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- 10/04/15--10:00: _15 of the deadliest...
- 10/05/15--08:45: _Insane footage of S...
- 10/05/15--13:42: _The VW emissions ch...
- 10/05/15--19:50: _Chernobyl is full o...
- 10/07/15--10:58: _This tiny country j...
- 10/07/15--14:19: _Northern Mali is re...
- 10/07/15--14:36: _A Japanese company ...
- 10/08/15--11:35: _Here's who owns Ant...
- 10/08/15--12:28: _Here's what to do w...
- 10/09/15--12:02: _True wilderness no ...
- 10/10/15--03:18: _A Bill Gates-backed...
- 10/12/15--08:59: _An MIT scientist ha...
- 10/13/15--06:54: _The backbone of all...
- 10/13/15--11:14: _Giant, ancient viru...
- 10/14/15--11:07: _This 15-year-old wo...
- 10/14/15--19:28: _These economies do ...
- 10/15/15--07:54: _A volcano in Indone...
- 10/16/15--09:32: _El Niño is coming
- 10/18/15--06:00: _These cities have t...
- 10/18/15--10:59: _Why you shouldn't f...
- 10/04/15--10:00: 15 of the deadliest, most destructive American hurricanes in history
- 10/07/15--14:36: A Japanese company is building the first farm run entirely by robots
- 10/08/15--11:35: Here's who owns Antarctica
- 10/08/15--12:28: Here's what to do with your dead batteries
- 10/09/15--12:02: True wilderness no longer exists
- 10/13/15--06:54: The backbone of all ocean life could be irrevocably damaged by 2050
- 10/14/15--19:28: These economies do the most to protect their environments
- 10/15/15--07:54: A volcano in Indonesia erupts with electric-blue lava
- 10/16/15--09:32: El Niño is coming
- 10/18/15--10:59: Why you shouldn't flush or toss your old, unused pills
Hurricane season is in full force with Hurricane Joaquin's debut on September 31.
The season, which lasts from June to the end of November for the Atlantic Ocean, has seen plenty of catastrophic storms that have hit the US over the years.
Here's a look at some of the deadliest, most horrific storms of the past century, by decade.
Galveston, 1900: 8,000 to 12,000 deaths
The deadliest hurricane in US history happened at the turn of the 20th century. The Category 4 of 5 hurricane — with winds anywhere from 130-156 mph— made landfall in Galveston, Texas (pictured), then headed north through the Great Plains. Anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 people died in the storm.
San Felipe Okeechobee, 1928: 2,500 deaths
This hurricane was the second deadliest in US history, with more than 2,500 deaths. The Category 4 storm made landfall in Palm Beach on September 10, 1928. Puertor Rico got hit hard as well, with winds at 144 mph.
Hurricane Katrina, 2005: 1,200 deaths
Hurricane Katrina is arguably the most notorious storm of the 21st century. The storm made landfall as a Category 5 near Miami before striking Louisiana as a Category 3 storm. Katrina was the third deadliest, and costliest hurricane in US history with more than 1,200 deaths and $108 billion in damage.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Hurricane Joaquin has been making its way northeast away from the US — but not before dumping historic levels of rain on South Carolina.
Here's where the storm was as of Monday morning, just north of Bermuda.
Here's what the flooding looked like Friday on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
AJ Janavel's video of flooding on Ocean Blvd in North Myrtle Beach.Posted by Frank Johnson on Friday, October 2, 2015
And this is what Garden City Beach, South Carolina, an area just south of Myrtle Beach looked like on Friday as Hurricane Joaquin started making its way north.
At least six people have died in the storm since the flooding began. Some areas have flooded so bad that cars are almost completely submerged, like this one in Columbia, South Carolina.
Home to the University of South Carolina, Columbia recorded more than 10 inches of rain. The university was closed on Monday and the city warned residents to boil their drinking water because of a water treatment plant breach caused by the flooding.
The flooding was so bad that the city implemented a 6 p.m. curfew for Columbia residents.
On Friday, adventurous surfers braved the incoming weather to catch some waves.
Hurricane Joaquin has slowed down to a Category 1 storm with 85 mph winds as of 11 a.m. Monday, with tropical storm warnings still in effect for Bermuda.
Cheating is not a victimless crime.
The recent revelations that Volkswagen rigged in-vehicle software to defeat emissions tests are but the latest example of efforts to evade regulations that protect human health and the environment.
In crimes against the environment, it’s sometimes difficult to calculate who is affected and how substantial the damages are.
However, it is possible to estimate the damages, based on our understanding of the atmosphere and of how pollutants affect human health.
My analysis shows that Volkswagen’s deception – which resulted in emissions 30-40 times allowable levels when driving – could exceed US$100 million in economic costs from health damages.
This staggering sum hints at the scope of the consequences of just one case of corporate cheating.
What air pollutants are we talking about?
The pollutants that Volkswagen failed to effectively control are nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which are collectively known as NOx. NO2 is a dangerous air pollutant in its own right, as it can cause respiratory damages. But combined with other atmospheric pollutants, NOx can form even more dangerous pollutants: ozone and particulate matter.
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for diesel engines limit the amount of NOx that can be emitted per mile traveled. Volkswagen classified its vehicles as meeting so-called Tier II/Bin 5 emission standards, which means that they were allowed to emit 0.07 grams of NOx for every mile traveled over the lifetime of the vehicle. Actual emissions from affected cars were reported to be 10-40 times higher– as discovered by a US nongovernmental organization working with researchers from West Virginia University.
In practice, the total amount of excess pollution from each tailpipe will depend on the driving conditions – for example, whether vehicles were driven on highways or city streets – as well as how many miles were driven by these cars, and under what conditions and temperatures.
