Sunday, May 1, 2011

P.E.A.K.


The PEAK (P romoting E nvironmental A wareness in K ids) program is the result of a unique partnership between REI (Recreation Equipment, Inc.) and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. PEAK is based on the seven principles of Leave No Trace and is designed to educate children about the outdoors and responsible use of our shared public lands.
The program is available for kids of all ages and involves a plethera of activities for children. A short list of activites includes...
Discovering the Leave No Trace Principles - An introduction to the principles through demonstration of preparing for an outdoor trip; works great as a skit.

How Long Does it Last? - Find how long it really takes for common trash/recyclable to break down in nature and why it's important to Trash our Trash.

Watch Your Step - There are living organisms everything. Explore your world from an ant's level and find out why it's important to stick to trails.

Leave No Trace Draw - Many Leave No Trace decisions can be made along the trail. A version of a relay race, participants will decide whether they advance on the trail by answering Leave No Trace related quetions.

Step on It! - Why is it important to stick to trails? How do we know how to do this? Compete with your team to answer questions and learn how to Choose the Right Path when outdoors.

What Principle Am I? - Test your knowledge of the Leave No Trace principles by listening to clues and deciding What Principle Am I?

Leave No Trace Crime Scene - Have your youth become CSI investigators as they stumble upon a campsite leave no trace "crime scene."

Minimum Impact Match - Find out what different gear items will help you Leave No Trace when you are outdoors. Ask Yes/No questions to find out what gear you represent, then find your match!

Treks and Track's Great Adventure - Meet all the PEAK characters and the principles they represent as Trek and Track (a pair of boots) head out on an outdoor adventure.

Leave No Trace Relay - Set up a Leave No Trace obstacle course for your students, with stops and activities representing each Leave No Trace principle.


The program is based on 7 principles of Leave No Trace. Know Before You Go, Choose The Right Path, Trash Your Trash, Leave What You Find, Be Careful With Fire, Respect Wildlife, Be Kind To Other Visitors


http://www.lnt.org/programs/peak.php

The Solar Decathlon


The solar decathlon is a fun competition that is a great example for new ideas in sustainable solutions. The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. The event takes place every two years in Washington D.C..
When looking into this I found an amazing house, that has a great design and creative ideas. The House is called "The Watershed" and was designed by students at the University of Maryland. The house has two different sides and two seperate roofs. One roof is layered with solar panels to power the house with electricity. The other roof is topped with a butterfly garden, this is installed to collect rain water for everyday use. The house is projected to be able to sustain itself with electricity and water year round.
You may ask yourself, but there isn't enough rainwater to sustain it, and if so it may be acid rain. This is (to me) the coolest part of the house. The house is based on the ecosystem of Chesapeake Bay. Natural ecosystems have evolved over millions of years to sustainably harness energy, produce food, and recycle waste. Not to mention the house has a stream running through it!!!!
The house has a plethora of other features as well. Constructed wetlands, filtering stormwater and greywater for reuse.A green roof, retaining stormwater and minimizing the heat island effect. An optimally-sized photovoltaic array, harvesting enough energy from the sun to power WaterShed year round. Edible landscapes, supporting community-based agriculture. A liquid desiccant waterfall, providing high-efficiency humidity control in the form of an indoor water feature. A solar thermal array, supplying enough energy to provide all domestic hot-water, desiccant regeneration and supplemental space heating. Engineering systems, working in harmony, each acting to increase the effectiveness of the others. A time-tested structural system that is efficient, cost-effective and durable.

Here is a video of a digital walkthrough of the house. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZJe2CReFA8&feature=player_embedded

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reuse-A-Shoe


During Earth Week a few weeks ago, there was a shoe drive on campus. Fifty shoes were collected during the week.
The program comes from Nike Shoe, and since 1990 they have globally collected over 25,056,779 pairs of shoes. They have collected so many shoes that you could "create a chain of athletic shoes that goes all the way around the world more than five times"! By collecting all of these old shoes and putting them to use in other ways, there is a decrease in the amount of virgin rubber and other materials. The recycled shoes can be used to build new courts (such as tennis and basketball), tracks, fields, and playgrounds. Nike's next goal is to be able to recycle sports shoes, apparel, and equipment back into new Nike products.
Their US facility that recycles the shoes is located in Memphis, Tennessee. They use a "slice-and-grind" process which separates the shoe into three parts: rubber outsole, foam midsole, and fiber uppers. The three pieces are fed through grinders and then purified. The shoes rubber outsole is used in playground surfaces, track surfaces, interlocking gym flooring tiles, and even some new Nike products. In addition, the rubber is also used in trim for things like buttons and zipper pulls. The foam comes from the midsole of the shoe and is used as a cushion for outdoor basketball and tennis courts. The upper part of the shoe, the fiber, is used for cushioning pads for things like wood courts and indoor synthetic courts. These are all just examples of uses. There are many other uses that I have not covered.
So you may be asking yourself, how do I recycled these shoes so I can help make an impact? Well there are over 300 locations in the US that have bins available for drop offs. Here in Ohio, you can take your old shoes to Aurora, Jeffersonville, or Monroe. Or you can even organize a group shoe drive for your school, youth organization, or nonprofit organization. Any brand of athletic shoes can be recycled along with LIVESTRONG bracelets. They cannot accept cleats, dress shoes, shoes with metal, sandals, other type of wristbands, and flip-flops (however, check Old Navy out for their recycled flip-flop program).
For more information and a quick video, check out http://www.nikereuseashoe.com/

Friday, April 29, 2011

Your Environment


The EPA has online pages for kids of all ages. For the younger kids there is an online section for the kids. It is the "environmental kids club". This club contains activities and games that are all educational. There are games, wordsearches, funny videos, and quizes. All provide information about things such as recycling, water, and climate change. The club also provides links to science fair project ideas and an art room.
My personal favorite is the Lose Your Excuse game. It is slightly like some of the older video games. You must use stop the excuses that are being said by jumping on to different platforms and avoiding the bad guys who are wasting materials. There are 25 levels but I had a hard time making it past level 3 :(
The EPA offers a page for teens that has games, but more importantly it offers information about careers with the EPA and links to summer internships. In addition, there is a page for teachers that has great idea for presenting the topic to their students, examples to show, and fun activities as a hand on project.
So check out http://www.loseyourexcuse.gov/index.html#/energyhouse and try out your excuse stopping moves. Can you make it passed level 3?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Environmental Education for Kids

