Stories tagged Earth Buzz

Feb
02
2009

Antibiotics
AntibioticsCourtesy billaday
When we think of water quality, we generally assume that all is well in the United States. Sure, we have trace amounts of undesirable stuff here and there. But overall, you tend to be ok.

What about the rest of the world?

Well, recently Joakim Larsson, an environmental scientist from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, found that there is a particular area in India where you may want to think twice about drinking the water, or even bathing in it.

And why is this?

The water leaving the wastewater treatment facility wins the prize of having the highest known levels of pharmaceuticals in the world. As it turns out, almost 100 Indian drug companies dump their various drug residues into this particular stream. For example, ciproflozacin , an antibiotic, is dumped in this stream with high enough concentrations to treat 90,000 people a day.

But wait, aren't antibiotics good for you?

When you actually need them, yes, antibiotics are useful. However, if these antibiotics and floating around willy nilly, running into bacteria here and there in the environment, they are actually allowing the bacteria to become more antibiotic resistant with these casual encounters. As if making stronger bacteria were not enough, these various drugs are also damaging the reproductive systems of fish and amphibians in the water.

Where do we figure into this mess?

Although this is not water in the United States, we are involved in two ways. First, all water resources in the world are connected. There is no "our" water and "their" water. It is water that we all share. Secondly, many of the drugs made by these Indian companies are sold in the United States.

And so we are left with a question asked by Joakim Larsson, "Who has a responsibility for a polluted environment when the Third World produces drugs for our well being?"

Jan
26
2009

Biologists are using clams to identify and clean up river pollutants.

Clams are filter-feeders, meaning they gather water into their shells, eat any food they find in that water, and then release the water back into the environment. The clam inadvertently filters more than just their food out of the water. Other material suspended in the water, such as toxins and pollutants, can accumulate in the clams.

Biologists in Washington, DC, along with help from high schoolers, released clams downstream from industrial parks and highways. The clams absorbed any lurking pollutants and then the scientists could identify the kinds and quantities of pollutants in the water. This process can be quite costly, but the clams offer an alternative method.

The ultimate goal is to be able to trace the pollutants back to their sources. From there, the cleanup process can begin.

Jan
19
2009

It could always be worse.

Ice Sheet - Antarctica
Ice Sheet - AntarcticaCourtesy NASA

Some geologists think that 700 or so million years ago, the entire earth was one spherical skating rink. Called "Snowball Earth", it was a time when runaway ice caps covered the entire earth. They even covered the tropical oceans, making a mid-winter getaway to Hawaii less appealing, and possibly wiping out most of life on earth. The theory goes like this. Millions of years ago the sun was weaker than today. Ice started forming at the North and South poles, reflecting incoming sunlight back out to space and making it colder. So, the ice grew even more and so on in something called a positive feedback. Eventually, ice covered the entire planet, leaving rock types characteristic of glacial erosion in the tropics.

So, how do they think we got out? Well, all the time the earth was covered with ice, volcanoes were belching out carbon dioxide. Over millions of years, carbon dioxide is sucked out the atmosphere by breaking down rocks (it's much too slow a process to help us out in the current situation, though). Eventually carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached many times what they are today, temperatures soared, and there was a global ice-out that's usually described as "catastrophic."

A careful review of the existing information by two scientists from Britain suggests that things may not have been so dire. Geological evidence suggests that some parts of the ocean were not covered in ice, though there was a lot of ice in the tropics. This new view means geologists and climate scientists need to re-think "Snowball Earth" and how it could have come about. Something to think about while you're trying to get the car started.

Jan
15
2009

Energy for the taking: Wind turbines bask in the sun near Palm Springs, California.
Energy for the taking: Wind turbines bask in the sun near Palm Springs, California.Courtesy Mark Ryan
A new dual solar and wind-powered charger for personal electronic devices was on display at last weekend’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The K2 by Kinesis Industries is a handheld unit that allows you to harvest energy from both the sun and the wind and store it in an internal battery that can then be used to power all your energy-hungry USB-powered electronic gadgets.