With more than 480,000 cars affected, estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 40,000 tons of extra NOx released in the United States.
The order of magnitude of this number makes sense: if each car traveled 15,000 miles per year and emitted 2.8 grams of NOx per mile instead of 0.07 grams per mile, the total amount of excess NOx would be over 10,000 metric tons.
To calculate the ozone and particulate matter formed as a result of this additional NOx, it is necessary to know where and when this NOx was released.
Then an atmospheric model can be used to calculate how pollutants travel and the chemical reactions they undergo.
A number of previous studies have examined the ozone and particulate matter formationfrom on-road sources of NOx, so good estimates exist of how much ozone and particulate matter would be formed on average per ton of NOx, and how these estimates vary with space and time.
What are the health impacts of this excess pollution?
Ozone and fine particles are known to cause serious human problems. Particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in size, small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs, are of most concern for health and are referred to as PM2.5. Negative health effects from PM2.5 include heart attacks, decreased lung function, bronchitis and aggravated asthma. Ozone can cause respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath and inflammation, and can worsen lung diseases such as asthma or emphysema. Both of these pollutants can lead to premature deaths.
Different methods of calculating the lives lost from the scandal have been discussed in the media. One way of calculating the human toll is to look at populations exposed to more or less pollution and differences in their health. Epidemiologists can derive statistical relationships between pollutant concentrations and health impacts like heart attacks and deaths. Models use this information to estimate the health damage of any given unit of pollution. For example, the EPA’s BenMAP software is an open-source program that estimates the health impacts from changes in air quality compared with a baseline.
An EPA study using BenMAP recently estimated that one ton of on-road NOx can be expected to lead to 0.00085 deaths, based on a commonly used function associating PM2.5with mortality rates. That means that for the amount of NOx estimated from the Volkswagen scandal (10,000-40,000 tons), we’d expect eight to 34 deaths.
How do regulators assess the economic costs of health impacts?
In proposing regulations on air quality, EPA conducts an analysis that assesses the cost and benefit of air quality improvements. The benefits of regulation can be thought of as the inverse of the pollution damages. If reducing a unit of pollution saves us money, then adding a unit of pollution would cost us.
Many economic researchers have studied how to express health damages from air pollution and other environmental risks in dollar terms. One approach would be to quantify the “cost of illness” – that is, add up the cost of treating an illness as well as the lost work time resulting from that illness. Another approach would be to assess the “willingness to pay,” which incorporates both these direct costs as well as the value people would attribute to the pain and suffering caused by the illness.
While efforts to monetize health impacts can be controversial, the EPA has used the concept of Value of Statistical Life (VSL) to take into account the economic implications of health burdens, which measures people’s willingness to pay in order to avoid risks of dying. The current estimate for VSL, which is adjusted every year, is about $9 million.
BenMAP uses these assumptions to come up with monetary estimates of the health burden of air pollution. The EPA study noted above used BenMAP to value the health burden per ton of NOx emitted from on-road sources at $7,300 using its VSL estimates. Even at the low end of estimates of tons of excess NOx emitted by the Volkswagen scandal (15,000 tons), a $7,300/ton health burden would exceed $100 million in damages.
How does this number compare?
It’s difficult to attach a precise figure to health damage caused by the Volkswagen scandal. But what we know about NOx in the atmosphere is clear: every excess ton emitted can have detrimental effects on people’s health, and those illnesses have a cost to individuals and society.
To compare these numbers with another high-profile case, the recent large-scale recall of defective air bags led to eight known deaths. While health impact analysis can’t identify specific affected individuals, the people whose lives were cut short because of Volkswagen’s actions – as well as the numerous others whose health was impaired – are the real victims of this crime.
Any delay on the part of Volkswagen to address this issue costs additional lives each year. The good news is that as soon as these cars are fixed, air pollution and our health will rapidly get better.
This article has been updated to correct the level of NOx emissions allowed by EPA rules and the estimate of grams emitted by car.
Noelle Eckley Selin, Associate Professor of Data, Systems, and Society and Atmospheric Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 had a devastating impact on the local population and forced 116,000 people to permanently leave their homes.
But now researchers have discovered that, while the people may not have returned, the contaminated area of Belarus is teeming with wild animals, including elk, wild boar, deer and wolves.
Perhaps surprisingly, many of these numbers seem to be on the rise and some of them are higher than in uncontaminated areas.
The abandoned area around the nuclear power plant, known as the Chernobyl exclusion zone, includes about 4750 square kilometres of land in both Ukraine and Belarus. The contamination in the exclusion zone is patchy, as the distribution of radioactive isotopes on the ground was influenced by the weather conditions at the time of the accident and the days following it. The radiation levels have reduced over the nearly 30 years since the accident, but in many parts of the zone they are too high for people to return.
The accident offered a unique opportunity to study the impacts on wildlife in the area – but hitherto researchers have failed to fully exploit it. The new study is important, as it is to our knowledge the first paper published in an international scientific journal on long-term changes in the population of mammals in the exclusion zone.
Shedding light on a confusing debate
Given the lack of rigorous studies, the debate about wildlife at the site has so far been divergent. This is true both of the scientific literature and the mainstream media, with articles such as “Wildlife defies Chernobyl radiation” and “Chernobyl ‘not a wildlife haven’” published shortly after one another.
Some of the research on the effect of radiation on wildlife populations, such as a study investigating insects and spiders, has reported significant, negative effects at relatively low levels – comparable with natural background dose rates in many countries. If these findings are correct, they have significant implications for the current radiation protection system for both humans and the environment.
However, very few of the studies conducted in the exclusion zone have considered medium or large mammal species. So even though some evaluations in the past have suggested that the area has become a wildlife sanctuary, such observations have, rightly, been criticized as being largely anecdotal.
