Monday, April 22, 2013

Pesticide Suspected in Bee Die-Offs Could Also Kill Birds


Pesticide Suspected in Bee Die-Offs Could Also Kill Birds
Controversial pesticides linked to catastrophic honeybee declines in North America and Europe may also kill other creatures, posing ecological threats even graver than feared, say some scientists.


Fwd: Article: Magnitude-5.9 earthquake jolts Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the Mexican state of Michoacan on Sunday night, causing buildings to sway 200 miles away in Mexico City.

Some people evacuated buildings in the capital, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. State officials in Michoaca...

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IBM solar collector will concentrate the power of 2,000 suns, keep its cool


IBM alliance's HCPVT solar collector produces 25kW of power, keeps its cool

Modern solar collectors can concentrate only so much energy for safety's sake: too much in one place and they risk cooking themselves. An IBM-led group is working on a new collector dish that could avoid that damage while taking a big step forward in solar power efficiency. The hundreds of photovoltaic chips gathering energy at the center will be cooled by the same sort of microchannel water cooling that kept Aquasar from frying, letting each chip safely concentrate 2,000 times the solar energy it would normally face. The collector also promises to do more with sunlight once it's trapped: since the microchannels should absorb more than half of the waste heat, their hot water byproduct can either be filtered into drinkable water or converted into air conditioning.

As you might imagine, IBM sees more than just the obvious environmental benefit. When a receiver will generate about 25kW of energy while costing less to make through cheaper mirrors and structures, a fully developed solar array could be an affordable replacement for coal power that delivers gre! ater ind ependence -- picture remote towns that need a fresh water supply. IBM doesn't estimate when we'll see production of these collectors beyond several prototypes, but the finished work will likely be welcome to anyone frustrated by the scalability of current solar energy.

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Source: IBM


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Article: We may be waving goodbye to Pacific island nations sooner than we thought

Rising sea levels due to climate change may inundate low-lying Pacific island nations far earlier than had previously been predicted, according to a new study.

Existing computer models rely on what scientists call "passive bathtub inundation" to predict how an increase in sea levels will flood ...

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Friday, April 12, 2013

These Apartments Grow Their Own A/C


These Apartments Grow Their Own A/CA newly completed 15-unit apartment building in Hamburg Germany is already turning heads. Though, with a facade covered in sun-tracking algae tanks, it's hard not to stare.

Dubbed the Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House, the approximately €5 million building was designed by Splitterwerk Architects and funded by the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA), a long-running exhibition series showcasing cutting edge techniques and architectural concepts, for this year's International Building Exhibition – 2013.

These Apartments Grow Their Own A/CA total of 129 algae culturing tanks are affixed to the East and West sides of the building via an automated external scaffolding structure that constantly turns the tanks towards the sun. The plant cultures are fed through an integrated tubing system, CO2 is pumped in as well.

According to Arup's Europe Research Leader, Jan Wurm, who collaborated with Splitterwerk on the project:

The algae flourish and multiply in a regular cycle until they can be harvested. They are then separated from the rest of the algae and transferred as a thick pulp to the technical room of the BIQ. The little plants are then fermented in an external biogas plant, so that they can be used again to generate biogas. Algae are particularly well suited for this, as they produce up to five times as much biomass per hectare as terrestrial plants and contain many oils that can be used for energy.

Not only do these tanks provide shade for every level of the building during the summer and biogas for heating during the winter, the facade itself collects excess heat not being used by the algae, like a solar thermal system. That heat can then either be used immediately or stored in 80-meter-deep, borine-filled borehole heat exchangers located under the structure. Total fossil fuels used in this process: zero.

[IBA Hamburg via Phys Org - Images: IBA]


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Farming Nemo: How Aquaculture Will Feed 9 Billion Hungry People


Farming Nemo: How Aquaculture Will Feed 9 Billion Hungry PeopleShrimp fountains don't grow on trees, you know—nor do Ahi Tuna steaks, Fish McBites, or fried calamari. But that hasn't stopped an increasingly affluent human population from annually demanding more and more seafood. As a result, an estimated 85 percent of the ocean's fish stocks are now either fully exploited or overfished. But an ancient form of aquatic farming, and current $60 billion-a-year industry, may hold the key to both protecting wild fish populations and your local sushi shop.

