Trump official delays protection of endangered species at oil lobbyist’s request

April 20, 2018 by  
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A top United States Department of the Interior official appears to have used his position to delay the protection of an endangered species at the request of the oil industry. As reported by the Guardian based on acquired documents, Interior official Vincent deVito acquiesced to a 2017 e-mail from the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) asking that the Texas hornshell mussel not be placed under protection for six months in the interest of continued, uninhibited oil industry activity. While the mussel was eventually placed on the endangered species list in 2018, former Interior officials and government watchdogs have expressed concerns over the ethics and legality of deVito’s actions. Of particular concern is the Trump Administration’s seeming disregard to science in favor of political decision making. “Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are meant to be entirely science-based decisions that result from – in some cases – years of review by experts in the field, not political appointees,” former Interior associate deputy secretary Elizabeth Klein told The Guardian . “A delay in and of itself might not be the end of the world – but then again it very well could be for an imperiled species.” In response to criticism, Interior press secretary Heather Swift said in a statement that deVito “maintains that he simply responded with an acknowledgment of receipt on the mussel email and maintains he had no role whatsoever in the listing.” Related: New evidence shows oil and coal were central in the decision to reduce Bears Ears There’s a portfolio of instances where DeVito used his official capacity in ways that would appear to be favorable to the fossil fuel industry. For example, DeVito described his close consultation of industry lobbyists before proposing a reduction of royalty rates on offshore oil and gas from 18.75% to 12.5% – a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVito was also influential in approving a coal project near the habitat of the endangered Big Sandy crayfish in West Virginia . “It a scientific integrity violation for a political appointee to essentially leapfrog the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process when you have an Endangered Species Act listing involved,” former career Interior scientist Joel Clement told The Guardian . Via The Guardian Images via New Mexico State Land Office and YouTube

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

April 20, 2018 by  
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Bottlenose dolphins typically reside in tropical or warm-temperate waters around the world — but researchers recently glimpsed a group of around 200 of the dolphins and around 70 false killer whales off northern Vancouver Island’s west coast in Canada. They said this sighting is “the only occurrence of common bottlenose dolphins recorded in Canadian Pacific waters” — and a warming trend could be to blame. In July 2017, Halpin Wildlife Research , working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Department of Environment and Climate Change , documented the dolphins and whales. In research published this month in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records , the three researchers involved said the sighting “is the most northerly record” for common bottlenose dolphins “in the eastern North Pacific .” Related: A beluga whale living with dolphins learned to “speak their language” Lead author Luke Halpin said in a statement , “The sighting is also the first offshore report of false killer whales in British Columbia. To see the two species traveling together and interacting was quite special and rare. It is known that common bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales seek each other out and interact, but the purpose of the interactions is unclear.” Warming in eastern North Pacific waters between 2013 and 2016 could be the reason for the presence of the dolphins and whales. Halpin said he’s documented warm-water species in British Columbia waters since 2014, including a loggerhead turtle and a swordfish . He said, “With marine waters increasingly warming up, we can expect to see more typically warm-water species in the northeastern Pacific.” + BioMed Central + Marine Biodiversity Records Images via Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith on Flickr and the National Park Service

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

Water purification breakthrough can even clean water from the Dead Sea

April 3, 2018 by  
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Despite all our advances, access to clean water is still a major problem – not just for developing nations, but here in the US, where water shortages during natural disasters can cost lives. Scientists have created a cost-effective technology that addresses this problem using hydrogels. Using ambient solar energy, these gel-polymer hybrid materials can produce clean water from any source – including salt water from the Dead Sea. A team led by Guihua Yu at the University of Texas Austin created a hydrogel that is both hydrophilic and semiconducting. “We have essentially rewritten the entire approach to conventional solar water evaporation,” Yu said. The system works by creating water vapor under sunlight and then pumping the vapor into a condenser to deliver the freshwater. It also filters out contaminants that are harmful when consumed. Related: New MIT water purification method eliminates even trace chemical waste and pesticides The hydrogel -based solar vapor generator can desalinate water much more affordably than current options using much less power. “Water desalination through distillation is a common method for mass production of freshwater. However, current distillation technologies, such as multi-stage flash and multi-effect distillation, require significant infrastructures and are quite energy-intensive,” said Fei Zhao, a researcher involved in the project. Tests produced 25 liters of water per square meter – plenty for disaster-stricken areas or household use. Via Phys.org Images via UT at Austin