The new study in Belarus used two methods to estimate the number of animals: helicopter surveys conducted in the winter months between 1987 and 1996 when animals were counted directly, and ground surveys to record tracks of mammals in snow in the winter months of 2008-2010. The results were compared to data from similar studies conducted in a number of uncontaminated nature reserves in Belarus.
The team found that the number of elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar within the Belarussian part of the exclusion zone are similar to those in four uncontaminated nature reserves. Of these, the number of elk and roe deer has increased consistently since 1987, with roe deer numbers increasing by about 10 times by 1996. The wild boar population dropped in 1993-94 but this was traced to a disease outbreak. They also found that the density of wolves is more than seven times higher in the zone than in other comparable areas, which is likely to be, at least in part, down to the fact that nobody is hunting them.
The researchers also looked at how many animals there were for different levels of radiation and found no relationship between ground contamination density (contamination in the exclusion zone has been relatively well mapped) and animal population.
The results contradict a previous study, also based on tracks in snow, which estimated that the number of animals is decreasing in the area. However, this study failed to appropriately estimate the doses the animals received. The actual dose an animal receives depends not only on the amount of external radiation they receive, but also on the amount of radioactive material that the animals ingest by eating and drinking in the area. The new study has attempted to make more accurate assessments of radiation exposure.
Is Chernobyl safe?
While the study has shed much-needed light on wildlife in the area, further research is needed to verify the result and help us understand why this effect is seen.
For example, the finding goes against what may be expected to be seen: that ionizing radiation is hazardous to living organisms. The results may even be taken to imply that raised radiation levels may have a beneficial effect on wildlife. However, it is important to keep in mind that as humans have left the zone, there is no agriculture, forestry or hunting to threaten wildlife. So radiation is most likely not good for animals, but removing humans definitely is.
There are likely to be negative effects of radiation in the exclusion zone. But currently we cannot clearly see this over the effects of humans leaving the area. For instance, the health or lifespan of the animals maybe affected and research is required to evaluate this.
Advances in photographic and acoustic recording techniques means we are now able to estimate the number of animals by observing them directly rather than looking at their tracks. We have embarked on a project using motion-activated cameras and sound recorders to investigate wildlife in different areas of the exclusion zone. Hopefully, this will provide more definitive conclusions on the relationship between dose rate and animal abundance.
Although our study continues, initial indications are that the apparent abundance of wildlife changes during the year, as do the species observed. Consequently, we could expect slightly different results from our five-year long research study to those found by others who have only surveyed in winter.
Nevertheless, the study just reported is currently the best evaluation we have. It is important, as it could help us understand the potential long-term environmental impact of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. But perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn from the Chernobyl accident with respect to Fukushima is to ensure that rigorous and co-ordinated research programmes are conducted in Japan to help understand the effects of radiation on the natural environment.
Recently, there seems to be an uptick in small nations or islands setting their sights on becoming increasingly, or completely, powered by non-fossil fuel energy sources, particularly renewables such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power.
This is welcomed news in a world that – despite recent advances in tackling climate change by the US and China– remains relatively paralyzed in its ability to make substantial changes to how it deals with climate change.
Earlier this year, Costa Rica met the entirety of its national power demand using renewable energy for 75 days straight.
Shortly afterwards, the US state of Hawaii passed legislature decreeing that, by 2045, the entire island will be powered by renewable, sustainable energy sources.
Denmark, one spectacularly windy day in July, generated 140% of the nation’s electricity demand through wind power alone, as reported by the Guardian. Remarkably, much of the excess was given to Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Sweden may have taken this to heart, because just last month they announced that they will be spending an extra $546 million (£360 million) on renewable energy and climate change action, beginning with their budget for 2016.
The ultimate aim is as ambitious as it is honorable: They hope to become one of the world’s first nations to end its dependence on fossil fuels. Solar energy, in particular, has seen its budget increase by 800%.
Although this nationwide goal has not got its own timetable yet, the Swedish government has announced that its capital of Stockholm aims to be powered only by sustainable energy sources by 2050.
This announcement couldn’t come soon enough: The United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be held this year in Paris, is beginning at the end of November. Sweden’s – and Denmark’s – climate change initiatives will hopefully influence the less keen attendees of the conference to begin to adapt their own countries’ energy grids.
The Ecologist reports that Sweden is also closing its nuclear power plants, although this is mainly due to their aging infrastructure. Nevertheless, no replacements are planned, with the government preparing to use only renewable energy sources. It should be pointed out that nuclear power plants are often lumped together with fossil fuel power plants as being just as harmful to the environment. However, in terms of climate change, nuclear power plants have a negligible carbon footprint more in line with renewables, as reported in Nature.
Governments often stop using nuclear power plants in response to political pressure, demonstrated by Germany's recent move. In this case, the Fukushima crisis in Japan – caused by a once-in-a-lifetime natural disaster – prompted the German government to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022, according to BBC News.
Germany, of course, is a country that does not suffer from tsunamis or dangerous earthquakes; there is a near-zero risk for any such crisis occurring to any nuclear power plants there.
Despite also eschewing nuclear power, Sweden is on track for becoming a nation powered by sustainable, renewable energy sources alone by the next half-century, which is a remarkable feat. Two-thirds of the country’s electricity is generated from non-fossil fuel energy sources already, mainly through hydroelectric and nuclear power generation.
It will be interesting to see how replacing their nuclear power plants with renewables will hamper or assist them on their path to becoming a fossil fuel-free nation.
Climate change is having an increasingly devastating effect in northern Mali.
