What would you do with a grain of sand, salty water, a baby seed, and a blow of hot air?
Create a regeneration of life: POOF. This year calls for hotter, brighter, and drier times – and the more, the better.
The Sahara Forest Project
Courtesy Courtesy Sahara Forest Project is utilizing arid landscapes such as deserts across the world, direct sunlight, and saltwater in hopes for a change from the global climate crisis.
The project is essentially a gigantic greenhouse. It uses hot desert air and cool seawater to make fresh water for growing crops, solar energy to generate power, planting trees to capture greenhouse gases and restore natural forest canopy, and algae pools to offer renewable biomass fuels. The ultimate goal is to replicate nature in reforestation and revegetation by using desert land to aid in the production of food, water, energy, and new jobs you and your coconscious can feel good about.
The mission is created by scientists, engineers, and research experts from Exploration Architecture, Seawater Greenhouse, Max Fordham Consulting Engineers and the Bellona Foundation. The final proposal was presented at the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, and is under construction for 2010 across multiple demonstration centers. The Sahara Forest Project was also chosen out of 300 projects for presentation at The Clinton Global Initiative. So far these magnificent designs are anticipated to build demonstration facilities in arid regions ranging from the United States to Australia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Threats on the stability of our ecosystems, natural resources, and human survival for generations to come have pushed science harder than ever. Here are some of the environmental crises we face:
• Freshwater shortage
• Climbing greenhouse gas emissions
• Non-renewable energy decay
• Non-sustainable food production
• Biomass fuel for non-renewable (i.e. fossil fuels) energy shortages
A Connection to Minnesotans
The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment is tackling a much related and pressing climate issue of our time: “The Global Crisis in Agriculture.” The agriculture crisis investigates solutions for population growth, food consumption, energy costs, and biomass production. The Institute’s top researchers, faculty, and students are calling for collaboration and communication initiatives across all sectors – from agribusinesses to experts, students to farmers, policy makers to you.
The Institute’s magazine Momentum, published three times a year at the University of Minnesota, holds articles on emerging research being held at the Institute, as well as interconnected studies from scientists and experts. In the latest issue for fall 2009, the Institute addresses the big question: how do we feed a growing population at the expense of future human survival? It all boils down to the impact we humans have on our natural resources. Perhaps the Sahara project sheds some light.
Here’s how it works:
Seawater to freshwater:
Greenhouses use hot desert air and saltwater to create freshwater. The process mimics a natural process. Sun-cooked seawater evaporates, cools to form clouds, and then falls as precipitation:
1) Hot, bone-dry air goes into the greenhouse.
2) It is first cooled and dampened by seawater.
(This moist air nourishes crops growing inside the greenhouse)
3) The air then passes through an evaporator, where sun-roasted saltwater flows. The warm, wet air meets a series of tubes containing cool seawater, it evaporates into fresh water squeezes as droplets on the outsides of the tubes and can be stored.
Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction:
Engineers plan for only 10 to 15 percent of the moist air in the “seawater to freshwater” period gets condensed into fresh water. The rest goes outside to water surrounding, planted trees.
Solar Power Energy:
1) Mirrors are constructed to focus sunlight on water pipes and boilers.
2) The intense sunlight creates superhot vapor inside the pipes that can power conventional steam turbines to generate electricity.
3) Any excess power will be used in local communities.
Courtesy National Geographic
Algae Ponds into Biomass Fuel:
1) Open saltwater ponds cultivate algae through photosynthesis.
2) The algae's fat oils are then be harvested as energy-rich biomass fuel.
Courtesy Courtesy National GeographicPlus, the foundation’s engineers and creator stress that this biomass-based fuel from the center's photonic energy would be potentially easy to export. (Unlike current biomass fuel production, the great science predicament is how to mobilize and store the biofuels). What has been created is a micro-climate that is nourishing for food and biomass production.
Sustaining Local Communities:
The Sahara Forest Project is also necessitating the use of local community. The project would rely on local people to maintain the complexes.
Altogether, it's a pretty huge deal. Of course there are apprehensions and counter-perspectives. Some say this will be very limiting. Others advocate for the fact that at least we're thinking of new alternatives. It's sustainable. It's restorative. What harm can come from this?
You can also find additional articles about the Sahara Forest Project on their website, National Geographic, Bellona Foundation, or simply by Google search.