Environmental Education for Kids! (EEK!) is an organization dedicated to educating children in grades 4-8 about the environment. The site offers a variety of information. Animal information includes amphibians, birds, fish, insects, mammals, reptiles and endangered species. The site also discusses invasive species, seasonal animals and habitats. They offer a guide for children on spring plants showing children how to identify each species. There's even a page that teaches kids how to garden and what plants are best to start growing in what areas. The Earth is a big topic on the site. They discuss issues regarding the worlds water supply, air pollution and recycling. They offer "cool stuff" that features outdoor events and activities, a calendar with important environmental days, daily videos and rainy day games. It even gets into potential careers for young children who love science. There's also a teachers corner which has information and lesson plan ideas for teachers to discuss with their students.
I see this website being a useful tool for kids to get information about environmental issues. The website presents information in a way conducive for children to understand. I could see this website being part of an 'online search' where kids are given a worksheet and find the answers by looking around the website. It's very informative and complete with information. Having the information on a webpage also appeals to how people get their information. Society has begun the transition from a paper society to an electronic society. Where we once got all our information from the newspaper, most people now get information from the television or from the internet. Kids are now growing up with electronics all around them and they learn to use them from an early age. Using the internet as a media outlet is an effective way to get the attention of children and possibly spark their interest about environmental facts.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Buying Smart

Environmental sustainability seems like an overwhelming tasks, but it doesn't have to be! Future Friendly, a program through the consumer production company Procter & Gamble, was established to help consumers save energy, conserve water, and reduce waste. Their website lays out very easy and attainable ways to help create more sustainable consumerism and smarter shoppers. Future Friendly believes that "by taking small steps together with our consumers, we believe that we can create big benefits for the plant and ultimately improve lives every day, now and for generations to come".





Water is an important resource needed by all people, animals, and plants to survive. It is also been mentioned by many scientists that it will be the scarcest and hardest to get natural resource in the near future. Future Friendly suggests simple ways to reduce the amount of water we use in our homes each day. Their first suggestion is to only run the dishwasher when full. Another idea was to turn off the tap when washing your face, brushing your teeth, or shaving or switching off the shower while you lather. As a production company, Future Friendly suggests using Cascade Action packs with allow you to not pre-wash dishes which can save up to 2,600 gallons of water per year.


Reduction of the amount of energy used is another way Future Friendly is trying to help their consumers. They suggest not warming your car up and just driving as soon as you turn it on because modern engines do not need warming up. Another suggestion that I'm sure many of us can use is not plugging your cell phone in to charge at night because they only need a few hours to charge. Finally, they suggest that you give your computer a rest by turning it off at night to conserve energy The products they suggest to help reduce energy needs is Tide Coldwater and Duracell Rechargeable batteries. Tide Coldwater saves up to 80% of energy costs per washer load.


A final aim for Future Friendly is recycling waste at home. They suggest buying non-perishables in bulk to cut down on unnecessary packaging. Once you are finished with old furniture, they suggest donating it to a local furniture recyclers in order to save it from a landfill. Finally, when mowing your lawn, they suggest leaving the clippings on the grass to help fed the grass underneath. Future Friendly suggests PUR water filters to help save over $600 from buying water bottles and over 1,000 water bottles from going to a landfill.


Finally, the Future Friendly mission is to "reduce waste, water, and carbon dioxide through systematic conservation efforts when creating products...Since 2002 P&G operations have reduced, per unit of production, water consumption by 52 percent, energy usage by 48 percent, carbon dioxide emissions by 52 percent, and waste disposal by 53 percent.















Effective Science Communication

One of the most important aspects of environmental education is effective communication to the public. In the case of global warming and evolution, science has proven time and time again that these things are occurring and yet the public still does not believe it's true. What is the issue and where is the information being lost? In his book Don't be Such a Scientist, Randy Olson pin points the issue as being ineffective communication between scientists and the public. One of his biggest and most important points in the book in regards to environmental education and communicating science is how are scientists going to motivate people?

The first chapter of his book is titled "Don't be so Cerebral". In this chapter he challenges scientists and those who communicate science for a living to break out of their science training and become more public oriented. As scientists, we need to learn how to phase out confusing jargon and put complex topics into easier terms and concepts in order for our message to reach a greater audience. In order to do this he says that scientists need to get out of of the pattern of only using their heads and start using more of their heart, gut, and sex organs. By using their heart scientists can be sincere in their presentation of information, by using their gut scientists can relay information with humor an intuition, and finally through the use of sex appeal scientists will more effectively catch people's attention.

In the third chapter of his book, "Don't be Such a Poor Storyteller", Olson describes the importance of a storytelling. He describes an arousal and fulfill method where a storyteller should peak people's interest and then fulfill their desire to learn more exciting information. Without this effective story model, the message will not be effective. If people aren't aroused they will never get engaged with the message and if people aren't aroused they will walk away from a story unsatisfied. An effective story should also have a clear beginning, climax, and end. The three part story makes it easy for people to follow and since storytelling is how we communicate, it is important for scientists to also follow this model.



Likability is also important in portraying information. Olson directed a public service announcement for a non-profit called Shifting Baselines which supports awareness of disappearing diversity from our oceans. The PSA was a compilation of 20 comic celebrities in a bad ocean symphony with Jack Black as their director. Over 300 TV stations played the short clip for free and when asked why, they said it was because they liked it. This one example shows how important likability is for portraying science to the public.


Effective environmental education can be achieved through effective communication, good storytelling, and likability!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Teaching Kids about the Environment



On National Green Day a team from Rematerialise (who produces sustainable eco-friendly products as mentioned in my previous post) went to Dove House School to teach the students about sustainable materials. The team wanted to increase their outreach from industries to education.


The students (most of which are autistic) were asked to bring in any of the common items that they recycle such as plastic bags, containers, aluminum cans, jars, newspaper, etc. The Rematerialise team then showed the children what they could do with those "trash" items. An example was making a bar stool completely out of recycled aluminum cans. The team also brought along their own supplies, including BioViron Materials, which can quickly dissolve in water (within 24 hours) and leave no harmful toxins. From this they let the students create masks and hats. When the kids were tired with their new creations they could dissolve them in water rather than throw them away. This creates the idea that recycling is fun and that there are other more environmentally beneficial ways to dispose of things rather than just throwing it out. The event was such a success and had a great influence on the kids that the school has invited the team back for the next year.


Another source says that to have effective environmental education there are five steps that must be followed.


1. Programs must be learner-orientated, meaning that people develop personal meaning through the experience and that the program is age-appropriate.