People in the West African country are lacking water and affected by food insecurity. Without any means to face those hardships, young people leave rural areas or engage in criminal activities — or even terrorism. To put an end to extreme poverty, the country needs to develop renewable energy sources and gain easier access to international financing mechanisms that could fund them.
An ongoing drought is having devastating effects in the Kabara grazing site, located in the Gourma area near Timbuktu in northern Mali. There are no crops and no ponds. Cattle herds die in large numbers under the eyes of powerless farmers.
“I used to have 200 animals. Now I only have 20 left,” Hama Khalil, a farmer that Sahelien met in Kabara. Farmers have faced increasingly vulnerable drought-like conditions for the past seven years. Yet livestock represents 11% of Mali's GDP, according to the ministry of rural development.
Sedentary agriculture, one of the main activities of the Timbuktu region, is also affected by the drought. “With this crisis, there are no more oxen left to plow. We lost almost all our animals,” farmer Ibrahim Maïga said.
Silting up the Niger River
In Mali’s northeastern Gao region, the Niger River flows an area of about 250 square miles. Today, the river is threatened by silting, which significantly affects agriculture. Water levels are not only low but also unevenly distributed.
“Our greatest problem is the lack of water," said Mohamadou Younoussa, a farmer in Gao. "It’s been a month now since I plowed my field. Despite some of the rain that fell, the earth is still dry. Now we have to water with a pump.”
“We plow in the beginning of the rainy season, but after that we can go four to six months without doing anything, except if you have a vegetable garden or oxen to graze,” he said.
More than 50,000 people affected by the drought in the north of the country
According to numbers published by the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), about 54,600 people representing 7660 households and their cattle herds were affected by the lack of water in the Gao and Tombouctou regions in July.
There are also water shortages in the Kidal, region where queues form every day in front of water points. The depth of the ground water varies from 98 to 230 feet or more.
"We spend all our time running after tankers belonging to private individuals. Water is expensive and the price varies between 500 and 10,000 CFA Francs [$.85 and $17] for a tank of 10 barrels,” said Tinahok Walet Didi, a resident of the city of Kidal.
The city has eight hydraulic drills that operate with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Since the beginning of the year, the humanitarian organization has provided 4755 gallons of diesel every two months to operate the drills. Last June, 14265 gallons of fuel were delivered for a total of about 38 million CFA Francs ($65,000).
"Despite these efforts, Kidal is sometimes confronted with water access issues," said Ibrahim Tounkara, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Kidal. “There is some groundwater that dries up, which is the case this year,” he said.
Food security and climate change
The water shortage has serious consequences for the estimated 17 million people who live in Mali. According to UNOCHA, around three million people are faced with food insecurity during the hunger season, which spans from June to August. Today, “410,000 people need help immediately and over 750,000 children are threatened by extreme malnutrition,” the UN agency reports.
"The issue of food security is inseparable from the problem of climate change," said Mali’s head of state and President of the Permanent Inter-State Committee to Fight against Drought in the Sahel (CILSS), Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. "It also shows the importance of sustainable development and of the efficiency of the fight against poverty.”
Adaptation to climate change
The regional director of agriculture in Gao, Yacouba Touré, proposes to focus on the development of irrigation systems and canals to retain water so that farmers in the region don't solely rely on the rains.
In the Kidal region, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (Minusma) plans the dredging and water systems rehabilitation. "It is important during the rainy season that the water can stagnate and seep into the earth to regenerate groundwater," said Christophe Sivillon, the head of Minusma in Kidal.
Robots will be the farmers of the future.
A company in Japan is building an indoor lettuce farm that will be completely tended by robots and computers.
The company, named Spread, expects the factory to open in 2017, and the fully automated farming process could make the lettuce cheaper and better for the environment.
Spread already tends several large indoor farms, which have a multitude of environmental benefits.
The plants can be grown hydroponically without exhausting soil resources. Up to 98% of Spread’s water will be recycled, and the factory won’t have to spray pesticides, since the pests are outdoors.
Artificial lighting means the food supply won’t rely on weather variables, and the lighting can be supplied through renewable energy. Currently Spread grows about 7.7 million heads of lettuce a year, and sells them at about the same price as regular lettuce.
It sounds like the company is hoping to increase its production and lower its prices by making their growing process even more automated.
Right now it’s pretty common for indoor farms to have temperature, humidity, light, and CO2 controlled automatically by a computer. Spread hopes to have the entire process run by robots, from seeding to harvesting. For now, the Wall Street Journal reports that the company is still working on a machine that can plant the seeds, and their process still requires human eyes to determine whether a seedling has sprouted.
Computer vision systems have been trained to recognize different toppings on pizza, so presumably getting a system to see the difference between a baby plant and empty dirt won’t be a show-stopper.
Fast Company reports that Spread’s new factory, which begins construction next year, should cut labor costs by 50 percent, which translates to savings for consumers. For more on how we’ll grow and consume food in the future, check out the Future Of Food feature in Popular Science’s October issue.
This article originally appeared on Popular Science.
This article was written by Sarah Fecht from Popular Science and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
SEE ALSO: The truth about growing potatoes on Mars
At the bottom of the world sits a vast, frozen desert continent where few animals venture and even fewer humans ever see: Antarctica.
Alhough scientists and the occasional tourist visits this white wonderland, no one permanently lives on Antarctica, making it the only uninhabited continent on Earth.
That begs the question: Who owns Antarctica?
During the first half of the 20th century, seven countries— including Britain, Norway, and New Zealand — laid claim to certain regions of Antarctica. However, their claims are only recognized by the respective countries themselves.
Most people have some kind of drawer full of junk, and in almost all of those drawers you'll find a dead battery or two.
But luckily, in many places you can now actually throw those used AAAs into the trash. You can also recycle them at tons of locations across the country.