You know what? I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. There’s been a few times I’ve lost battery power in my camera or cell phone and wished I had something like this. I’ll probably buy one even if I never use it. The idea is just so cool.

Portable chargers like this have been around for a while. Solio of California produces an array of solar-powered handheld chargers. PowerFilm in Ames, Iowa manufactures foldable thin film solar modules for a number of charging and direct powering applications. They rolled out a new USB and AA charger at this year’s show.

But evidently none match K2’s capacity or versatility. One hour gathering sunlight or wind with the K2 is enough to power 30 minutes of cell phone use or over 300 minutes of mp3 music. A full charge is enough to fully power your cell phone five times over. You can also plug the K2 into an AC outlet and store up power for later use that way.

But what happens if you forget to do that and it’s a cloudy day and the weather is dead calm? What’s a poor techno-weenie to do? Well, not to worry, the K2 also has a nifty side clip so you can attach it to your bicycle and generate your own wind. As of yet there’s no release date for the K2 but when it does come out, it’s expected to retail for about a hundred bucks.

Now, just so we’re clear, I have not personally tried any of the products mentioned in this story, so I can’t endorse or pooh-pooh any of them. You should do your own research before making any purchase of this technology. I just like the idea of being able to charge my gadgets anywhere I go. That way next time I’m stranded out in the middle of Wyoming and my iPod’s battery starts to fizzle during Britney’s latest hit, I’ll be golden.

LINKS
Network World K2 review
Voltaic Systems. (Not at the show but makes cool laptop bags)
Captain Planet review of K2 (with a video)

Jan
13
2009

Solar slowdown: Solar panel revenues projected to drop 19% in 2009
Solar slowdown: Solar panel revenues projected to drop 19% in 2009Courtesy richardmasoner

Global finances hurt solar industry

Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., the world's largest solar module maker, suspended its plan to expand capacity by 40 percent in 2009. Instead, it laid off 10 percent of its 8,000 strong workforce.

Global revenues for photovoltaic solar panels are expected to drop 19 percent in 2009, believed to be the sector's first-ever contraction, as prices fall due to oversupply, research firm iSuppli said last December" Reuters

Say it aint so

My hope is that a change in government incentives will prove to be a game changer.

Additional news, First Solar

First Solar was featured by Investopedia yesterday as a solar company to watch in 2009.

Some of Liza's RSS feeds
Some of Liza's RSS feedsCourtesy Liza Pryor

"Stanford creates 100 million dollar energy research center"
"Stanford University is creating a 100-million-dollar research institute that will focus on energy issues, including the search for ways to reduce global warming, officials said."

"Home turbines fail to deliver as promised, warns British study"
"Home wind turbines are only generating a fraction of electricity promised by the manufacturers while some even fail to yield enough energy to run the turbine's electronics, a British study warned on Tuesday."

"'V-wing' turbine gets study cash"
"An unusual design of wind turbine with a pair of giant vertical wings could one day be generating electricity for the UK Grid."

"China's BYD to bring plug-in hybrid, electric cars to US in 2011"
"China's BYD Auto announced plans Monday to enter the US market in 2011 with a range of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. It would likely be the first Chinese automaker to enter the highly-competitive US market and beat many established automakers in offering an extended-range electric vehicle to US consumers."

"A bicycle evangelist with the wind now at his back"
"For years, Earl Blumenauer has been on a mission, and now his work is paying off. He can tell by the way some things are deteriorating around here."

Jan
08
2009

Recycling plastic: A patent on sorting, grinding, and reusing plastic for manufacturing or energy
Recycling plastic: A patent on sorting, grinding, and reusing plastic for manufacturing or energyCourtesy Meaduva

Don't throw it away. Recycle.