2. Programs have to promote wonder in that individuals gain curiosity and pursue these feelings. This will lead to an appreciation for the environment.

3. Programs should relate directly to the individual's life and culture (ex: local awareness) so that they feel more encouraged to get involved.

4. Programs must be action-orientated where they're hands-on and address real problems. This builds confidence and hope in the learner.

5. Programs should focus on the bigger connection between people and their actions so that everyone feels like they have a role and can make a difference.




Catalogue of Sustainable Resources


Jakki Dehn has created and released Rematerialise, a catalogue that has taken 17 years to create. Rematerialise contains more than 1,200 eco-friendly products for contruction industry uses that have come from more than 15 countries. Rematerialise will make its debut at EcoBuild, which is the world's largest event for showing sustainable industrial materials. The materials are open for people to come and touch and interact with. This is beneficial because usually one would not be able to see the materials until they were already ordered and delivered.

What all do these materials entail? The products of Rematerialise come from recycled materials, resources that are abundant and easy to grow, and from resources that are rarely used and often overlooked. Some examples of these products include insulation that is made from mushrooms. The insulation was only an inch thick but when one's hand was put on one side and a blowtorch on the other, the person could not feel any heat through the material. There are also countertops made from recycled glass from cars and building sites. These countertops are comparable to the highly appeasing granite. Some other used materials include coffee grounds, currency, mobile phones, aeroplane windscreens, and fibers from banana plant stems. Creative, right?

Sustainable material manufacturers and producers can submit their ideas to the program for consideration. If the ideas are liked then they might become available in the Rematerialise library.

Sources: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110224145805.htm
http://extranet.kingston.ac.uk/rematerialise/

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

CCC: Cryogenic Carbon Capture


Cryogenic carbon capture, patent pending, is used to capture CO2 from the emissions being produced by power plants. The gases produced by these power plants is filtered so that a nearly pure stream of CO2 can be separated from the rest of the emissions. This method could possibly be one of the cheaper ways of removing CO2 from power plant emissions and capturing this harmful compound.

This method does not require the building of a new facility for treatment of the gases. The emissions produced by the power plant can be processed on site and do not have to be transferred to a new cleaning facility. This can cut down on costs involved in building an off-site filtering and cleaning facility and can therefore be more cost effective than other techniques.

This technique can also separate other contaminants of the emissions being produced as well. Contaminants such as SO2, NO4, and mercury can be condensed out of the emissions during the process of condensing the CO2. The cooling of the CO2 can also be used to cool the new emissions as they pass through the processing chamber.

This can save on energy costs because the energy from CO2 capture can be harvested and used to continue the process of removing CO2 and other contaminants from the plant's emissions. Because of the multi-faceted benefits of this process, such as removing more than one pollutant and self-cooling mechanisms, this is one of the more promising sustainable solutions to pollutant removal from power plant emissions.

Sources:
Cryogenic Carbon Capture Status
Sustainable Energy Solutions

Effective Environmental Education


It has become very important for people of higher education to be effective at educating others and providing them with useful information about their surroundings. One of the biggest challenges that educators face is how to effectively get their points across and to illustrate why what they are teaching is important. Environmental education is of great importance and there needs to be ways to effectively educate people about the environmental concerns that can affect them on a daily basis.

Many people are hands-on, visual types of learners. Being one of these types of learners myself, I can speak from experience when I say that it is much easier for some people to grasp concepts when they are able to see what is being taught and are able to interact with the instructor. Outdoor education can be used for these types of learners to effectively educate about environmental issues in a specific area. Showing the people what is actually going on instead of just telling them can have a greater impact on whether they care or whether they will remember the information you present them with.

When choosing how to educate people about the environment, it is important for educators to keep in mind their intended audience. If they are trying to educate young children, it would be important to include things that will keep their attention for a longer period of time and to bring the information down to a level in which they will understand what the educator is trying to get across. If the intended audience is higher level scholars, the important information that will hit home for them will be a completely different set of statistics and illustrations than when dealing with the smaller children.

Another important aspect of environmental education is that it must provide ways that the students can make a difference. If they are learning about all the environmental issues of an area, more likely than not, they will seek ways that they can make a difference and can become a positive influence on protecting the environment. If there is no "moral of the story" or "plan of action" that people can take away from the experience, they really have not learned very much. Environmental communication and education is very important and can be very effective if used correctly. Hopefully one day the environmental education programs will make a difference in many peoples lives and change can come about.

For more information: Elements of Effective Environmental Education Programs

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Public Environmental Education

There are several ways to increase environmental awareness and education in our communities. These ways include environmental rights (responsibilities and consequences), media usage, awareness campaigns, teaching environmental issues in the classroom, increasing awareness in target groups and the encouragement of public participation. Many sectors of society are involved in developing and delivering educational courses and campaigns. Theses include national, regional and local government bodies, domestic and international organizations, school systems, media and even celebrities.

The Media can be a powerful ally when trying to educate the public. In today's society, our primary source of information comes from computers, televisions or other electronic devices. If we can get these organizations to work alongside the media, they can educate those delivering the news through briefings. They can then inform the public about the situation. Other countries have had success utilizing the media to publicize environmental conferences and and public awareness campaigns. Information centers available to the public can also help to educate journalists with basic environmental information on a specific topic. These information centers should have recently published information like press releases, have a public library with many environmental sources and contain information on actively debated issues.

Community leaders have a very influential role in the community. The education of these community leaders can help organizations implement environmental procedures. When putting together a campaign for a specific area one must take into consideration several things. The campaign must be in the local language, it must be in a form that appeals to the people (posters, radio, TV) and it must contain a clear message in plain language so the general population can understand it.

Other approaches used to increase awareness include sustainable environmental education, information centers, environmental raffles and environmental holidays. Environmental raffles can be used to educate the public while raising funds for the organizations.

To summarize, public environmental awareness and education can be increased by the following actions:

- Generating public awareness and environmental education, particularly among targeted groups, about relevant laws and regulations and about their rights, interests, duties and responsibilities, as well as about the social, environmental and economic consequences of non-compliance
- Promoting responsible action in the community through the media by involving key public players (government officials)
- Organizing campaigns for fostering environmental awareness among communities, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and industrial and trade associations
- Inclusion of awareness and environmental educational programmes in schools and other educational establishments as part of education
- Organizing campaigns for increasing environmental awareness and environmental educational programs
- Organizing campaigns for encouraging public involvement in monitoring of compliance.