Courtesy Walters Art MuseumThe Dead Sea Scrolls have been radiocarbon dated two different times since they were discovered (excludiing the test on a piece of linen associated with the scrolls in the 1950’s by Willard Libby(the guy who invented the radiocarbon dating method)) by the Zurich Institute of Technology (1990) and the University of Arizona (1994). From these tests, researchers concluded that the scrolls are roughly 2,000 years old. However, scientists now think they can take “roughly” out of the picture, and provide more precise dates for the origins of the scrolls.
How would they do this? Is there a brand new method used for dating ancient objects?! Umm…no. Scientists will still use carbon-14 dating, but they found that a good ol’ scrub before the dating process provides better results (that usually holds true for people, too). I don’t mean that they’ll use soap and water (that would probably not be a good idea), but rather a chemical to remove plant residue. What happened was that in order to unroll the scrolls and spread them out without pulverizing them, researchers treated the scrolls with plant oil. This oil is thought to have interfered with the carbon-14 dating.
But now, after more than ten years of lab work, archaeochemist Kaare Lund Rasmussen and his team of researchers have developed a chemical that will remove the plant oil without harming the scrolls themselves. With this residue gone, the Dead Sea Scrolls can be more precisely dated, and history can be more accurately written (if you subscribe to the “accuracy” of history). At this point, there has been no new round of tests on the scrolls, and it’s unclear when that will take place.
Courtesy Lord JimWhat makes human beings so special? How did we evolve into an agriculture-developing, city-building, history-making, world-changing species that can live on every continent and even in outer space?
Scientists have been asking questions about our evolutionary trajectory and human "uniqueness" for as long as there's been science - and guess what? We still don't know the answer! Some of our best theories are explored by anthropologists in the PBS television series The Human Spark, airing throughout the month and also online at the PBS website. If you're curious, you might want to watch, but don't do it on an empty stomach! Many of the theories that anthropologists have developed to explain how we became human involve food.
That food and evolution would go hand in hand is not really surprising, since food is necessary to survival and an important and dynamic part of our environment. Did a search for nutritious plants and animals lead our ancestors to new environments, causing our species to adapt and change? Did hunting and eating meat mean the evolution of new physical characteristics? How has agriculture changed our environment and species over time? How will present and future foods change what it means to be human in the future?
Some evolutionary theories involving food look not just at what we ate, but how we ate it - namely the invention of fire and the use of heat to cook food. Think about it: our Hominid ancestors needed calories in order to develop into the big-brained humans we all know and love. How did they do it? And what did this mean for human evolution?
Sure, eating meat was an important dietary step, but cooking root vegetables can transform hard-to-chew or even poisonous plant parts into nutritious food that can be consumed out of season. With cooking, environments that would otherwise provide few nutritious options suddenly become bountiful. This change in diet may also have led to changes in body size and shape - even social structures! Large teeth and jaws were less desirable once food could be more easily chewed, and delaying the gratification of food until it could be cooked may also have meant that our species had to develop new social skills.
Those social skills - the same ones that mean you and I can now share a burger or beer without fighting each other for scraps - may be one of many "sparks" that makes us human.
If you live in the Twin Cities, you can meet an anthropologist and here how he thinks food impacted human evolution by attending tonight's Cafe Scientifique program in Minneapolis.
WaveLengths, the award-winning public television program from Arizona Public Media updates viewers on what was once the most talked-about experiment in the world--the Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona.
"WaveLengths: Planet in a Bottle" revisits the famous life sciences laboratory to learn about the research currently being conducted inside, and exactly how it can help find answers to environmental questions arising in the new millennium. This new episode of WaveLengths includes research and work televised for the very first time.
"WaveLengths: Planet in a Bottle" premieres Monday, January 18 at 6:30pm on PBS-HD Channel 6.Segments include:
After some three and a half billion years of life’s evolution on this planet – and after almost two million years since people recognizable as human first walked its surface – a new human burst upon the scene, apparently unannounced.
It was us.
Until then our ancestors had shared the planet with other human species. But soon there was only us, possessors of something that gave us unprecedented power over our environment and everything else alive. That something was – is – the Human Spark.
What is the nature of human uniqueness? Where did the Human Spark ignite, and when? And perhaps most tantalizingly, why?
In a three-part series to be broadcast on PBS in 2010, Alan Alda takes these questions personally, visiting with dozens of scientists on three continents, and participating directly in many experiments – including the detailed examination of his own brain.