Here's how to know if you can toss those batteries or not.
First, it depends on what kind of battery you're trying to get rid of.
Car batteries, and any other type of large, lead-acid battery, can't go in your household trash or recycling. This should be obvious once you hear "lead" and "acid"— two things that shouldn't be released into the environment willy-nilly.
The good news is that 98% of lead acid batteries are being recycled already, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. You can look up where to dispose of car and other lead-acid batteries on Earth911.
No rechargeable batteries should go in the trash, either. They almost always contain nickel cadmium, which according to the EPA can leach into the soil, water and air in landfills or incinerators. The package should warn you that you have to take the rechargeable batteries to a collection site.
But for regular batteries that power our remotes and toys, the question is a little trickier to answer. And they're a big sector, too: Americans purchase over 3 billion dry-cell batteries a year, according to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
You've probably heard that you were never supposed to throw away AA, AAA, or other letter-named batteries. This was because in the past, they were made from harmful heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel.
But many companies started removing these ingredients from their products in the early 1990s, and the 1996 Battery Act meant they all had to phase out mercury, so the batteries we use today are safer to throw directly into the trash.
Duracell says its household batteries are made of steel, zinc, and manganese, and can be thrown away in your normal trash.
But this recommendation can differ from what local governments say, which is who you really should look it up.
NYC, for example, says you can throw away alkaline batteries with the household trash, while California classifies all batteries as "hazardous waste." San Francisco recommends putting them in their own bag or in a collection bin provided by your apartment building.
And while many people can now throw their batteries into the trash, they can also be recycled into tons of different things— from cement to new batteries — so you should drop them off at collection sites so they aren't wasted. Earth911 has a search tool for that, too.
No matter what you decide to do with your regular batteries, make sure you tape the ends, because they could have a little spark left and start a fire if they come into contact with other batteries.
When we think about how technology is encroaching on our lives and invading our privacy, there's one place that seems like it should always remain the same: the wilderness.
But technology has altered that, too — and especially our relationship to it.
In an interview with Mother Jones, Jason Mark, an environmental journalist, urban farmer, and editor of Earth Island Journal, ponders whether there are truly any natural places left on Earth that are private, untouched, and totally wild.
"For a long time, people understood wilderness to mean pristine. It was this place where there weren't any marks of human civilization," Mark told Mother Jones. "I and lot of people are beginning to have a new understanding of wilderness, which is that we live on a post-pristine planet; there is no place that has not been touched to some degree by civilization."
Even just 10 years ago, you could take a trip to the country surrounding Yosemite National Park in California and find mountaintops and meadows that had never been explored by humans. You could be truly alone. Now, with the explosion of Google Maps and satellite surveillance, there are few, if any, places we can go to explore for the first time and escape.
"There are Google drones and GPS, everything is mapped," Mark told Mother Jones. "There are no more white spaces on the map."
And this is a problem, Mark argues, because "the wilderness is one of the last places where a citizen can walk unwatched."
If we've lost the existence of and our connection to the wilderness, Mark argues, then we'll have lost our connection to this space that is currently under duress. Climate change is real. Severe drought, wildfires, flooding, and erratic weather patterns are threatening the integrity of these once-wild spaces.
And if we've stopped connecting to these places in person, Mark says, then we won't feel a personal responsibility to save them.
As we slowly lose this space to explore and be alone with our thoughts and feelings, we may one day lose our connection to the very place we need to survive, the place most in need of our care: the planet.
Read the rest Mark's thoughts on the loss of the wilderness in his Mother Jones interview here.
Squamish (Canada) (AFP) - A company with global plans to pull carbon from thin air to make fuel, while tackling climate change, opened a pilot plant in this remote western Canadian community.
Carbon Engineering, backed by Bill Gates and other investors, unveiled a test facility able to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using giant fans.
That carbon goes through a series of chemical processes and emerges as pellets, which can be used to make fuel — or simply be stored underground.
The company was founded in Calgary in 2009 by David Keith, a Harvard University climate scientist, with funding from private investors.
Unlike existing machines that capture carbon from smokestacks like those of coal-fired power plants, the direct-air-capture plant deals "with emissions from sources you just can't otherwise capture," said company chief executive Adrian Corless.
"It's now possible to take CO2 out of the atmosphere, and use it as a feed stock, with hydrogen, to produce net zero emission fuels."
The benefit of those synthesized fuels, Corless told AFP, is they can be tailor-made for use in existing systems, from petrol pumps to automobiles and airplanes.
"You don't have to re-tool the $30 trillion in (global) infrastructure now used to deliver fossil fuels," Corless said.
While alternative energies, from wind to solar, are being developed, "there's not a lot of options to power airplanes and vehicles," said Corless. "For me, this is most exciting."
"The economics are attractive," said scientist Hadi Dowlatabadi, of the University of British Columbia.
This small town north of Vancouver welcomed the company moving into an unused industrial site, and the opening was blessed by members of the aboriginal Squamish Nation as a working example of traditional teachings to take care of the world.
'Have to adapt'
"We have to adapt to the modern world," said councilor Chris Lewis.
Mark Jaccard, professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, said the technology holds promise to reduce greenhouse gases and climate change.
"What humans really should be doing is really either not using fossil fuels — or using fossil fuels and capturing the carbon so it doesn't go into the atmosphere," Jaccard said.
Other companies around the world are experimenting with air capture, but Corless said Carbon Engineering's design is unique because it can be quickly and affordably scaled up to industrial size.
Corless said the pilot plant began operations in June and has already captured 10 tonnes of C02.
The company says it plans to use the data from the pilot plant in Squamish to design its first commercial plant by 2017, which it says will cost no more than $200 million.