The United Nations Environment Program

Monday, April 11, 2011

Native Plants Can Also Benefit From The Invasive Ones


A pollinating insect on a Carpobrotus affine acinaciformis flowerhead.



Using empirical tests, a pioneering study shows how plant species, such as the prickly pear, invade Mediterranean ecosystems, and can either rob the native plants of pollinating insects, or, surprisingly, can attract them, thus benefiting the whole plant community, such as in the case of balsam. The research contradicts the hypothesis of the “floral market” whereby only the invasive flowers are seen to benefit and the native flowers are no longer visited by pollinating insects.
Biological invasions (species transported by humans outside their region of origin to other regions where these species become established and expand) are one of the major causes of the loss of biodiversity. The plants fight for nutrients, space and light, and for pollinating insects.
An article about this subject has been published in the “Oecología” [Oecology] journal by scientists at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB), [the Autonomous University, Barcelona], the Biological Station, Donana, CSIC [the Spanish National Research Council] and the Instituto Mediterráneo de Estudios Avanzados (IMEDEA) [Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies]. According to the research, the existence of invasive plants in invaded sites can increase visits from insects to the majority of native plants. In this way the “floral market” hypothesis in which only the invasive flowers are seen to benefit and the native flowers are no longer visited by insects is contradicted.
Ignasi Bartomeus, a researcher at the UAB, and the main author of the study, points out some important details to SINC: “the invasions do not follow a single pattern: for this reason it is necessary to understand the mechanisms and structure whereby the native species compete”.
The two invasive plants under study, Opuntia stricata – a type of prickly pear – and Carpobrotus affine acinaciformis – also called Sally-my-handsome or balsam – have more eye-catching flowers and are richer in pollen that the rest of the native plants and receive many more insect visits that the latter.
The study reveals that the invasive plants play a central role in the plant pollination network. This is because during the period of the study, Opuntia stricta received 30.9% of insect visits, compared to 43.4% for Carpobrotus affine acinaciformis.
The scientists discovered that the more resources there are in the plant community, the more pollinators will be attracted towards all of the plants, although it is still not known whether the impact on the seeds of the native plant is positive or not. This is the case for Carpobrotus, which can impact upon the pollination of the native plants.
The researchers observed 23 pollinating insects for Carpobrotus and 17 for Opuntia. Compared to the native plants, the two invasive plants have a different impact. In the first case, there was no insect that was an exclusive pollinator, whereas in the second case, the carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea) was an exclusive pollinator. “The Opuntia flowers monopolise the market, attracting all the pollinating insects in the area to their flowers, whereas the Carpobrotus attracts more pollinating insects to the area, but all the plants are seen to benefit”, Bartomeus points out.
The study concludes that Carpobrotus can improve the reproduction of the native plants whereas Opuntia reduces it. Bartomeus confirms to SINC that “the presence of the invasive plants can alter the structure of the plant community, and it is difficult to predict the long-term effects of this.”

Bartomeus I., Vila M., Santamaría L. Contrasting effects of invasive plants in plant-pollinator networks. Oecologia 155(4): 761-770 ABR 2008. doi: 10.1007/s00442-007-0946-1

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Invasive Species Battle


In New England the European crab (Carcinus maenas) and the Asian shore crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus) are two invasive species that are causing a lot of harm... to each other. Ecologists had first expected to see that the two species would cause double the harm to the area and its organisms but really they are cancelling each other out.

The European crab came to New England by ship in the 1800s, ate through the American soft-shell clam industry, and spread rapidly into Canada and the southeastern United States. The Asian shore crab came over from Asia by ship in the 1980s. It was attracted to the same rocky holes and habitats as the European crab but it mostly fed on algae.

Upon being studied, the crabs do not do much harm to native plant and animal species. Most of the focus is on each other. The Asian shore crab would often drive the European crab from its rocky homes. Also, when the Asian shore crab was in the presence of the European crab, this caused the European crab to eat less shellfish and less food overall. The European crab's population grew slowly due to the bullying from the Asian shore crab but it is known to often get its revenge because the European crab was sometimes observed feasting on the Asian shore crab.

From this information, ecologists have drawn the conclusion that when there are two similar invasives living in one area, they often mutually attack one another. This information can better help conservationalists control invasive species. Previously a species may have purposely been introduced to kill the invasive but now it is known that if there is an invasive that a species that needs the same habitat and food as the invasive should be introduced. This creates competition and keeps either species from harming natives.

Source: http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2007/10/16-01.html?ref=hp

Nation's Smallest Seahorse

The Dwarf Seahorse is exclusively found in the Bahamas and the gulf regions of the US. Its natural habitat is subtidal aquatic beds, and is primarily endangered due to habitat loss. These tiny seahorses were initially experiencing a population decrease due to overcollection for aquariums. The Dwarf Seahorse population began to drastically decline after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The oil caused the decline of seagrass which let to a decline in the seahorse population. Its population was on the decline before the BP oil spill due to oil pollution and dispersants used to break up oil. Both these are toxic to seahorses and seagrass, their habitat.

Florida has lost more than 50% of its seagrass since 1950. Substantial loss has also been seen in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and the Bahamas. In addition to declining seagrass population, the seahorses are threated by poor water quality, damage from boat propellers, shrimp trawlers and global climate change.

Seahorses are very unique creatures because it is the males that carry the eggs. Researchers express concerns that chemical dispersants may have adverse effects on reproduction cycles due to the disruption of hormones. The solution most experts believe is to stop using seagrass beds as buffer zones and start protecting them.

Every 1 in 6 Threatened in Europe


Nearly one in six (15%) of every animal species in Europe is threatened for extinction. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) carried out the assessment of all European mammals. Besides that every 1 of 6 are threatened for extinction, it was found that more than a quarter of all populations are declining. Of Europe's marine mammals, 22% are classified as threatened by extinction. Also, 13% of all European birds are threatened with extinction. These numbers are likely to be higher because 44% of all species were classified as "data deficient" which means that all of the necessary data could not be collected. Of those threatened species, the Iberian Lynx and the Mediterranean Monk Seal are at the top of the list as critically endangered, both of which reside in Europe. The Arctic Fox and European mink are also a concern, along with the other two critically endangered species. Only 8%, although better than no percent, of all of the mammals were observed to be on an increasing trend in population numbers. The European Bison is one that has come back from the brink of extinction, with its last members saved in zoos and then re-introduced into their environments.

