Sci/tech

Are Desalination Technologies the Answer to the World Water Crisis?
March 24, 2011 08:54 AM - Richard Matthews, Global Warming is Real

Investors and policy makers are increasingly advocating desalination technologies that use seawater to make freshwater. As reviewed in an EcoSeed Special Report, the interest in desalination technologies is growing due to the fact that there is insufficient fresh water to meet the daily drinking and sanitation needs of all those inhabiting the planet.

U.S. nuclear agency plans safety review
March 24, 2011 06:48 AM - Ayesha Rascoe and Roberta Rampton, Reuters, WASHINGTON |

The top U.S. nuclear regulator on Wednesday approved the launch of a safety review of U.S. nuclear reactors sought by President Barack Obama in response to the ongoing crisis at Japan's Fukushima plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted to create an agency task force made up of current and former commission experts that will review the information from the disaster and advise whether any changes are needed at U.S. nuclear plants. "We will perform a systematic and methodical review to see if there are changes that should be made to our programs and regulations to ensure protection of public health and safety," NRC head Gregory Jaczko said in a statement.

Small but mighty, new from BBC Earth
March 23, 2011 02:51 PM - Adelle Havard, BBC Earth

Sometimes the smallest of things can have the greatest of impacts. We've all woken up to find we’ve no milk in the fridge and got to wondering how we ever did without it! Well, as strange as it may sound the Pacific Herring is a little like that. Commonly referred to as "the silver of the sea", these oily little fish have proved to be the most commercially important part of the fishing industry. Being a staple part of the human diet since at least 3000 B.C. Although, it's not just humans who have developed a taste for these delicate bait bits. With a list of predators as long as your arm, it's not surprising that they have developed a way of breeding which ensures their survival. Ecological biomass is a term used to describe how living biological organisms group together to defend their species against the many predators they face, there is after all power in numbers! This isn't an uncommon technique, and we see similarities in the breeding habits of many animals, particularly those who live in herds.

India must learn from Fukushima nuclear meltdown
March 21, 2011 09:05 AM - A. Gopalakrishnan, SciDevNet

Four of the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan seem to be steadily moving towards progressive core melting. If sizeable core melt occurs, very dangerous species of radioactive fission products in the form of gases, micro-dust and droplets could spread to large areas, depending on wind conditions. This inevitably raises real concerns for other countries, such as India, that have nuclear facilities of their own.

Banana peel can purify water, say scientists
March 18, 2011 09:11 AM - Daniela Hirschfeld, SciDevNet

[MONTEVIDEO] Banana peels can be used to purify drinking water contaminated with toxic heavy metals such as copper and lead, according to a study. Researchers from the Bioscience Institute at Botucatu, Brazil, said that the skins can outperform even conventional purifiers such as aluminium oxide, cellulose and silica. These have potentially toxic side effects and are expensive.

How To Test for Toxicity
March 17, 2011 06:11 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

There are zillions of products and chemicals in the world. Some are obviously toxic. Others are more subtle or simply unknown because they were never studied. Study is expensive and time consuming. Several federal agencies have unveiled a new high-speed robot screening system that will test 10,000 different chemicals for potential toxicity. The system marks the beginning of a new phase of an ongoing collaboration, referred to as Tox21, that is working to protect people’s health by improving how chemicals are tested in this country. The robot system, which is located at the National Institutes of Health Chemical Genomics Center (NCGC), was purchased as part of the Tox21 collaboration established in 2008 between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National Toxicology Program, and NCGC, with the addition of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010. Tox21 merges existing resources – research, funding and testing tools – to develop ways to more effectively predict how chemicals will affect human health and the environment.

Earthquakes Change the Earth
March 15, 2011 01:57 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

The March 11, magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan may have shortened the length of each Earth day and shifted its axis. Using a United States Geological Survey estimate for how the fault responsible for the earthquake slipped, research scientist Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., applied a complex model to perform a preliminary theoretical calculation of how the Japan earthquake-the fifth largest since 1900-affected Earth's rotation. His calculations indicate that by changing the distribution of Earth's mass, the Japanese earthquake should have caused Earth to rotate a bit faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds (a microsecond is one millionth of a second). There are about 86,400 seconds (86 billion microseconds) in a day, so the impact of the earthquake is quite small. The calculations also show the Japan quake should have shifted the position of Earth's figure axis (the axis about which Earth's mass is balanced) by about 6.5 inches, towards 133 degrees east longitude. The Earth's figure axis is not the same as its north-south axis in space, which it spins around once every day at a speed of about 1,000 mph. The figure axis is the axis around which the Earth's mass is balanced.

New from BBC Earth: Migrating with Mom
March 12, 2011 11:11 AM - Editor, BBC Earth

Any great journey starts out with a little trepidation, think back to your first day of school, walking out into the big wide world (or playground) and then looking back to see your guardian eagerly watching and willing you to keep going. These first steps are always the hardest, and as one of the the largest mammals on the earth there's no exception. Scientifically classified as one of the "big-winged" (Megaptera) species, the Humpback Whale make their annual move north from the warm Hawaiian Island waters from March onwards. Seeking fresh food and cooler temperatures, these magnificent giants will travel through currents so challenging that only perseverance will see them through. And as a newborn, the first ocean crossing will be something to remember. After approximately four months of not eating and living off her own blubber, it's not just the cow's instinct which is telling her that it’s time to move on. With calf in tow, she sets off. From the low-latitude breeding grounds, they will travel at 3-9 mph (5-15kph) or as fast as the calf can swim. Sometimes this can take up to three months, but at 1,000miles per month, at this stage they can’t afford to waste a moment of their time.

Icelandic Geothermal Energy
March 8, 2011 03:38 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

Iceland’s largest energy company is considering construction of the world’s longest underwater electric cable so the nation can sell its vast geothermal and volcanic energy to the European market. By the end of the year, state-owned energy company, Landsvirkjun, will complete a study of building a sub-sea cable that could deliver as much as five terawatt-hours (5 billion kilowatt-hours) annually to Europe, enough electricity to power 1.25 million homes. Geothermal energy is thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth. Thermal energy is energy that determines the temperature of matter. Earth's geothermal energy originates from the original formation of the planet, from radioactive decay of minerals, from volcanic activity, and from solar energy absorbed at the surface. The geothermal gradient, which is the difference in temperature between the core of the planet and its surface, drives a continuous conduction of thermal energy in the form of heat from the core to the surface.

Ghost Mountains
March 7, 2011 05:10 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

The discovery of numerous large ice structures within Antarctica’s Dome A region, the site of the buried ghost mountains, reveals new understanding about ice sheet growth and movement that is essential for predicting how the ice sheet may change as the Earth’s climate warms. The Gamburtsev Mountain Range is a subglacial mountain range located in Eastern Antarctica. The range was discovered by the 3rd Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1958 and is named for Soviet geophysicist Grigoriy A. Gamburtsev. It is approximately (750 miles long, and the mountains are believed to be about 8,900 feet high, although they are completely covered by over 600 meters (2,000 ft) of ice and snow. The Gamburtsev Mountain Range is currently believed to be about the same size as the European Alps.

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