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Deflecting Killer Asteroids Away From Earth

Deflecting Killer Asteroids Away From Earth: How We Could Do It | Asteroid 2005 YU55, Asteroids & Near-Earth Objects | Asteroid Impact & Mass Extinction | Space.com.

An illustration of how solar sails might help deflect the asteroid Apophis.
CREDIT: Olivier Boisard

A huge asteroid’s close approach to Earth tomorrow (Nov. 8) reinforces that we live in a cosmic shooting gallery, and we can’t just sit around waiting to get hit again, experts say.

Asteroid 2005 YU55, which is the size of an aircraft carrier, will zip within the moon’s orbit tomorrow, but it poses no danger of hitting us for the foreseeable future. Eventually, however, one of its big space rock cousins will barrel straight toward Earth, as asteroids have done millions of times throughout our planet’s history.

If we want to avoid going the way of the dinosaurs, which were wiped out by an asteroid strike 65 million years ago, we’re going to have to deflect a killer space rock someday, researchers say. Fortunately, we know how to do it.

“We have the capability — physically, technically — to protect the Earth from asteroid impacts,” said former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, chairman of the B612 Foundation, a group dedicated to predicting and preventing catastrophic asteroid strikes. “We are now able to very slightly and subtly reshape the solar system in order to enhance human survival.”

 

In fact, we have several different techniques at our disposal to nudge killer asteroids away from Earth. Here’s a brief rundown of the possible arrows in our planetary defense quiver. [The 7 Strangest Asteroids in the Solar System ]

 

The gravity tractor

If researchers detect a potentially dangerous space rock in plenty of time, the best option may be to send a robotic probe out to rendezvous and ride along with it.

The spacecraft’s modest gravity would exert a tug on the asteroid as the two cruise through space together. Over months or years, this “gravity tractor” method would pull the asteroid into a different, more benign orbit.

“You can get a very precise change in the orbit for the final part of the deflection using a technology of this kind,” Schweickart said in late September, during a presentation at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., called “Moving an Asteroid.”

Humanity has already demonstrated the know-how to pull off such a mission. Multiple probes have met up with faraway asteroids in deep space, including NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is currently orbiting the huge space rock Vesta.

And in 2005, the Japanese Hayabusa probe even plucked some pieces off the asteroid Itokawa, sending them back to Earth for analysis.

Smash ’em up

We could also be more aggressive with our asteroid rendezvous craft, relying on brute force rather than a gentle gravitational tug. That is, we could simply slam a robotic probe into the threatening space rock to change its orbit.

We know how to do this, too. In 2005, for example, NASA sent an impactor barreling into the comet Tempel 1 to determine the icy object’s composition.

The impactor approach would not be as precise as the gravity tractor technique, Schweickart said, but it could still do the job.

There’s also the possibility of blowing the asteroid to smithereens with a nuclear weapon. The nuclear option could come into play if the dangerous space rock is too big to knock around with a kinetic impactor,  but it would likely be a weapon of last resort.

For one thing, blasting an asteroid to bits might end up doing more harm than good, said fellow presentation panelist Bill Nye, executive director of the Planetary Society.

“Momentum is conserved,” Nye said. “If you blow it up, then the whole giant spray of rocks is coming at the Earth instead of one.”

The politics involved in mobilizing use of a nuke could also be a cause for concern, Schweickart said. It will likely be hard enough to convince the world to mount any sort of asteroid-deflection mission in time, and adding nuclear missiles to the equation would make things much stickier.

“The potential use of nuclear explosives for deflection cannot currently be ruled out,” Schweickart said. “But it is an extremely low probability that they will be needed.”

Close Encounters of the Comet Kind: A Brief History
This image of Comet Tempel 1 was taken by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft on July 4, 2005, 67 seconds after a probe crashed into the comet.
CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

‘Mirror bees’ and foil wrap

While we’re pretty sure that gravity tractors and kinetic impactor probes would work, researchers are also looking into several other ideas. [Photos: Asteroids in Deep Space]

There’s the “mirror bee” concept, for example, which would launch a swarm of small, mirror-bearing spacecraft to a dangerous asteroid. These mini-probes would aim reflected sunlight at one spot on the space rock, heating it up so much that rock is vaporized, creating propulsive jets.

“The reaction of that gas or material being ejected from the asteroid would nudge it off-course,” Nye said.

The Planetary Society is helping fund research into mirror bees, Nye said. And while he said the concept isn’t yet ready for deployment or demonstration, he stressed that it’s not too far off, either.

“Maybe five years,” Nye told SPACE.com. “It’s not 30 years.”

Nye also floated another, more speculative idea. It might be possible to move an asteroid, he said, by wrapping it in reflective foil, like a giant baked potato. Photons from the sun might then nudge the space rock away from Earth, in much the same way they propel spacecraft equipped with solar sails.

“This might work, even if the thing is rotating,” Nye said. “OK, make no promises. But it’s something to invest in.”

Passing the intelligent life test

The biggest key to deflecting dangerous asteroids, researchers say, is detecting them with plenty of lead time to take appropriate action. We’d like to have a least a decade of notice, NASA scientists have said.

It’ll take awhile, after all, to mobilize and launch a deflection mission, and for that mission to do its job, especially if we go the gravity tractor route.

We need to make sure we can rise to the challenge when a big, threatening asteroid shows up on our radar, Schweickart and Nye said. Civilization’s very survival depends on it.

“If there is a community of intelligent life out in the universe … those intelligent beings will have already conquered this challenge,” Schweickart said. “Our entrance exam to that community of intelligent life is to pass this test.”

You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Director : Louis Leterrier.
Producer : Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines, Nira Park, Todd Schulman.
Release : February 24, 2016
Country : Australia, United Kingdom.
Production Company : Columbia Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Big Talk Productions, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE), Working Title Films, LStar Capital, Four by Two Films.
Language : English.
Runtime : 83 min.
Genre : Action, Comedy.

‘Grimsby’ is a movie genre Action, was released in February 24, 2016. Louis Leterrier was directed this movie and starring by Sacha Baron Cohen. This movie tell story about Wrongfully accused and on the run, a top MI6 assassin joins forces with his long-lost, football hooligan brother to save the world from a sinister plot.

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World will miss economic benefit of 1.8 billion youth

UN: World will miss economic benefit of 1.8 billion young people | Environment | guardian.co.uk.

Population report says lack of education, infrastructure and jobs will mean a generation’s potential will be wasted

Write a letter to the 7 billionth person

Shoeshine boys wait for customers in New Delhi, India

Shoeshine boys awaiting customers in New Delhi, India. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/AP

The world is in danger of missing a golden opportunity for development and economic growth, a “demographic dividend”, as the largest cohort of young people ever known see their most economically productive years wasted, a major UN population report warned on Wednesday.

The potential economic benefits of having such a large global population of young people will go unfulfilled, as a generation suffers from a lack of education, and investment in infrastructure and job creation, the authors said.

“When young people can claim their rights to health, education and decent working conditions, they become a powerful force for economic development and positive change. “This opportunity [for] a demographic dividend is a fleeting moment that must be claimed quickly or lost,” said the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), in its Global Population Report, published just days before the UN forecasted the world population will pass 7 billion. Of this 7 billion, 1.8 billion are aged between 10 and 24, and 90% of those live in the developing world.

The report also reveals average life expectancy across the globe has risen by 20 years since the 1950s, from 48 to 68, as healthcare and nutrition have improved, while infant mortality has fallen fast, from 133 deaths per 1,000 births in the 1950s to 46 per 1,000 today.

These successes area a cause to celebrate, the United Nations said. Fertility has also halved, from 6 births per woman to 2.5 over the same period, though there are stark regional differences – fertility is 1.6 births per woman in east Asia but 5 per woman in some parts of Africa.

The report found a “vicious cycle” of extreme poverty, food insecurity and inequality leading to high death rates, that in turn encourages high birth rates. Only by investing in health and education for women and girls can countries break the cycle, as improving living conditions will allow parents to be more confident that their children will survive, and therefore have smaller families.

Crucial to this will be allowing women and girls greater freedom and equality, in order to make their own choices about fertility. Hundreds of millions of women would prefer to have smaller families, but are unable to exercise this preference owing to a culture of repression.

“Governments that are serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies and information that women need to exercise their reproductive rights,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNFPA. On the empowerment of woman, he said at a press conference in London: “we have come a long way, but we are not there yet. There is no group that gives up power voluntarily. Men will not give up power to women voluntarily. Women have to fight. Women need to work together.”