"We should be in a position to be selling synthetic fuels in 2018," said Corless.
He said synthetic fuels, like fossil fuels, provide an energy source concentrated enough to power airplanes and long-haul ground transportation.
Anirudh Sharma doesn't just want to pull harmful carbon from the air. He wants to offer a cheaper alternative to the exorbitant costs of ordinary printer ink.
Sharma recently invented "Kaala," a device that can gobble up harmful pollutants and instantly repurpose them, with a little help from alcohol and oil, into black printer ink.
One day, Sharma hopes to commercialize the device so it can live in every home around the world.
The idea came to him after one-too-many smog-filled trips to his home country of India.
"On a hot summer day, if you take a handkerchief and rub it on your skin, the handkerchief actually turns a little brownish-blackish in color," says Sharma, a scientist at MIT's Media Lab. "So we thought, 'How do we repurpose something we complain about on an everyday basis into something that is a utility?'"
Sharma admits the black could still be blacker. Since it was designed as a research project, Kaala would also need to hold up against formal toxicity standards before it can hit the market.
The food chains of the world’s oceans are at risk of collapse due to the release of greenhouse gases, overfishing and localised pollution, a stark new analysis shows.
A study of 632 published experiments of the world’s oceans, from tropical to arctic waters, spanning coral reefs and the open seas, found that climate change is whittling away the diversity and abundance of marine species.
The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found there was “limited scope” for animals to deal with warming waters and acidification, with very few species escaping the negative impact of increasing carbon dioxide dissolution in the oceans.
The world’s oceans absorb about a third of all the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels. The ocean has warmed by about 1C since pre-industrial times, and the water increased to be 30% more acidic.
The acidification of the ocean, where the pH of water drops as it absorbs carbon dioxide, will make it hard for creatures such as coral, oysters and mussels to form the shells and structures that sustain them. Meanwhile, warming waters are changing the behaviour and habitat range of fish.
The overarching analysis of these changes, led by the University of Adelaide, found that the amount of plankton will increase with warming water but this abundance of food will not translate to improved results higher up the food chain.
“There is more food for small herbivores, such as fish, sea snails and shrimps, but because the warming has driven up metabolism rates the growth rate of these animals is decreasing,” said associate professor Ivan Nagelkerken of Adelaide University. “As there is less prey available, that means fewer opportunities for carnivores. There’s a cascading effect up the food chain.
“Overall, we found there’s a decrease in species diversity and abundance irrespective of what ecosystem we are looking at. These are broad scale impacts, made worse when you combine the effect of warming with acidification.
“We are seeing an increase in hypoxia, which decreases the oxygen content in water, and also added stressors such as overfishing and direct pollution. These added pressures are taking away the opportunity for species to adapt to climate change.”
The research adds to recent warnings over the state of the oceans, with the world experiencing the third global bleaching of coral reefs.
Since 2014, a massive underwater heatwave, driven by climate change, has caused corals to lose their brilliance and die in every ocean. By the end of this year 38% of the world’s reefs will have been affected. About 5% will have died.
Coral reefs make up just 0.1% of the ocean’s floor but nurture 25% of the world’s marine species. There are concerns that ecosystems such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which has lost half its coral cover over the past 30 years, could be massively diminished by 2050 unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed and localised pollution is curbed.
Meanwhile, warming of the oceans is causing water to thermally expand, fuelling sea level rises caused by melting land ice. Research released in the US on Monday found that Antarctic ice is melting so fast that the whole continent could be at risk by 2100, with severe consequences for coastal communities.
Problems in the ocean’s food chains will be a direct concern for hundreds of millions of people who rely upon seafood for sustenance, medicines and income. The loss of coral reefs could also worsen coastal erosion due to their role in protecting shorelines from storms and cyclones.
“These effects are happening now and will only be exacerbated in the next 50 to 100 years,” Nagelkerken said. “We are already seeing strange things such as the invasion of tropical species into temperate waters off south-eastern Australia. But if we reduce additional stressors such as overfishing and pollution, we can give species a better chance to adapt to climate change.”
Melting ice in the Arctic circle has been thawing out some gigantic ancient viruses.
Last month, researchers announced they were studying a 30,000-year-old giant virus called Mollivirus sibericum that they found in melted Siberian permafrost. The virus was functional and able to infect amoeba.
This isn't the first time researchers have found big viruses that have challenged what we thought we knew about the tiny invaders. Mimivirus, discovered in 2003, has 1,200 genes and is twice the width of traditional viruses.
We recently chatted with New York Times columnist and "A Planet of Viruses" author Carl Zimmer to see what he thought about the discovery. In terms of its potential risk to people, he said we don't need to be concerned.
But he said the finding is fascinating for several other reasons, including what it tells us about viruses in general.
"These particular viruses infect amoeba. So if you're an amoeba, yeah you should be really scared," Zimmer told Business Insider. "There are no human pathogens that have burst out of the Siberian permafrost. That's not to say that viruses won't emerge, but there are so many viruses circulating in living animals, I think we should put these frozen viruses very low on our list of concerns."
Instead, Zimmer said they were more fascinating than scary.
These viruses are about 30 times bigger than your average virus, rivaling the size of a bacterium. Here's a shot of Mollivirus sibericum under the microscope:
In addition to its unusual size, Mollivirus sibericum has other components which separate it from the vast majority of viruses. It has more than 500 genes, for example, which give the virus instructions for making proteins. By contrast, HIV has just nine genes.
"They're in and of themselves fascinating and they really challenge us to think about what viruses are," said Zimmer.
Viruses are technically not considered alive, but these giant viruses do seem to have some of the qualities of being alive, like a functioning metabolism. If we're ever going to rethink the characteristics of viruses, these giant thawed-out viruses will be the ones to make us do it.
