Stories tagged environment

Learn more about why water is important

Water
WaterCourtesy José Manuel Suárez
National Geographic has lots of links and photos related to water issues(click link to learn more).

Water affects every aspect of our lives, yet nearly one billion people around the world don't have clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion still lack basic sanitation. World Water Day, celebrated annually on March 22, was established by the United Nations in 1992 and focuses attention on the world's water crisis, as well as the solutions to address it. waterday.org

The capital of New Rubbishland: Little Filthington.
The capital of New Rubbishland: Little Filthington.Courtesy brutal
Like The Highlander, there can be only one Trashlantis.

And yet, the presence of another garbage island has been declared, in the Atlantic Ocean this time. (The quick Trashlantis disclaimer: it's not really an island or a continent, or something you could even see from the the surface. It's lots and lots of tiny bits of floating plastic. Just thought we'd go over that again.)

The patch spans about 16 degrees of latitude, and it shall henceforth be known as... New Rubbishland.

(Good looking out, Gene.)

Jan
07
2010

A satellite image of the East Siberian Sea from USGS
A satellite image of the East Siberian Sea from USGSCourtesy United States Geological Survey
When I read this story the other day, I thought to myself: why didn't I think of that? Or maybe I did think of it, but as usual no one was listening when I pitched the idea for an action-packed spy movie about climate change. Or were they?

The Central Intelligence Agency does have a bunch of high-powered satellites and other "classified" instruments, so it's possible they've been using them to eavesdrop on my conversations with friends about possible sci-fi movie plots.

What's more likely: they figured out on their own that intelligence-gathering instruments could be really helpful to scientists, who can read detailed pictures of melting sea ice, growing desserts and other phenomena to better understand how climate is changing the planet.

The C.I.A. recently confirmed that it had revived this controversial data-sharing program known as Madea, which stands for Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis. If you decode that C.I.A. code name, it means that government spies are working with climate scientists to gather images and data about environmental change, as well as its impact on human populations.

Not everyone is convinced that climate change is a real threat to national security, and so some complainers are complaining that this collaboration between scientists and the C.I.A. is a misuse of resources, but what do they know?

Really? What do they know? So much of what happens over at C.I.A. headquarters is top-secret.

Maybe the whole thing doesn't sound that action packed, but I'm telling you, if you had the right actors playing the scientists, it could be a blockbuster. And if you have the right scientists analyzing the data, it might provide really valuable insights into global environmental change.

Yellow submarine: While the Beatles' Yellow Submarine looks very funky, the actual research yellow submarine cruising about in Lake Superior is much more plain.
Yellow submarine: While the Beatles' Yellow Submarine looks very funky, the actual research yellow submarine cruising about in Lake Superior is much more plain.Courtesy Wongx AT
In a collision of Beatles and Gordon Lightfoot song topics, an unmanned, small yellow submarine is puttering about the depths of Lake Superior, providing lake quality data to researchers back on shore. Launched earlier this week, the seven-foot-long, $74,000 device is on a two-week test run to see if it can prove to be a more cost-effective way of monitoring the lake's water quality than by using people on boats.

Is the sub's color a tribute to The Beatles? Not really. Creator Jay Austin of the University of Minnesota-Duluth told the Star-Tribune: "Yellow's the international color of research. It's an easy color to see in the water, so it's very typical to paint your equipment yellow. I've got a research buoy that's the same color."

And so far into the mission's run, no sign of any Blue Meanies in the great waters of Gitchigumi.

Sep
01
2009

A nice refreshing belch from Pinatubo: Repeat?
A nice refreshing belch from Pinatubo: Repeat?Courtesy D. Harlow
Ever want to change the world?

No, I’m not talking about the awesome drums and bass album you’re working on. And I’m not talking about your new theory of about time and mountains and stuff. And I’m not talking about your award winning bowel movements.

I’m talking about shaking the heavenly spheres until they throw up a little. I’m talking about jamming your boot into the nearest orifice until the planet cries uncle. I’m talking about pinning its arms and slapping its belly until it forgets its own name in frustration. I’m talking about changing the world.