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Water purification breakthrough can even clean water from the Dead Sea

69% of Republicans believe global warmings seriousness is generally exaggerated

April 3, 2018 by  
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Have people changed their minds about global warming after President Donald Trump, infamous for his climate change denial, has spent a year in office? Gallup conducted their annual survey regarding the environment in early March, finding  that Americans’ thoughts on the topic “have increasingly become politically polarized” — and  Trump might have contributed to the divide. In 2017, 66 percent of Republicans thought “the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.” In 2018, that number is now up to 69 percent. In contrast, four percent of Democrats think global warming is exaggerated, down from 10 percent last year. This is just one of Gallup’s findings — they said Americans’ concerns on the topic aren’t that different from last year, but some partisan views have shifted. They conducted telephone interviews between March 1 and 8 “with a random sample of 1,041 adults” residing in Washington, D.C. and all 50 states. Related: Despite Trump’s rhetoric, US officials are still working to stop climate change Is Trump to blame for the divide? Gallup said he may have contributed “by reversing a number of government actions to address the issue.” The announcement to pull America out of the Paris Agreement is perhaps the most notorious example; others include “the removal of climate change from the list of top U.S. national security threats and the elimination of the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ from U.S. government websites and lexicons,” according to Gallup. 66 percent of Americans would “say most scientists believe global warming is occurring;” 64 percent say human activities caused the dilemma. These numbers fell a little from those in 2017; Gallup pinned that phenomenon on increased political polarization during the last year. Not all the numbers have dipped — 45 percent of Americans in 2018 “think global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime,” up from 42 percent in 2017. Gallup said the bottom line is that Americans’ higher level of concern over global warming, shown since 2016, remains largely intact. + Gallup News Images via Depositphotos ( 1 , 2 )

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Footprints from world’s largest dinosaur discovered in Scotland

April 3, 2018 by  
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Dozens of footprints from ancient sauropods , a kind of creature that scientists believe may have been the largest dinosaur ever, have been discovered in Scotland. These 170-million-year-old footprints are also the oldest ever discovered in Scotland. The sauropod footprints were located in a lagoon on the Isle of Skye, near a group of footprints from theropods, more ancient cousins of  Tyrannosaurus Rex.  “It shows both long-necked and meat-eaters were on the same site at the same time living together, side-by-side,” Dr. Steve Brusatte of Edinburgh University told the Telegraph . “It captures a moment in time 170 million years ago when they were just hanging out in a lagoon, living on the beach, back when Scotland was much warmer and dinosaurs were beginning their march to global dominance.” Scientists believe that the sauropods who left the footprints were least 49 feet long and weighed more than 10 tons. The theropods are thought to have stood at least six feet tall. In total, researchers documented approximately 50 footprints near Brothers’ Point on the Isle of Skye’s Trotternish peninsula. This wet and wild location made it difficult for scientists to study the footprints on-site, though  drones helped, particularly in creating a map of the dig site. Related: Turns out blood-sucking ticks really did plague the dinosaurs Despite its challenging environment, Scotland ‘s Isle of Skye has proven to be a bountiful trove of dinosaur fossils. “This tracksite is the second discovery of sauropod footprints on Skye,” study lead author Paige dePolo told Science Daily . “It was found in rocks that were slightly older than those previously found at Duntulm on the island and demonstrates the presence of sauropods in this part of the world through a longer timescale than previously known. This site is a useful building block for us to continue fleshing out a picture of what dinosaurs were like on Skye in the Middle Jurassic.” Via The Telegraph and Science Daily Images via  Paige dePolo/University of Edinburgh and University of Edinburgh

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Footprints from world’s largest dinosaur discovered in Scotland

