Friday, December 28, 2012

A Bunch Of Sea Animals Washed Ashore In 2012

A dog walker discovered more than 40,000 pounds of dead herring on a Norwegian Beach at the beginning of the year. It's not clear what caused the mass death, but some people thought a giant fish or killer whale chased the herring to shore.


Millions Of Mysterious Tiny Purple Creatures Invade A Hawaii Beach

Dina Spector

Purple creature

In the second news of the day of things turning up on beaches where they normally shouldn't be, millions of strange creatures have washed up on the south shore of O'ahu in Hawaii, KHON 2's Brianne Randle reports. 

The unknown animals are tiny (about the size of a pea), purple and look like little crabs.  

It's really incredible because scientists have never seen anything like this before. 

Read more:


Hundreds Of Dead Penguins Mysteriously Washed Up In Brazil

Marine biologists were puzzled by the death of 500 Magellanic penguins that were found on a beach in Southern Brazil in July. Magellenic penguins are threatened by oil pollution, but these animals seemed to be healthy and no oil stains were found on their bodies.

Read more:


A Bunch Of Sea Animals Washed Ashore In 2012



Many sea animals (and at least one land walker) seem to have lost their way this year, winding up on sandy shores instead of their native ocean home. 

For the majority of these critters, the story did not end well. 

Here's a look back at all the bizarre creatures, and parts of creatures, that have been discovered on beaches in 2012. 

Thousands of Humboldt squid committed mass "suicide" in December. The cause of these mass standings is still a mystery, but some scientists think that a toxic chemical released by red tides messes with the squids' brain chemicals and results in them becoming disoriented.

Thousands Of Drunk Squid Have Beached Themselves On California's Shores >

A malnourished finback whale, which are endangered, beached itself on a Breezy Point beach in Queen, New York this week. Rescue workers were unable to save the sickly whale and it died a day later.

Beached New York Whale Is Dead >!

A mangled, hairless creature, dubbed the 'East River monster," caused quite a stir in April when it was spotted under the Brooklyn Bridge. The bloated carcass, which was disposed of by the New York City parts department before it could positively identified, is thought to be a raccoon.

Zoologist Helps Identify The 'Manhattan Monster' >

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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If You Feed A Worm Metal, It Will Produce Tiny Electronic Components



Worms are useful in the garden and great for fish bait, but one of their talents has remained hidden — until now. Scientists have discovered that worms can manufacture tiny semiconductors.  

At King's College in London, researchers fed an ordinary red worm, Lumbricus rubellus, soil laced with metals. The worm produced quantum dots, nano-sized semiconductors that are used in imaging, LED technologies and solar cells. The experiment was published in the Dec. 23 issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The worms created these electronic components because of their ability to detoxify their body tissue. When worms ingest the metals, proteins in their body shuttle these "toxins" to tissues called chloragogen cells that are similar to a liver in mammals. In the case of cadmium, a molecule called metallothionein attaches to it to take it away. Through several chemical steps the worm separates the metals from the organic molecules they are attached to and stores them in tiny cavities its body, but not forever: eventually whatever toxic metals the worm eats are excreted. 

Squirmy semiconductor factories

In the experiment the scientists spiked soil with cadmium chloride and sodium tellurite (sodium, telluride and oxygen). The ability of worms to process cadmium is well known, but it wasn't clear what they would do with the tellurium in the sodium tellurite.

The worms ended up making tiny particles of cadmium telluride, a crystalline compound that is also a semiconductor. Those tiny particles — called quantum dots — were then taken out of the wo! rms' tis sue. The dots themselves are only nanometers across. [Twisted Physics: 7 Mind-Bending Findings]

In biological imaging, quantum dots are used in place of dyes because they can be "tuned" to glow at specific wavelengths. Cadmium telluride dots, for example, glow green when hit with blue light. The researchers tested the dots on animal cells and found they worked as well as the ones created in laboratories.