One way of doing so highlighted in the report is to provide a good level of sex education to adolescents, and access to modern methods of contraception.

The report said: “When women have equal rights and opportunities in their societies and when girls are educated and healthy, fertility rates fall … the empowerment of women is not simply an end in itself, but also a step towards eradicating poverty.”

The difference between a future of high fertility rates and one where people are better able to choose is stark: if fertility rates in areas of high population growth come down towards the global average, the world will reach a global population of about 9.3bn in 2050, and about 10bn in 2100. But if fertility rates remain high in the most populous countries, the 2100 population will be more than 15bn.

Osotimehin said countries must do more to help themselves: “It is unacceptable for countries to rely on donor money for reproductive health. The welfare of their people is their mandate.” He said it would cost only $2bn to give access to family planning to the 250 million women who would like it but lack access. “The budget of the average developing country does not give enough money to issues of women and reproductive health. That has to change. If it does not change, it becomes unsustainable.”

But he also said donors were failing to make sufficient commitments. “Family planning has not been funded as it should have been. Donors need to provide resources … there has been a reduction [in money made available].”

Osotimehin also said at the press conference that the opportunity had been missed to educate people on reproductive health and family planning, during a drive to prevent HIV infection, echoing comments he made to the Guardian earlier in the month.

With high population growth, many scientists predict thatthe pressure on food and agricultural productivity and other natural resources may become intolerable, and conditions for the poorest people will deteriorate further, rather than improving.

John Cleland, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The escape from poverty and hunger is made more difficult by rapid population growth.”

Rapid growth will also exacerbate the impact of other global problems, such as climate change and other environmental impacts. Steven Sinding, a population expert at Columbia University, said: “The pace of growth poses enormous challenges for many of the poorest countries, which lack the resources not only to keep up with demand for infrastructure, basic health and education services and job opportunities for the rising number of young people, but also to adapt to climate change.”

Separately on Wednesday, the Official for National Statistics forecast that the UK population would grow to 70 million by 2020, up from 62.3 million in 2010.

World economy on verge of new jobs recession

BBC News – ILO: World economy on verge of new jobs recession.

The global economy is on the verge of a new and deeper jobs recession that may ignite social unrest, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned.

It will take at least five years for employment in advanced economies to return to pre-crisis levels, it said.

The ILO also noted that in 45 of the 118 countries it examined, the risk of social unrest was rising.

Separately, the OECD research body said G20 leaders meeting in Cannes this week need to take “bold decisions”.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the rescue plan announced by EU leaders on 26 October had been an important first step, but the measures must be implemented “promptly and forcefully”.

The OECD’s message to world leaders came as it predicted a sharp slowdown in growth in the eurozone and warned that some countries in the 17-nation bloc were likely to face negative growth.

‘Moment of truth’

In its World of Work Report 2011, the ILO said a stalled global economic recovery had begun to “dramatically affect” labour markets.

It said approximately 80 million net new jobs would be needed over the next two years to get back to pre-crisis employment levels.

But it said the recent slowdown in growth suggested that only half the jobs needed would be created.

“We have reached the moment of truth. We have a brief window of opportunity to avoid a major double-dip in employment,” said Raymond Torres from the ILO.

The group also measured levels of discontent over the lack of jobs and anger over perceptions that the burden of the crisis was not being fairly shared.

It said scores of countries faced the possibility of social unrest, particularly those in the EU and the Arab region.

Loss of confidence

Meanwhile, in its latest projections for G20 economies, the OECD forecast growth in the eurozone of 1.6% this year, slowing to 0.3% next year.

OECD’s forecasts on GDP growth

Country 2011 2012
US 1.7% 1.8%
Euro area 1.6% 0.3%
Japan -0.5% 2.1%
China 9.3% 8.6%

In May, it had forecast growth of 2% per year in both 2011 and 2012.

It also cut its growth forecasts for the US to 1.7% in 2011 and 1.8% in 2012. It had previously expected growth of 2.6% and 3.1% respectively.

The organisation called for G20 leaders, who meet on Thursday and Friday, to act quickly.

“Much of the current weakness is due to a generalised loss of confidence in the ability of policymakers to put in place appropriate responses,” the OECD said.

“It is therefore imperative to act decisively to restore confidence and to implement appropriate policies to restore longer-term fiscal sustainability.”

It also called for the eurozone to cut interest rates.

20 Ways to Build a Cleaner, Healthier, Smarter World

World Changing Ideas: 20 Ways to Build a Cleaner, Healthier, Smarter World: Scientific American.

What would happen if solar panels were free? What if it were possible to know everything about the world—not the Internet, but the living, physical world—in real time? What if doctors could forecast a disease years before it strikes? This is the promise of the World Changing Idea: a vision so simple yet so ambitious that its full impact is impossible to predict. Scientific American’s editorial and advisory boards have chosen projects in five general categories—Energy, Transportation, Environment, Electronics and Robotics, and Health and Medicine—that highlight the power of science and technology to improve the world. Some are in use now; others are emerging from the lab. But all of them show that innovation is the most promising elixir for what ails us.  —The Editors

The No-Money-Down Solar Plan
A new wave of start-ups wants to install rooftop solar panels on your house. Upfront cost: nothing
By Christopher Mims

The biggest thing stopping the sun is money. Installing a rooftop array of solar panels large enough to produce all of the energy required by a building is the equivalent of prepaying its electricity bill for the next seven to 10 years—and that’s after federal and state incentives. A new innovation in financing, however, has opened up an additional possibility for homeowners who want to reduce their carbon footprint and lower their electric bills: get the panels for free, then pay for the power as you go.

The system works something like a home mortgage. Organizations and individuals looking for a steady return on their investment, typically banks or municipal bond holders, use a pool of cash to pay for the solar panels. Directly or indirectly, homeowners buy the electricity produced by their own rooftop at a rate that is less, per kilowatt-hour, than they would pay for electricity from the grid. Investors get a safe investment—the latest generation of solar-panel technology works dependably for years—and homeowners get a break on their monthly bills, not to mention the satisfaction of significantly reducing their carbon footprint. “This is a way to get solar without putting any money down and to start saving money from day one. That’s a first,” says SolarCity co-founder Peter Rive.

SolarCity is the largest installer of household solar panels to have adopted this strategy. Founded in 2006 by two brothers who are also Silicon Valley–based serial entrepreneurs, SolarCity leases its panels to homeowners but gives the electricity away for free. The net effect is a much reduced utility bill (customers still need utility-delivered power when the sun isn’t out) plus a monthly SolarCity bill. The total for both comes out to less than the old bill. SunRun in San Francisco offers consumers a similar package, except that the company sells customers the electricity instead of leasing them the panels.

Cities such as Berkeley and Boulder are pioneering their own version of solar-panel financing by loaning individuals the entire amount required to pay for solar panels and installation. The project is paid for by municipal bonds, and the homeowner pays back the loan over 20 years as a part of the property tax bill. The effect is the same whichever route a consumer takes: the new obligation, in the form of taxes, a lease or a long-term contract for electricity, ends up costing less than the existing utility bill.

“What we’re really seeing is a transition in how we think about buying energy goods and services,” says Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Kammen, who did the initial analysis on Berkeley’s financing model, believes that by turning to financing, consumers can overcome the inherent disadvantage renewables have when compared with existing energy sources: the infrastructure for power from the grid has already been paid for and, in many cases, has been subsidized for decades.

All three approaches are rapidly expanding across the country. Despite the Berkeley program being less than two years old, 10 different states have passed legislation allowing their cities to set up a Berkeley-style bond-financed loan program. With the passage of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, the option for cities to set up these programs would become federal law. SunEdison in Maryland is currently active in nine states. SolarCity, which has more than 4,000 customers, is active in California, Arizona and Oregon and has promised to announce additional states after the new year.

Right now it is not possible to lower the overall cost of rooftop solar to “grid parity,” that is, to the same price as electricity from local utility companies, without federal subsidies such as the investment tax credit, which lowers the tax bill of banks financing these projects. Those subsidies, which amount to 30 percent of the cost of a solar installation, are guaranteed for at least eight years. By then, SolarCity and its competitors claim they won’t need them.

“Grid parity is driven by multiple factors,” says Attila Toth, vice president of marketing at SunEdison, including the cost of capital, the cost of panels and their installation, and the intensity of sunlight in a given region. “It will occur in different states at different times, but, for example, we expect that California will be one of the first states in the U.S. to get to grid parity, sometime between three and five years from now.”

