More than three-and-half years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster spewed millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are launching drones and ocean-going sensor arrays off the Florida coast in an effort to map the path of future oil spills before they devastate beaches and coastal ecosystems.
Researchers from the University of Miami and other scientists are placing 200 GPS-equipped “drifters” in the surf zone just off Fort Walton to map where the ocean currents take the devices. Sensors placed on the ocean surface and seabed will track the movement of colored dye that will be released during the three-week experiment that began on Monday. Two drones outfitted with GoPro cameras will also monitor where the currents take the drifters and dye. Since the drones can only stay aloft for an hour at a time, a camera-carrying kite will also be deployed.
All the data collected will be used to construct a computer model of near-shore ocean currents to predict how future oil spills or other pollutants will disperse as the approach the shore.
Legend says that naughty kids get a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking, so do nice kids get clean energy in theirs, at least metaphorically speaking? It all depends on who plays Santa Claus with your investments or in your nation’s capital. In Pakistan, the government recently announced plans to build a 2200 megawatt nuclear power plant that will cost nearly $10 billion and take six years to construct. No word on whether Pakistanis will demand funds be set aside to deal with a Fukushima or Chernobyl style disaster, each of which will end up costing taxpayers in Japan …
We learned last week that Al Gore has become a vegan, and speculated that it might be because methane emissions from livestock are a surprisingly large driver of climate change. Meanwhile, a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences argues that the U.S. EPA has vastly underestimated methane emissions because it calculates them from the bottom-up -- how much methane does a cow release times how many cows there are, for example -- rather than actually measuring the methane released into the atmosphere.
We often talk about greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide as if they are one and the same. CO2 is by far the most prevalent greenhouse gas, but while much less methane is released into the atmosphere, methane is about 21 times more potent over a 100-year period.
And now we’ve got another reason to worry about methane. New research published in the journal Nature Geoscience finds that “significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf as a result of the degradation of submarine permafrost over thousands of years.”
It’s bad enough that someone thought it was a good idea to build a trash incinerator in one of the most air-polluted areas in Baltimore. But the New York-based company Energy Answers also wants to burn garbage near two schools, including an elementary -- and the state of Maryland seems poised to let it happen.
Here's the dirty truth: Despite landmark reports about the dangers of placing facilities that pollute the air near schools, most notably USA Today’s 2008 series, “The Smokestack Effect,” companies are still allowed to blast asthma- and cancer-causing agents where kids with developing lungs gather to develop their brains.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is finding the fracking issue to be increasingly irritating. Or more to the point, he's finding anti-fracking activists to be increasingly irritating.
Brown is a long-time environmental champion with a strong record of advancing clean energy and climate action, but he doesn't mind the fracking that's going on in his state. In fact, he kinda likes it.
Corn reproduction can be unruly, as I wrote here. It's hard to segregate different crop types. But if you are willing to accept a few illegitimate kernels, it is possible to maintain relatively isolated strains. It all depends on your tolerance for mixing: It's pretty easy to prevent 95 percent of crosses -- it's that last 5 percent that's tricky, and the last .01 percent is nearly impossible.
One of the people I’d wanted to talk to about the issue of intermingling genes was Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes of the University of Missouri. As an economist, Kalaitzandonakes is strictly concerned with the economic effect that errant pollen can have on a farmer. And what Kalaitzandonakes has seen in his experiments has made him optimistic for a future where many different types of corn -- genetically modified or no -- grow side by side without much mixing.
Most pollen falls near the stalk, and planting a barrier row of corn can help protect a field, he said. Furthermore, you can use time to isolate corn as well as space. The flowering times of the plants are fixed, so if you plant one corn a few weeks after another, they won’t crossbreed, even if they are side by side.
Of course, none of this matters if you want perfect purity: Sooner or later a grain of pollen will travel far enough to find a receptive tassel. But hardly anyone is asking for perfect purity. From those concerned that genetically modified seeds might have some unknown health risk, to those who want to make sure that their sweet corn doesn’t have blue kernels, most people allow a margin of tolerance.
A few years ago, I worked at one of those scrappy neighborhood news websites that was supposed to be the future of journalism. (I don’t know if it was the future of journalism. It was certainly a future of journalism.) We rode our bikes to crime scenes and wrote stories about which local developer was having problems with the planning department, which local restaurant had rats. It was very 19th century in a lot of ways.
In one project, we collaborated with a local research university's investigation of the giant hairball of research that is multiple chemical exposure. They were trying to translate that research to a wider audience -- specifically, women who were about to have babies. The public health outreach workers would write what we hoped would be fun, informational articles. I would edit them.
Then the op-eds began to trickle in. In the same way that all fairytales share certain essentials, the op-eds all boiled down to a single narrative: That thing you think is OK? It’s bad for you.
I came to dread the op-eds. My private name for them was “Fear of the Week.” I felt like our readers didn't really have time to be afraid of all these things. I often said to the public health people that if they were so serious about public health, they should be working on legislation, not just education. They responded that legislation was more complicated than I might suspect.
Perhaps, I suggested, they could tell our readers the story of some environmental successes in their field, to leaven the panic a bit. Did anything spring to mind?
Is having local control of a utility the key to ramping up renewable energy? In 2011, Boulder citizens voted to have their city take over the electric utility, joining 1 in 7 Americans served by municipal electric utilities. Their feasibility study suggests they can more than double renewable energy on their system to over 50%, slashing greenhouse gas emissions. A study in Santa Fe, NM, suggests a similar increase (to 45% clean energy) is possible, while reducing electricity costs. Other cities, like Minneapolis, MN, are also studying the option. Many of these communities are inspired by examples like Denton, TX, a municipal …
Q.How do I measure wood smoke from firewood? We want to do a comparison of different firewoods and find the one that has the least smoke emissions, provides the most heat, and burns the longest. We would like to really measure the smoke. Any ideas?
Scotts Valley, Calif.
A. Dearest Patricia,
If you listen carefully this time of year, you can almost hear it: the crackling of thousands of wood stoves firing up for a season of home heating. Unfortunately, the cozy glowing of all those stoves has a serious downside: a smoky, sooty smudge on local air quality.
Wood smoke emits all kinds of nasties [PDF], including benzene and formaldehyde, but the primary culprit is particulate matter (PM2.5), a mix of tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs when inhaled and wreak all kinds of havoc. The stuff is linked to respiratory illness, chronic lung problems, cancer, and premature death -- so your desire to find the cleanest-burning logs possible is a vote for both air quality and personal health for you and your neighbors.
I admire the citizen-scientist pluck behind your wish to analyze and compare different types of wood smoke yourself, Patricia. Unfortunately, this is currently pretty tough to do unless you A) are an atmospheric scientist with access to sophisticated sampling tools, or B) have an extra $10,000 to $50,000 lying around to spend on said tools. I checked with Matthew Harper, air monitoring lead for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. He said you could use a handheld particle counter, the cheapest of which will run you a mere $300 to $500, but these devices probably aren’t accurate enough to distinguish the nuances between, say, hickory versus oak smoke.
But don’t hang up your lab coat just yet: There are still a few worthwhile experiments to be done.
This 1,900-mile pipeline will carry gas condensate or ultra-light oil from an Illinois terminal northwest to Alberta, where it will be used to thin tar-sands oil so it can travel through pipelines. Without this kind of diluent, tar-sands oil is too thick and sludgy to transport. "Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers," reports DeSmogBlog.
Houston-based Kinder Morgan is the company behind the $260 million Cochin Reversal Project, which will reverse and expand an existing pipeline. The pipeline will be fed by fracking operations in the Eagle Ford Shale area in Texas.