The success doesn't mean that thousands of worms are to be sacrificed for dot-making, said co-author Mark Green, a reader in nanotechnology at King's College.

"The interesting bit is that semiconductor quantum dots, which emit light, were made in a living animal," he told Livescience via email. "The aim of the work wasn’t to come up with a new synthetic process of making dots that are better than bench-synthesized materials, it was just to see if we could do solid-state chemistry in a living animal — and it appears we can!"

A dotty idea

Green said the idea occurred to him several years back when he was an Oxford University post-doctoral researcher. He heard a lecturer note that animals use certain proteins to get rid of toxic metals such as cadmium. Green realized he was doing something similar to make cadmium telluride quantum dots in the lab, sans worms.

He wondered if some extra chemical might spur worms to make their own cadmium telluride quantum dots.

"The big problem," he said, "was that I didn't know enough biology, and I could see immediately that trying to get the dots out of an animal would be a problem."

So Green shelved the idea for a few years, until he met Stephen Stürzenbaum, the lead author of the paper. Stürzenbaum told Green that he knew exactly where cadmium given to worms went: to the detoxifying chloragogen cells. Since the cadmium &mdas! h; and t hus the nanoscale dots — would end up there, it would be relatively easy to get them out of the worm.

So they tried it. It worked.

"We were very surprised, didn't really expect it to work that easily," Green said.

The quantum dots Green and his team made aren't quite the quality of the lab-bench versions. That may change, though. "We'd like to think we can play around with some of the chemistry and make them better," Green said.

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100 Million Of These Neon Orange Shellfish Were Just Found In Scottish Waters


Flame Shell

A colony of 100 million orange-tentacled shellfish, called flame shells, has been found in the waters west of Scotland.  

This is potentially the largest grouping of flame shells in the world, Scotland's environment secretary Richard Lochhead said in a statement

The flame shell is like a scallop, but has bright orange tentacles that stick out between the two shells.  

The neon orange creature is important because it builds nests on the sea floor that provide protection for hundreds of other species. 

The flame shell reef, which covers 185 acres, was discovered during a survey of Loch Alsh, a sea inlet between Skye and the Scottish mainland. The survey was commissioned by Marine Scotland as part of an effort to identify new Marine Protected Areas. 

The new information about the size of the bed will help officials decide if they should recommend the area for protection.  

SEE ALSO: Otters Are Now Free To Invade Southern California

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Peel-and-Stick Solar Cells Can Power Anything


New Peel-and-Stick Solar Cells Can Power Anything You usually see solar cells on houses and buildings; those aren't the only things they can power, obviously, but they're too rigid to be adaptable enough to put most other places. Finally, though, Stanford researchers have invented the flexible photovaltaics that peel and stick like decals. Can you say solar-powered business card?

These flimsier solar cells don't have to be applied to a hard final layer, which lets them move more than their firmer counterparts. The new versions can be attached to pretty much anything, like a sticker. explains the how these cells are created:

First, a 300-nanometer film of nickel (Ni) is deposited on a silicon/silicon dioxide (Si/SiO2) wafer. Thin-film solar cells are then deposited on the nickel layer utilizing standard fabrication techniques, and covered with a layer of protective polymer. A thermal release tape is then attached to the top of the thin-film solar cells to augment their transfer off of the production wafer and onto a new substrate.

So what does this mean in practical terms? You could theoretically use adhesive solar cells to power pretty much anything: cellphones, portable gadgets, watches, smart clothing, homes, etc. And there's potential that flexy photovaltaics could facilitate the creation of new products we've never even heard of. And you thought sticker tech peaked at scratch-n-sniff. []

Image credit: Chi Hwan Lee, Stanford School of Engineering


Monday, December 17, 2012

Thousands Of Drunk Squid Have Beached Themselves On California's Shores This Week


dead squid on beach

Thousands of jumbo squid have beached themselves on central California shores this week, committing mass "suicide."

But despite decades of study into the phenomenon in which the squid essentially fling themselves onto shore, the cause of these mass beachings have been a mystery.

