Sci/tech

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.

Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Brayton Cycle Turbines Promise Giant Leap in Power Generation
March 7, 2011 08:38 AM - Editor, Science Daily

ScienceDaily (Mar. 4, 2011) — Sandia National Laboratories researchers are moving into the demonstration phase of a novel gas turbine system for power generation, with the promise that thermal-to-electric conversion efficiency will be increased to as much as 50 percent -- an improvement of 50 percent for nuclear power stations equipped with steam turbines, or a 40 percent improvement for simple gas turbines. The system is also very compact, meaning that capital costs would be relatively low.

Deep Sea Mining
March 4, 2011 07:57 AM - Andy Soos, ENN

Deep sea mining is a relatively new mineral retrieval process that takes place on the ocean floor. Ocean mining sites are usually around large areas of polymetallic nodules or active and extinct hydrothermal vents at about 1,400 - 3,700 meters below the ocean’s surface. The vents create sulfide deposits, which contain precious metals such as silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt, and zinc. The deposits are mined using either hydraulic pumps or bucket systems that take ore to the surface to be processed. As with all mining operations, deep sea mining raises questions about environmental damages to the surrounding areas. As undersea mining grows ever more likely, one major question looms: Can these valuable minerals be extracted on a large scale without causing significant environmental damage, particularly to the unique ecosystems near the deep hydrothermal vents where the minerals accumula

Humans vs animals – The hottest race of the year - New from BBC Earth
March 2, 2011 06:49 AM - BBC Earth

Imagine a landscape in front of you as barren and endless as your eye can see. And then imagine that your task is to cross it, on foot, through eye stinging dust storms, unbearable heat and a body willing you to stop with every step. Welcome to the Sahara! Welcome to your "marathon of the sands". Aptly named the Sahara meaning "The Great Desert," it is a land-mass almost as large as Europe or the United States! Making it the largest hot desert in the world, second only to Antarctica, which although not commonly thought of as a desert because of its cold climate, is classified as such when the amount of rainfall is measured. The cheetah may be the fastest sprinter on the planet – reaching from 0 to 60mph in less than 3 seconds! But what about over long distances? In this incredible video from Life of Mammals, we see how different animals respond to the challenges of survival that require the use of their fitness and strength.

When and Where Life Began
March 1, 2011 08:14 AM - Andy Soos, ENN

Almost 600 million years ago, before the rapid evolution of life forms known as the Cambrian explosion, a community of seaweeds and worm-like animals lived in a quiet deep-water niche near what is now Lantian, a small village in south China. Then they simply died, leaving some 3,000 nearly pristine fossils preserved between beds of black shale deposited in oxygen-free and unbreathable waters. Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Virginia Tech in the United States and Northwest University in Xi'an, China report the discovery of the fossils in this week's issue of the journal Nature. The long-running puzzlement about the appearance of the Cambrian fauna, seemingly abruptly and from nowhere, centers on three key points: whether there really was a mass diversification of complex organisms over a relatively short period of time during the early Cambrian; what might have caused such rapid change; and what it would imply about the origin and evolution of animals. Interpretation is difficult due to a limited supply of evidence, based mainly on an incomplete fossil record and chemical signatures left in Cambrian rocks. The Lantia discovery suggests a much part of the picture.

Risk Management Rules and Farms
February 28, 2011 08:00 AM - Andy Soos, ENN

Farms do not have highly hazardous chemicals? It is not just factories that use such chemicals but so do farms. ADI Agronomy, Inc., which owns a group of farm supply facilities in southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas, has agreed to pay a $54,922 civil penalty to the United States for chemical Risk Management Program violations at its Ag Distributors retail facility at Kennett, Mo., which sells liquid fertilizer made with anhydrous ammonia. EPA Region 7 issued an administrative compliance order to the Kennett facility in July 2010, after an inspection noted eight violations of the chemical Risk Management Program regulations contained in the federal Clean Air Act. Specifically, Ag Distributors failed to establish and implement maintenance procedures to ensure the ongoing integrity of its anhydrous ammonia process equipment, and failed to document that the equipment complied with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices, among other violations.

New from BBC Earth: The Monarch Migrates
February 25, 2011 07:12 AM - BBC Earth

Dating back to over 250-million years ago, this simple milkweed butterfly is master of change. With it's name literally being translated from the Greek as "sleepy transformation", the Monarch Butterfly develops from egg to caterpillar to butterfly without a bat of a wing! However this seemingly effortless metamorphosis, lasting approximately two weeks, is just the beginning. Within the mysterious world of this exceptional insect lies a spectacular truth. That in every four generations, the last born will live longer and fly further than any other before them. The typical Monarch's life will last up to four or five weeks taking them through a journey; starting as a tiny creamy white egg planted carefully on the fine leaves of the milkweed, to an energized chrysalis, into a striking tawny coloured butterfly! At which point, it will reach adulthood, fly to find the most tempting source of nectar, reproduce and then die. However some then go further.

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