Each day millions of tons of plastic and organic products are "thrown away". Where is "away"? Probably a land fill. A better idea would be to somehow recycle these materials into a useful product, or use it as a source of energy.

Plastic and cellulose waste recycling idea "owned"

A new patent application claims that a blend of waste plastic and cellulose from plant material can make a good building material or the plastic/cellulose mix could be burned for fuel. (click to view patent application, 38pg PDF)

It would be beneficial to develop a process that can efficiently and cost effectively convert multiple types of waste byproducts into useful materials usable for: (i) heat and/or energy generation; and/or (ii) structural, sound attenuation, and/or insulation materials.

Do you think "Recycling" should be patented?

Would someone explain what this patent does? To me it claims to own the concept of turning garbage into stuff or burning it. If someone works out detailed methods of doing what is described in the blockquote above, would they have to pay money to the person who patented the concept?

Sources:
" Invention: Recycled trash construction materials" New Scientist
Abstract: "Blending Plastic and Cellulose Waste Products for Alternative Uses"

Jan
05
2009

This http://www.engadget.com/2008/11/21/better-places-1-billion-electric-vehi... caught my eye today. Hawaii became the latest addition to follow suite of Israel and Denmark and theoretically gave nod to creating Electrical Vehicle Infrastructure. Silicon Valley startup Better Place is going to make that happen. The cars equipped with system and service from Better Place will be able to locate the nearest battery exchange station using GPS and electronic ID for the car and little intelligence from the computer on-board. The driver will tell the car where she wants to go and car will locate the on-board computer calculates how much charge is left in the battery, determines does it need to recharge and the location of the nearest battery exchange station.

This is just like OnStar service. The vehicles equipped with OnStar get to have certain services like emergency road side assistance. Now, companies will offer "Green" services.

Dec
23
2008

A friend clued me in that the prestigious Science Museum of Minnesota's blog seems to be largely written by Science Museum staff who don't appear to be up to speed on climate change science. I've been buzzing through Science Buzz and it is clear that some buzzers may not know how to find peer-reviewed science and scientific statements on climate change. Given that your project is funded by the National Science Foundaiton, it seems very important that your staff posters get up to speed on science.

So, I offer a few helpful links:

Climate scientists answering questions about climate science, at www.realclimate.org

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, at www.ipcc.ch

Climate literacy for educators and students, at www.climateliteracynow.org

Dr. Stephen Schneider's website on climate change science, at www.climatechange.net

As well, your staff may want to review the many statements authored by professional scientific bodies on climate change, including those of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society....you get the idea.

It's a shame that the best science education institution in the state doesn't require that its Science Buzz staff get up to speed on cimate science.

J. Drake Hamilton
Science Policy Director
Fresh Energy

Dec
11
2008

Sun with sunspots
Sun with sunspotsCourtesy NASA

One of the most common questions I hear about climate change is "Isn't it just the sun?" Days (sun out) are warmer than nights (no sun), and sunny days are usually warmer than cloudy days. Let's be honest, it would also be much easier on the conscience. After all, we have about as much chance of controlling the sun as I do of getting my cat to do the laundry. But our actions do impact the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Scientists who are interested in climate have been looking into this. A new paper by Anja Eichler and her colleagues from Switzerland and Russia looks at this problem by comparing records of how brightly the sun has been shining to the temperature in central Asia over the last 750 or so years. Now you're probably thinking, "Hey, who had a thermometer in Siberia 750 years ago?" It turns out that the part of Siberia near Mongolia and Kazakhstan has glaciers that are actually pretty good at recording the temperature.

So what'd they find? The sun is pretty important. It explains well over half of the wiggles in the temperature curve . . . until 1850. After that the sun is still kind of important, but changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere do a much better job explaining the recent warming.

Other scientists have found the same story using different methods, so I think we're homing in on a solid answer.

If you want to read the paper yourself, it is in press in Geophysical Research Letters. The story's not free on-line, so you might need to head to a library to check it out.