While the cost of electricity from fossil fuels has increased 3 to 5 percent a year for the past decade, the cost of solar panels has fallen on average 20 percent for every doubling of its installed base. Grid parity is where these trend lines cross—after that, solar has the potential to power more than just homes. It’s hardly a coincidence that Elon Musk, head of electric car company Tesla Motors, sits on SolarCity’s board of directors.

More Ideas to watch
by Christopher Mims

The Gasoline Garden
It is the next step for biofuels: genetically engineered plant life that produces hydrocarbons as a by-product of its normal metabolism. The result will be fuel—common gasoline, even—using nothing but sunlight and CO2. In July, Exxon Mobil announced plans to spend more than $600 million in pursuit of algae that can accomplish the task. Joule Biotechnologies claims to have already succeeded, although the company has yet to reveal any details of its proprietary system.

Hot Nukes
Uranium and plutonium are not the only fuels that can power a nuclear reactor. With an initial kick from more traditional fissile materials, thorium can set up a self-sustaining “breeder” reaction that produces uranium 233, which is well suited to nuclear power generation. The process has the added benefit of being resistant to nuclear proliferation, because its end products emit enough gamma rays to make the fuel dangerous to handle and easy to track.

Save Energy with Information
Studies show that simply making customers aware of their energy use lowers it
by 5 to 15 percent. Smart meters allow customers to track their energy consumption minute by minute and appliance by appliance. Countless start-ups are offering the devices, and Google and Microsoft are independently partnering with local utilities to allow individuals to monitor their power usage over the Web.

Wind Power from the Stratosphere
According to a Stanford University study released in July, the high-altitude winds that constantly blow tens of thousands of feet above the earth hold enough energy to supply all of human civilization 100 times over. California’s Sky WindPower has proposed harvesting this energy by building fleets of giant, airborne, ground-tethered windmills, while Italy’s Kite Gen proposes to accomplish the same feat using kites.

Delivering the U.S. from Oil
Plug-in hybrid trucks are improving the long view of the short haul
By Amanda Schupak

Cargo trucks gulp about 40 percent of the fuel pumped in the U.S. While most consumer attention focuses on improving the fuel economy of consumer vehicles, a major opportunity goes rumbling by. “Folks do not realize that the fuel use of even a small truck is equal to many, many cars,” says Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of Calstart, a clean transportation technology nonprofit, and director of the Hybrid Truck Users Forum. “A utility truck as a hybrid would reduce more petroleum than nine Priuses.”

Some 1,300 commercial hybrids on the road today get up to twice the fuel efficiency of their conventional counterparts. But these traditional hybrids are inherently limited. They make more efficient use of petroleum-based fuel by capturing some of the energy lost during braking.

Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, draw energy from the grid. They can drive for miles—in many cases, an entire day’s route—without using any fossil fuel at all. This shifts energy demand away from petroleum and toward grid-based sources. (Last year zero-carbon renewables and nuclear supplied 30 percent of all electric power in the U.S.)

In many ways, plug-in hybrid technology makes more sense for delivery trucks than for consumer sedans. A cargo truck runs a short daily route that includes many stops to aid in regenerative braking. Most of the U.S. Postal Service’s 200,000-plus mail trucks, for example, travel fewer than 20 miles a day. In addition, fleet vehicles return nightly to storage lots that have ready access to the 120- or 240-volt outlets required to charge them.

The Department of Energy recently launched the nation’s largest commercial plug-in hybrid program, a $45.4-million project to get 378 medium-duty vehicles on the road in early 2011. The trucks, which will go to 50 municipal and utility fleets, will feature a power system from Eaton, a large manufacturer of electrical components, on a Ford F-550 chassis. (For its part, Ford will wait for the market to prove itself before designing its own commercial plug-ins.) “These are going to start breaking free in 2011,” says Paul Scott, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Southern California.

Start-up company Bright Automotive has a more ambitious plan. It aims to replace at least 50,000 trucks with plug-in hybrids by 2014. Bright’s IDEA prototype travels 40 miles on battery power before switching to a four-cylinder engine that gets 40 miles to the gallon. The streamlined aluminum body has the payload of a postal truck yet is far more aerodynamic. The truck weighs as much as a midsize sedan.

John E. Waters, Bright Automotive’s founder and the former developer of the battery system for General Motors?’s groundbreaking EV1 electric car, says that each IDEA would save 1,500 gallons of fuel and 16 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year over a standard utility truck. Waters says he is ready to begin assembly in his U.S. plant once a pending $450-million federal loan comes through.

Despite the appeal of the carbon savings, the fleet owners who are the trucks’ primary customers have more practical considerations. Bright’s executives are coy about the IDEA’s eventual price tag but assert that a customer with 2,000 trucks driving 80 miles a day five days a week could save $7.2 million a year. Right now that is probably not enough to justify large-scale purchases without additional rebates—or a price on carbon. Van Amburg estimates that going hybrid currently adds $30,000 to $50,000 in upfront costs per vehicle, although that figure should come down as production volumes increase.

Improved battery technology will also help. Today the IDEA’s 13-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack accounts for nearly a quarter of the vehicle’s total cost. Much of the research being done for the batteries going into the Chevy Volt? and other consumer plug-ins should also be applicable to commercial batteries. “For all the good we all want to do,” says David Lauzun, Bright’s vice president of product development, “these vehicles will not take over the world until it becomes the economic choice—‘I have to have them because it saves me money.’”

Bus Rapid Transit
Subwaylike bus lines mobilize the urban future
By Michael Moyer

For the first time in human civilization, more people now live in urban areas than in the countryside. This shift creates a number of dilemmas, not least of which is how to move people within the world’s rapidly growing metropolises. Pollution and traffic point away from car-based options, while light-rail systems are slow to construct and prohibitively expensive. One disarmingly simple—and cheap—possibility is Bus Rapid Transit, which is engineered to operate like a subway on wheels. In these systems, concrete dividers on existing roads separate high-capacity buses from the rest of traffic. Riders pay before boarding, then wait in enclosed stations. When a bus arrives, sliding partitions open to allow riders to board from a platform that is level with the bus floor. The traffic-free thoroughfares, quick boarding times, and modern, comfortable stations resemble light-rail systems more than the chaos of typical bus travel. In Bogotá, Colombia, which has had seven Bus Rapid Transit lines in operation since 2001, the buses handle 1.6 million trips a day. Its success has allowed the city to remove 7,000 private buses from the city, reducing consumption of bus fuel and its associated pollution by more than 59 percent.

Ocean Overhaul
Marine zoning is a bold remedy for sick seas
By Sarah Simpson

These days not even many politicians deny that the oceans are ill. Protecting the health of coastal waters is now a matter of national policy in dozens of countries, including the U.S., and world leaders are beginning to prescribe a revolutionary remedy that conservationists have been promoting for years: marine planning and zoning.

The idea is a natural extension of management policies that have guided the development of cities and landscapes for nearly a century. Porn shops aren’t next to preschools, after all, and drilling rigs aren’t the centerpieces of national parks. Similarly, zoning advocates envision a mosaic of regional maps in which every watery space on the planet is designated for a particular purpose. Drilling and mining would be allowed only in certain parts of the ocean; fishing in others. The most critically threatened areas would be virtually off-limits.

Whereas people can easily find maps telling them what they can do where on land, the marine realm is a hodgepodge of rules emanating from an army of agencies, each one managing a single use or symptom. In the U.S., for example, one body regulates commercial fishing, usually a single species at a time. Another group manages toxic substances, still another seabed mining, and so on—some 20 federal agencies in all. They tend to make decisions without regard to what the others are doing, explains Duke University? marine ecologist Larry B. Crowder. “Imagine all of the medical specialists visiting a patient in intensive care one at a time and never talking to one another,” he says. “It’s a wonder that the oceans aren’t in worse shape than they are now.”

Ocean advocates such as Crowder eagerly await the final recommendations of a special task force President Barack Obama charged with presenting a plan for overhauling management of U.S. waters, which extend 200 nautical miles offshore. The scope of such an undertaking is huge: the U.S. controls 4.4 million square miles of seascape, making the country’s underwater real estate 25 percent larger than its landmass. The committee’s preliminary report, released in September, suggests that the best way to minimize harmful human impacts on the oceans is to manage regions rather than symptoms.

Many environmentalists are hopeful that such plans will be implemented through the marine equivalent of municipal zoning, which would give them some influence in areas where they now have none. In zones where conservation is designated as the dominant activity, fishing and industrial activities such as mining would no longer have free rein. Under current rules, about the only way a conservation group can block a project it deems harmful—say, a new site for offshore drilling—is through expensive litigation.