Conventional current fisheries are facing a crisis of supply, as any show on the History or Discovery channels can tell you (looking at you, Big Shrimpin'/Deadliest Catch/Swords/Wicked Tuna). Not only are fishermen pulling fewer fish out of the sea, the ones that are harvested are far smaller than those caught just a few decades ago. What's more, overly broad Area of Effect methods used to capture desired fish—long lines and trawl nets, for example—all too often ensnare and kill marine mammals and fish, known as by-catch, or damage delicate habitats. While many countries have enacted strict treaties and regulations dictating what, when, and how many fish can be gathered during a season, many fisheries are still treated, essentially, as non-renewable resources.

But that's changing with the help of aquaculture. This practice is the agricultural revolution to industrial fishing's hunter-gatherer method. Instead of sending out fleets of ships across the ocean in search of wild quarry, the fish are bred and raised in enclosed, human-controlled (or at least monitored) environments.

Farming Nemo: How Aquaculture Will Feed 9 Billion Hungry PeopleAccording to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), aquaculture "is understood to mean the farming of aquatic organisms including fish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Farming implies some form of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking, feeding, protection from predators, etc." We're domesticating fish and doing a damn fine job of it with the annual production volume of farmed fish on the verge of surpassing wild-caught. The US aquaculture industry alone produces over a billion dollars worth of seafood annually. We didn't invent it though.

In The Past

Aquaculture has been around since at least 6000 BC when the indigenous Gunditjmara people living near what's now Victoria, Australia began raising eels in a 39 square mile patch of volcanic floodplains controlled by channels and dams. The Chinese raised carp trapped in lakes by receding flood waters for food as far back as 2500 BC (and through their efforts, invented goldfish). The Romans bred fish in grand ponds, as did early Christian monasteries throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.

While dropping transportation costs and increasing speeds made moving fresh fish inland feasible and reduced the demand for aquaculture by the middle of the 19th century, research continued. Both experimental and commercial hatcheries opened throughout the US and Canada during that time, including the Woods Hole hatchery which operated from 1885 to the 1950s, and the Dildo Island fish hatchery in Newfoundland, which was the most advanced hatchery to date when it opened in 1889, producing and releasing 200 million cod per year back into the North Atlantic. Even aquatic plants like seaweed and kelp have been intentionally grown for harvest. Californians harvested and managed kelp supplies during WWI as they did other wartime resources.

Farming Nemo: How Aquaculture Will Feed 9 Billion Hungry PeopleThese efforts were modest at best though, often more just a way to keep wild-caught fish until ready to eat rather than the fully-domesticated agricultural systems developed for cattle or chickens. In fact, only three percent of the roughly 443 maritime species raised in 2007 were domesticated before the start of the 20th Century and 106 of those species being domesticated only within the preceding decade.

Fish Out Of Water

Today, however, the US is the second largest seafood importer worldwide and one of its largest exporters. US aquaculture raises salmon, tilapia, striped bass, sturgeon, walleye, catfish and yellow perch as well as sport fish like rainbow trout and bait fish like minnows. Catfish is the largest US aquaculture sector, notching 40 percent of all sales. They're typically grown in large freshwater ponds throughout the Gulf Coast as are most of these other species, save for the salmon, which are grown in fresh water tanks then transferred to salt-water pens to mature. Crawfish, abalone, oysters, clams, mussels, even alligators and turtles are all produced in large aquaculture systems throughout the country. Aquatic plants destined for wetland restorations and algae like spirulina that's used for nutritional supplements and fish food are also regularly grown using aquaculture.

Farming Nemo: How Aquaculture Will Feed 9 Billion Hungry PeopleWorldwide, the four most-raised species are, in order: carp, salmon, tilapia and catfish. Tuna is not on that list due to the species' massive size, feed requirements, and the fact that nobody could entice them to get it on in captivity until 2009—fisheries in the Mediterranean used to have to net young blue fin at sea and drag them back to off-shore pens for maturing. While more efficient than conventional fishing, this method is not without drawbacks. Take Alaskan salmon, for example. As part of the state's hatchery program, artificially fertilized salmon roe is cultured in a hatchery and fed powdered fish meal until the juvenile salmon, or smolts, are big enough to move out to salt-water sea cages, which keep the salmon in and predators out. These huge pens can be up to 100 feet wide and hold 353,147 cubic feet of water as well as 90,000 fish. Once the fish are large enough to compete with wild salmon, they're released into the open ocean, returning to spawn at the hatchery in two to six years, depending on the type of salmon.

Isn't That Bad For You?

