One of the world’s most remote islands is also the most polluted

May 16, 2017 by  
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There’s a lonely island in the Pacific Ocean that has no human inhabitants, yet it’s completely covered in trash. Henderson Island is so remote, humans only visit it for research every five to 10 years. But the island is also home to the highest density of plastic debris found anywhere on Earth, according to the University of Tasmania . Scientists found the island’s beaches are polluted with around 671 pieces of trash per 10 square feet. No humans live on Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands that are British territories in the southern Pacific Ocean. Henderson Island is 3,106 miles away from the closest major population center. But it’s located near the middle of the South Pacific Gyre ocean current, and waste from South America rolls up on its shores. Jennifer Lavers of the university and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds , with colleague Alexander Bond, recently found an estimated 37.7 pieces of plastic on the remote island. Related: Plankton Pundit video shows exact moment plastic enters the food chain Lavers said, “What’s happened on Henderson Island shows there’s no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans .” The research was published online yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America . The amount of trash shocked Lavers, who told The Guardian she’s seen plastic pollution around the world but still expected Henderson’s remote location to provide it some protection. Instead, she found a staggering amount of garbage and hundreds of crabs dwelling in our trash. She told The Guardian, “This plastic is old, it’s brittle, it’s sharp, it’s toxic. It was really quite tragic seeing these gorgeous crabs scuttling about, living in our waste.” She estimates 3,570 new pieces of trash wash up on Henderson Island every single day on just one of the island’s beaches. Around 17 metric tons of plastic has likely been deposited on the island, based on sampling at five different sites. She said 55 percent of the seabirds in the world are at risk – two of the species at risk live on Henderson. Via the University of Tasmania and The Guardian Images via Jennifer Lavers/University of Tasmania and Wikimedia Commons

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One of the world’s most remote islands is also the most polluted

Earth-like planet with atmosphere discovered just 39 light years away

April 10, 2017 by  
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In a development that has astronomers giddy with excitement, a new study published in Astronomical Journal has confirmed the existence of the first “Earth-like” planet with an atmosphere. The planet, known only as GJ 1132b, is about the size of Earth, with the same small, rocky composition as our own. Unlike our solar system , GJ 1132b orbits a dim red dwarf star so close to its sun that its atmosphere is likely more like Venus than Earth. Not only is the average temperature of the planet likely about 700 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s also probably tidally locked – which means that gravity causes one side of the planet to constantly face its star, while the other side is in a state of permanent night. The exoplanet was first discovered in 2015, but the existence of an atmosphere wasn’t certain until very recently. It’s unclear exactly what the planet’s atmosphere is made of, although it’s likely to be rich in either water vapor or methane. Further observations will have to be done to clarify. Related: Astronomers announce the closest earth-like planet is just a star away Though the exoplanet is clearly unsuitable for human life, the discovery has some far-reaching implications. Exoplanets orbiting red dwarves appear to be incredibly common throughout the known universe, so there could potentially be a huge number of planets with atmospheres that might harbor life. Via the Washington Post Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Earth-like planet with atmosphere discovered just 39 light years away

Tesla unveils discreet new rooftop solar panels

April 10, 2017 by  
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Elon Musk’s solar roof tiles won’t fit the bill for every home. Some homeowners won’t want to replace their entire roofs , but Tesla , of course, already has a solution. They’re now marketing sleek, low-profile solar panels that are easy to install and better blend in with roofs than traditional panels. Leave it to Tesla to offer an elegant alternative to traditional solar panels. They updated the Energy section of their website over the weekend to include new images of their solar panels. The seamless look of the new technology is thanks to “integrated front skirts and no visible mounting hardware” according to Tesla’s website. Electrek said these features come from Zep Solar , a mounting equipment company SolarCity acquired before Tesla’s acquisition . Zep Solar engineers designed the rail-less system Solar City employed to slash solar installation times in half. Related: Elon Musk says Tesla’s solar roof will be cheaper than ordinary roofs Tesla says their panels “exceed industry standards for durability and lifespan” on their website. Panasonic will be manufacturing the exclusive panels at the Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York. There aren’t many specifics available for the new solar panels yet, but Electrek said they will be 325-watt panels. They noted Panasonic sells other 325 watt panels, and those have a 25-year power output warranty and a 21.76 percent module efficiency. Tesla and before that SolarCity used to install solar panels from multiple suppliers as many solar companies do, but told Electrek once these new panels go into production, Tesla will use them for all residential projects in the future. It seems Elon Musk aims at offering solar solutions with better aesthetics for those who have been hesitant to go solar in the past with the bulky rooftop options. Anyone interested right now can request a custom quote on Tesla’s website . The company told Electrek production should begin this summer. Via Electrek and Engadget Images via Tesla

