Bio-inspired wind turbines with flexible blades 35% more efficient

June 8, 2017 by  
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Wind energy already yields four percent of Earth’s power, but five researchers at French institutions recently drew inspiration from nature to make wind turbines even better. Inspired by creatures like dragonflies, they found flexible blades on wind turbines make the machines much more efficient. Wind turbines today work best under optimal wind speeds, but the new bio-inspired design could offer a way around that fact, making wind power even more accessible. Wind speeds impact the functioning of a wind turbine. If the wind is too slow, the turbine won’t turn and generate energy; if the wind is too fast it could damage the turbine. Wind also must hit the turbines at the correct pitch angle to apply the correct amount of torque to the generator, according to Science. The new research from scientists at Sorbonne University and École Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers-ParisTech fixes these issues with flexible blades much like insect wings. Related: Revolutionary flapping wind turbine mimics hummingbirds to produce clean energy The researchers constructed prototypes with regular hard turbine blades, slightly flexible turbine blades, and very flexible turbine blades. The last design turned out to be too floppy, but the slightly flexible blades outperformed the rigid ones, offering as much as 35 percent more power . They also continued to work in lower wind conditions and weren’t as susceptible to damage in high winds. The journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A published the research online in February. But the scientists’ work isn’t yet done: they now need to search for the right material that’s “flexible, but not too flexible,” according to lead author Vincent Cognet, to scale up the findings. Engineer Asfaw Beyene of San Diego State University, who was not part of this study, told Science, “The fluid mechanics and the physics make absolute sense. There’s no reason why we cannot make morphing blades that will adapt to wind conditions.” Via Science and Tech Xplore Images via Joi Ito on Flickr and Pexels

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98-year-old man donates $2 million in stock for 395-acre wildlife refuge

June 8, 2017 by  
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98-year-old Russ Gremel purchased $1,000 of stock in a pharmacy chain around 70 years ago. That chain was Walgreens, and Gremel’s small investment made him rich. But instead of using that money for himself, he decided to donate all of his stock to the Illinois Audubon Society , and they’re putting it to good use in the 395-acre Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary to protect wetlands in Amboy, Illinois . Decades ago Gremel bought $1,007 of stock in Walgreens on his brother’s advice to invest in drugstores, as people would always need medicine and women would always buy makeup. Then Walgreens exploded, and Gremel could have cashed out for millions of dollars. But he didn’t want to keep the money, telling the Chicago Tribune he’s a simple man who likes to eat stew and oatmeal and last drove a 25-year-old Dodge. Related: Colorful Hawai’i Wildlife Center Protects and Rehabilitates Endangered Species on the Big Island The Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary is home to around 200 bird species, rare turtles , and over 400 plant species. The Illinois Audubon Society was able to purchase the land with money from Gremel and a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, as well as their own funds. Gremel had planned to leave his stock to the Illinois Audubon Society, but then decided to give it away while he was still living so he could see the property they’d buy with it. That property doubles the area of wetlands protected in Amboy. Gremel said in a video he wanted to use the money to do good in the world. “That’s what money is for,” he said. “If you can’t do good with it, don’t have it.” He considers nature to be incredibly important; he grew up hiking and camping and then was a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America for over 60 years. Illinois Audubon Society Executive Director Jim Herkert told the Chicago Tribune of Gremel’s donation, “It’s allowing us to protect a really valuable and important piece of property and fulfill one of Russ’ wishes that we could find a place where people could come out and experience and enjoy nature the way he did as a kid.” Via the Chicago Tribune , SaukValley.com , and EcoWatch Images via screenshot

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Researchers find widespread acidified water along US West Coast