But a few intriguing clues suggest poisonous algae that form so-called red tides may be intoxicating the Humboldt squid and causing the disoriented animals to swim ashore in Monterey Bay, said William Gilly, a marine biologist at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, Calif.

Each of the strandings has corresponded to a red tide, in which algae bloom and release an extremely potent brain toxin, Gilly said. This fall, the red tides have occurred every three weeks, around the same time as the squid beachings, he said. (The squid have been stranding in large numbers for years, with no known cause.)

"It's not exactly a smoking gun, but it's pretty circumstantial evidence that there is some link," Gilly told LiveScience. [See Photos of the Stranded Humboldt Squid]

Decades old mystery

For decades, beach lovers have reported bizarre mass strandings where throngs of Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas), also called jumbo squid, fling themselves ashore, said Hannah Rosen, a marine biology doctoral candidate at the Hopkins Marine Station.

"For some reason they just start swimming for the beach," Rosen told LiveScience. "They'll asphyxiate because they're out of the water too long. People have tried to! throw t hem back in the water, and a lot of times the squid will just head right back for the beach."

Before this, scientists in 2002 and 2006 noticed mass squid strandings from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to Alaska, Gilly said.

But the cause of the mass squid deaths was an enigma. The strandings seem to happen whenever schools of squid invade new territory, leading some to suggest the creatures simply get lost and don't realize they are out of the water until it is too late.

The squid washing ashore are juvenile size, about 1 foot (0.3 meters) long, and hadn't been traveled to Monterey Bay before this fall. This season's stranding, which started Oct. 9, happened around the time Humboldt squid entered the bay.

red tideDeadly algae

Other scientists have proposed that red tides that release a lethal toxin called domoic acid may be intoxicating the squid and disorienting them.

But when researchers tested the stranded squid for domoic acid, they found only trace amounts of the chemical, Gilly said.

The poisonous chemical mimics a brain chemical called glutamate in mammals, though domoic acid is 10,000 times more potent than glutamate.

The similar structure means domoic acid can bind to glutamate receptors on neurons. In turn, the receptor opens channels that let calcium into the cell. At high levels the poison causes brain cells to go haywire and fire like crazy, so much that they fill up with calcium, burst and die, Gilly said. [10 Weird Facts About the Brain]

Humans who eat shellfish contaminated with this red-tide toxin get amnesic shellfish poisonin! g, b ecause the toxin destroys their brain's memory center called the hippocampus. Sea lions that eat similarly poisoned anchovies or krill go into seizures or become disoriented and behave bizarrely.

However, no one has tested the effects of lower levels of the chemical on squid.

Potential cause?

But new evidence points to the red tide as at least one cause of the mass strandings. While most sea life follows daily tidal or lunar cycles, the mass deaths seem to be happening every three weeks. That led one of Gilly's graduate students, R. Russell Williams, to see if something in the environment was leading them astray.

"He was fixated in finding some kind of environmental signal," Gilly said.

Russell found that red tides occurred every three weeks, around the same time as the squid strandings, suggesting a link, Gilly said.

While past researchers have only found trace levels of the toxic red-tide chemical in stranded squid, low doses of domoic could essentially be making the squid drunk. Combined with navigating unfamiliar waters, that could cause the mass die-offs.

"They could be tipped over the edge by something like domoic acid that might cloud their judgment," Gilly said.

This isn't the first time Gilly and his colleagues have been led on a CSI-like hunt for Humboldt squid. In 2011, they figured out why the elusive jumbo squid left their usual feeding grounds off the Baja California coast in the winter of 2009 to 2010. Apparently, the squid had moved north, following their prey, small, bioluminescent fish called lantern fish, which had also moved north due to El Niño weather patterns.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In 30 Years, The Most Populous Regions Of The World Will Also Be The Least Energy Intensive


ExxonMobil's recent report The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040 includes a forecast of changing global demographics over the next thirty years based on World Bank Estimates.