Many of these fresh water hatcheries are the "flow-through" variety, which need an intensive supply of running water to carry away waste—up to a 100 tons for every kilogram of smolts. The growing fish require a large amount of feed as well—feed typically made out of wild fish and offal. Three pounds of wild fish are required, on average, to produce a pound of farmed salmon (which is totally the opposite of what we're going for). What's more, the salt water pens do very little to keep waste, disease, and parasites from spreading from the salmon stock into the surrounding environment. And if the pen is situated in an area with insufficient water flow, toxic heavy metals will accumulate on the seafloor and wreak havoc on the local environment.

These toxins also build up in the salmon themselves at concentrations far higher than in their wild counterparts. A 2004 Cornell study found significant amounts of organochlorine contaminants in farmed salmon which, if ingested over long periods, could build up to dangerous levels for humans. Conversely, the same farmed salmon also possessed two to three times the amount of beneficial omega-3 acids than their wild cousins, so there's a trade-off. As Steven Schwager, Cornell associate professor of biological statistics and computational biology explains,

For a middle-aged guy who has had a coronary and doesn't want to have another one, the risks from pollutants are minor ones, and the omega-3 benefits him in a way that far outstrips the relatively minor risks of the pollutants. But for people who are young—and they're at risk of lifetime accumulation of pollutants that are carcinogenic—or pregnant women—with the risks of birth defects and IQ diminution and other kinds of damage to the fetus—those risks are great enough that they outweigh the benefits.

Farm-rasied tuna often have lower concentrations of mercury than their wild relatives thanks to their diets. While wild Tuna eat fish that eat plankton that absorb mercury from the atmosphere and rapidly build up conentrations of the metal, farmed tuna are fed a diet of terrestrial farming byproducts like grain and soy. Farm-raised tuna do absorb some mercury regardless of diet and are often found to have elevated PCB and dioxin levels thanks to the fact that their pens are located in the ocean.

The Future Is Now

Farming Nemo: How Aquaculture Will Feed 9 Billion Hungry PeopleIn light of these issues, Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) have been invented. As their name implies, each hatchery cleans and reuses a set water supply in an indoor farm (think hydroponic fish). This system allows fisheries specific control over the hatchery environment without the need for a fresh water supply. Not only can an RAS be located, well, anywhere, it can produce fish year-round rather than seasonally. Other carnivorous fish like cod or tuna could theoretically be raised in this manner as well.

In addition, larger fish species such as Kamapchi, cousin to the Yellowtail Tuna, could soon be raised on the open ocean, towed about in huge pens by tender vessels so that waste is distributed over a much wider area and causes far less local environmental damage. Kampachi Farm, the ideological successor to Kona Blue Water Farms, which was founded in 2001 by a pair of marine biologists is doing just that.

"The overall goal of these efforts is to reduce mankind's footprint on the seas, by transitioning toward a more nurturing relationship with our seafood," said Neil Sims, the co-founder and co-CEO of Kampachi Farms, in a press statement. "The Kona Blue operation made some tremendous advances in marine fish production. We grew over 1 million pounds of Kona Kampachi per year at that site, with no measureable impact on the environment beyond the immediate net pen area."

Put Another Shrimp On the Barbie! (Or Not)

Farming Nemo: How Aquaculture Will Feed 9 Billion Hungry People Commercial shrimp farming, on the other hand, faces a genetic hurdle. More than 75 percent of the world's shrimp supply is produced in Asia, specifically Thailand and China. The other 25 percent is mostly from South America by way of Brazil. Just two species, Pacific white shrimp and the giant tiger prawns, constitute 80 percent of the shrimp raised commercially. Two humongous mono-cultures of shrimp grown in less than a half dozen countries could easily be devastated by an outbreak of viral, bacterial, or fungal disease just as Tropical Race 4 nearly obliterated the Cavendish banana. Oh wait, never mind, they already have been. Repeatedly. And considering that the US imports 80 percent of the shrimp it consumes every year, some $3.5 billion dollars worth, a mass die off of Vietnamese shrimp will be tough for the American public to swallow (or not).

To prevent the spread of disease within US aquaculture, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Program (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), and state environmental agencies collaboratively provide oversight and regulatory enforcement concerning water quality and environmental protection. The Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is specifically charged overseeing the health of animals and plants.

So, while aquaculture isn't the ideal end-all solution to our demand for seafood, it is currently one of the best and one of the only ways to do so. Because it's not like we can go back to the unbridled industrial fishing practices of last century—there simply aren't enough fish in the sea.