Sure, it’s sort of supervillain territory. And it used to be that you’d need a bad childhood and some sort of superpower, or maybe a giant laser for this sort of thing. But these days… these days you don’t even need to be super-mega-rich to tear the planet a new one; you only need to be super rich. And it could be that the planet needs a new one torn.

We haven’t really talked much about geoengineering here on Buzz, which is weird, because it falls under both “quick fixes” and “things that might look awesome,” categories I very much appreciate. This is why I prefer to deal with hangnails by shooting them off, and why my dog has painted-on zebra stripes. (The “quick fix” there was spray paint being used to make him look less stupid.)

Geoengineering is engineering on the global scale; it’s changing the planet to solve some problem. What if we could, for instance, stop global warming without changing our energy-hungry lifestyles? What if it was as quick and cheap as spray-painting the dog?

The thing is, many geoengineering projects would be quick and easy (relative to, say, transitioning the planet to renewable energy). But, like spray-painting the dog, geoengineering comes with the potential for serious problems. If we’re spray-painting the dog instead of washing him, we have to keep spray-painting him forever, or else one day we’ll have an obviously incredibly unwashed dog on our hands. And what sort of health problems might a spray-painted dog unexpectedly develop? And can we get used to living with a dog that is spray-painted?

(Bryan Kennedy posted a link to an article about these issues this summer. Check it out.)

Consider these problems with me as we turn away from painted dogs, toward the wide world of geoengineering. In the coming days, if I remember to, and if I’m not feeling too lazy, we will meet some possible geoengineering scenarios. And, remember, these aren’t totally sci-fi—they’re very possible (for the most part). The question is, do we really want to do them?

And so, geoengineering day 1: A fart like you wouldn’t believe.

Y’all know what killed the last dinosaurs, right? Yes: loneliness. But how did they get so lonely? It was that, ah, meteorite thing, right? A big space rock smashed into the Earth, boom, no more dinosaurs. But it’s not like all the dinosaurs got smashed by that falling rock. Most of the trouble came after the impact. Vast quantities of dust were thrown way up into the atmosphere when the space rock hit the planet… and it stayed up there for a while. The affect all that dust had on climate is pretty complicated, but, if we boil it way down, it basically blocked sunlight, and made the world a shadier, colder place for a while. Lots of plants couldn’t live in colder, darker conditions, so they died. And the dinosaurs couldn’t live without those plants, and so they died. (Again, it’s more complicated than that, but…)

And now… now we have a situation where, in the coming decades, the world may be getting much hotter than a lot of organisms can survive for very long. We aren’t hoping for an asteroid or meteorite to smash into us, of course, but is there another way to fill the sky with sun-blocking particles?

Yes. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines exploded, blasting millions of tons of sulfur into the sky. All that sulfur, and other tiny particles from the eruption (called aerosols), reflected lots of energy from the Sun back into space. Because it’s solar energy that provides the heat for global warming (greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide just trap the heat here), the Pinatubo eruption is thought to be responsible for temporarily lowering global temperatures by about 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit). That might seem like only a small drop, but a few fractions of a degree change in temperature worldwide can have a big affect on climate, and when we think about how it was caused by just one eruption… We could do it too! We could change the world!

One of the major ideas in geoengineering is to essentially recreate the Pinatubo eruption. Over and over again. Factories on the ground could pump tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it would bond with water vapor and condense around floating dust, blocking solar radiation from heating the planet. (This article envisions zeppelins hovering 12 miles up, tethered to factories by SO2-carrying hoses.)

The project might cost only tens of billion dollars (small potatoes when talking about changing global climate), and it might actually work… but then what? What happens once the dog has been spray-painted?

