ground with steel profiles anchored to concrete dice. Related: Iranian Architect Builds Sustainable Bamboo Dome From Bamboo and Dry Rice Plants Rodriguez collaborated with Estudio Cavernas and a.gor.a architects to build the structures. Each unit can house two kids with a bedroom on the upper floor, and a social area on the lower level. Recycled wood taken from demolished houses was used to create the main trusses, while eucalyptus logs facilitate natural ventilation. The roofing is made from sugarcane leaves sourced from an adjacent site. + Sebastián Contreras Rodriguez + Estudio Cavernas + a.gor.a architects Photos by Juan Cuevas, Alejandro Sánchez, Albert Company-Olmo

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This modular orphanage in Thailand was built using local and recycled materials

This Russian cottage is heated for free with Bitcoin mining

November 7, 2017 by  
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In the last month, Bitcoin — the biggest and best-known cryptocurrency — rose in value by 480 percent . The sudden spike spurred more people to invest in the currency, while others dedicate computers to the task of mining bitcoins . Siberian entrepreneurs Ilya Frolov and Dmitry Tolmachyov are engaged in the latter – and they’ve found that they’re able to heat a 20-square-meter with two machines while pocketing $430 per month. Bitcoin transactions require a lot of computer processing power, which in turn produces a substantial amount of heat . Most “miners” just release that heat into the atmosphere — but not Frolov and Tolmachyov. The Russian entrepreneurs built a cottage in the Siberian town of Irkutsk that is heated by two Bitcoin mining machines. Each month, the men make about $430. And, they pay $0 to heat the 20-square-meter abode. In the video above, Quartz details how this is possible. Related: Power-hungry Bitcoin could consume as much energy as Denmark by 2020 Because Bitcoin is relatively new, it is still considered a highly volatile investment . However it has provided gains exceeding those of any other currency in every year but one since 2010, according to The Independent. The process of “mining” Bitcoin determines which transactions are valid, and which should be added to the blockchain — an ever-expanding ledger that holds the transaction history of all Bitcoins in circulation. The blockchain lives in the thousands of machines on the bitcoin network. Mining also ensures the system cannot be gamed, thus, making the cryptocurrency more secure than the US dollar. Every ten minutes, mining computers collect a few hundred pending Bitcoin transactions and turn them into a mathematical puzzle. The first miner to find the solution declares it to others on the network. The other miners then check whether the sender of the funds has the right to spend the money. If enough approval is granted, the block is cryptographically added to the ledger and the miners move onto the next set of transactions. A miner who finds the solution gets 12.5 Bitcoins as a reward, but only after another 99 blocks have been added to the ledger. This gives all miners an incentive to participate in the system and validate transactions. It also provides protection; to double-spend a Bitcoin, digital bank robbers would have to rewrite the blockchain — that would require more than half of the network’s puzzle-solving capacity! Via Quartz , The Economist , The Independent Images via YouTube , Pixabay

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This Russian cottage is heated for free with Bitcoin mining

Trump administration wants to end uranium mining ban near the Grand Canyon

November 3, 2017 by  
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The Grand Canyon is one of America’s most beloved national parks , attracting over four million visitors annually — but President Donald Trump’s administration doesn’t seem to care about that. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently proposed lifting a ban on new uranium mining near the national park, as part of a broader effort, according to Reuters, to do away with regulations hindering development after a March executive order from the president. The Forest Service , which is under the USDA and manages the land that could be re-opened to uranium mining , prepared a report in response to Trump’s Executive Order 13783 titled “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” They proposed lifting the mining ban, put in place in 2012 to protect the watershed around the Grand Canyon. Related: Big Oil celebrates Trump’s goal to open up drilling in national parks Uranium mining pollutes water, and impacts animals and plants as it removes water sources, according to Earthjustice . The Center for Biological Diversity reports past uranium mining in the Grand Canyon area “has polluted soils, washes, aquifers, and drinking water.” They said that according to nonpartisan polls, 80 percent of Americans and 80 percent of Arizona voters back permanent protection in the Grand Canyon region from new uranium mining. According to Reuters, global demand and prices for uranium are weak. The new report even says uranium mining doesn’t generate revenue for America, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Havasupai Tribal Chairman Don Watahomigie said in a statement, “This is a dangerous industry that is motivated by profit and greed with a long history of significantly damaging lands and waters. They are now seeking new mines when this industry has yet to clean up the hundreds of existing mines all over the landscape that continue to damage our home. We should learn from the past, not ignore it.” Via Reuters , the Associated Press , Earthjustice , and the Center for Biological Diversity Images via Depositphotos and Wikimedia Commons

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Trump administration wants to end uranium mining ban near the Grand Canyon

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