So far, though, the president’s task force has been careful not to suggest that ocean zoning will be the only treatment plan, in great part because any effort to restrict commercial interests is bound to meet stiff opposition. “Zoning isn’t anybody’s favorite exercise,” notes John C. Ogden, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography at the University of South Florida at Tampa. “Someone’s ox is always getting gored.” Most resistant to such change will most likely be the traditional users of the open ocean—namely, commercial fisheries and the petroleum industry. “They’ve had the place to themselves for a long time,” Ogden says.

Ogden and others are quick to point out, however, that zoning practices can benefit commerce as much as conservation. By giving up access to certain areas, industries gain the security of knowing their activities would be licensed in a more predictable and less costly manner than they are today, explains Josh Eagle, associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Now an oil company can apply for permits to drill virtually anywhere, but it takes on a significant financial risk each time. The business may dump millions of dollars into researching a new facility only to have a lawsuit derail it at the last moment. When opposing parties have more or less equal voices early in the planning process, Eagle says, they are less inclined to block one another’s activities once zones are drawn on a map.

Whether the final report of the president’s task force will promote ocean zoning explicitly is uncertain. But the group has already promised to overhaul the structure of ocean governance by proposing the creation of a National Ocean Council, whose job it will be to coordinate efforts of the myriad federal agencies now in charge.

The move comes just in time. Just as society is beginning to appreciate the enormous efforts it will take to preserve the health of the oceans, it must ask more of them—more energy, more food, and better resilience to coastal development and climate change. The reason the oceans are in trouble is not what people put in and take out. It is a failure of governments to manage these activities properly. Says Crowder: “We have to treat the oceans holistically, not one symptom at a time.”

The Power of Garbage
Trapped lightning could help zap trash and generate electricity
By John Pavlus

Trash is loaded with the energy trapped in its chemical bonds. Plasma gasification, a technology that has been in development for decades, could finally be ready to extract it.

In theory, the process is simple. Torches pass an electric current through a gas (often ordinary air) in a chamber to create a superheated plasma—an ionized gas with a temperature upward of 7,000 degrees Celsius, hotter than the surface of the sun. When this occurs naturally we call it lightning, and plasma gasification is literally lightning in a bottle: the plasma’s tremendous heat dissociates the molecular bonds of any garbage placed inside the chamber, converting organic compounds into syngas (a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen) and trapping everything else in an inert vitreous solid called slag. The syngas can be used as fuel in a turbine to generate electricity. It can also be used to create ethanol, methanol and biodiesel. The slag can be processed into materials suitable for use in construction.

In practice, the gasification idea has been unable to compete economically with traditional municipal waste processing. But the maturing technology has been coming down in cost, while energy prices have been on the rise. Now “the curves are finally crossing—it’s becoming cheaper to take the trash to a plasma plant than it is to dump it in a landfill,” says Louis Circeo, director of Plasma Research at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Earlier this summer garbage-disposal giant Waste Management partnered with InEnTec, an Oregon-based start-up, to begin commercializing the latter’s plasma-gasification processes. And major pilot plants capable of processing 1,000 daily tons of trash or more are under development in Florida, Louisiana and California.

Plasma isn’t perfect. The toxic heavy metals sequestered in slag pass the Environmental Protection Agency?’s leachability standards (and have been used in construction for years in Japan and France) but still give pause to communities considering building the plants. And although syngas-generated electricity has an undeniably smaller carbon footprint than coal—“For every ton of trash you process with plasma, you reduce the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere by about two tons,” Circeo says—it is still a net contributor of greenhouse gases.

“It is too good to be true,” Circeo admits, “but the EPA has estimated that if all the municipal solid waste in the U.S. were processed with plasma to make electricity, we could produce between 5 and 8 percent of our total electrical needs—equivalent to about 25 nuclear power plants or all of our current hydropower output.” With the U.S. expected to generate a million tons of garbage every day by 2020, using plasma to reclaim some of that energy could be too important to pass up.

More Ideas to watch
By John Pavlus

Cement as a Carbon Sponge
Traditional cement production creates at least 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, but new materials could create carbon-neutral cement. Start-up Novacem, supported by Imperial College London, uses magnesium oxide to make cement that naturally absorbs CO2 as it hardens. California-based Calera uses seawater to sequester carbon emissions from a nearby power plant in cement.

The New Honeybee
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has killed more than a third of honeybee colonies since 2006. Farmers who depend on bees to pollinate such crops as almonds, peaches and apples are looking to the blue orchard bee to pick up the slack.

One efficient Osmia lignaria can pollinate as much territory as 50 honeybees, but the bees are harder to cultivate because of their solitary nature. These pinch hitters won’t completely replace honeybees, but as scientists continue to grapple with CCD, they could act as an agricultural safety net.

Saltwater Crops
As the world’s freshwater supply becomes scarcer and food production needs balloon, salt-tolerant crops could ease the burden. Researchers at Australia’s University of Adelaide used genetic engineering to enhance a model crop’s natural ability to prevent saline buildup in its leaves, allowing the plant to thrive in conditions that would typically wither it. If the same gene tweak works in cereal crops such as rice and wheat—the researchers are testing them now—fallow lands destroyed by drought or overirrigation could become new breadbaskets.

The Omnipotence Machines
Tiny, ubiquitous sensors will allow us to index the physical world the way the Web maps cyberspace
By Gregory Mone

Earlier this year Hewlett-Packard announced the launch of its Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE) project, a 10-year effort to embed up to a trillion pushpin-size sensors across the planet. Technologists say that the information gathered by this kind of ubiquitous sensing network could change our knowledge of the world as profoundly as the Internet has changed business. “People had no idea the Web was coming,” says technology forecaster Paul Saffo?. “We are at that moment now with ubiquitous sensing. There is quite an astonishing revolution just around the corner.”

The spread of versatile sensors, or “motes,” and the ability of computers to analyze and either recommend or initiate responses to the data they generate, will not merely enhance our understanding of nature. It could lead to buildings that manage their own energy use, bridges that flag engineers when in need of repair, cars that track traffic patterns and detect potholes, and home security systems that distinguish between the footfalls of an intruder and the dog, to name a few.

CeNSE is the boldest project yet announced, but HP is not the only organization developing the technology to make ubiquitous sensing possible. Intel is also designing novel sensor packages, as are numerous university labs.

For all the momentum in the field, though, this sensor-filled future is by no means inevitable. These devices will need to generate rich, reliable data and be rugged enough to survive tough environments. The sensor packages themselves will be small, but the computing effort required will be enormous. All the information they gather will have to be transmitted, hosted on server farms, and analyzed. Finally, someone is going to have to pay for it all. “There is the fundamental question of economics,” notes computer scientist Deborah Estrin of the University of California, Los Angeles. “Every sensor is a nonzero cost. There is maintenance, power, keeping them calibrated. You don’t just strew them around.”

In fact, HP senior researcher Peter Hartwell acknowledges that for CeNSE to hit its goals, the sensors will need to be nearly free. That is one of the reasons why HP is designing a single, do-everything, pushpin-size package stacked with a variety of gauges—light, temperature, humidity, vibration and strain, among others—instead of a series of devices for different tasks. Hartwell says that focusing on one versatile device will drive up volume, reducing the cost for each unit, but it could also allow HP to serve several clients at once with the same sensors.

Consider his chief engineering project, an ultrasensitive accelerometer. Housed inside a chip, the sensor tracks the motion of a tiny, internal movable platform relative to the rest of the chip. It can measure changes in acceleration 1,000 times as accurately as the technology in the Nintendo Wii?.

Hartwell imagines situating one of these pins every 16 feet along a highway. Thanks to the temperature, humidity and light sensors, the motes could serve as mini weather stations. But the accelerometers’ vibration data could also be analyzed to determine traffic conditions—roughly how many cars are moving past and how quickly. The local highway department would be interested in this information, he guesses, but there are potential consumer applications, too. “Your wireless company might want to take that information and tell you how to get to the airport the fastest,” Hartwell says.

All of this gathering and transmission of data requires power, of course, and to guarantee an extended life, the HP pushpin will not rely solely on batteries. “It is going to have some sort of energy-scavenging ability,” Hartwell says. “Maybe a solar panel or a thermoelectric device to help keep the battery charged.”