Courtesy Arthur Lake Library, Colorado School of MinesArthur Lakes, pioneer dinosaur hunter, and chronicler of early American paleontology, was born this day in 1844 in Martock Summerset, England. Educated at Queens College in Oxford, Lakes eventually immigrated to the United States (via Canada) where he worked as a geologist, teacher, artist, and itinerant Episcopalian minister in the area around Golden, Colorado.
Courtesy Mark Ryan collectionOn March 27, 1877, while out measuring rock units in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver, Lakes and a companion, Captain Henry Beckwith, discovered large exposures of dinosaur remains. Hoping to stir up some interest, money, and perhaps some employment, Lakes sent some of the fossil bones eastward to both Othniel Marsh, and Edward Cope, unintentionally firing up the feud between the two pioneer paleontologists that would soon escalate into the famous Bone Wars of the latter 19th century. Marsh, at Yale’s Peabody Museum, eventually hired Lakes as a field worker, and used the fossils he found to describe a number of new dinosaurs species taken from several productive quarries around the Morrison, Colorado area. These new discoveries all came from the Late Jurassic-aged rocks (named the Morrison formation after the nearby town) and included the first discoveries of the now well known Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus).
When the Colorado quarries were exhausted, Marsh sent Lakes north to Como Bluff in Wyoming Territory. Dinosaur bones had been found there not long after the Colorado discoveries. Arthur Lakes spent the 1879-80 season digging out tons of bones from of the Jurassic-aged sediments around Como Bluff, along with William Reed, a railroad worker who had brought the area’s rich fossil cache to Marsh’s attention. It must have been a strange pairing since the Oxford-trained Lakes was the polar opposite of the self-taught frontiersman Reed.
Como was one of the prime battlegrounds in the Fossil Feud between Marsh and Cope. The strata there was far richer than that at Morrison, and produced fossils that eventually filled the display halls at many of the world’s great natural history museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D. C., the Peabody Museum at Yale, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Courtesy Mark RyanLakes kept journals and wrote many letters of his activities at both Morrison and Como Bluff describing his explorations and the natural history of both areas (the journals were published in a book in 1997 by the Smithsonian Institute). These, along with his initial discoveries around Morrison, would probably have been enough to keep his name in the annals of paleontology, but his most important contributions to the science were the many sketches and watercolors he made at both locations. These depictions not only preserve a wonderful pictorial record of seminal events in the history of early American paleontology, but have also aided modern researchers in locating historical quarry sites at both locations. Many of Lakes’ original paintings are reposited at the Peabody Museum at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.
Lakes’ original dinosaur quarry (#1) is preserved today as a historic landmark on the west side of Dinosaur Ridge along Alameda Parkway, overlooking the town of Morrison and the Red Rocks Amphitheater. Some bones, still intact in blocks of hard sandstone, can be seen there, as well as lateral views of some later discovered dinosaur footprints.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe location of Quarry 10, where the remains of several sauropod species were discovered, was long lost until recently. The quarry was re-discovered and re-opened in 2002 by researchers from the nearby Morrison Natural History Museum. Artifacts of Arthur Lakes’ original diggings, such as nails and campfire charcoal have been recovered from the site. The nails would have come from support beams built to hold up the massive sandstone ledge that capped the softer clay layer from where many of the fossil bones were extracted. Lakes’ journal reported a couple collapses at this quarry in his journal. Luckily no one was working the quarry at the time, otherwise they would no doubt have been crushed to death by several tons of sandstone.
Courtesy Mark RyanRe-examination of Lakes' quarries has revealed some new secrets, such as the first footprints from a baby Stegosaurus. Yale has also loaned some of Lakes' original finds back to the museum in Morrison, including a toe bone from a baby Apatosaurus, and the articulated leg bones from the Apatosaurus ajax discovered at Quarry 10 in 1877.
Lakes eventually left the fossil trade, and turned his attention to the geology of Colorado, working for the US Geological Survey, and teaching courses in earth science and mining at what is today the Colorado School of Mines. The library at the school is named in his honor. Lakes continued to write, producing books and several articles about mining in Colorado. He and his sons also consulted for mining companies after he retired from teaching, and later moved to British Columbia to live out his days near his family. He died there in 1917.
If you'd like to learn more about Lakes and his life, there's a new book titled The Legacy of Arthur Lakes by Beth Simmons and Katherine Honda, recently published by The Friends of Dinosaur Ridge.
