Sci/tech

Peapod Debuts on Earth Day
April 16, 2009 09:45 AM - Keith Barry, Wired

The long-awaited, often-advertised Peapod will be available for order on Earth Day, April 22. Coincidentally, the 22nd also is Administrative Assistant's Day. We expect to see a lot of greenies and maybe some secretaries tooling around in their $12,500 Peapods at no more than 25 miles an hour.

California Utility Considering Space-based Solar Arrangement
April 15, 2009 04:03 PM - Environmental Leader

When procuring just about anything, it makes sense to get as close to the source as possible. That’s the idea behind an ambitious plan to harvest solar energy from outer space, then beam the electricity back to Earth.

Midwestern ethanol plants use much less water than western plants, U of Minnesota study says

Ethanol production in Minnesota and Iowa uses far less water overall than similar processes in states where water is less plentiful, a new University of Minnesota study shows. The study, which will be published in the April 15 edition of the journal Environmental Science and Technology, is the first to compare water use in corn-ethanol production on a state-by-state basis. The authors used agricultural and geologic data from 2006-2008 to develop a ratio showing how much irrigated water was used to grow and harvest the corn and to process it at ethanol plants. Among the major ethanol-producing states, Iowa uses the least water, with about six gallons of water used for each gallon of ethanol. Minnesota, which in 2007 produced roughly a third as much ethanol as Iowa, uses about 19 gallons of water per ethanol gallon.

Tentacles of venom: New study reveals all octopuses are venomous

Once thought to be only the realm of the blue-ringed octopus, researchers have now shown that all octopuses and cuttlefish, and some squid are venomous. The work indicates that they all share a common, ancient venomous ancestor and highlights new avenues for drug discovery. Conducted by scientists from the University of Melbourne, University of Brussels and Museum Victoria, the study was published in the Journal of Molecular Evolution.

The Dire Fate of Forests in a Warmer World
April 14, 2009 06:27 AM - Bryan Walsh, TIME

It's not easy to kill a full-grown tree — especially one like the piñon pine. The hardy evergreen is adapted to life in the hot, parched American Southwest, so it takes more than a little dry spell to affect it. In fact, it requires a once-in-a-century event like the extended drought of the 1950s, which scientists now believe led to widespread tree mortality in the Four Corners area of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. So, when another drought hit the area around 2002, researchers were surprised to see up to 10% of the piñon pines die off, even though that dry spell was much milder than the one before. The difference in 2002 was the five decades of global warming that had transpired since the drought in the 1950s.

NASA experiment stirs up hope for forecasting deadliest cyclones

NASA satellite data and a new modeling approach could improve weather forecasting and save more lives when future cyclones develop. About 15 percent of the world's tropical cyclones occur in the northern Indian Ocean, but because of high population densities along low-lying coastlines, the storms have caused nearly 80 percent of cyclone-related deaths around the world. Incomplete atmospheric data for the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea make it difficult for regional forecasters to provide enough warning for mass evacuations. In the wake of last year's Cyclone Nargis -- one of the most catastrophic cyclones on record -- a team of NASA researchers re-examined the storm as a test case for a new data integration and mathematical modeling approach. They compiled satellite data from the days leading up to the May 2 landfall of the storm and successfully "hindcasted" Nargis' path and landfall in Burma.

San Francisco Pilots Cisco’s Carbon-Tracking Tool
April 13, 2009 04:05 PM - by Zaher Karp, Matter Network

Networking company Cisco is spearheading efforts to develop technology that can manage energy conservation and carbon footprints by collecting and processing field data. The company uses wireless networking to monitor the changing environment to track emissions from the threatened Brazilian rainforest to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Mathematics and climate change
April 13, 2009 09:10 AM - American Mathematical Society

Gaining insights into the nature of sea ice.

Bird Maneuvers Inspire Next-Gen Flying Robots
April 13, 2009 09:02 AM - Eric Bland, Discovery News

Flying, flapping robots could soon get an upgrade, thanks to new research that reveals the deceptively simple mechanism used by bats, birds and bugs to turn in flight.

Study of neighborhoods points to modifiable factors, not race, in cancer disparities

While cities have shown considerable racial disparities in cancer survival, those racial disparities virtually disappear among smaller populations, such as neighborhoods within that city. The finding comes from a new analysis published in the May 15, 2009 issue of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society. The study examined breast and prostate cancer survival rates at different geographic levels, and the results suggest that there are significant societal factors at the root of cancer-related racial disparities. Previous research has shown that considerable health disparities exist relating to race, ethnicity, geographic location, and other factors. While researchers have been striving to understand the causes of such disparities in survival from some cancers, including cancers of the breast and prostate, the potential roles of innate factors, such as genetic differences, versus modifiable factors, such as socioeconomic differences, remain unclear.

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