With the power hurdle in mind, other groups are forgoing batteries altogether. At Intel Labs in Seattle, engineer Josh Smith? has developed a sensor package that runs on wireless power. Like the HP pushpin, Intel’s WISP, or Wireless Identification and Sensing Platform, will include a variety of gauges, but it will also draw energy from the radio waves emitted by long-range radio-frequency ID chip readers. Smith says a single reader, plugged into a wall outlet, can already power and communicate with a network of prototype WISPs five to 10 feet away—a distance that should increase.

Smith cites many of the same infrastructure-related possibilities as Hartwell, along with a number of other uses. If WISPs were placed on standard household items such as cups, these tags could inform doctors about the rehabilitation progress of stroke victims. If the cups the patient normally uses remain stationary, Smith explains, then the individual probably is not up and moving around.

The potential applications for ubiquitous sensing are so broad—a physicist recently contacted him about using WISPs to monitor the temperature outside a proposed neutrino detector—that, as with the Internet, Smith says it is impossible to foresee them all. “In terms of the impact it is going to have on our lives,” Hartwell adds, “you haven’t seen anything yet.”

The Do-Anything Robot
Your PC can accomplish any computing task you ask of it. Why isn’t the same true for robots
By Gregory Mone

Robots have proved to be valuable tools for soldiers, surgeons and homeowners hoping to keep the carpet clean. But in each case, they are designed and built specifically for the job. Now there is a movement under way to build multipurpose machines—robots that can navigate changing environments such as offices or living rooms and work with their hands.

All-purpose robots are not, of course, a new vision. “It’s been five or 10 years from happening for about 50 years,” says Eric Berger, co-director of the Personal Robotics Program at Willow Garage, a Silicon Valley start-up. The delay is in part because even simple tasks require a huge set of capabilities. For a robot to fetch a mug, for example, it needs to make sense of data gathered by a variety of sensors—laser scanners identifying potential obstacles, cameras searching for the target, force feedback in the fingers that grasp the mug, and more. Yet Berger and other experts are confident that real progress could be made in the next decade.

The problem, according to Willow Garage, is the lack of a common platform for all that computational effort. Instead of building on the capabilities of a single machine, everyone is designing robots, and the software to control them, from the ground up. To help change this, Willow Garage is currently producing 25 copies of its model PR2 (for “Personal Robot 2”), a two-armed, wheeled machine that can unplug an appliance, open doors and move through a room. Ten of the robots will stay in-house, but 10 more will go to outside research groups, and everyone will pool their advances. This way, Berger says, if you want to build the robotic equivalent of a Twitter, you won’t start by constructing a computer: “you build the thing that’s new.”

Pocket Translator
The military, short on linguists, is building smart phone–based devices to do the job
By Gregory Mone

Sakhr Software, a company that builds automatic language translators, recently unveiled a prototype smart phone application that transforms spoken English phrases into spoken Arabic, and vice versa, in near real time. The technology isn’t quite ready for your next trip to Cairo, but thanks to recent advances in machine-translation techniques, plus the advent of higher-fidelity microphones and increasing processing power in smart phones, this mobile technology could soon allow two people speaking different languages to have basic conversations.

Before the 1990s automatic translation meant programming in an endless list of linguistic rules, a technique that proved too labor-intensive and insufficiently accurate. Today’s leading programs—developed by BBN Technologies?, IBM, Sakhr and others as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency effort to eliminate the military’s need for human translators—rely on machine-learning techniques instead. The software works from a database of parallel texts—for example, War and Peace in two different languages, translated United Nations speeches, and documents pulled off the Web. Algorithms identify short matching phrases across sources, and the software uses them to build statistical models that link English phrases to Arabic ones.

John Makhoul, BBN’s chief scientist, says the current technology is at its best when confined to subject areas with specific phrases and terminology—translating a weather report from English into French, for example, or helping soldiers gather basic biographical information from people in the field. Makhoul envisions the first consumer applications, five years from now, being similarly constrained. A tourism-related translation app on a smart phone could help an American in Florence get directions from a non-English-speaking local, but they won’t chat about Renaissance art. “It is not going to work perfectly,” he says, “but it will do a pretty good job.”

Know if Disease Grows Inside You
Complex diseases have complex causes. Luckily, they also leave a multitude of traces
By Melinda Wenner

With the exception of certain infectious diseases, few of humanity’s ailments have cures. More than 560,000 Americans will die of cancer this year, and despite the 250,000 coronary bypass surgeries doctors perform annually, heart disease is still the country’s number-one killer.

The hardest diseases to cure are the ones that take the longest to develop. They are the end result of decades of complex molecular interactions inside your body. Yet this complexity also pre­sents an opportunity. Scientists have discovered that these interactions leave discernible fingerprints on the body. By unweaving the complex tapestry of molecular clues—changes in the body’s proteins, nucleic acids and metabolites, collectively called biomarkers—doctors hope they will soon be able to not only detect disease but predict a coming illness in time to take action.

Biomarkers are not new. Since 1986 doctors have monitor­ed prostate cancer by measuring blood levels of the protein known as prostate-specific antigen (PSA). But tests that rely on a single biomarker to detect disease are rare, because most disorders involve intricate changes in a collection of biomarkers.

Take schizophrenia: in January 2010 scientists will release a biomarker test that distinguishes schizophrenia from other psychiatric conditions. The test, which is being commercialized by Rules-Based Medicine, a laboratory in Austin, Tex., is based on the characteristics of about 40 blood-based proteins.

To find potentially useful biomarkers, researchers collect blood samples from thousands of healthy people and analyze them. Biomarker levels in these samples provide a baseline reading. Then they do the same for people with a specific condition such as diabetes or breast cancer. If reproducible differences emerge between the groups, scientists can use the patterns in the disease group to diagnose the same condition in others. By collecting samples over time, researchers can also go back and analyze early samples from individuals who later become ill to identify patterns indicative of early disease or high disease risk.

Biophysical Corporation, a sister company to Rules-Based Medicine, is one of several companies that has developed blood-based biomarker tests and marketed them to the public [see “The Ultimate Blood Test,” by Philip Yam; Scientific American, June 2006]. The company searches for up to 250 biomarkers suggestive of cancer, inflammatory conditions, heart disease and other illnesses. Mark Chandler, Biophysical’s chair and CEO, says that the real value of the tests lies in long-term monitoring. A person could “get a test monthly, just a finger stick, that would be able to say, we have had a serious change here that is indicative of an early-stage cancer,” he explains.

Yet not all experts are convinced that the age of biomarkers is at hand. Cheryl Barton, an independent U.K.-based pharmaceutical consultant who authored a Business Insights market analysis report on biomarkers in 2006, says she remains “a little bit skeptical about how clinically useful they are.” A study of 5,000 subjects published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2009 found that six cardiovascular biomarkers were only marginally better at predicting heart disease than were standard cardiovascular risk factors, such as whether the subjects smoked or had diabetes.

Adding to the overall difficulty, a person might suffer from two or more diseases—prostate cancer and heart disease, for example. No one knows how multiple diseases might affect overall biomarker signatures or how profiles will change as other diseases develop. “When you get to be 65 or 70, almost everybody has other conditions,” Chandler says. “We don’t know how to deal with that right now.” And scientists still need to discern which biomarkers are truly relevant to disease—a difficult task when working with blood, which contains tens of thousands of proteins at concentrations spanning more than 10 orders of magnitude.

Some companies have simplified the problem by avoiding blood altogether. LabCorp recently commercialized a biomarker test that analyzes colon cells in stool for the chemical signatures indicative of colorectal cancer. “The stool is in intimate contact with the lining of the colon, so it becomes much more highly populated with these rare molecules than would get into the bloodstream from colon cancer,” says Barry Berger, chief medical officer of Exact Sciences, a Madison, Wis.–based biotechnology company that developed the test technology.

In time, scientists are confident that they will eventually crack the more difficult problem of finding distinct disease signatures in the noisy data. “The evolutionary process, being complex and unknown, does not always give us an easy route,” Berger notes, “but it definitely gives us lots of opportunities.”

Satellites Diagnose Disease Outbreaks
Space-based data are helping to track and predict the spread of deadly diseases ?
By Katherine Harmon

Many contagious diseases spread through carriers such as birds and mosquitoes. These vectors in turn move with heat and rainfall. With this in mind, researchers have begun to use satellite data to monitor the environmental conditions that lead to disease. “Ideally, we could predict conditions that would result in some of these major outbreaks of cholera, malaria, even avian flu,” says Tim Ford of the University of New England at Biddeford and co-author of a paper on the subject published this past September in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Satellite data have already been used to map the advance of the H5N1 avian influenza in Asia. The domestic duck, a common inhabitant of Southeast Asia’s rice paddies, is one of the main carriers of the disease. Xiangming Xiao, associate director of the University of Oklahoma?’s Center for Spatial Analysis, uses satellite images to map agricultural patterns in the region. These maps show where the ducks are most likely to live and thus where the avian influenza is most likely to spread.