The section is highlighted by this graphic which illustrates just how large the Asian and African markets will be:

World Population, 2010-2040


The Asia Pacific's population will be about eight times greater than the population of North America, and Africa will increase its population by nearly two times the current North America's over the next thirty years.

These regions are also currently among the least energy-intensive on the planet.  And despite the massive population growth, energy demand per capita is expected to stay low:

Residential energy intensity

SEE ALSO: AMERICA 2050: Here's How The Country Will Look Three Decades From Now

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Scientists Revolutionize Pina Colada Production With Coconut-Flavored Pineapples


Scientists Revolutionize Pina Colada Production With Coconut-Flavored PineapplesAustralia's Department of Agriculture has announced that its researchers have made a breakthrough that will send shockwaves across beach resorts and tiki-themed restaurants around the world. Through careful breeding they've managed to produce a sweet pineapple that also tastes like coconut, reducing future Pina Colada recipes to just two ingredients.

The new breed of fruit, known as the AusFestival pineapple, has actually been in development for over a decade. And the researchers didn't start out with the dream of replacing Mother Nature, just improving on her work by developing a low-acid pineapple. But the AusFestival turned out to be the fruits, or fruit, of their labor, and the country has plans to plant and commercially grow them in just a couple of years. [Daily Mail via Dvice]

Image by svry & Antonov Roman & Alex Staroseltsev/Shutterstock


Monday, December 3, 2012

The Science Behind the Simplest Type of Solar Power


The Science Behind the Simplest Type of Solar PowerGarden hoses are the devil. They lay there, quietly baking in the hot summer sun, just waiting for some dumb schmuck to come along and try to take a sip—then BAM! A faceful of scalding hot water.

However, this painful phenomenon is not without benefits—hoses turn into miniature geysers thanks to solar thermal energy (STE), one of the oldest and greenest renewable energy sources known to man. Unlike photovoltaic technology, STE harnesses the sun's rays to generate heat rather than electricity. In residential use, STE usually boosts the efficiency of water heaters, heat pumps, and absorption chillers. In large-scale installations, it can be used to generate electricity. Here's how it works.

The use of STE dates back hundreds of years. In 1760, Swiss naturalist Horace de Saussure devised a solar oven built out of a half-inch tall pine box, topped with glass pane. Placed in sunshine, the glass pane and enclosed area worked in tandem to concentrate incoming solar energy and prevent its escape (aka the greenhouse effect). It was effective enough to boil water to a temperature of 228 degrees F. "It is a known fact," Saussure said, "that a room, a carriage, or any other place is hotter when the rays of the sun pass through glass."

STE-harnessing technology continued to develop into the 20th century when, in 1881, Charles Kemp patented the first passive solar water heater, today known as "batch water heaters," and sold them as the Climax System. To make domestic hot water, it used a trio of water tanks set in a sunny greenhouse on the south wall of a home. In 1909, William Bailey improved upon this design by separating the heating element—panels filled with copper water pipes—from the storage tanks. This allowed the system to continuously heat larger quantities of water for a houshold throughout the day. Bailey sold 4,000 of his Day and Night Solar Hot Water Heaters over the next nine years. But an adundance of cheap fossil fuels was already reducing the demand for this technology.

Reducing—but not eliminating. Even as the world economy exploded with the advent of the internal combustion engine, STE technology continued to evolve. Today, low-temperatue collectors make up a vast majority of STE technology in America. These systems, commonly used to heat pools, operate at or below the surrounding air temperature. They're basic: A black plastic mat, placed over the pool, transfers the sun's energy into the pool and holds the heat in the water.

Medium-temperature collectors, which operate at temperatures significantly higher than the ambient air, have also found a niche heating homes and businesses. Solar water heating, like Kemp's Climax, uses solar water panels to continually heat a large supply of water. They can be passive, like Kemp's, but can also be pump-driven, active systems. Systems like these can provide domestic hot water, or they can be used with heat pumps to efficiently heat and cool entire houses. Some of the more creative new applications of these systems can be seen at the biennial Solar Decathlon competition, a contest among college students to design and build a home that achieves net-zero energy consumption.