[Phys Org - Wikipedia 1, 2 - FAO - USDA 1, 2, 3 - NOAA - Monterey Bay Aquarium - The NAA - Cornell - Seafood Source - Top Image: NOAA, Other Images: The Associated Press]


Article: Starving Baby Sea Lions Flood Southern California Shores

Starving Baby Sea Lions Flood Southern California Shores NPR Morning Edition

In recent months, more than 1,000 starving baby sea lions have been found on Southern California beaches, from Santa Barbara to San Diego. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has just declared the crisi...

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Monday, April 8, 2013

The Next World-Changing Supermaterial Is Grown, Not Made


The Next World-Changing Supermaterial Is Grown, Not Made Watch out graphene; something's coming to eat your supermaterial lunch. Nanocellulose is poised to be the kevlar-strength, super-light, greenhouse gas-eating nanomaterial of the future. And the best part? It's made by nothing but algae.

Already being heralded as a "wonder material" by scientists involved, nanocellulose was shown off last week at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, a meeting of the world's largest scientific society. R. Malcolm Brown, Jr., who's been involved in the material's development for some 40 years, is pretty stoked about the recent progress:

If we can complete the final steps, we will have accomplished one of the most important potential agricultural transformations ever. We will have plants that produce nanocellulose abundantly and inexpensively. It can become the raw material for sustainable production of biofuels and many other products. While producing nanocellulose, the algae will absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

Cellulose, in its macro form, is one of the most abundant things on the planet. That's what tree bark is made out of. That's the fiber in your bowl of shredded wheat. But like so many other things, cellulose is a different beast at a sub-nanometer scale. Remind you of anything? When nanocellulose is tweaked just right—chained into long polymers or crystalized—it could be put to use in super-light body armor, biofuel, new thin displays, making ridiculously light aerogels, even growing replacement organs for transplants. The stuff has serious potential.

Initially, the production of nanocellulose involved huge breeding tanks of bacteria, which rather annoyingly required things like food. But recent advancements have helped groom a new workhorse: blue-green algae, which unlike normal bacteria, can make its own food from the sun, and devour greenhouse gases in the process. You could hardly ask for more.

So far scientists have succeeded in getting the algae to create polymer, or long-chain nanocellulose, and are working on getting it to make the more complete, crystalline stuff. Operations are already being scaled from labratory samples to outdoor vats of the stuff. Nanocellulose research has been decades in the making, but Brown, who's been there all the way, calls this step "one of the most important discoveries in plant biology." Looks like we have plenty to look forward to. [Eureka Alert via The Verge]

Image by Virunja/Shutterstock


Friday, April 5, 2013

Virginia Tech learns how to get hydrogen from any plant, might lower fuel cell costs


Virginia Tech can extract hydrogen from any plant, may lower fuel cell vehicle costs

Hydrogen fuel cell cars have any number of hurdles to overcome, whether it's widespread adoption or the basic matter of locating a place to fill up. If a Virginia Tech discovery pans out, getting the fuel itself won't be one of those challenges. The new combination of a polyphosphate with a special blend of enzymes lets researchers extract meaningful quantities of hydrogen from any biological element that includes xylose -- in other words, the sugar that's present in every plant to at least some degree. The process is potentially more eco-friendly than most, as well. While you'd expect it to be renewable given the main ingredients, it also reduces the need for metals and cuts back sharply on the volume of necessary greenhouse gases. Most importantly, the findings could reach the commercial world as soon as three years from now. If they do, they could lower the price of hydrogen fuel by making it more accessible, all the while avoiding much of the guilt trip that comes with using polluting technology to generate clean energy.

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Via: The Verge

Source: Virginia Tech, Wiley


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Safer Bladeless Windmills Could One Day Dot the Countryside


Safer Bladeless Windmills Could One Day Dot the CountrysideOpponents of windmills cite the dangers the spinning blades post to birds, the risk of damage due to storms, and the maintenance required to keep all those moving parts running smoothly. But what if a windmill lacked blades and didn't move at all? That's the idea behind the Delft University of Technology's EWICON which looks more like a modern piece of art more than an eco-friendly source of energy.

Also known as the Electrostatic Windenergy Convertor, the EWICON is composed of a steel frame filled with criss-crossing metal tubes that release electrically charged water droplets. As these drops are blown away by the wind a current is produced that can be used to generate electricity. So there are minimal mechanisms to fail, and the EWICON should run absolutely silent even in heavy winds.

But the structure erected at the university is only a small scale version designed for testing the concept. Although it towers over students in its current form, it will apparently have to be even larger to produce usable amounts of energy, and to compensate for the energy needed to pump the water. But if it works as promised, it seems like a far better alternative to the windmills we use now. [Delft University of Technology via designboom]