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Tesla unveils discreet new rooftop solar panels

Low-cost solar absorber could supercharge solar power plants

April 6, 2017 by  
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One of the major challenges in developing solar panels has been creating photovoltaic cells which can absorb as much solar energy as possible – without overheating to the point that they begin to simply radiate energy back into the atmosphere. In the past, this has meant that commercially available solar cells only manage to convert about 30 percent of sunlight they absorb into energy. Researchers from Purdue University may have found a way to overcome this issue by modifying regular silicon wafers to more efficiently absorb the energy at higher temperatures than ever before. The new study, published in the journal Applied Physics Letters , outlines how silicon wafers can be coated with thin films of tantalum and silicon nitride to enhance their ability to absorb sunlight. The modified surface is then able to selectively absorb photons within a certain range on the light spectrum, while reflecting those that cannot be used. Related: Flexible new solar panel is almost 80% lighter than traditional panels The resulting solar cells can withstand temperatures up to 535 degrees Celsius without any performance or stability issues, converting a staggering 50 percent of sunlight into useable energy. This research has some interesting applications – for instance, the same film could be painted on the surface of mirrored parabolic troughs used in concentrated solar plants in order to make them even more efficient. While the film isn’t yet ready for any kind of commercial application, the authors of the study hope it will inspire others to try a similar experimental approach to enhancing solar absorption. Via Phsy.org Images via Purdue University and Shutterstock

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Low-cost solar absorber could supercharge solar power plants

Google Street View cars are helping scientists spot methane leaks

March 23, 2017 by  
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The Google fleet has been mapping cities around the world for years, making navigation easier for travelers. Now they have an important new responsibility: Google Street View cars will seek out natural gas leaks in urban areas. The data will not only help cities protect citizens from potentially harmful gas leaks, but also help cut accidental greenhouse gas emissions. The project was outlined in a new paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology . It’s a collaborative effort between Colorado State University researchers, the Environmental Defense Fund , and Google that involves attaching methane sensors to Google Street View cars. Related: Google Street View takes you inside the fiery depths of an active volcano The cars have been outfitted with special infrared lasers that can detect the amount of methane in the surrounding air in real time. Experiments found that the sensors had a range of about 65 feet, more than enough to detect leaks in urban settings where pipelines run beneath or near public streets. So far, the cars have found that there may be many more methane leaks in America’s major cities than previously believed. Cities with more modern pipelines were far less likely to have leaks, while Boston —the worst offender—was found to have thousands of leaks, resulting in a loss of about 1,300 tons of gas per year. Related: House Republicans move to make methane pollution great again While these aren’t necessarily a threat to public health or safety as long as the leaks are outdoors and natural gas can’t build up to explosive levels, they can wreak havoc on the atmosphere. Methane is far more potent than carbon dioxide, and leaks could seriously accelerate climate change if they aren’t addressed. Via The Washington Post Images via Wikipedia

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Google Street View cars are helping scientists spot methane leaks