NASA has a plan to put robot bees on Mars

April 3, 2018 by  
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NASA has announced the funding of a new research effort that will explore the possibility of using robot bees to study the Martian surface. NASA has appropriately called the concept the Marsbee, and the team hopes to develop a model that is capable of navigating the thin atmosphere of Mars in swarms, gathering information with various sensors. “The objective of the proposed work is to increase the set of possible exploration and science missions on Mars by investigating the feasibility of flapping wing aerospace architectures in a Martian environment,” explains University of Alabama researcher Chang-kwon Kang in a statement . A research team at the University of Alabama will work in collaboration with an as-of-yet unannounced team in Japan to create what may be a more efficient means to explore Mars. While the Mars rover has proven to be a reliable exploration machine, it does suffer from slow speeds. A swarm of robotic bees would not have this problem as it scours the surface of the Red Planet. The body of the Marsbee would be similar to that of an actual bumblebee, while its larger wings will be about the size of a cicada. Researchers are currently exploring the most effective mode of flight, whether flapping through flapping, fixed-wing or rotor. The collaborating group of Japanese scientists has already created their own wing-flapping robot, the hummingbird micro-air vehicle (MAV). Related: Elon Musk says trips to Mars coming as soon as next year The Marsbees would be bound to a mobile “hive,” in the form of a traditional rover. The rover would serve as a home base at which the Marsbees would recharge and store data. The Marsbees would also be capable of sending information whilst in-flight through Wi-Fi technology. The Marsbee is still very early in development. NASA expects feasibility studies to last a decade before the project moves onto Phase II. The challenges that must be overcome before the Marsbee takes flight include designing a potentially autonomous navigation system, determining flight style, and inventing a means to keep dust out of the Marsbee. Via Phys.org Images via NASA

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NASA has a plan to put robot bees on Mars

SpaceX Falcon 9 just rocketed a harpoon and net into orbit to hunt space junk

April 3, 2018 by  
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Human trash now litters space in the form of broken hardware and spacecrafts circling Earth. But the Surrey Space Center is working on tackling the issue – and they just got a boost from SpaceX . Their RemoveDEBRIS technology demonstrator is hitching a ride aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station (ISS), where it will hunt space debris using a harpoon and net. Scientists could obtain information on which space junk cleanup strategy works with the RemoveDEBRIS technology demonstrator, which consists of “a main satellite platform that once in orbit will deploy two CubeSats as artificial debris targets to demonstrate some of the technologies,” according to the project page. The platform is packed in specialist boxes ISS astronauts will unpack. The technology will be released outside of the space station via a robotic arm. Harpoon capture, net capture, dragsail, and vision-based navigation are the technologies to be tested on the mission. Related: Airbus wants to harpoon a satellite and bring it back to Earth Principal investigator Guglielmo Aglietti told the BBC experts aren’t yet decided on the best way to clean up space debris , noting the technologies each have their disadvantages and advantages. The project costs around $18 million — the Surrey Space Center described RemoveDEBRIS as low-cost. Aglietti told the BBC, “In my opinion, whether or not there are going to be real missions to remove debris will depend on cost. And I worry that if they are extremely expensive, people will think about other priorities.” The European Commission is providing half of the funding; the partners, including Airbus and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited , will provide the other half. SpaceX said the Dragon spacecraft, which is carrying RemoveDEBRIS among other supplies and payloads on Dragon Resupply Mission CRS-14, separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage around 10 minutes following liftoff, and will attach to ISS on Wednesday. + RemoveDEBRIS + SpaceX Dragon Resupply Mission CRS-14 + SpaceX Dragon Resupply Mission CRS-14 Press Kit Via the BBC Images via Official SpaceX Photos on Flickr and copyright ESA

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SpaceX Falcon 9 just rocketed a harpoon and net into orbit to hunt space junk