Along with many other areas of the world the main cause for the decline in population numbers is because of habitat loss and destruction, whether it be deforestation or wetland drainage. The second largest cause is pollution and the third is from over-harvesting. For marine species, the biggest cause of population loss is because of pollution and accidents (ship collisions). Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said that Europe needs to decrease the level of biodiversity loss and create better methods for protecting their threatened and endangered species, along with all of their species overall.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070522175213.htm

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Save the Amphibians!


In the past 30 years, there have been major reductions in the amphibian populations around the world. These reductions have been due to viruses and other pathogens, climate change, and habitat destruction. Habitat destruction has been one of the most significant sources of declines in amphibian populations but pathogens are steadily becoming more evident as a major cause of these declines. One of the big pathogenic amphibian killers has been a fungal skin disease called chytridiomycosis. This fungus was originally discovered to be a cause of amphibian declines in Australia. Now it has been found that it is the source for declines all around the world.

There have been many species of frogs, salamanders, and caecilians that have gone extinct due to these various changes in habitat, climate, and pathogens. At least 120 species of frogs have gone extinct in Panama alone since 1980. Today there are conservation agencies and zoos that are making an effort to save some of the more critical frog populations in Panama. They are trying to develop techniques that could be used to try and bring the frog populations back through captive breeding.


One species in particular, Hyloscirtus colymba, has been of interest because of its rapidly declining wild population. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project took on the project of trying to breed this frog in captivity. Apparently this frog is very hard to maintain and to keep alive in captivity. It has been a great accomplishment of this conservation project to successfully breed and keep 28 adult frogs alive.

They did some extensive work on figuring what the best techniques would be to care for the frogs in order to keep them healthy in captivity. Because they are so hard to keep alive, there has been very little work done with this particular species. These conservationists have come up with several ways to keep these frogs healthy and fit enough to reproduce. The techniques that they have perfected could possibly be used to help save other critically endangered frog species.

Visit the ScienceDaily article for further information

Friday, April 1, 2011

Itchy, Irritating Ivy!


The Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, defines an invasive species as a plant whose "introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health." In biology classes we often think first of invasive species as introduced, super competitors that are out competing native species and essentially removing them from our ecosystems. While this is true there are also plants, as defined by the EPA, that cause harm to human health and are therefore invasive species. The first plant that comes to my mind is poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. Deer can graze on this plant and many birds feast on its berries in the fall, but humans can get a nasty, itchy, oozing rash caused by an allergic reaction with the oil, called uruishol, located in its leaves and stems. Many people can also have this reaction in their respiratory systems after burning poison ivy and creating smoke that carries the oil which is breathed in. Another negative to this plant that results in more interactions with humans is that it prefers to establish itself in areas that have been disturbed which also happen to be recreation areas such as trials, parks, and yards.

How can you tell if you are looking at poison ivy? Remember the old nursery rhyme that I'm sure you have heard before: "Leaves of three, let it be!" However, it is often difficult to determine whether or not you are looking at poison ivy due to the fact that many plants have compound leaves of three. The center leaf of the compound structure is often symmetrical and has toothed edges on either side. Leaves that flank this center leaf are often shaped like a mitten with the "thumb" side of the leaf toothed. While this is common of many poison ivy plants that I have seen, these characteristics are not indicative of ALL plants! Poison ivy can be found growing up the trunks of trees in hairy vines, growing on the ground, or growing in shrub form. When flowering, poison ivy has blooms of up to 25 off-white flowers which produce yellowish-white berries in the fall. These berry supplies make many species of birds very happy! Poison Ivy is distributed widely throughout the eastern part of the United States.


Methods of control are important with this plant as allergic reactions can become serious if large portions of the body are covered in the rash, if the rash becomes infected, or if the rash is located on delicate respiratory tissues. Please wear gloves and cover any exposed skin before trying ANY of these control techniques! The cheapest way to control poison ivy is to remove the entire root of the plant from the ground by uprooting it. If this process is done in the late fall after the leaves have fallen, you are less likely to encounter the harmful oils. After pulling the plant, allow it to dry out before bagging it and throwing the plants AND your gloves in the trash. Do not ever compost these plants as resprouting can occur and never burn the plants as harmful smoke can be produced. Herbicides, while the are more expensive than the other method, can also be used. Glyphosphate or 2,4-D are the most effective herbicides for the job.


There are many myths in the rumor mill about poison ivy. Some people claim to be immune to the oils. While this can be true for a snapshot of their life, immunity can change. As a particular person who is immune to the poison ivy oils ages, they can become less and less immune. Eventually, that particular individual will have an allergic reaction to the oils. The oil will also stay potent forever. So, if you think a piece of clothing you wore came in contact with the urushiol oil, wash it in cold water or just throw it away! Finally, if you are exposed to the oil, wash the area with cool water and never take a hot shower directly after contact. A hot shower will only open your pores and spread the oil and rash even more quickly. If you ever have a rash from a poison ivy reaction that persists more than 3 weeks or covers wide areas of your body including your face, please go see a doctor!

Do Bison Threaten Alaskans?


The wood bison is also called the mountain bison or mountain buffalo, and is a larger cousin to the plains bison. The wood bison was thought to have been extinct through North America until they were found in Alberta, Canada. In 1957 a herd of about 200 was found. Their population is now about 2,000 thanks to the protection and restoration efforts of the Canadian government.
There is a herd of about 90 kept at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center east of Anchorage. The 90 includes the members and offspring of about 50 animals moved there in 2008. The plan was to hold them in quarantine for two years before releasing them in the Minto Flasts area north of Fairbanks. They weren't released as planned because there were fears about conflicts with hopeful natural gas developments. An interior Alaska native corporation, Doyon, hopes to find a mark able quantity of gas in the Monto Flats area.
Doyon along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are in favor of putting the bison back to where they were last known to range. This was the low, rolling hills of the Innoko country between Iditarod and the tiny village of Shageluk. The area is mostly an old ghost town with a little amount of gold mining still going on. Their original plan was to release the endangered bison to the area next spring. However, Rep, Alan Dick is putting his foot down to the idea. He fears that if the wood bison were transplanted to the area it would have a large affect on people living in more than 1,200-square miles in the Innoko River country. Dick, along with others, are questioning the implications of adding an endangered species to the mix of the big-game in the state.
The transplant of the wood bison to the area would complicate land-use issues. Currently, the people have problems with wolves and many go out to hunt for the wolves. However, if the wood bison are in the area and the hunting had to stop, then there could be an excess about of wolves. According to Dick, "The bison are going to be roaming free but the people are going to be locked up." A similar situation is currently occurring with killing wolves in Unimak Island, the location where the Unimak caribou herd is endangered by predation.
The state representative has submitted legislation that would require state lawmaker to approve any movement of bison from the wildlife center. The state's endangered species coordinator claims that the state and federal government has agreed that the bison wouldn't be moved until their EIS status was lowered to "threaten." The coordinator says that with the bison listed at "threatened," there would be better allowance for management of animals, and little if any, restrictions on what people could do. State biologist are questioning how long this will take and if they can even trust the government.