June 6, 2017 by  
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Climate change is altering the planet in ways we might not often think about, such as in the acidification of the world’s oceans . A team of 20 scientists from institutions around the United States discovered acidified ocean water in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Study lead author Francis Chan of Oregon State University said, “The threat of ocean acidification is global and though it sometimes seems far away, it is happening here right now on the West Coast of the United States and those waters are already hitting our beaches.” Scientists conducted a three-year survey of the California Current System to uncover acidified water throughout what Oregon State University described as an ecologically critical nearshore habitat. Researchers also found hotspots of water with pH measurements as low as those found in oceanic surface waters anywhere else around the world. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide has contributed to the phenomenon. Related: Large section of Arctic Ocean is six times more acidic than 20 years ago Ocean acidification is a problem because many organisms are sensitive to pH changes. Researchers noted shell dissolution on small swimming snails , for example, but they’re not the only species impacted. Richard Feely of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Washington said, “This is about more than the loss of small snails. These pteropods are an important food source for herring, salmon, and black cod, among other fish. They also may be the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ signifying potential risk for other species, including Dungeness crabs, oysters, mussels, and many organisms that live in tide pools or other nearshore habitats.” The researchers didn’t just uncover bad news though. They also found refuges of moderate pH environments they think could become havens for marine creatures as other waters become more acidic. These havens could offer a resource for ecosystem management. Chan called for minimizing environmental stressors and managing for diversity in the region to help marine species adapt. The journal Nature Scientific Reports published the study online the end of May. Scientists from research institutions and universities in Oregon, California, Florida, Washington, Massachusetts, and Hawaii contributed to the study. Via Oregon State University Images via Oregon State University

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This bubble hotel gives you front-row seats of Icelands northern lights

June 6, 2017 by  
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If you’ve ever dreamed of watching the northern lights from the comfort of your bed, here’s a chance to turn your dreams into reality. To the delight of stargazers and nature lovers, the 5 Million Star Hotel installed eight unique bubbles in a hidden Icelandic forest, with each bubble offering perfect and private outdoor views. Equipped with heating and a comfortable bed, these transparent bubbles give guests magical front-row seats to the dancing northern lights. Founded in November 2015 by Robert Robertsson, the 5 Million Star Hotel was created to fulfill childhood dreams of sleeping beneath the aurora borealis. Tucked away on private farmland, the location is only disclosed to those who make reservations in order to preserve guest privacy. The eight inflatable bubbles—only five are currently open for booking—are named after different women in the owners’ family and are available in two styles: fully transparent igloo -shaped bubbles and partially transparent spherical bubbles. Built with sturdy translucent plastic, each bubble comes with a double bed, nightstand, space heater, outlet, and a lamp. The bubbles are inflated with a constantly running noiseless ventilation system. Air blowers keep the bubble warm and toasty all winter long. Related: Thermal Glass Igloos Offer Views of the Northern Lights at Finland’s Hotel Kakslauttanen The bubble rooms that are currently available fit two adults but the spherical versions can accommodate an extra child for those traveling as a family. The bathroom, showers, and kitchen are located in a timber-clad shared facility. The price for a night’s stay at the bubble hotel starts at ISK 28,900 (approximately USD $295). Want to maximize your chances of catching a glimpse of the northern lights? Try booking a night between September and March. + Buubble | Five Million Star Hotel Via Travel and Leisure Images via Buubble

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This bubble hotel gives you front-row seats of Icelands northern lights