High-temperature collectors are another beast entirely. These systems are used exclusively in energy production. They occupy square miles of land, and reach temperatures into the thousands of degrees. The solar furnace at Odeillo in the French Pyrenees-Orientales tops out at nearly 3,800 degrees Celsius. These plants rely on a huge number of reflective collection plates, which can be flat, trough, or parabolically-shaped, to concentrate the Sun's rays on a single point to super-heat a fluid—like synthetic oil, molten salt or pressurized steam—which then drives a Sterling, steam, or gas turbine engine. Unfortunately, as much as 70 percent of this heat is lost before it can be put to work by the engine.

The US built nine such power plants, between 1984 and 1991, in the Mojave Desert in California. Still in operation today, they together produce about 354 megawatts annually, enough to power a half million homes. Sandia National Labs also runs a solar farm just outside of Albuquerque, NM. The only testing facility of its kind in the US, the Solar Thermal Test Facility at Sandia National Laboratories can focus six, 38-foot-wide parabolas, each comprised of 82 mirrors, at a seven-inch wide target and heat it to over 650 degrees C. "That'll melt almost anything known to man," Sandia engineer Chuck Andraka told Popular Mechanics. "It's incredibly hot."

While such solar farms take up a large amount of space, they have the capability to deliver an equally large amount of energy. Industry experts like Fred Morse, a senior advisor to Spanish power utility, Abengoa, believe that were the Southwest's 87,000 square miles of open, flat, and sunny land were used for a solar farming, it alone would generate 11,200 gigawatts of power. But the current, reasonable estimates put the total installed STE-collection base at just 35 gigawatts by 2020. Still, the entire country generated 1,138 gigawatts in 2010. Even that lower estimate significantly alter the amount of electricity generated by renewable sources.

[How Stuff Works - Popular Mechanics - CNet - Greentechnica - Wikipedia 1, 2, 3, 4 - Radiant Solar - California Solar Center - ECS Solar - Image: tangencial /Shutterstock]


Friday, November 30, 2012

Bird flu kills 4,000 wild ducks in Russia


Around 4,000 wild ducks have been found dead in Russia's southern Krasnodar region, officials said on Friday, blaming H5 bird flu for the mass deaths.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Animals Are Literally Being Dissolved Alive Because of Acid in the Ocean


Animals Are Literally Being Dissolved Alive Because of Acid in the Ocean The next time you're having a bit of a bad day, consider this: in a part of the Southern Ocean, sea snails are literally dissolving day by day, thanks to the increasingly high amounts of man-made acidification. Being a little late to that meeting beats being dissolved alive, eh?

Geraint Tarling of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge and some of his colleagues capture some sea snails from the Southern Ocean back in 2008, and after studying them carefully, they can now say that similar snails are losing their shells to acid at this very moment. As Tarling put it, "This is actually happening now."

This acidification is the result of CO2 air pollution working its way into the water where it forms carbonic acid, which eats away at the calcium shells of sea snails and other mollusks. This is the first solid evidence that mollusks are being adversely affected by acidification, which has been happening faster than any time in the past 300 million years. Solutions to the problem include frantically dumping large quantities of limestone in the ocean, or laying off a little on CO2 emissions. The latter is probably the most practically, but if we don't get to it soon, it might be limestone time before you know it. [New Scientist]


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

This All Wood Stool Is Still As Comfy As a Cushion


This All Wood Stool Is Still As Comfy As a CushionThe next time you find yourself lost in the woods and need a comfy place to sit while you wait for rescue, remember designer Mary Dickerson's clever Ash Cushion stool.