Courtesy TmkeeseyMove over Lucy, there is a new hominid in town. Her name is Ardi. One could say Ardipithecus ramidus to be formal. She is a 4.4 million year old ancestor of ours and nearly a million years older than Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis). She is by far the most complete of all the older hominids. Researchers have recovered feet, a leg and pelvis, hands and lower arm, along with the majority of a skull and its teeth. As an added bonus, parts of nearly three dozen more specimens were recovered during the work in the Western Afar Rift of northeastern Ethiopia. This is the same region that gave us Lucy and some early Homo species.
Ardi and her kin walked upright, although their gait was debatably awkward. She retained an opposable toe which could still be used to grasp tree branches, but the remainder of the foot was built for the ground. Like later hominids, the teeth reveal a modern structure and lack enlarged canines. Her pelvis is a mosaic between chimps and Lucy. The Ilium developed short and broad more like a human, while the lower pelvis remains similar to a chimp. Ardi’s skull shows that her brain was still the size of a chimp, being smaller than Lucy’s. Its shape, however was more hominid and had begun evolve more advanced functions.
Unlike Lucy in her savannah habitat, Ardi roamed lush but temperate woodlands. More than 150,000 plant and animal fossils were recovered from the sites. Included are 20 new species of small mammals along with monkeys, antelope, elephants, and multitudes of birds. This was a much different environment than that of the savannah. Theories of the development of bipedalism on the open grasslands will be challenged now because of Ardi and her habitat.
This isn’t a recent find. The original excavations of the search teams started in 1992. But years of field work followed by more than a decade of lab time have really unearthed a mass of data about this time and place in history. 47 diverse researchers from all over the world have included excerpts of their findings about Ardi and her environment. The October 2009 special issue of the publication Science details the discovery and ongoing analysis of this latest find in the continuing quest to uncover the origins of man. With debate well underway, I’m positive we’ll all continue to learn more about our past.
more on Hominid evolution
Courtesy PKmousiePoop. Poop. Poop. Poop. There. Have I got your attention? Of course, who can resist a story on poop? It is such a widely discussed topic with a vast array of monikers. Probably not a decent topic of conversation for invited guests or the dinner table, but it does get its chat time. Despite the disgust that it truly is, there is a curious fascination with the whole matter. It can tell you about your health, especially if you have the runs. It can tell you if you’ve been chewing your food well, or if you need to lay off the cheese. If you are a proper biologist, you’ve probably bent down and touched it or even broke it up to examine what passed. Certain scientists, such as Scatologists pursue the study of scat (poop) as a means to tell us more about a certain animal’s habits. If by the Fates, a poo survives intact and becomes old enough to fossilize, then we would call it a coprolite. Coprolites have been recovered from dinosaurs, ancient whales, fish, and prehistoric mammals to name a few.
Recent news from BBC detailed a story about scientists studying the ancient droppings from mammoths. Well sort of. The researchers were examining mud deposits from a lake for fungal spores that are produced in large herbivore dung (mammoth poo). Their research concludes that the extra large mammals of the recent past experienced a slow and steady decline starting about 15,000 years ago. This flies in the face of the current prevailing theory, that an asteroid impact about 12,900 years ago caused global upheaval, world spread wildfire, and then abrupt extinction of the mega mammals. The asteroid theory had already been under assault by lack of evidence in soil samples. Samples taken all over the continent in soil cores extracted from peat bogs and lake bottoms.
Courtesy ecstaticist Was early man really responsible for the start of the downfall of the mammoth? I think undoubtedly we had a hand in their fate, but the answer is most likely multifaceted. Taking a closer look at the dung heaps of the past may well continue to give us a better picture of paleohistory. Just watch where you step!
Nice story on a recent find of a baby mammoth"
Phil Jones, the director of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain, is stepping down from his post pending an investigation. Jones is at the center of a controversy over the CRU’s activity. E-mails released on the web seem to indicate a variety of improper behavior, including manipulating data, destroying data, refusing to share data with other researchers, and trying to prevent researchers with other theories from getting their results published. Jones has not been officially charged with any wrong doing at this point. But until the controversy is settled, he will relinquish his position as director of the unit.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania State University has launched a review of Michael Mann, a University scientist also involved in the controversy and author of several of the e-mails.
We discussed the controversy in more detail in this post, with updated information in the comments.