Lush green roof of native plants breathes life into a Texan cabana

February 28, 2018 by  
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This minimalist concrete-and-glass cabana looks as if it rose straight from the ground thanks to its beautiful green roof that ties it into verdant surroundings in Palmer, Texas. Dallas-based architecture firm Wernerfield designed the PTX1 Cabana, a simple and transparent structure that provides a strong contrast to the wild and colorful plants like yucca and sage that grow atop its roof. The rectangular pool house also doubles as a “remote” entertaining space with an indoor lounge, bathroom and exercise room. Built with clean lines and a restrained palette, the 1,372-square-foot PTX1 Cabana was designed with simple elegance in mind so as not to detract from the views of the main house that sits uphill. Full-height glazing wraps around the pool house to give it a sense of lightness while a concrete roof with deep overhangs protect against solar gain . White stucco was used for the exterior surfaces. Related: Spectacular wildflower roof grows atop a dreamy Texan cabana Retractable glass walls further minimize the distinction between indoors and out. A rectangular pool deck with lounge chairs and a fire pit separates the cabana from a lap pool fitted with colored lights. + Wernerfield Via Dezeen Photos by Robert Yu

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Lush green roof of native plants breathes life into a Texan cabana

The Treebox is an amazing modern home set high up in the treetops

February 12, 2018 by  
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This gorgeous wooden home in Texas captures the experience of living high up in the treetops. Designed by Wernerfield , the PH2 Treebox is raised several meters off the ground, and its living quarters are sheltered by the surrounding forest. Wernerfield was commissioned to design an addition to an existing split-level house on a wooded property in Dallas. The team responded with a design that takes its cues from the form of the main house. Related: Microsoft unveils amazing treehouse office where employees can brainstorm in fresh air “The existing home’s split-level plan provides an elevated deck at the rear that is wrapped by the forest,” said the architects. “This sensation of being elevated and floating in the forest was carried forward as the central design concept throughout the project.” Related: Aging Portuguese granary transformed into a serene sanctuary in the trees The architects set the home on 12-foot-high metal columns, creating space for a sheltered parking area below. A metal staircase leads up to the dwelling area. The home’s exterior is clad in charred wood , which is both discrete and durable. The interior comprises a guest quarters and an office space (separated by a breezeway), and it has a minimalist, warm material palette that accentuates the connection to the forest. + Wernerfield Via Dezeen Photos by Robert Yu

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The Treebox is an amazing modern home set high up in the treetops

Praying mantises wearing tiny glasses help researchers discover new type of 3D vision

February 12, 2018 by  
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This praying mantis isn’t just wearing minuscule 3D glasses for the cute factor, but to help scientists learn more about 3D vision. A Newcastle University team discovered a novel form of 3D vision, or stereo vision, in the insects – and compared human and insect stereo vision for the very first time. Their findings could have implications for visual processing in robots . Humans aren’t the only creatures with stereo vision, which “helps us work out the distances to the things we see,” according to the university . Cats, horses, monkeys, toads, and owls have it too – but the only insect we know about with 3D vision is the praying mantis. Six Newcastle University researchers obtained new insight into their robust stereo vision with the help of small 3D glasses temporarily attached to the insects with beeswax. Related: Praying mantises hunt down and eat small birds, including hummingbirds The researchers designed an insect 3D cinema, showing a praying mantis a film of prey. The insects would actually try to catch the prey because the illusion was so convincing. And the scientists were able to take their work to the next level, showing the mantises “complex dot-patterns used to investigate human 3D vision” so they could compare our 3D vision with an insect’s for the first time. According to the university, humans see 3D in still images by matching details of the image each eye sees. “But mantises only attack moving prey so their 3D doesn’t need to work in still images. The team found mantises don’t bother about the details of the picture but just look for places where the picture is changing…Even if the scientists made the two eyes’ images completely different, mantises can still match up the places where things are changing. They did so even when humans couldn’t.” The journal Current Biology published their work online last week . Lead author Vivek Nityananda, a behavioral ecologist, described the praying mantis’ stereo vision as “a completely new form of 3D vision.” Future robots could benefit from these findings: instead of 3D vision based on complex human stereo vision, researchers might be able to take some tips from praying mantis stereo vision, which team member Ghaith Tarawneh said probably doesn’t require a lot of computer processing since insect brains are so small. + Newcastle University + Current Biology Images via Newcastle University, UK/Phys.org

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Praying mantises wearing tiny glasses help researchers discover new type of 3D vision

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