Plants use sound to find water and survive, new research shows

May 22, 2017 by  
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Many people believe that playing music to plants makes them grow better , but scientists would say that’s absurd. New research from Australia might prove them wrong though. Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia, found that plants utilize the sounds of nature , from the buzzing of an insect to the sound of liquid rushing through a pipe, to find water and survive. In her recent study , Gagliano placed pea seedlings in a pot in the shape of an upside-down Y. Scientific American reports , “One arm of each pot was placed in either a tray of water or a coiled plastic tube through which water flowed; the other arm had only soil. The roots grew toward the arm of the pipe with the fluid, regardless of whether it was easily accessible or hidden inside the tubing.” According to Gagliano, the plants “just knew the water was there,” even though they could only detect the sound of the water flowing inside the pipe. When the seedlings were given a choice between the flowing tube and soil that was moistened, their roots chose the latter, however. The lead scientist says the plants use sound waves to detect water from far away, but follow moisture gradients to move in on their target when it is within reach. Related: Energy-generating ‘artificial plants’ turn greenhouse gases into clean air Gagliano’s discovery was published in the May 2017 issue of Oecologia, an international peer-reviewed journal. In the paper, titled “ Tuned in: plant roots use sound to locate water ,” she writes: Because water is essential to life, organisms have evolved a wide range of strategies to cope with water limitations, including actively searching for their preferred moisture levels to avoid dehydration . Plants use moisture gradients to direct their roots through the soil once a water source is detected, but how they first detect the source is unknown. We found that roots were able to locate a water source by sensing the vibrations generated by water moving inside pipes, even in the absence of substrate moisture. She added, “Our results also showed that the presence of noise affected the abilities of roots to perceive and respond correctly to the surrounding soundscape.” Considering the phenomena of “buzz pollination,” in which the sound of bees buzzing at a certain frequency stimulates the release of pollen in plants, has already been validated, it doesn’t seem too outlandish to propose that plants rely on sound vibrations to find water and thrive. Gagliano elaborates on her findings in the video below: Via Scientific American Images via Pixabay

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Eco artists build gigantic octopus to save coral reefs in the British Virgin Islands

May 8, 2017 by  
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A group of artists working under the name Secret Samurai Productions have installed a massive mesh octopus on top of a defunct Pearl Harbor ship only to push the large barge into the deep ocean waters of British Virgin Islands – all in the name of coral reef research. Now at the bottom of the sea off the coast of Virgin Gorda, Project YOKO is the world’s largest underwater art installation and marine life habitat, and it will raise funds for research into the ongoing destruction of the area’s coral reefs . The hollow rebar and mesh sea monster with 80-foot tentacles holding court at the bow of the Kodiak Queen was actually the last step of the ship’s reformation. The team of artists spent months cleaning the boat and transforming its chambers into an interactive art installation that will be explored by divers from around the world. Related: Rising ocean temperatures are cooking the Great Barrier Reef to death In addition to the artists’ efforts, the project counted on support from various members of Maverick1000 , a group of entrepreneurs who meet annually on Sir Richard Branson’s famed Necker Island. At the 2016 meeting, the founding manager for the nonprofit Unite BVI , Lauren Keil, gave a presentation on the challenges of the BVI community, focusing mainly on the problems caused by global warming and overfishing and their undeniable impact on the health of the area’s beloved coral reefs . During the presentation, Keil also mentioned the Kodiak Queen, a WWII fuel barge that had been discovered in a local junkyard. After Keil’s speech, Aydika James, art director of Secret Samurai Productions had the idea to use the historic ship as a way to bring attention to the growing issues facing the BVI waters. With collaboration from fellow members and Branson himself, the idea for the YOKO BVI Art Reef was born. Thanks to funding from local supporters, the ship was soon being transformed into an artificial dive site that would serve as beacon of hope for the region’s disappearing coral reef populations . The artists and dive specialists worked together to create an interactive diving experience,taking divers through the ship’s many chambers. To convert the installation into a research center as well as diving site, the nonprofit organization, Beneath the Waves , was called in to install an emerging technology called environmental DNA that will be used to collect data on the entire marine ecosystem surrounding the sunken ship. And the giant octopus? Well, it’s more than just a fun sculpture; it actually plays a vital role in the project. Its body and tentacles were designed to form a protected habitat for the repopulation of grouper. The dwindling grouper population is a major cause of coral damage considering the large fish help form an ecosystem in BVI waters, which is essential to the health of the coral reefs. After a long process of fund raising and transforming the boat, Project YOKO is slated to open to divers at a cost of $10 donation. All funds will go towards research into local marine health as well as a program promoting swim education for children. + Project YOKO BVI Art Reef + Secret Samurai Productions Via Fast Company Photography by Rob Sorrenti + Owen Buggy Photography via BVI YOKO Art Reef

