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

Baltimore’s floating trash-eaters have intercepted 1 million tons of debris

February 21, 2017 by  
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Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel sound like characters on a children’s program, but they are actually solar- and hydro-powered trash interceptors cleaning up Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. As cute as they are effective, Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel have wide googly eyes, a snail-like shape, and the ability to suck up plastic bags , Styrofoam containers, cigarette butts, and other debris. The initial trash wheel prototype was created by local sailor and engineer John Kellett, who approached the city about trying to find a water pollution solution after watching debris floating in the Inner Harbor on a regular basis. After a little trial and error and a promising but inadequate first trash wheel, Kellett gained the support of the Water Partnership of Baltimore , a non-profit that supports environmental legislation and aims to make the area a green, safe, and friendly destination for both humans and animals. Mr. Trash Wheel, who has his own Twitter account, is the result of their union: he uses solar panels and the river’s current to turn a waterwheel, which then activates a conveyor belt. The  trash , which gets pulled in by floating containment booms, gets tangled and lifted by rotating forks before going up the conveyor belt and being deposited into the dumpster. Once the dumpster is full, it gets towed to a transit station, and Mr. Trash Wheel continues on his trash munching ways. But Mr. Trash Wheel doesn’t have to clean up the Inner Harbor’s water all by himself. Image © John Kellet, Clearwater Mills and Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore  Related: Baltimore’s solar-powered water wheel devours up to 50,000 pounds of harbor trash each day After Mr. Trash Wheel’s success, Kellett and the Water Partnership raised funds for a female garbage gobbling counterpart: Professor Trash Wheel. Professor does her work in another part of the Inner Harbor, but both trash wheels are in high demand, especially after rain or thunderstorms. Most of the debris they pick up actually comes from illegal dumping, trash chucked from cars, and cigarette butts stubbed out on the ground as opposed to from people directly littering into the river itself, but the flow of the area’s watershed eventually brings the trash into Professor and Mr. Trash Wheel’s territory. Mr. Trash Wheel has picked up more than a million pounds of trash from the Jones Fall River since it was rolled out in 2014, with the trash wheels filling an average of 70-100 dumpsters worth every year. 300,000 plastic bags , six thousand glass bottles, and nine million cigarette butts as well as more exotic offenders including a live ball python make up the waste that is removed from the waterway. The trash gets burned to generate electricity with plans to increase recycling capabilities in the future. In order to continue their progress and to stay in line with the Water Partnership’s goal of making the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020, the city is hoping to add an additional trash wheel or two in the future and to serve as a model for other cities and areas with water pollution issues. Kellett is also looking into other potential trash wheel sites, including Rio de Janeiro, Honolulu, and Denver. While the ultimate goal is for trash wheels (even charming, googly-eyed ones with Twitter accounts) to become obsolete due to better environmental regulations and practices, expect to see more of these effective and playful floating trash devices in harbors and waterways near you. Via National Geographic Lead image © The Waterfront Partnership

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Baltimore’s floating trash-eaters have intercepted 1 million tons of debris

This revolutionary new paper battery is powered by bacteria

December 27, 2016 by  
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Binghamton University researchers just developed a new type of battery that could revolutionize microelectronics – and it’s made from a single sheet of paper and a liquid teaming with bacteria. The simple batteries could power glucose monitors, detect pathogens, and keep small electronics running for days without external power – which makes them incredibly useful for remote and resource-limited areas. The battery consists of a piece of chromatography paper, a ribbon of silver nitrate, and a layer of wax, which forms a cathode. On the other side of the paper, a reservoir made of a conductive polymer acts as an anode. To power the battery, the paper needs to simply be folded in half and sprinkled with a few drops of bacteria -rich liquid. At that point, the cellular respiration of the microbes drives a current to generate electricity. Related: Groundbreaking new seawater battery could replace expensive lithium batteries When six of the batteries are placed in a in a grid and folded together, they can generate up to 44.85 microwatts and 105.89 microamps. While it would take millions of these batteries to power a single 40-watt light bulb, they’re designed to serve a different purpose. In a disaster zone or other off-grid area, these batteries could provide a vital source of power for small biosensors . This isn’t the first time the Binghamton team has created a paper battery powered by bacteria. Assistant Professor Sean Choi previously created a paper prototype in the shape of a matchbook , and another inspired by a ninja throwing star . The latest research has been published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies . + Advanced Materials Technologies Via TechCrunch Images via Binghamton University