Migratory birds also carry the virus, but their travel patterns are more difficult to predict. Xiao and his colleagues combine the satellite imagery with satellite-gathered surface-temperature data to estimate the birds’—and thereby the virus’s—trajectory. Computer models then link these environmental drivers to the spread of the flu in human populations.

Of course, not all of the work can be outsourced to orbiting observatories. Xiao says that judging the severity of avian flu’s spread from satellite imaging required knowing details about the human populations as well—for instance, how likely certain communities were to raise ducks for poultry consumption. “Satellite monitoring has a capacity to provide consistent observation,” Xiao says. “On the other hand, the in situ observations are still very, very important, so the key is to combine those together. That is a real challenge.”

More Ideas to watch
By Melinda Wenner

Quick Clots
Emergency technicians could prevent up to 35 percent of prehospital trauma deaths if they had better and cheaper ways to prevent blood loss. Now a University of Maryland–affiliated start-up called Trauma Solutions has developed a synthetic hydrogel that can clot blood by prompting the body to make fibrin, a protein that seals wounds and stops bleeding. Future iterations could simultaneously release such medicines as antibiotics and painkillers. Each application will cost about $5, compared with some natural blood-clotting substances that cost upward of $500.

Lab-on-a-Stamp
Liver damage is a major side effect of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis drugs, yet few developing countries have enough trained scientists or equipment to monitor it. Nonprofit Cambridge, Mass.–based Diagnostics For All has developed an inexpensive fingernail-size device made almost entirely of paper that monitors liver damage using a single drop of blood. Channels in the paper guide blood to regions that change color depending on the levels of two damage-related liver enzymes.

Bacterial Toothpaste
Streptococcus mutans bacteria in the mouth decay teeth by converting sugars into enamel-eroding lactic acid. Florida-based Oragenics has genetically engineered a new strain of bacteria that converts sugars to trace amounts of alcohol instead. Because the new strain permanently displaces natural S. mutans, the therapy, which is currently in clinical trials, will be available as a one-time prescription that will protect teeth for life.

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New Research Casts Doubt on Doomsday Water Shortage Predictions

New Research Casts Doubt on Doomsday Water Shortage Predictions: Scientific American.

MELTDOWN: The melting of mountain glaciers around the world may not contribute as much to water supplies as thought, new research argues. Image: Abhishekjoshi/Flickr

From the Andes to the Himalayas, scientists are starting to question exactly how much glaciers contribute to river water used downstream for drinking and irrigation. The answers could turn the conventional wisdom about glacier melt on its head.

A growing number of studies based on satellite data and stream chemistry analyses have found that far less surface water comes from glacier melt than previously assumed. In Peru’s Rio Santa, which drains the Cordilleras Blanca mountain range, glacier contribution appears to be between 10 and 20 percent. In the eastern Himalayas, it is less than 5 percent.

“If anything, that’s probably fairly large,” said Richard Armstrong, a senior research scientist at the Boulder, Colo.-based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), who studies melt impact in the Himalayas.

“Most of the people downstream, they get the water from the monsoon,” Armstrong said. “It doesn’t take away from the importance [of glacier melt], but we need to get the science right for future planning and water resource assessments.”

The Himalayan glaciers feed into Asia’s biggest rivers: the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China. Early studies pegged the amount of meltwater in these river basins as high as 60 or 70 percent. But reliable data on how much water the glaciers release or where that water goes have been difficult to develop. Satellite images can’t provide such regular hydrometeorological observations, and expeditions take significant time, money and physical exertion.

New methods, though, are refining the ability to study this and other remote glacial mountain ranges. Increasingly, scientists are finding that the numbers vary depending on the river, and even in different parts of the same river.

Creeping hyperbole
“There has been a lot of misinformation and confusion about it,” said Peter Gleick?, co-director of the California-based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security. “About 1.3 billion people live in the watersheds that get some glacier runoff, but not all of those people depend only on the water from those watersheds, and not all the water in those watersheds comes from glaciers. Most of it comes from rainwater,” he said.

A key step forward came last year when scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, using remote sensing equipment, found that snow and glacier melt is extremely important to the Indus and Brahmaputra basins, but less critical to others. In the Indus, they found, the meltwater contribution is 151 percent compared to the total runoff generated at low elevations. It makes up about 27 percent of the Brahmaputra — but only between 8 and 10 percent for the Ganges, Yangtze and Yellow rivers. Rainfall makes up the rest.

That in itself is significant, and could reduce food security for 4.5 percent of the population in an already-struggling region. Yet, scientists complain, data are often inaccurately incorporated in dire predictions of Himalayan glacial melt impacts.

“Hyperbole has a way of creeping in here,” said Bryan Mark, an assistant professor of geography at Ohio State University and a researcher at the Byrd Polar Research Center.

Mark, who focuses on the Andes region, developed a method of determining how much of a community’s water supply is glacier-fed by analyzing the hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in water samples. He recently took that experience to Nepal, where he collected water samples from the Himalayan glacier-fed Kosi River? as part of an expedition led by the Mountain Institute.

Based on his experience in the Rio Santa — where it was once assumed that 80 percent of water in the basin came from glacier melt — Mark said he expects to find that the impact of monsoon water is greatly underestimated in the Himalayas.

Jeff La Frenierre, a graduate student at Ohio State University, is studying Ecuador’s Chimborazo glacier, which forms the headwaters of three different watershed systems, serving as a water source for thousands of people. About 35 percent of the glacier coverage has disappeared since the 1970s.

La Frenierre first came to Ecuador as part of Engineers Without Borders to help build a water system, and soon started to ask what changes in the mountain’s glacier coverage would mean for the irrigation and drinking needs of the 200,000 people living downstream. Working with Mark and analyzing water streams, he said, is upending many of his assumptions.

Doomsday descriptions don’t fit
“The easy hypothesis is that it’s going to be a disaster here. I don’t know if that’s the case,” La Frenierre said. He agreed that overstatements about the impacts are rampant in the Himalayas as well, saying, “The idea that 1.4 billion people are going to be without water when the glaciers melt is just not the case. It’s a local problem; it’s a local question. There are places that are going to be more impacted than other places.”

Those aren’t messages that environmental activists will likely find easy to hear. Armstrong recalled giving a presentation in Kathmandu on his early findings to a less-than-appreciative audience.

“I didn’t agree with the doomsday predictions, and I didn’t have anything that was anywhere near spectacular,” Armstrong said. But, he added, “At the same time, it’s just basic Earth science, and we want to do a better job than we have been.”

The more modest numbers, they and other scientists stressed, don’t mean that glacier melt is unimportant to river basins. Rather, they said, they mean that the understanding of water systems throughout the Himalayan region must improve and water management decisions will need to be made at very local levels.

“We need to know at least where the water comes from,” Armstrong said. “How can we project into the future if we don’t know where the water comes from now?”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

Warming could exceed safe levels in this lifetime

NewsDaily: Warming could exceed safe levels in this lifetime.

By Nina ChestneyPosted 2011/10/23 at 1:03 pm EDT

LONDON, Oct. 23, 2011 (Reuters) — Global temperature rise could exceed “safe” levels of two degrees Celsius in some parts of the world in many of our lifetimes if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, two research papers published in the journal Nature warned.

A general view shows the Iztaccihuatl volcano in the city of Puebla, 100 km (62 miles) east of Mexico City, in this April 24, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/Instituto de Geofisica Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico/Files

“Certain levels of climate change are very likely within the lifetimes of many people living now … unless emissions of greenhouse gases are substantially reduced in the coming decades,” said a study on Sunday by academics at the English universities of Reading and Oxford, the UK’s Met Office Hadley Center and the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

“Large parts of Eurasia, North Africa and Canada could potentially experience individual five-year average temperatures that exceed the 2 degree Celsius threshold by 2030 — a timescale that is not so distant,” the paper said.

Two years ago, industrialized nations set a 2 degree Celsius warming as the maximum limit to avoid dangerous climate changes including more floods, droughts and rising seas, while some experts said a 1.5 degree limit would be safer.

It is widely agreed among scientists that global pledges so far for curbing greenhouse gas emissions are not strong enough to prevent “dangerous” climate change.