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Groundbreaking new material for longer-lasting batteries inspired by leaf veins

April 11, 2017 by  
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Biology may hold the clues to better batteries . An international team of scientists designed a porous material inspired by the vascular structure of leaves that could make energy transfers more efficient. Similar to the way leaf veins efficiently transport nutrients, this material could help rechargeable batteries perform better and last longer. A team of researchers led by Xianfeng Zheng of China’s Wuhan University of Technology and Australia’s University of Queensland scrutinized the way leaf veins optimize the flow of nutrients, with minimum energy consumption, “by branching out to smaller scales” according to the University of Cambridge , and then applied that to their groundbreaking porous material. The nature-inspired material could help relieve stresses in battery electrodes that currently limit their lifespan. The material could also enhance the charge and discharge process. Related: American fern inspires groundbreaking new solar storage solution The team calls their product Murray material after Murray’s Law. Cambridge said according to the rule the whole network of pores in biological systems is connected in a manner “to facilitate the transfer of liquids and minimize resistance throughout the network.” Scientist Bao-Lian Su of Cambridge, Wuhan University of Technology, and University of Namur in Belgium said they applied that biological law to chemistry , saying, “The introduction of the concept of Murray’s Law to industrial processes could revolutionize the design of reactors with highly enhanced efficiency, minimum energy, time, and raw material consumption for a sustainable future.” The scientists applied Murray material to gas sensing and photocatalysis as well. Su is a co-author on a paper published online by Nature Communications late last week. There are seven other co-authors on the paper from institutions in China, Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Another co-author, Tawfique Hasan of Cambridge University, said it could be possible to manufacture the porous material on a large scale. Via the University of Cambridge Images via Christoph Rupprecht on Flickr and Pixabay

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Groundbreaking new material for longer-lasting batteries inspired by leaf veins

Colombian town turns down $35B gold mine – prefers a clean environment

March 31, 2017 by  
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A small Colombian town just rejected a $35 billion gold mine project, putting people and the Earth before profit. Around 98 percent of the residents in Cajamarca said no to the mine due to concerns over the environment and water pollution – and Colombian Mining Minister German Arce doesn’t seem too happy with the results. South African company AngloGold Ashanti aimed to build the gold mine, called La Colosa, in Central Colombia, and it could have been the biggest gold mine in South America . The national government was in favor of La Colosa, saying mining is vital as they recover from war with Marxist rebels. But residents of Cajamarca, where the mine would be located, overwhelmingly rejected the project in a recent referendum. According to the BBC, 19,000 people live in the town, and only 76 locals voted in favor of the gold mine while 6,100 voted against. Related: Damage to Peruvian Amazon Caused by Illegal Goldmines Revealed for the First Time Local 21-year-old student Camila Méndez told Mongabay before the results were in, “I voted no for the future generations. I have two nephews of seven and three years old. Even though they do not live in Cajamarca, I know that I want them to enjoy the little I’ve been able to enjoy so far, as it concerns the countryside. If we win…we’d show the complete world that Cajamarca is able to defeat a huge multinational enterprise, a mining monster as AngloGold Ashanti.” But Arce said campaigners misled voters. He said AngloGold Ashanti had been issued an exploration license already, and that license would remain valid. Local authorities may control the land, but Arce said the national government controls any underground riches. AngloGold Ashanti still needs an environmental license, and if that is awarded Arce said it would be up to the courts or the country’s Congress to decide if local or national authorities would win the fight. Locals fear the mine would damage the mountain environment of the area, or pollute water sources. Via The Wall Street Journal and the BBC Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Mexico-sized algae bloom in the Arabian Sea connected to climate change