The Beautiful Karner Blue


Imagine walking through an oak savannah and seeing a tiny speck flutter past you. Was it a falling leaf? Could it be the illusive, endangered Karner blue butterfly? The Karner blue butterfly, Lycaeides melisa samuelis, measures in with a tiny one inch wingspan. The top side of the male's wings are silvery to dark blue with a black margin while the female is grayish-brown to blue with irregular orange crescents banded around the black boarder. Both have a gray, continuous band of orange crescents along the edges of both wings with black spots surrounded by white circles which are scattered about the bottom of both the male and female's wings. These small yet beautiful creatures have been on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants since 1992. Small populations of these butterflies can only be found today in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, and Ohio after once covering 12 states with their strong, hearty populations.


What is leading to the loss of the hearty populations? Habitat loss due to both human development and fewer natural disturbances, from both natural wildfires and animal grazing, are to blame. These small butterflies prefer to feed on a small wildflower called lupin. Lupin grows in areas that have been disturbed by wildfires and animal grazing because they cannot compete with stronger and taller plants that are often controlled by these natural events. Development and the overtaking of natural habitats where both the lupin and the Karner blue thrive are also to blame for the decrease in populations. Another cause of decreased numbers can be attributed to the desire for butterfly collectors to have this particular butterfly in their collections due to their rarity and vivid color. However, the collection of these flying beauties has been outlawed and is illegal without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Not to worry, there are folks out there who care about the Karner blue butterfly and are working to recover lost habitat and reestablish hearty populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have devised a recovery plan that includes reintroducing populations into Concord, New Hampshire and West Gary, Indiana after the populations went extinct in these particular locations. Another population is being reintroduced into Ohio. Their ultimate, long term goal is to remove this species from the Federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. This goal will be reached and the Karner blue butterfly will be delisted after there are a minimum of 29 metapopulations have been established and 13 recovery units are being managed. Another group of concerned citizens at the state level in Wisconsin have established Wisconsin's Statewide Conservation Plan which promotes timber harvests and prescribed burns which may harm current populations, but will eventually have much larger ecological benefits for future populations. Further research is being performed on the Karner blue butterfly as well in order to determine what the best methods for conservation of this species. A final push for saving this beautiful butterfly is an attempt at habitat protection of pine and oak savannah where the Karner blue butterfly and the lupin plant they feed on thrive. While the Karner blue butterfly is a tiny part of extremely large ecosystems, their beauty and ecological importance must be conserved for future generations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Stinky Invasive


Skunk vine was originally introduced from Asia in the late 1800s. It was going to be used as a fiber crop but it was determined that its weedy properties were going to be harmful for the skunk vine to be used in this manner. It eventually became labeled as an invasive weed because of these weedy properties. The vine is woody and doesn’t contain thorns on its vine. It also has a characteristic stinky smell when it is crushed.

Skunk vine is capable of living in many different types of habitats and can grow very tall, sometimes actually growing up into the canopy of forests it has invaded. Because it is capable of living in many diverse habitats and because it can climb up trees and shrubs, skunk vine can climb up, engulf, and strangle native trees and shrubs. Skunk vine is also capable of reproducing vegitatively or through the use of seeds. Because of this property, it is hard to get rid of.

There have been many different efforts to try to get rid of skunk vine, including physical, chemical, and biological controls. When trying to get rid of this harmful weed, it is a big problem if even stem fragments get transported because new plants can start growing from these fragments. This is one property of skunk vine that aids it in its invasiveness.


There has been a recent discovery of a beetle that could possibly be used for biological control. This beetle, Himalusa thailandensis, was found in Thailand. It was actually found chowing down on a different species of skunk vine that is closely related to the two species that are now invading southern Florida. The way that this new beetle feeds on the skunk vine, it is very detrimental to the plant. Scientists are currently trying to figure out the biology and possible ecological effects of this beetle. They are trying to determine if this beetle would really be a good biological control for eliminating the skunk vine problem in southern Florida.

For some more information on the skunk vine, visit the following website: Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Algae As The Next Biofuel


Scientists everywhere are brainstorming for the next idea for a better biofuel possibility. A $2 million grant funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is helping with a project that believes that microalgae would be a good source as a biofuel. Where it would usually take millenia to produce crude oil, this research is speeding that process up to just minutes by heating and compressing the algae. The wastes from this process would be fed on by E.coli, which is also being researched as being used for a fuel source. The only thing that would leave the company would be the oil.

Why use microalgae? These small organisms lack leaves, roots and stems. They also have a weak cell wall, which is easy to break down compared to the other biofuel-potential plant sources. The algae are also carbon-neutral because they consume CO2 regularly and then when used as a fuel that same CO2 that was consumed is released. There is no additional carbon dioxide than what was originally taken in.

So how does the algae become fuel? It is literally pressure-cooked. This is a very simple process where the algae is heated to 300 degrees at a high pressure to keep the algae in a liquid form rather than it being released as steam. This process typically last 30 to 60 minutes until the crude oil is produced. When the algae breaks down due to the high heat and pressure levels, it releases natural oils and proteins which add to the fuel.

Once the crude oil is obtained it is in a tar-like state. The research is currently at this stage in the process, trying to determine how to change the properties of the substance to make it more of a flowing substance that would be easier to put into a car's gas tank. They are also working to clean the substance by reducing its sulfur and nitrogen levels.

An earlier article mentions that there are over 100 companies working on the algae-to-biofuel project and expects it to be a very expensive project. Once all of the technology in in store it will be up to the resource availability of the planet to keep the production of the algae based biofuels proceeding. The major required sources are water, flat land, appropriate climate, and carbon dioxide. It is being considered to use wastewater for the algae production, which helps out both areas respectively. It is expected that algal biofuel could become available within 10 years.

Sources: http://www/sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100422153943.htm
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101102131110.htm

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wild Colorado


An invasive species is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration, and its introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm. They can also cause harm to human health.

