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

The melting Arctic is already changing the ocean’s circulation

March 15, 2018 by  
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In the far North Atlantic , scientists have uncovered new evidence that an unusual infusion of freshwater into the ocean may already be affecting the ocean’s circulation. Mostly likely sourced from melting glaciers in Greenland or Arctic sea ice, the freshwater remains on the surface of the ocean for longer than denser saltwater. This could affect the ocean’s natural process known as convection, in which northbound surface water becomes denser and colder, thus sinking then traveling south at great depths. “Until now, models have predicted something for the future … but it was something that seemed very distant,” study lead author Marilena Oltmanns told the Washington Post . “But now we saw with these observations that there is actually freshwater and that it is already affecting convection, and it delays convection quite a lot in some years.” The research team gathered data on Irminger Sea to the southeast of Greenland , where they used ocean moorings to take measurements regarding the circulation of ocean water at key convection sites. While the study does not make any specific predictions regarding how convection may be affected, or how quickly it may change, the conclusion that freshwater from melting glaciers or sea ice may be already affecting convection is noteworthy. In 2010, 40 percent of melted freshwater remained on the surface through winter and into the next year. The staying power of the melted freshwater may suggest a positive feedback loop that could drive further mixing. Related: Pre-industrial carbon found in Canadian Arctic waters “It is possible that there is a threshold, that if there is a lot of freshwater that stays at the surface, and mixes with the new freshwater from the new summer, it suddenly doubles, or increases a lot, and the next winter , it’s a lot more difficult to break through,” said Oltmanns. It is already established that Atlantic circulation has been weaker than average since 2008, with scientists crediting climate change , cyclical patterns, or both. While the changes to convection may occur over time, the latest study indicates that change may occur more rapidly than expected. “There might be a threshold that is crossed, and it’s harder to get back to where we were before,” said Oltmanns. “It’s possible.” Via The Washington Post Images via Depositphotos (1)

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The melting Arctic is already changing the ocean’s circulation

Arctic Ocean undergoes ‘massive shift,’ becoming more like Atlantic

April 7, 2017 by  
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Increasing temperatures aren’t the only factor to blame for dramatic Arctic sea ice loss. An international team of 16 scientists led by the International Arctic Research Center in Alaska discovered warm currents from the Atlantic Ocean are snaking up to the Arctic and melting ice from below. They call this phenomenon the Atlantification of the Arctic. Scientists placed sensors in the Arctic seas in 2002, and the information they’ve gathered isn’t good. The Arctic Ocean’s behavior has undergone a massive shift, according to physical oceanographer Finlo Cottier of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, who was not part of the study. Related: Scientists hatch crazy $500 billion plan to refreeze the Arctic Warm Atlantic currents have a lot to do with this change, according to research published online by Science yesterday. The scientists looked at the Eurasian basin, or one of two basins in the Arctic Ocean divided by a ridge far beneath the surface. The Eurasian basin is north of Europe and Asia. Scientists have long known warm Atlantic currents prevent ice formation on the western side of the Eurasian basin north of Scandinavia . But now it seems those currents are working against ice on the eastern side north of Siberia too. Atlantic currents stream into the Arctic at depths of around 656 to 820 feet, with temperatures around four degrees Celsius higher than surface water. When they mix with surface water, which cools and falls in winter, the mixed water is a little warmer overall so the ocean has little sea ice. On the Eurasian basin’s eastern side a barrier known as the cold halocline layer (CHL) used to prevent much of that mixing. But now the eastern side is becoming more like the western side. Summer sea ice once helped form the CHL, but without that ice the ocean mixes more – and then not as much ice forms. Study lead author Igor Polyakov of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks told Science , “Previously this monster, Atlantic warm water, was well covered from the surface” by the CHL. “The new data show this layer has disappeared in winter.” Cottier told Science , “Here we’re seeing an ocean basin changing on a generational timescale – or less.” Via Inverse and Science Images via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Arctic Ocean undergoes ‘massive shift,’ becoming more like Atlantic