March 21, 2017 by  
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Talk of climate change probably evokes images of rising sea levels or hotter temperatures, but what about algae blooms ? Scientists have made a direct connection between an algae bloom in the Arabian Sea, which has blown up to the size of Mexico, and climate change. The massive bloom has been captured from satellites . 30 years ago, algae in the Gulf of Oman could barely be seen. Now, twice a year, microscopic organisms of the species Noctiluca scintillans turns the gulf green as it sprawls throughout the Arabian Sea towards India. Scientists say conditions produced by climate change are allowing the algae to thrive. Columbia University researchers have even traced the algae blooms to ice melting in the Himalayas. Related: Florida declares state of emergency due to gigantic algae bloom Satellite technology has also allowed researchers to connect algae with greater levels of water and air pollution . NASA ocean carbon and biology projects manager Paula Bontempi told the Associated Press satellite images of the algae are beautiful, like a Van Gogh painting, but in person the algae is smelly and ugly. She said, “We know that our Earth is changing. It may be in a direction we might not like.” The phenomenon threatens local ecosystems ; algae has been known to paralyze fish . The United Nations’ science agency says in rare cases algal toxins have killed humans. Oman faces unique threats from the algae bloom. There, algae can clog pipes at desalination plants providing as much as 90 percent of fresh water for the country. Fisheries in the country could also be harmed by the algae bloom; in 2008 an eruption of a different type of algae beached 50 tons of fish, which were starving for oxygen and rotted along the coast of Oman. Saleh al-Mashari, the captain of a researcher vessel, said this algae bloom has already caused damage. He told the Associated Press, “The fish are migrating. They can’t get enough air here.” Ahmad al-Alawi, a marine ecologist, said blooms are getting larger and lasting for longer periods of time. He said the blooms displace zooplankton, which are the base of the local food chain . Via Phys.org Images via Tristan Schmurr on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Boston public schools phase in new map to decolonize curriculum

March 21, 2017 by  
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The global map on which all your geographical knowledge is based probably wasn’t as accurate as you thought. For nearly 500 years, classrooms have referred to the Mercator projection, which exaggerated the size of continents in the northern hemisphere. But now Boston public schools are switching over to the Gall-Peters projection, which attempts to correct the sizes of countries and could have a dramatic impact on students’ worldview. The Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator devised the Mercator projection all the way back in 1569. Now hundreds of years later, Boston schools are implementing a replacement, and director of the Boston public schools history department Natacha Scott says they believe they are the first public school district in America to make the switch. Related: New map reveals the world’s most toxic countries The Mercator projection has informed our collective worldview for centuries, but Mercator made it seem as if North America and Europe were larger than South America and Africa , for example. He also moved the equator, which places Germany near the map’s middle instead of much further north. Arno Peters, a German historian, released his projection in 1974 – as it corresponds with work by James Gall, a 19th century Scottish cartographer; today it’s called the Peters or Gall-Peters projection. Now in Boston classrooms, teachers have put the Gall-Peters projection up next to the Mercator projection. Colin Rose, Assistant Superintendent of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps for the Boston Public Schools, told The Guardian, “This is the start of a three-year effort to decolonize the curriculum in our public schools…It’s important that students trust the material they are given in school but also question it. The Mercator projection is a symbolic representation that put Europe at the center of the world. And when you continue to show images of the places where people’s heritage is rooted that is not accurate, that has an effect on students.” But some people say the Gall-Peters projection is also distorted – stemming mainly from the fact that it’s difficult to place a three dimensional sphere shape on a two dimensional piece of paper. Sizes are correct in the Gall-Peters projection, but shapes are wrong: near the poles countries are stretched horizontally and near the equator they’re stretched vertically, according to Business Insider, which pointed to four alternatives , including the Winkel tripel projection which National Geographic adopted in 1998. Via The Guardian and Business Insider Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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