Research reveals the Earth may have once had a solid egg-like crust

March 2, 2017 by  
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Extending the symbolism of eggs as a metaphor for life and reproduction, recent research reveals the Earth itself may have once had an egg-like structure. According to a report from the University of Maryland , the plate tectonics that now define the Earth’s geology may have begun later in the planet’s history. Before the plates began moving and colliding to define the surface we know and love today, the Earth’s crust likely consisted of a solid but deformable shell encasing a molten liquid interior. The research, a joint effort between the UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Curtin University and the Geological Survey of Western Australia , was recently published in the journal Nature, and represents the latest in a longstanding debate over the Earth’s geological history. One side of the debate says plate tectonics began right after the Earth started to cool (known as uniformitarianism), while the other proposes the planet went through a long phase with a solid shell enveloping it. This latest study clearly favors the latter view. Models for how the first continental crust formed generally fall into two groups: those that invoke modern-style plate tectonics and those that do not, says Michael Brown, a professor of geology at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the study. “Our research supports the latter ‘stagnant lid’ forming the planet’s outer shell early in Earth’?s history. Related: Geologists find seventh continent hiding in plain sight Coming to this conclusion was no easy task. Brown and his team studied rocks collected from the East Pilabara Terrane – a large area of ancient crust located in Western Australia . As old as 3.5 billion years, these rocks are some of the oldest on the planet. The researchers looked at the granite and basalt rocks for signs of plate tectonic activity, such as subduction of one plate beneath the other. As UMD explains it: “Plate tectonics substantially affects the temperature and pressure of rocks within Earth’?s interior. When a slab of rock subducts under the Earth’s surface, the rock starts off relatively cool and takes time to gain heat. By the time it reaches a higher temperature, the rock has also reached a significant depth, which corresponds to high pressure – in the same way a diver experiences higher pressure at greater water depth.” In contrast, a stagnant lid regime would be very hot at relatively shallow depths and low pressures. Geologists refer to this as a “high thermal gradient.” According to Brown, the results showed the Pilabara granites were produced by melting rocks in a high thermal gradient environment and the composition of local basalts shows they came from an earlier generation of source rocks supporting the ‘stagnant lid’ theory of the Earth’s early formation. Images via Robert Whitehead , domdomegg

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Research reveals the Earth may have once had a solid egg-like crust

New details of feathered dinosaur could elucidate the origins of flight

March 2, 2017 by  
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A small red-crested dinosaur from the Late Jurassic era could help us unlock the origins of flight, now that we have a better idea of what it looked like. Using high-powered lasers, scientists from the University of Hong Kong have illuminated previously invisible soft tissues of the foot-tall Anchiornis , providing, for the first time, a detailed outline of the avian-like creature. The quantitative reconstruction of Anchiornis , which was first discovered in northeastern China in 2009, show that the animal possessed drumstick-shaped legs, long forearms connected by wing-like membranes, foot scales, and a slender tail. “The detail was so well lit that we could see the texture of the skin,” said paleontologist Michael Pittman, who described the discovery in a paper published in Nature Communications this week. These traits, Pittman added, could help us understand how dinosaurs eventually took to the skies as birds. As a field of science, paleontology is riddled with mysteries. The skeletons scientists dig up from the ground are seldom complete, and soft tissues like organs, muscle, or skin almost never survive into the present. On the rare occasion that tissues have endured the test of time, they’re unobservable with the naked eye. Related: Scientist finds dinosaur tail trapped in amber and it is covered with feathers That’s where a technique known as laser-stimulated fluorescence comes in. By bouncing wavelengths of light aimed a fossil sample in a dark room, Pittman and his team were able to manifest high-fidelity features that offer clues to how Anchiornis attempted, or even achieved, aerodynamic flight 160 million years ago. Anchiornis didn’t necessarily fly, of course. Even modern birds with wing folds, like the weka of New Zealand , never escape the pull of gravity. Nevertheless, the research remains vital to our understanding of where birds came from, since they appeared around the same time, Pittman said. “What our work does underscore,” Pittman told National Geographic , “is the broad extent to which bird-like dinosaurs were experimenting with their anatomy and functional capabilities before we had the first unequivocal gliding and flying birds.” + Nature Communications + University of Hong Kong Via National Geographic

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New details of feathered dinosaur could elucidate the origins of flight

Go way, way off grid at this amazing tiny house Airbnb in Oaxaca

March 2, 2017 by  
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Located near Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Tiny Casa is an ultra tiny Airbnb cabin perfect for those looking for a completely off-grid getaway . Inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”, the compact concrete casita is a simple one-bedroom, one-bath retreat surrounded by complete serenity. Raw concrete covers the tiny Airbnb escape on the interior and exterior. Sliding wooden shutters are used to cool the house in the hot summer months, and they open up to stunning panoramic views of the natural surroundings. Related: 8 inspiring tiny Airbnb homes for a taste of living small Although the casita only offers the basics in terms of amenities, it comes with a lovely outdoor pool and is just steps away from a pristine stretch of beach. Visitors can also make use of a pizza oven and read the day away in the swinging hammock . The owner says that the simple, austere ambience of the home, which was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, is meant to bring people back to the basics of simple living , “Casa Tiny is a place to escape from society. Enjoy a simple life for a couple of days, a week or a month in this minimal, low-impact, isolated abode.” + Casa Tiny Airbnb Via Gardenista  