Next month, nations will meet for the next U.N. climate summit in Durban, South Africa, where a binding pact to reduce emissions looks unlikely to be delivered.

Instead, a global deal might not emerge until 2014 or 2015.

The study found that most of the world’s land surface is very likely to experience five-year average temperatures that exceed 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2060.

If emissions are substantially lowered, the two degree threshold might be delayed by up to several decades, it added.

However, even if global temperature rises are kept under two degrees by aggressive emissions cuts, some regions will still not avoid warming and the likelihood of extreme events such as heatwaves is still high in even a marginally warmer world.

A separate study by academics at Zurich’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the UK’s Met Office Hadley Center, among others, said it would be challenging to limit temperature rises to two degrees.

To achieve a greater than 66 percent chance of limiting temperature rise, global emissions will probably need to peak before 2020 and fall to about 44 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2020.

“Without a firm commitment to put in place the mechanisms to enable an early global emissions peak followed by steep reductions thereafter, there are significant risks that the 2 degree target, endorsed by so many nations, is already slipping out of reach,” the study said.

Green sidewalk makes electricity

Green sidewalk makes electricity — one footstep at a time – CNN.com.

“PaveGen” pavement slabs convert the energy from footsteps into electricity.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Engineer has developed paving slab that transforms energy from footsteps into electricity
  • First commercial order expected to power half of outdoor lighting at vast London shopping mall
  • Sustainability expert says slabs encourage sense of collective participation
  • Hopes one day to export across developing world to provide source of “off-grid” energy

London, England (CNN) — Paving slabs that convert energy from people’s footsteps into electricity are set to help power Europe’s largest urban mall, at the 2012 London Olympics site.Watch movie online John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

The recycled rubber “PaveGen” paving slabs harvest kinetic energy from the impact of people stepping on them and instantly deliver tiny bursts of electricity to nearby appliances. The slabs can also store energy for up to three days in an on-board battery, according to its creator.

In their first commercial application, 20 tiles will be scattered along the central crossing between London’s Olympic stadium and the recently opened Westfield Stratford City mall — which expects an estimated 30 million customers in its first year.

“That should be enough feet to power about half its (the mall’s) outdoor lighting needs,” said Laurence Kemball-Cook, a 25-year-old engineering graduate who developed the prototype during his final year of university in 2009.

The green slabs are designed to compress five millimeters when someone steps on them, but PaveGen will not share the precise mechanism responsible for converting absorbed kinetic energy into electricity.

A computer generated image showing PaveGen slabs installed on a subway staircase
A computer generated image showing PaveGen slabs installed on a subway staircase

Although each step produces only enough electricity to keep an LED-powered street lamp lit for 30 seconds, Kemball-Cook says that the tiles are a real-world “crowdsourcing” application, harnessing small contributions from a large number of individuals.

“We recently came back from a big outdoor festival where we got over 250,000 footsteps — that was enough to charge 10,000 mobile phones,” said Kemball-Cook.

The young inventor envisages PaveGen systems being used to power off-grid appliances such as public lighting, illuminated street maps and advertising, and to be installed in areas of dense human traffic such as city centers, underground stations and school corridors.

“Our main test installation is at a school in Kent (southeast England) — where 1,100 kids have devoted their lives to stamping all over them for the last eight months,” said Kemball-Cook.

In its current form, the PaveGen paving slab contains a low-energy LED which lights up, expressing the energy transfer idea to the user but only consuming around 5% of the energy from each footstep.

“This is what I really enjoy about the design,” said Richard Miller, head of sustainability at the UK’s government-funded Technology Strategy Board.

“As much as it’s an effective, common-sense source of some sustainable electricity, it’s also a great way for people to engage with the issue of sustainability … to feel like they are part of the solution in a very immediate, fun and visual way that doesn’t make you do anything you wouldn’t already be doing,” said Miller.

However, although generally enthusiastic about the product, for the time being Miller withholds speculation about its far-reaching impact.

“As with all things of this nature, on a large scale and in the long term, its success will be determined by how cost-effective it is to produce … If it turns out to be expensive, then it will struggle to find a place as anything more than a niche application,” he said.

Kemball-Cook declines to comment on the cost of each slab, arguing that their current price is much higher than what it will be when they go into mass production.

As with all things of this nature…its success will be determined by how cost-effective it is to produce
Richard Miller, UK Technology Strategy Board

That said, the company has already won a spate of awards, including the Big Idea category at the UK’s Ethical Business Awards and the Shell LiveWire Grand Ideas Award. PaveGen has also recently received a round of financing from a group of London-based angel investors, although the sum is undisclosed.

Kemball-Cook is confident that the slab is durable. Over the course of a month it was subjected to a machine that replicates the pounding of footsteps, non-stop every day, he added.

“It’s also really easy to install as a retrofit on existing pavements, because they can be made to match their exact dimensions … you just replace one slab with another,” he said.

Looking to the future, Kemball-Cook would like to see the paving system introduced to the developing world, in areas that have a high footfall, but are off-grid, such as the slums in Mumbai.

“The average person takes 150 million steps in their lifetime, just imagine the potential,” he said.

Beyond the Worst Case Climate Change Scenario

State of the Science: Beyond the Worst Case Climate Change Scenario: Scientific American.

Or, ‘expecting what is likely to actually happen’; an OLD article but still relevant

Climate change is “unequivocal” and it is 90 percent certain that the “net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) —a panel of more than 2,500 scientists and other experts—wrote in its first report on the physical science of global warming earlier this year. In its second assessment, the IPCC stated that human-induced warming is having a discernible influence on the planet, from species migration to thawing permafrost. Despite these findings, emissions of the greenhouse gases driving this process continue to rise thanks to increased burning of fossil fuels while cost-effective options for decreasing them have not been adopted, the panel found in its third report.

The IPCC’s fourth and final assessment of the climate change problem—known as the Synthesis Report—combines all of these reports and adds that “warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change.” Although countries continue to debate the best way to address this finding, 130 nations, including the U.S., China, Australia, Canada and even Saudi Arabia, have concurred with it.

“The governments now require, in fact, that the authors report on risks that are high and ‘key’ because of their potentially very high consequence,” says economist Gary Yohe?, a lead author on the IPCC Synthesis Report. “They have, perhaps, given the planet a chance to save itself.”

Among those risks:

Warming Temperatures—Continued global warming is virtually certain (or more than 99 percent likely to occur) at this point, leading to both good and bad impacts. On the positive side, fewer people will die from freezing temperatures and agricultural yield will increase in colder areas. The negatives include reduced crop production in the tropics and subtropics, increased insect outbreaks, diminished water supply caused by dwindling snowpack, and increasingly poor air quality in cities.

Heat Waves—Scientists are more than 90 percent certain that episodes of extreme heat will increase worldwide, leading to increased danger of wildfires, human deaths and water quality issues such as algal blooms.

Heavy Rains—Scientific estimates suggest that extreme precipitation events—from downpours to whiteouts—are more than 90 percent likely to become more common, resulting in diminished water quality and increased flooding, crop damage, soil erosion and disease risk.

Drought—Scientists estimate that there is a more than 66 percent chance that droughts will become more frequent and widespread, making water scarcer, upping the risk of starvation through failed crops and further increasing the risk of wildfires.

Stronger Storms—Warming ocean waters will likely increase the power of tropical cyclones (variously known as hurricanes and typhoons), raising the risk of human death, injury and disease as well as destroying coral reefs and property.

Biodiversity—As many as a third of the species known to science may be at risk of extinction if average temperatures rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Sea Level Rise—The level of the world’s oceans will rise, likely inundating low-lying land, turning freshwater brackish and potentially triggering widespread migration of human populations from affected areas.

“As temperatures rise, thermal expansion will lead to sea-level rise, independent of melting ice,” says chemical engineer Lenny Bernstein?, another lead author of the recent IPCC report. “The indications are that this factor alone could cause serious problems [and] ice-sheet melting would greatly accelerate [it].”

Such ice-sheet melting, which the IPCC explicitly did not include in its predictions of sea-level rise, has already been observed and may be speeding up, according to recent research that determined that the melting of Greenland’s ice cap has accelerated to six times the average flow of the Colorado River. Research has also shown that the world has consistently emitted greenhouse gases at the highest projected levels examined and sea-level rise has also outpaced projections from the IPCC’s last assessment in 2001.

“We are above the high scenario now,” says climatologist Stephen Schneider of Stanford University, an IPCC lead author. “This is not a safe world.”