Sweden opens an entire mall full of reclaimed goods

April 7, 2017 by  
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You’re familiar with thrift stores – maybe you shop at one from time to time. But have you ever seen an entire mall of reclaimed goods? Such a thrifter’s paradise exists in Sweden , about 1.5 hours west of central Stockholm. ReTuna Återbruksgalleria , or ReTuna Recycling Galleria, peddles reused or upcycled goods, pioneering the climate -friendly future of the shopping mall. How does ReTuna work? People can submit items worthy of reclaiming or restoring to the Return. Staff from the city of Eskilstuna’s Activity, Motivation, and Work unit sort the donated items, which are then fixed up, repaired, or transformed to be sold in the mall. The goods are assigned to the mall shops based on each one’s business plan. There are 14 shops inside ReTuna, along with a restaurant serving organic food . Related: 6 Places You Can Find Trash to Transform into Treasure The purpose of the creative mall is to explore a new way of shopping resulting in less harm to the environment . All businesses in the mall must operate in an environmentally friendly way, and if they must purchase new goods – such as the cafe – the items must be organic or climate-friendly. According to the mall’s website, “ Sustainability is not about holding back and living less – but achieving more with the resources we already have.” Mall manager Anna Bergström says on the website they envision customers stopping by to donate old furniture or clothing, and then entering the mall to find maybe a new jacket or a new lamp, and having a bite in the organic restaurant. She said, “When you leave here, you should feel that you did something good for the environment.” The ReTuna website says it is “perhaps the world’s first shopping mall that will take advantage of things that need new homes.” The recycling mall will host an information meeting on April 20, 2017. + ReTuna Återbruksgalleria Images via ReTuna Återbruksgalleria and ReTuna Återbruksgalleria Facebook

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Sweden opens an entire mall full of reclaimed goods

8 universities given three years to develop a self-driving Chevy Bolt

April 7, 2017 by  
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We’re getting closer to the year many automakers predicted would see self-driving vehicles on the road. While Ford has made great advances lately, General Motors isn’t yet ready to stand on the side line with other automakers in 2020. In order to help bridge that gap, GM has announced it is giving eight American universities a Chevy Bolt as part of the new autonomous vehicle design competition called AutoDrive Challenge. The AutoDrive Challenge includes teams from Kettering University, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech, North Carolina A&T University, Texas A&M University, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and Virginia Tech. Each school will be given three years to to develop and demonstrate a fully autonomous Chevy Bolt. Related: The new Nissan Leaf will be able to drive autonomously on the highway While three years may seem like a long time, the AutoDrive Challenge will be quite tough. At the end of the three years, each team will have to complete the development of a Chevy Bolt that will be able to navigate an urban driving course, autonomously and without any human interaction. In addition to receiving the Bolt, GM has also tapped strategic partners and suppliers to aid the students in their technology development by providing vehicle parts and software. Additionally, throughout the competition, students and faculty will be invited to attend technology-specific workshops to help them in their concept refinement and overall autonomous technical understanding. “GM is very excited to work closely with these eight universities over the next three years,” said Ken Kelzer, GM vice president of Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems. “The students and faculty at these schools bring deep knowledge and technical skills to the competition. We are proud to help offer these students the hands-on experience necessary for them to make an immediate impact on the automotive world when they graduate.” The AutoDrive Challenge kicks off this fall. Images @GM + General Motors

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8 universities given three years to develop a self-driving Chevy Bolt

Scientists Revive 30,000 Year-Old Giant Virus from Siberian Permafrost

March 4, 2014 by  
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French scientists have recently revealed that a giant virus uncovered in the Siberian permafrost has been thawed the revived. The virus, which is harmless to humans, had been trapped in the ice for more than 30,000 years . After thawing the virus, the team observed it replicate inside a petri dish, and eventually infect an amoeba that was placed in the dish with it. They’ve dubbed the strange new virus Pithovirus sibericum. Read the rest of Scientists Revive 30,000 Year-Old Giant Virus from Siberian Permafrost Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: arctic exploration , disease , frozen viruses , giant virus , global warming , life sciences , melting sea ice , microorganisms , pithovirus sibericum , siberian ice , siberian permafrost , visible virus        

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Scientists Revive 30,000 Year-Old Giant Virus from Siberian Permafrost

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