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Go way, way off grid at this amazing tiny house Airbnb in Oaxaca

Uranium from seawater could provide an "endless" supply of nuclear energy

February 21, 2017 by  
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No discussion of a post-carbon future can be complete without raising the specter of nuclear power. Although it’s a contentious subject, any concerns about large-scale adoption have been largely rendered moot by the fact that the world’s uranium deposits are finite—and dwindling. Stanford researchers are convinced, however, that the solution may lie in seawater, which contains trace amounts of the radioactive metal. “Concentrations are tiny, on the order of a single grain of salt dissolved in a liter of water,” said Yi Cui, a materials scientist who co-authored a paper on the subject in the journal Nature Energy . “But the oceans are so vast that if we can extract these trace amounts cost effectively, the supply would be endless.” Wind and solar power are gaining traction, but some experts say that they’re still too intermittent to be truly reliable in the long term. “We need nuclear power as a bridge toward a post-fossil-fuel future,” said Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and former U.S. secretary of energy who championed seawater extraction research before he left the Department of Energy for Stanford. A co-author of the paper, he noted that nuclear power currently accounts for 20 percent of U.S. electricity and 13 percent worldwide. A practical way of extracting uranium from seawater, he added, could go a long way to bolstering the energy security of countries that rely on nuclear power but lack uranium reserves of their own. “Seawater extraction gives countries that don’t have land-based uranium the security that comes from knowing they’ll have the raw material to meet their energy needs,” he said. Related: Uranium extracted from the oceans could power cities for thousands of years Although many have attempted to harness the oceans’ uranium before, previous efforts have failed to yield sufficient quantities in a fiscally meaningful way. Till now, anyway. Uranium doesn’t bob freely on the waves, of course. In seawater, the element combines chemically with oxygen to form positively charged ions called uranyl. Building on years of prior research, the Stanford team refined a technique that involves dipping plastic fibers containing a uranyl-attracting compound called amidoxime in seawater. When the strands become saturated with the ions, the plastic is chemically treated to free the uranyl, which can be refined for use in reactors – much like you would do with ore. By tinkering with different variables, the researchers were able to create a fiber that captured nine times as much uranyl as previous attempts without becoming saturated. Sending electrical pulses down the fiber collected even more uranyl ions. “We have a lot of work to do still but these are big steps toward practicality,” Cui said. + Stanford University Via Engadget Top photo by apasciuto

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Uranium from seawater could provide an "endless" supply of nuclear energy

Officials declare world’s first famine in six years

February 21, 2017 by  
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Officials have declared the first official famine in six years – in South Sudan. And it is entirely manmade. The United Nations and South Sudanese government said 100,000 people are already suffering, and one million more are expected to face starvation soon. Food and Agriculture Organization representative Serge Tissot said, “Our worst fears have been realized.” The United Nations said war and economic troubles are to blame for the famine, which has been officially declared in some areas of the Unity state but also threatens other parts of South Sudan. High food prices also make it harder for hungry people to obtain sufficient sustenance. Head of the World Food Programme (WFP) in South Sudan, Joyce Luma, said the famine is man-made – three years of strife has affected farmers and impacted crop production. Tissot said, “Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive.” Related: Severe drought and El Niño have put 32 million southern Africans in peril According to the WFP and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 4.9 million people desperately need food in South Sudan – that’s over 40 percent of the entire population. But that number could rise to 5.5 million people, or 47 percent of the population, by the summer, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). IPC’s report said acute malnutrition is a public health emergency in the country, as 14 out of 23 counties show Global Acute Malnutrition around or greater than 15 percent. UNICEF representative Jeremy Hopkins said they estimate over one million children are acutely malnourished in South Sudan. The report called for assistance, saying humanitarian help in 2016 was able to bolster and even improve food security in some areas. “It is of paramount importance that assistance not only continues in 2017, but scales up in the face of mounting food insecurity across the country,” the report states. But Luma warned there’s only so much assistance can do without peace in South Sudan. Via the BBC and the United Nations Images via European Commission DG ECHO on Flickr ( 1 , 2 )

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Officials declare world’s first famine in six years

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