While Colorado is fighting against non-native plants, they are trying to protect their waterways. Currently the Colorado Division of Wildlife has found the invasive zebra mussel in only seven of the state's water bodies; however, they are closely monitoring the state's other 230 bodies of water. Other invasive species that they are trying to prevent the spread of include New Zealand mud snails, rusty crayfish, and aquatic noxious weeds such as the Eurasian watermilfoil. The more bodies of water that these species move into, the more of a chance they have to clog water systems and overtake ecosystems. These invasions could affect the health of the nation's forests, watersheds and rangelands, wildlife, fish, and humans.

It is likely that the zebra mussel moved into Colorado when watercraft transported them from the Great Lakes. They originally came from commercial vessels from Europe. The mussels have no natural enemies in Colorado; therefore, they outcompete native species and form monocultures. The mussels affect the survival of fish by eating the base of the food chain.
The mussels can affect humans by clogging pipes and boat motors, litter beaches, docks, rocks, and underwater features with sharp shells. Because of their damage, billions of dollars go into fixing problems caused by the mussels.

The Lower Colorado River is seeing some of the largest infestations of the mussels aside from the Great Lakes. In order to prevent the spread, the Division of Wildlife is offering free boat inspections. This offer is available at 112 locations in the state. In the past few years about 33 boats coming in from other states had zebra or quagga mussels on them.

"Take nothing. Leave nothing. That includes the critters stuck in the mud in your hiking boots."

New Markets for Wood Waste Products



Lignol Energy Corporation located in British Columbia is looking at the new generation of biofuels. They are making their ethanol the byproduct of an industrial process. The process focuses on the cultivation of a market for the natural glue and lignin that wood pulp contains. It is the lignin that makes the ethanol. However, even with the cost of oil over $100 a barrel, woodbased ethanol isn't commercially competitive. It won't be till the price of oil goes up much higher, or cellulosic ethanol must become cheaper. The company's CEO Ross MacLachlan says "from an industry perspective I think it's fair to say that the cost curve is going to fall over time."

It is well known that we need to start relying more on biofuels but need to find a way to do so without cutting into our food supply. The good news is that there is no shortage of wood waste in British Columbia. "They say that there is going to be about a billion cubic metres of wood out there [due to forest kills by the mountain pine beetle]. If you take about two-10ths of one per cent per year that's enough to meet the five-per-cent renewable fuel standard for the province of B.C. Just to take a reasonable commercial amount of that [volume of available wood], presents B.C. and Canada generally with an enormous opportunity for export to the United States and to the world."

Lignol has many more years of research behind fuel than their competitors. GE was doing fuelgrade research in the 1970s and Repap Enterprises added $100 million to this research. Lignol inherited all of this. When the prices of oil crashed after the global economic meltdown in 2008, the company decided to look into other options. Several years ago, the company's primary product was cellulosic ethanol and lignin was just a byproduct; however, their primary product today is lignin.

The pure form of lignin has the color and texture of cocoa powder in the dry form.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Biofuel+Lignol+Energy+hunts+markets+wood+waste+products/4454392/story.html#ixzz1HTzYFjJG

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Follow up on Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Like most invasive plants introduced to the U.S. from Europe and other places, garlic mustard first found it easy to dominate the natives. A new study done in 2009 shows that over time its fungus-killing toxin becomes less potent. The study suggests that evolution can alter the attributes of an invasive plant that give it an advantage over native plants. In fact, the study suggests the plant's defenses are undermined by its own success.

Most plants rely on soil fungi to supplement them with phosphorus, nitrogen and water, however, garlic mustard does not utilize any of this additional help. Instead, garlic mustard produces glucosinolates which are compounds that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi, especially those native to North America. This process weakens the native plants because they rely on those soil fungi. As a result, garlic mustard now grows in dense patches and stifle the growth of native plants.

The study focused on answering this question: Once garlic mustard has killed off most of its competitors, why would it invest as much energy in maintaining its toxic components? The team collected garlic mustard seeds from 44 locations, grew them in a greenhouse and tested glucosinolate levels in each. Those tests found that older populations (those that have been present in an area for more than 30 years) produced lower levels of the fungicidal compounds than younger population less than two decades old. Genetic studies suggested that these patterns were the result of natural selection. That is, the plants that produced less of the toxin were more likely to survive and reproduce in older population. The researchers then grew the garlic mustard in soil from native woodlands. After a time, they removed these plants and potted native trees in the same soil. The trees did best in pots that had held plants from older populations of garlic mustard, indicating, again, that the plants' toxin output had diminished over time, killing less of the fungus on which the native plants relied.

While this study focused on only one plant, the results indicate that some invasive plants evolve in ways that may make them more manageable over time. It also provides some information to clarify some questions we discussed about the Garlic Mustard paper in class. We were confused by figure 7 which demonstrated how some plants grew better in soil that was previously inhabited by Garlic Mustard while others didn't do so well. It could depend on how old the Garlic Mustard plants were genetically. If they originated in a area that's been dominated by Garlic Mustard for a substantial amount of time then there would be less toxin in the soil and therefore more growth would be possible.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another Biofuel -- Tequila

A plant commonly known for its role in the production of tequila has been overlooked as a source of biofuel that would not compete with food crops. Agave plants can sustain high yields while enduring extreme temperatures, droughts and carbon dioxide increases, with little need for irrigation, according to a series of papers in a special issue of Global Change Biology Bioenergy. With around 20 per cent of the world semi-arid, and some 200 agave species growing worldwide, utilizing this plant could help combat the potential energy crisis.

Field trials of the biofuel potential of some common Mexican varieties have begun in Australia and there are vast areas of abandoned agave plantations in Africa (once used for sisal fibre production, but abandoned after synthetic fibre production came along) that might be re-established for biofuel uses. This would avoid and economic impact food and would reduce the amount of additional land that would be cleared.

There are two different varieties: Agave mapisaga and Agave salmiana. When produced their energy yields far exceed corn, soybean, sorghum, and wheat productivities; and even without irrigation they still maintain high yields, according to another paper.

Arturo Velez, a former coordinator at the National Confederation of Forestry Producers and head of the Agave Project, an initiative to scale up agave biofuel production in Mexico claims that some varieties produce twice the dry biomass per hectare of hybrid poplar, three times the sugar of sugarcane, and four times more cellulose than eucalyptus, and capture five times more carbon dioxide than the most productive ecosystem. According to Velez, Mexico has 80 million hectares of arid and semiarid areas with no productive potential in which 5,600 million tons of dry biomass could be obtained from agave. This would be enough to meet the United States' transport fuel needs.

Different agave species are already widely used in Mexico for production of tequila and bacanora (traditional drink in Mexico) and henequen fibre (textile fiber made from a native Mexican plant), but in some cases up to 80 per cent of the plant's biomass is being thrown away.