Other recent findings include:

Carbon Intensity Increasing—The amount of carbon dioxide per car built, burger served or widget sold had been consistently declining until the turn of the century. But since 2000, CO2 emissions have grown by more than 3 percent annually. This is largely due to the economic booms in China and India, which rely on polluting coal to power production. But emissions in the developed world have started to rise as well, increasing by 2.6 percent since 2000, according to reports made by those countries to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also recently argued that U.S. emissions may continue to increase as a result of growing energy demand.

Carbon Sinks Slowing—The world’s oceans and forests are absorbing less of the CO2 released by human activity, resulting in a faster rise in atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. All told, humanity released 9.9 billion metric tons (2.18 X 1013 pounds) of carbon in 2006 at the same time that the ability of the North Atlantic to take in such emissions, for example, dropped by 50 percent.

Impacts Accelerating—Warming temperatures have prompted earlier springs in the far north and have caused plant species to spread farther into formerly icy terrain. Meanwhile, sea ice in the Arctic reached a record low this year, covering just 1.59 million square miles and thus shattering the previous 2005 minimum of 2.05 million square miles.

“The observed rate of loss is faster than anything predicted,” says senior research scientist Mark Serreze of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. “We’re already set up for another big loss next year. We’ve got so much open water in the Arctic now that has absorbed so much energy over the summer that the ocean has warmed. The ice that grows back this autumn will be thin.”

The negative consequences of such reinforcing, positive feedbacks (white ice is replaced by dark water, which absorbs more energy and prevents the formation of more white ice) remain even when they seemingly work in our favor.

For example, scientists at the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel in Germany recently discovered that plankton consumes more carbon at higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2. “The plankton were carbon-enriched,” says marine biologist Ulf Riebesell, who conducted the study. “There weren’t more of them, but each cell had more carbon.”

This could mean that microscopic ocean plants may potentially absorb more of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, other research (from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) has shown that such plankton does not make it to the seafloor in large enough amounts to sequester the carbon in the long term.

Further, such carbon-heavy plankton do not begin to appear until CO2 concentrations reach twice present values—750 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere compared with roughly 380 ppm presently (a level at which catastrophic change may be a certainty)—and they are less nutritious to all the animals that rely on them for food. “This mechanism is both too small and too late,” Riebesell says. “By becoming more carbon-rich, zooplankton have to eat more phytoplankton to achieve the same nutrition” and, therefore, “they grow and reproduce more slowly.”

The IPCC notes that there are cost-effective solutions, such as retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, but says they must be implemented in short order to stem further damage. “We are 25 years too late,” Schneider says. “If the object is to avoid dangerous change, we’ve already had it. The object now is to avoid really dangerous change.”

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The risk of an influenza pandemic is a fact

The risk of an influenza pandemic is fact, not fiction – health – 26 September 2011 – New Scientist.

SOME people don’t seem to believe anything they’re told about flu. You’ll often hear that the swine flu pandemic of 2009, along with the spectre of H5N1 bird flu, were “scares” backed by some conspiracy or other.

Of course, the 2009 pandemic was real, it just wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Bird flu is about as bad as flu can get, and the only thing that has kept it at bay has been its inability to spread easily between people.

That may have been a temporary situation. Work reported last week suggests that just a few mutations could make H5N1 highly contagious in humans without losing its ability to kill 60 per cent of those it infects (see “Five easy mutations to make bird flu a lethal pandemic”).

Now more than ever, the world needs its flu defences to be in order. The 2009 pandemic showed they aren’t, with vaccine arriving late, in relatively few countries. And because the pandemic was limited, investment to improve vaccines is far from booming.

It should be. If vaccines are not ready fast enough after the next pandemic hits, there will still be conspiracy theories, but the “scare” will be all too real.

Read more (also below): Five easy mutations to make bird flu a lethal pandemic

H5N1 bird flu can kill humans, but has not gone pandemic because it cannot spread easily among us. That might change: five mutations in just two genes have allowed the virus to spread between mammals in the lab. What’s more, the virus is just as lethal despite the mutations.

“The virus is transmitted as efficiently as seasonal flu,” says Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who reported the work at a scientific meeting on flu last week in Malta.

“This shows clearly that H5 can change in a way that allows transmission and still cause severe disease in humans. It’s scary,” says Peter Doherty, a 1996 Nobel prizewinner for work in viral immunology.

H5N1 evolved in poultry in east Asia and has spread across Eurasia since 2004. In that time 565 people are known to have caught it; 331 died. No strain that spreads readily among mammals has emerged in that time, despite millions of infected birds, and infections in people, cats and pigs. Efforts to create such a virus in the lab have failed, and some virologists think H5N1 simply cannot do it.

The work by Fouchier’s team suggests otherwise. They first gave H5N1 three mutations known to adapt bird flu to mammals. This version of the virus killed ferrets, which react to flu viruses in a similar way to humans. The virus did not transmit between them, though.

Then the researchers gave the virus from the sick ferrets to more ferrets – a standard technique for making pathogens adapt to an animal. They repeated this 10 times, using stringent containment. The tenth round of ferrets shed an H5N1 strain that spread to ferrets in separate cages – and killed them.

The process yielded viruses with many new mutations, but two were in all of them. Those plus the three added deliberately “suggest that as few as five are required to make the virus airborne”, says Fouchier. He will now test H5N1 made with only those five.

All the mutations have been seen separately in H5N1 from birds. “If they occur separately, they can occur together,” says Fouchier. Malik Peiris of the University of Hong Kong, a flu virologist, says this means H5N1 transmissible between humans can evolve in birds, where it is circulating already, without needing to spend time in mammals such as pigs.

Peter Palese, a flu specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City who has expressed doubts that H5N1 can adapt to mammals, is not convinced.

“Ferrets are not humans,” he says. “H5N1 has been around for a long time” and failed to mutate into a form that can jump between people.

“That it has not adapted doesn’t mean it cannot,” replies Jeffery Taubenberger of the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who studies how a bird flu became the deadly pandemic of 1918.

“It simply means that so far it has not – luckily for us.”

The Terrible Naivete Of Scientists

Mon Sep 26 16:18:14 BST 2011 by Jeff Corkern
http://www.theninepointfivetheses.blogspot.com

If this virus could infect humans, it would make one helluva biological weapon. A FIFTY per cent kill rate.

This possibility is not even mentioned. It hasn’t even crossed their tiny little naive academic minds, has it. All they’re thinking of is accidental release. The idea of deliberate release does not even seem possible, because of the terrible killing power of this thing.

What kind of security do you guys have around your viral stocks? How many levels of locked doors? Can your stocks be destroyed in seconds in case of attempted theft? Have you considered what action you would take if a terrorist showed up, pointed a gun at a secretary’s head and said, “Give me your viral stocks or I will blow her brains out all over your nice clean lab coat?”

You guys think this can’t happen?

You guys don’t think evil exists in the world?

Jeff Corkern

———————————————————————

Consider the following as a statement of logic, and rank it as “True” or “False”:

“If people possess immortal souls, it should be possible to logically deduce this by objective analysis of their actions.”

http://www.theninepointfivetheses.blogspot.com

The Terrible Naivete Of Scientists

Tue Sep 27 00:46:33 BST 2011 by Random Dude

Weaponisation and defence against said weapson is probably on the fore front of the funding body’s mind. Scientist can only work on a project if SOMBEBODY funds them.

Do you remember who funded the resurrection of the 1918 H1N1 virus?

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Governments are interested in what makes these super flu work.

The Terrible Naivete Of Scientists

Tue Sep 27 02:28:16 BST 2011 by Jeff Corkern
http://www.theninepointfivetheses.blogspot.com

Precisely my point. My objection is not so much to what they’re doing as they don’t seem to understand the implications of it.

You can use what they’re doing to fight viruses.

You can also use it for biological terrorism.

There’s not the slightest hint they understand the danger.

There was an NS article recently where a scientist who worked on emotion drugs was shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, that the bad guys were taking his research and using it to make better emotion drugs.

Scientists want to be famous.

If some terrorist takes their these guys’ work and uses it to create a flu that kills millions, well, they’ll be famous.

Jeff Corkern

——————————————————————

Consider the following as a statement of logic, and rank it as “True” or “False”:

“If people possess immortal souls, it should be possible to logically deduce this by objective analysis of their actions.”

http://www.theninepointfivetheses.blogspot.com

The Terrible Naivete Of Scientists

Sun Oct 02 16:13:56 BST 2011 by Andrew Thompson
http://www.athompson.info/

Just because they don’t blurt it out in public, does not mean they are unaware of the possibilities.