Built by vertically grouping long pieces of plyable ash wood that have been carefully notched so they compress under pressure, the wooden stool doesn't have a shred of stuffing but still looks comfier than half the stuff in Ikea's catalog. But at least you can buy those. If you want an Ash Cushion to call your own you'll need to break out your wood-working tools and build one yourself. [MoCo Loco via Notcot]


Monday, November 19, 2012

Herbed Windows


Herbow is a rain shelter and a window herb garden. A very unique and unconventional combination, but one that works! Given the way counties like Japan have been upping their efforts in going green by growing creepers and other such plants on their building's external walls, to lower internal temperatures and conserving electricity, these kind of gardens suit the urban landscape perfectly.

Herbow is a window planter 'tray' that enables people to grow small crops outside their windows while shielding their interior space from the rain. By swinging Herbow upwards, it becomes a window shelter that blocks the harsh sunlight and the rain. At the same time, the plants are watered and grow naturally. An eave has been designed to extend over the shelter to stop water falling through the gap between Herbow and the window frame. Holes on two sides of Herbow allow for drainage of excess water.

Herbow is a 2012 red dot award: design concept winner.

Designers: Hsu Hao-Po, Chang Yu-Hui & Chang Chung-Wei

Yanko Design
Timeless Designs - Explore wonderful concepts from around the world!
Yanko Design Store - We are about more than just concepts. See what's hot at the YD Store!
(Herbed Windows was originally posted on Yanko Design)

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  2. Energetic Windows
  3. BlackBerry with Windows?


Light and air: Sunlight-driven CO2 fixation


(—The increased use of renewable energy sources, particularly sunlight, is highly desirable, as is industrial production that is as CO2-neutral as possible. Both of these wishes could be fulfilled if CO2 could be used as the raw material in a system driven by solar energy. Japanese researchers have now introduced an approach to this type of process in the journal Angewandte Chemie. Their method is based on a principle similar to natural photosynthesis.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Grow Veggies In Your Apartment With Windowfarms


windowfarms hydroponic farming

Imaging having fresh lettuce and herbs available any day, any season. That usually seems like a pipe dream in the tiny fourth-floor walk up apartments of New York, but Brooklyn-based start up Windowfarms says you can have it all — by growing plants vertically in your windows.

We previously introduced you to the windowfarms idea back in May of 2011, when they were just training people to make window gardens using plastic bottles.

The Brooklyn-based company has expanded their operations and even created a commercial product — a set of four vertically hanging pots and the water system to grow plants will set you back $119.95.

Their first batch of planters is sold out, but you can get on their waiting list for the second batch. We saw the planters in action as an installation in the new American Museum of Natural History exhibit Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture. There, we talked to Britta Riley and got the scoop on the planters.

The garden display holds 280 plants a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The exhibit opens November 17, 2012 and runs until August 11, 2013.

Windowfarms are vertical gardens designed to grow food year-round in your home. Windows provide the light and the warmth inside keeps the plants happy all year long.

Hydroponic systems do not use soil. The plants are grown in water with organic material holding it together. Here a stevia plant is grown in rock wool.

In the Windowfarms system, nutrient rich water is continuously pumped up from a reserve. The water travels to the top plant then goes down from one container to the next. The water nourishes the the plant roots until it reaches the reservoir and repeats the journey.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Microsoft Dodges $210,000 Fine By Wasting Millions Of Watts Of Electricity


Facebook's Massive Prineville, Ore., Data Center Server farms like these contain all of the data users store in "the cloud," putting huge strains on local, usually small-town power grids. Tom Raftery via Wikimedia
After overestimating its energy needs, the software giant allegedly strong-armed a small-town utility into reducing a six-figure penalty by threatening to needlessly burn millions of watts.

The New York Times is taking data centers and those who build them to task today in two different pieces, one of which paints Microsoft as an energy-hungry bully to a small Washington state community. The Times reports that Microsoft wasted millions of watts of energy in December of last year by unnecessarily running huge heating units and threatened to waste millions more if a $210,000 penalty for overestimating its energy use was not rescinded by the local utility. Naturally Microsoft got its way, but the showdown underscores the massive strains these server farms place on local energy grids.