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This revolutionary new paper battery is powered by bacteria

14-story apartment building in Brisbane has a vertical forest growing up its exterior

December 27, 2016 by  
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Imagine the serenity of a tree flourishing right outside your apartment window – on the 14th floor. That ideal can be a reality at Walan Apartments , designed by bureau^proberts , in Brisbane , Australia. A vertical forest wraps the facade of this 14-story glass apartment building, with some trees growing over two stories. Design inspiration for the green apartments stemmed from the nearby Kangaroo Point cliffs, a rugged geological feature studded with trees. The Walan Apartments similarly feature trees and shrubs flourishing “up the spine of the Main Street elevation,” according to Cam Ginardi of GBW Developments, who collaborated on the groundbreaking building with bureau^proberts. Ginardi told World Architecture News, “This has never been achieved in apartment living in Australia before. We’ve taken the green wall to new heights by creating a vertical forest.” Related: This plant-covered Singapore skyscraper is the tropical building of the future Inside, the apartments are almost as exquisite as Walan’s nature-filled exterior. Spacious 120 square meter apartments – that’s almost 1,300 square feet – offer panoramic views from windows and balconies 12.8 by 3.6 meters, or around 42 by 12 feet, large. High ceilings and lengthy double corridors allow for ventilation and open up the homes spanning entire floors. Oak timber floors, timber paneling, and natural stone adorning benchtops and walls add a natural feel. Two living spaces, a guest bedroom, library, bedroom, kitchen, dining area, and private lobby create a palatial home. bureau^proberts’ creative director Liam Proberts told World Architecture News the Kangaroo Point cliffs also inspired a “unique facade of specially-designed screens” between living areas and the outdoors, which help regulate the building’s light and heat. He said, “Walan breaks the mold of apartment buildings over the last decade and represents a new era of design for our climate and lifestyle in the river city. We thought of each floor like a house in its size and connection to the outside.” + bureau^proberts + Walan Apartments Via World Architecture News Images via bureau^proberts

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14-story apartment building in Brisbane has a vertical forest growing up its exterior

Germany’s massive nuclear fusion reactor is actually working

December 8, 2016 by  
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A little over a year ago, Germany turned on the world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor and faced sharp speculation over whether the machine could function as intended. Now, tests conducted by US and German researchers confirm that the experimental Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) stellarator is indeed producing magnetic fields that make controlled nuclear reactions possible, and with a high degree of accuracy and incredibly low error rate. With these test results, new confidence and hope are spreading through the renewable energy industry, as nuclear fusion could be the key to ending fossil fuel dependence worldwide. W7-X is the first of its kind to be put into regular operation. Its processes mimic those that occur on the sun, which is a natural nuclear fusion reactor (or “stellarator”). A team of researchers from the US and Germany worked together to test the stellarator after it went online in order to learn whether it is capable of producing the sort of magnetic fields necessary to trap scorching balls of plasma long enough for nuclear fusion to occur. And it is. Related: Germany’s Wendelstein 7-X stellarator passes new test, bringing us closer to nuclear fusion energy The research team found that W7-X is generating magnetic fields just the way its design intended: strong, twisted, and 3D. “To our knowledge, this is an unprecedented accuracy, both in terms of the as-built engineering of a fusion device, as well as in the measurement of magnetic topology,” the researchers wrote in a report. Combined with an error rate less than one in 100,000, the tests conclude the W7-X stellarator has made history. It could become the first power plant on Earth to use little more than saltwater to create a safe, clean, long-lasting source of energy for generations to come. The research results were recently published in the journal Nature Communications. Via Science Alert Images via Wikipedia and NASA

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Germany’s massive nuclear fusion reactor is actually working

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