Some scientists are concerned that all that SO2 in the atmosphere could damage the ozone layer, which protects us from UV radiation from the Sun. (After Pinatubo erupted, the ozone layer suffered temporary but significant depletion.) Others point out that the project would do nothing to remove greenhouse gases, so that once the sulfur settled back down to Earth, we’d face very sudden temperature rises again; we’d have to continue to block out the Sun until we could decrease our production of greenhouse gases. The main thing that could happen is, well, we don’t totally know what would happen. It’s unlikely that a solution like this would only lower global temperatures, but exactly how it would affect other aspects of the climate and life on the planet is unclear…

Is it worth it? Should we pump the skies full of sulfur gas, even if we don’t understand everything that could happen because of it? What if it was the only way to hold off a “tipping point”? (Many climate scientists are concerned that gradual global warming will lead to a “tipping point,” after which warming accelerates rapidly. Thawing frozen tundra, for instance, might release vast amounts of trapped methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.) Or do you think geoengineering would distract us from addressing the basic causes of climate change?

Any thooouuughts?

Land required to produce some energy: Find out how much land you need to make some kilowatts with your favorite energy tech.
Land required to produce some energy: Find out how much land you need to make some kilowatts with your favorite energy tech.Courtesy Robert I. McDonald
Renewable energy is awesome! Do not read me wrong. However, there are many things to take into account when we think about a new energy technology like wind or ethanol. Like, how much land do we need to devote to producing that energy? A new study shows that some darlings of the renewable fuels set are pretty land intensive (NPR story on energy sprawl). What's the least land intensive? Reducing our consumption....gulp.

Aug
27
2009

Getting the Facts

Today we are all experiencing a global food crisis. Food prices are inflating, families are food poor. Some of the deaths due to hunger or hunger related causes can be avoided. Many children are malnourished but The most damaging micronutrient deficiencies in the world are the consequence of low dietary intake of vitamin A. In the world, the largest dietary eaten is rice, over 80 percent of the world's population depends on rice as their staple food. Although rice tastes awesome with chicken and with everything else, many people around the world do not get enough β-carotene (provitamin A, the form before vitamin A is converted) to help produce Vitamin A in what they are eating or able to afford to eat. Vitamin A is necessary, without Vitamin A our eyes would be unable to function properly. According to the World Health Organization, 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind every year due to the lack of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Every year it has has claims the lives of 350 000 or more, people who are VAD become blind and 60% of those who become blind will die. 400 million rice-consumers may lead to fatal health problems, some are impaired vision; impaired epithelial integrity, exposing the affected individuals to infections; reduced immune response; impaired haemopoiesis (and hence reduced capacity to transport oxygen in the blood) and skeletal growth; and measles infection. MAP
MAPCourtesy Wikipedia

The science behind

Golden rice is a genetically modified (GM), it is made through genetic manipulation. The gene responsible for the yellow color like the daffodils is inserted into the rice genome, and causes rice to produce large quantities of β-carotene.

The purpose of golden rice was made to to produce B-carotene, In the location where people eat the most, the endosperm. β-Carotene is composed of two retinyl groups ( the animal form of Vitamin A, which is different from the plants who are able to perform photosynthesis for their Vitamin A), and is broken down in the the mucous membrane of the small intestine by B-carotene to retinal, a form of vitamin A. Carotene can be stored in the liver and body fat and converted to retinal when it is needed, thus making it a form of vitamin A for mammals like us. SCIENCE
SCIENCECourtesy Wikipedia

for more details on the science behind golden rice you can check out this website:

http://goldenrice.org/Content2-How/how1_sci.html

But Why Is This Not Happening?

But behind this great discovery and invention people are bound to have their own reason's why they would like it or not. Many have responded with Golden Rice with rage and the desire for those to stop making the golden rice. Many of whom wish for those who do have VAD to receive naturally grown food instead of humans modifying. Those who feel this way feels that other's deserve to eat real food instead of man made. How do you feel towards genetically modified food? Is it still food or something else? With this conspiracy going on the Golden Rice is being stored in a building in Europe because of those who angered about the Golden Rice. Not only do people feel that way other's also said that it will effect the economy worldwide, if golden rice keeps going around the world for free people will stop buying rice and the rice industry would fall apart and the two largest rice exporters ( Thailand and Vietnam ) economy would fall apart and possibly even worse.