Your Clothes Could Soon Scrub Pollution Directly From The Air


Field of Jeans CatClo works particularly well on denim. DED Associates
A new laundry additive turns ordinary garments into wearable air-scrubbers that pull nitrogen oxides from the atmosphere.

Your washing machine and dryer are both energy intensive machines, but soon your rinse cycle could start giving something back. A liquid laundry additive called "CatClo" (for "catalytic clothing") developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield and London College of Fashion in the UK could imbue clothing with titanium dioxice nanoparticles that scrub nitrogen oxides from the air and oxidize them in the fabric. On the next wash, these nitrogen oxides are simply washed away.

Via a press release from the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council:

The nitrogen oxides treated in this way are completely odourless and colourless and pose no pollution hazard as they are removed harmlessly when the item of clothing is next washed, if they haven't already been dissipated harmlessly in sweat. The additive itself is also completely harmless and the nanoparticles are unnoticeable from the wearer's point of view.

The researchers say one person wearing clothes treated with CatClo--and it's worth noting clothes only need to be washed in the additive once, not with every wash--can remove 5 grams of nitrogen oxides from the air per day, which they equate to roughly the output of the average family vehicle. Not a bad haul for simply getting dressed in the morning.

Radiohead-scored, high-production-value promotional video below.

(Fe) Catalytic Clothing from Protein® TV on Vimeo.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Humans Caused The Collapse Of The Great Barrier Reef


Great Barrier Reef

The expansion of European settlement in Australia triggered a massive coral collapse at the Great Barrier Reef more than 50 years ago, according to a new study.

The study, published Nov. 6 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that runoff from farms clouded the pristine waters off the Queensland coast and killed the natural branching coral species, leaving a stunted, weedy type of coral in its place.

The findings suggest that decades before climate change and reef tourism, humans were disrupting the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef.

"There was a very significant shift in the coral community composition that was associated with the colonization of Queensland," said study co-author John Pandolfi, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland Australia.

Europeans began to colonize Queensland, Australia, in the 1860s, cutting down forests to make way for sheep grazing and sugar plantations. By the 1930s, large amounts of fertilizer and pesticide-laden runoff poured from rivers into the nearby ocean.

Several recent studies have shown that snorkelers and climate change kill coral, and one study found that half of the majestic Great Barrier Reef has vanished over the last 30 years.

But Pandolfi's team wondered whether humans had been altering reef ecology for much longer.

To find out, the team drilled sediment cores, 6.5 to 16.5 feet (2 to 5 meters) long, from the seafloor at Pelorus Island, an island fringed by coral reefs off the Queensland coast. When coral dies, new coral sprout on the skeletons of old organisms and! ocean s ediments gradually bury them in place, Pandolfi told LiveScience.

By dating different layers of that sediment, the team reconstructed the story of the reef.

The fast-growing Acropora coral dominated the reef for a millennium. This massive, three-dimensional coral can grow to 16 feet (5 m) high and span 65 feet (20 m) across, forming a labyrinth of nooks and crannies for marine life to hide in, Pandolfi said. [Image Gallery: Great Barrier Reef Through Time]

"They're like the big buildings in the city, they house a lot of the biodiversity" he said.

But somewhere between 1920 and 1955, the Acropora stopped growing altogether and a slow-growing, spindly coral called Pavona took its place.

That spelled trouble for the panoply of animal species that shelter in the reef, and for the nearby coastline, because the native Acropora species provide wave resistance to shelter harbors.

The team believes that over time, polluted runoff clouded the normally pristine Pacific water and poisoned the native species. The same polluted water fueled an algal bloom that choked out the native coral species when they tried to grow back, he said.

"They just weren't able to come back after the 1950s."

While the findings suggest humans have been damaging reefs far longer than previously thought, the problem has a straightforward, local solution: Reduce polluted runoff into the ocean, Pandolfi said.

"Any kind of measures that are going to improve the water quality should help those reefs to recover."

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