Hannah Herbst wants to bring renewable energy to the developing world.
The 15-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida, won this year's Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for designing a probe to generate power and fresh water for developing countries by harvesting it from ocean currents.
She was awarded $25,000 and the title of "America's Top Young Scientist" at a competition at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Herbst told Business Insider she was inspired by her 9-year-old pen pal in Ethiopia who has limited access to electricity. "I cant even imagine a day without electricity," said Herbst.
How the device works
Herbst's energy probe is made of recycled materials and costs just $12.
It consists of a 3D-printed propeller, connected by a pulley inside a plastic PVC pipe to a hydroelectric generator, which converts the mechanical movement of ocean currents to usable electricity. She tested her device in the Boca Raton Intracoastal Waterway, where the current coming in from the Altantic Ocean produces a large amount of untapped energy.
Using her device, she was able to power a set of LED lights.
She calculated that if her design were scaled up, she could generate enough electricity to charge three car batteries at once in less than an hour. That's enough energy to power saltwater desalinization pumps to provide a source of fresh water for developing countries. It could also power blood centrifuges for medical use, or coastal beacons for ship navigation.
Herbst was one of nine finalists.
Over the past three months, each of them was paired with a 3M scientist as part of a summer mentoring program to take their inventions from design to prototype.
Herbst worked with 3M corporate scientist Jeffrey Emslander, whose research has helped the company reduce its emissions and produce its products using less energy. Here they are accepting the award:
The competition's second place prize went to Raghav Ganesh, an eighth grader from San Jose, California, for an invention that monitors physiological and environmental factors that can trigger meltdowns in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Third place went to Amulya Garimella, a seventh grader from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who created a system that monitors EEG brainwaves and alerts the user when he or she is distracted.
Iris Gupta, a seventh grader from North Potomac, Maryland, won fourth place for her project to stop allergies at their source by inhalation or injection of nanoparticles that block particles that trigger allergies.
As for Herbst, she plans to donate some of her winnings to her Ethiopian pen pal, and a new building at her school. The rest will go into her college fund, she said.
She also plans to keep working with her 3M mentor to improve her ocean energy device, and eventually deploy it in developing countries.
You can also check out a video featuring Herbst and the other finalists:
Placing areas under environmental protection helps in the fight against climate change, but it also shelters ecosystems, improves food security, acts as a natural barrier against disaster, serves as a genetic bank for biodiversity and scientific research, and plays an important role in society and culture.
A 2014 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Protected Planet, revealed that 15.4% of the world’s terrestrial areas and 3.4% of oceans now enjoy legal protection.
The UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which were launched in September 2015, aim to increase that number by conserving at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020, and by enforcing international obligations regarding the protection of land such as forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands.
The latest World Bank data below shows the combined percentage of protected terrestrial and marine areas per economy in 2012. (Countries under 1,000 square kilometres are not included.)
Mountainous Slovenia protects more than half of its territory (54.9%), which equates to an area of nearly 11,130km2.
Venezuela, in second place, is one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world, but has suffered severe environmental degradation. The country has made great strides in protecting its natural environment through environmental regulation, and leads the way in Latin America.
Germany, which recently announced it would be transforming 62 former military bases into wildlife sanctuaries, comes third.
Three sub-Saharan African nations – Namibia (fifth), Zambia (sixth) and Botswana (ninth) – have taken steps to preserve their natural heritage, which has both protected local cultures and wildlife, and paid dividends through their safari-tourism markets.
Other European micro-states, Liechtenstein (fourth) and Luxembourg (seventh), also feature in the top 10. Although almost all of Monaco’s territory (98.4%) is protected, it is not included in the ranking because the tiny state is only 2.2km2.
Hong Kong SAR, China (sixth), which has engaged in extensive green policies pioneered by its environmental protection department, is the only region in Asia to be featured.
An Indonesian volcano has erupted what appears to be electric-blue lava flows, as photographed by Reuben Wu.
Although surreal, this bright blue coloration is a result of nothing more than a tweak of chemistry.
Volcanoes come in a variety of destructive flavors, both on Earth and on other planetary bodies in our Solar System.
Shield volcanoes like Kilauea effusively erupt lava, fairly slow, over long periods of time.
Tall, mountainous stratovolcanoes like Mount Fuji remain silent for many hundreds of years before unleashing their cataclysmic fury on the world.
Volcanoes on Io, one of Jupiter’s innermost moons, produce spectacular eruption columns that reach heights of 500 kilometers (310 miles) that are literally out of this world. In any case, the lava produced tends to be an orangey-red color.
Incredibly, a volcanic complex in Indonesia that goes by the name of Kawah Ijen bucks this trend: When it erupts, its lava burns an iridescent blue.
The Ijen volcanic complex is a collection of stratovolcanoes in East Java, containing a large cauldron-shaped “caldera” that is approximately 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) across. The highest peak belongs to the volcano Gunung Merapi, which very appropriately, if unoriginally, translates as “mountain of fire.”
As documented beautifully by Reuben Wu’s incredible photography, Kawah Ijen is almost the definition of unreal, particularly at night. The lava isn’t texturally or physically that different from the sort of lava that emerges from most stratovolcanoes: it’s fairly viscous, slow moving, and around 600-900°C (1112-1652°F). In fact, the lava itself is red, not blue. So what’s going on here?
Lava lets out a vast amount of thermal energy, as you might imagine, enough in fact to cook a steak over several times. This emission of thermal radiation gives lava its red hue. In this case, however, the lava is actually burning something else: pockets of sulfur, which spew out of the volcanic crevices along with the molten rock.