My view on this is that Genetically modified food is still food and is made for the better. If we waited for naturally grown food to grow I think it will take way to long for it to be ready for animals and humans to eat, in the world the food consumption is rising and more people demanding food. For example, in 1985 the average Chinese
consumer ate about 20 kg (44 lb) of meat a year, and now consumes over 50 kg (110 lb). Genetically modified food can help feed those who need it. And I understand that there are many people in Europe who do not support GM food, but don't you think we should send food those people who are dying from hunger and save them as soon as possible?

Aug
20
2009

Coastal watches/warnings and 5-Day track forecast cone for Hurricane Bill
Coastal watches/warnings and 5-Day track forecast cone for Hurricane BillCourtesy NOAA
The names for the 2009 hurricanes were announced a few days ago by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The NHC has a list of names they draw from, that reuses names every six years or so, but if a storm is particularly bad a name will be retired. There are no "Q" or "U" names and they go alphabetically so when they get to Danny you'll know that's the fourth of the season. The names for 2009 are:

Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Erika, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Joaquin, Kate, Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Pete, Rose, Sam, Teresa, Victor and Wanda.

(Interesting the names "Pete" and "Rose" are in succession.)

So far this year we're up to Claudette. Ana is old news already with the National Hurricane Center announcing yesterday that the storm had weakened so much they were no longer tracking it. Claudette is also weakening, but it had the distinction of being the first tropical system to reach land yet this season. Third in line is Bill, who has already become a category 3 hurricane. Follow Bill’s progress here.

Retired hurricane names.

Aug
11
2009

This jump is brought to you by: Joy.
This jump is brought to you by: Joy.Courtesy tbonzzz_6
Get your bells out, everybody, and ring them! The Chevy Volt is here! (In a year.)

GM released new details today about its new gas and electric hybrid car, the Chevy Volt. Using a plug-in battery (as opposed to current, unmodified hybrid cars, which recharge only via the gas engine), GM claims that the Volt should be able to achieve approximately 320 miles to the gallon during city driving. Estimates haven’t been completed for combined city and highway driving, by officials are confident that fuel economy will remain in the triple digits.

The car should have a range of about 40 miles, using its battery alone, at which point the gas engine would kick in. Nearly 80% of Americans, however, commute less than 40 miles each day, so most of the expended energy could come from the electrical grid (the car will plug into a standard outlet), instead of from gasoline.

GM’s chief executive calls the Volt a “game changer.”

Finally, a game-changing American car. Not like those sissy Prius drivers, making smug environmental statements by purchasing impractically expensive vehicles. Sure, the Volt will be entering the game about 9 years late, but it does so with the confidence that every environmentally conscious working-class American with $40,000 to drop on a sweet new car will… wait, what?

What about the rest of GM’s 2010 lineup? They’re cutting more than half of their 30+ mpg cars? But a few Volts on the road should bring that fleet average up, right?

And GM is pushing for environmental responsibility in other areas, at least, right? Oh, they’re pulling out of a partnership that collects toxic mercury from their old scrapped cars?

Well, it was a nice thought. And it’s comforting to hear someone say something like “game changer” now and again.

Update:
Weeellllll... it looks like the volt may be kind of an unremarkable car after all. Despite their claims last year that it would get something like 230 miles to the gallon, auto trade magazines are test driving it now, and saying it actually gets mileage in the 30 - 40 mpg range. That's less than a Prius. But don't worry, it's still super expensive. Huh. I mean, I couldn't design a "game-changing" car, but, then again, I never said I would. It turns out, too, that even though GM insisted that it wasn't really a hybrid car, and that the gasoline powered engine would only drive a generator for the battery... that's all not true. The gas engine does charge the battery, but it also will drive the wheels. Prove me wrong, Chevy (or commenters), but is this actually a crappy idea, and not a significant step towards changing our energy use?