Burning elements is something we should all remember from our teenage years in chemistry class. When potassium is placed in the flame of a Bunsen burner, it burns and produces a lilac color. Burning calcium produces a yellowish-red flame, and copper burns green-blue. Sulfur? Yep, you’ve guessed it: when ignited, in this case by the searing heat of the lava itself, it burns an iridescent blue.
The burning process reveals much about the energy of the chemical reaction that is occurring. A red coloration indicates a low quantity of energy is being released; green hues are representative of moderately energetic reactions. Blue flames are releasing the most energy, meaning that the blue flames of Kawah Ijen are incredibly energetic. The sulphurous pockets, released under high pressure, ignite at temperatures of 600°C (1,112°F), producing flames that reach up to 5 meters (16 feet) high, as the Nerdist reports.
If you do go to Indonesia to check out the technicolor displays of deep-red liquid sulfur, bright blue igniting sulfur, and the eerie walls of cooled, yellow sulfur, do keep something in mind. Sulfur gases are, apart from being horrifically pungent, incredibly damaging to the respiratory system. Aside from being an aesthetic wonder to marvel at, this volcano can kill you without the lava even touching you. Best take a gas mask with your DSLR camera, then!
Weather forecasters have released their predictions for this year's winter weather, and there's good news and bad news.
According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's forecast for the 2015-16 winter, El Niño weather conditions are expected to bring cooler, wetter weather to Southern states, and warmer weather to the West and Northern states.
El Niño is a series of climate changes that occurs every few years and affects the Pacific ocean near the equator, linked to unusually warm, nutrient-poor water off the coast of northern Peru and Ecuador. And this year's El Nino is gearing up to be a big one.
"A strong El Niño is in place and should exert a strong influence over our weather this winter," Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said in a statement.
There will likely be bouts of cold air and snow storms this winter, but scientists can't predict how frequent or intense these will be, Halpert added.
Here's what kind of weather you can expect:
NOAA predicts wetter-than-usual weather in the Southern US, from south-central California, across Texas, to Florida, up the East Coast to southern New England, and in southeastern Alaska.
Drier-than-average weather is predicted for Hawaii, central and western Alaska, parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, and close to the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.
Expect warmer-than-average temperatures across much of the West and the northern half of the lower 48, as well as Alaska and much of Hawaii, NOAA says. And cooler-than-normal temperatures are likely in the southern Plains and the Southeast.
According to the US Drought Outlook, central and southern California could get some relief by the end of January, but it won't end the drought. California would need almost twice its normal rainfall to end the drought, Halpert said. But the entire state might get some relief during February and March.
Droughts could end across large parts of the Southwest, and possibly in the southern Plains. But drought conditions are likely to continue in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, and will probably hit Hawaii, parts of the northern Plains and in the northern Great Lakes region.
But El Niño is not the only factor at play.
Winter weather can also be affected by the Arctic Oscillation, a counterclockwise flow of Arctic air that can swirl down South; nor'easters on the East Coast; and the Madden-Julia Oscillation, a weather anomaly that can affect how many heavy rain storms hammer the Pacific Northwest.
Air pollution already kills 3.3 million people a year.
And that number could double by 2050.
The most harmful pollutant to human health is called PM 2.5, short for particle matter that's less than 2.5 microns in diameter. It's found in soot, smoke, and dust and lodges in the lungs causing long-term health problems like asthma and chronic lung disease.
PM 2.5 starts to become a health problem when there is more than 35.5 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter (written like 35.5 µg/m3) of air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But the World Health Organizations recommends that PM 2.5 shouldn't even exceed 10 µg/m3.
The most polluted cities on Earth have anywhere from 9 to 15 times that amount – based on information from the WHO – and you might be surprised which make the top 10 list. Check them out:
10. Lucknow, India - 96 µg/m3 of PM 2.5
Lucknow, a city in northern India, starts off the top 10 cities with the worst air pollution levels list. It still significantly has a high average air pollution level that falls into the "unhealthy" category. Vehicle emissions are a major factor in Lucknow's air pollution problem.
9. Ahmedabad, India - 100 µg/m3 of PM 2.5
India's western city Ahmedabad gets its air pollution in part from the major construction happening in the city.
8. Khorramabad, Iran - 102 µg/m3 of PM 2.5
Khorramabad, a city in western Iran, had the country's highest air pollution levels. One of the most populous cities in Iran, Khorramabad is an agriculture hub, which likely contributes to its air pollution problems.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
You may have heard by now that you're not supposed to flush medication down the toilet.
Dozens of scientific studies have found remnants of our medications in rivers, lakes, and streams. And fish don't need your unused Ambien — it could even hurt them.
It's not just old pills that cause drugs to build up in the waterways, though. The buildup of prescription drugs in the environment is mainly due to the fact that our bodies don't process all of the ingredients, so they often enter the water system when we go to the bathroom.
But flushing the meds directly can add to the buildup, too.
"Medications that are flushed down the toilet or thrown straight into the garbage can and do find their way into our nation’s waterways every day," Sam D. Hamilton, Southeastern Regional Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a press release. "Those drugs are present in water that supports many species of fish and other wildlife. We are concerned about reports of fish abnormalities possibly caused by improperly disposed prescription medications."
So how should you dispose of your leftover or expired medications?
The best option, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, is to bring them to a community take-back program. Many police stations and pharmacies are designated drop-off sites. You can use these tools to find law enforcement agencies or pharmacies that will dispose of medication near you.
If you can't find one of those, you legally can dispose of medicines in the trash. But the FDA recommends first combining them with an undesirable substance like coffee grounds or kitty litter so children or pets don't eat them, putting them in a plastic bag to prevent leakage, and destroying your name on prescription drug containers to protect your identity.
But throwing medications away should really be a last resort, for the environment's sake.