Martín Esqueda, a researcher at the Feeding and Development Research Center in Mexico, warned that agave should be sustainably managed to avoid over-exploitation of the wild populations. This has happened with angustifolia species (lavender), which is now endangered because of unsustainable use to produce bacanora according to him.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Waste Water = The New Energy Source?


Most countries spend a substantial amount of time, energy, and money, to treat wastewater so that it will not cause harm to the environment. What if all of this effort could be put into using the waste liquid as an alternative energy source? Wastewater is currently being looked at as a problem rather than a resource. If the energy from this substance can be harnassed and used, it would help water industries become more self-sufficient energy-wise. It would also help those countries that are worse off and who clean water by spending vital resources that they cannont really afford to spare. The U.S. alone uses nearly 1.5 percent of the nation's electrical energy to treat 12.5 trillion gallons of wastewater per year. So, why dump the water after cleansing rather than convert its energy into an energy resource? If this were done, it would no longer be an energy loss to manage waste water, but an energy gain.

The energy in waste water is due to the bonds in the organic molecules, ranging from small, simple chains, to large complex ones. A new freeze-dry technique is being used to recover this energy and it has allowed for better energy recovery. One other study has researched the energy found in waste water. It harnessed 20 percent less energy than what really was present because the freeze-dry technique was not used meaning that there most definitely was loss of some energy-rich compounds due to evaporation.

Sources: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110105121131.htm
http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es103058w

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Current Gas Prices

There could be a spark leading to lasting interest in alternative sources of energy due to the rising prices of oil. The latest price rage is due to problems occurring in Libya and other oil-producing nations. In addition to the gas prices, awareness and fears about climate change, pollution, and reducing resources are calling for alternative energy projects. The United States continues to depend on foreign which is also posing national security risks. For example, more than the 1.2 billion gallons of gas used a month in California comes from foreign sources. It is believed from some that if the problems with Libya and other areas continue then oil prices could rise up to more than $200 a barrel. With prices on the rise, President Obama continues to push for 80% of the energy in the United States to come from "clean" sources by 2035. Others plan to increase their green energy: California intends to have 33% of their energy by from alternative sources by 2020 and the U.S. navy plans to have half of its fleet using renewable fuel by 2020. The prices of gas will not only affects what we are paying at the pump but will also increase the cost of living. Currently, alternative energy only accounts for just 8% of the United States' consumption. Wind power accounts for only 3% of the country's electricity and solar power represents an even smaller percentage. There are roadblocks that continue to get in the way of alternative energy such as limited supply and troubles getting out of research. Most solar and wind projects are at remote sites and therefore not tied into current transmission lines. Also, public charging stations for electric cars and biofuel stations for vehicles that can run on renewable energy are still scarce. Other types of nuclear energy being pointed at include nuclear energy (however, some critics are afraid of nuclear after the effects of the recent quake in Japan). Hopefully the government, scientist, and the public will be aware and informed on the alternative energy debate and side with the option that will help our environment and communities.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Energy of the Future



As the world discovers new ways to meet its growing energy needs, energy generated from Sun and from wind are being considered as a means of generating power. Though these two sources of energy have attracted the scientists for a very long time, they are not able to decide, which of the two is a better source to generate power. Now scientists are looking at a third option that combines solar and wind power to produce enormous energy called the solar wind power.


How does the Solar wind power technology work?
A satellite is launched into space, but instead of working like a wind mill, where a blade attached to the turbine that is rotated to generate electricity, the satellite would use charged copper wire for capturing electrons traveling away from the sun at several hundred kilometers per second.

Advantages of Solar wind power:

  • The scientists say that the entire energy generated from solar wind will not be able to reach the planet for consumption as a lot of energy generated by the satellite has to be pumped back to copper wire to create the electron-harvesting magnetic field. However, the amount that reaches earth is more than sufficient to fulfill the energy needs of the planet.
  • A team of scientists at Washington State University speculate that it can generate 1 billion billion gigawatts of power by using a massive 8,400-kilometer-wide solar sail to harvest the power in solar wind.
  • One billion gigawatts of power could also be generated by a satellite having 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) cable with a sail 8,400 kilometers (5,220 miles) across.
  • The scientists feel that if some of the practical issued are solved, Solar wind power will generate the amount of power that no one including the scientists working to find new means of generating power ever expected.

Disadvantages of Solar wind power
But despite the fact that Solar wind power will solve almost all the problems, it has some disadvantages as well.

  • Large engineering difficulties will have to be solved before satellites to tap solar wind power are deployed.
  • The distance between the satellite and earth will be so huge that as the laser beam travels millions of miles, it makes even the tightest laser beam spread out and lose most of the energy. To solve this problem, a more focused laser is needed.
  • But even if these laser beams reach our satellites, it is very doubtful that our satellites in their present form will be able to tap them. The energy is there but there are practical constraints preventing the capture of the energy at this time.



Sunday, February 27, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing?

An excess of nitrogen, a naturally occurring element essential for growth, has been increasing in concentration in waterways. Through the combustion of fossil fuels, nitrogen gasses are released into the atmosphere and then fall again to the earth as acid rain rich in nitrogen compounds. Nitrogen is also added to agricultural fields through chemical fertilizers. Nitrogen is put into an ammonia rich compound and prayed or spread across agricultural fields. When heavy rains fall, the excess nutrient not used in growth is picked up by the water and taken into larger collections of water which eventually lead to streams, rivers, or lakes. The increase in livestock around the world also adds to the increase of nitrogen in water. Animal and human waste contains high amounts of nitrogen that can be swept into waterways because of heavy rains or sewage problems. The nitrogen from all of these sources ultimately travels to water ecosystems.

Due to the excess of nitrogen in these water ecosystems, a process called eutrophication occurs. Eutrophication is when algae suddenly grow out of control because there is a large amount of their essential grown nutrient. This extreme excess of growth causes pipes to clog, all of the oxygen to be use up in the system, and the high concentration of organisms blocks the light from those that live deeper in the water system. Jill Baron, a scientist with the USGS, is currently participating in a study of limiting nutrients in alpine lakes in locations such as Colorado, Norway, and Sweden. These ecosystems are ideal to study because they are secluded from humans and have no immediate drainage from polluted watersheds. Before the industrial revolution, organisms in the water ecosystems in these locations has an abundance of phosphorus and were limited in growth because a lack of nitrogen. After the shift to a more urban society with more pollutants, there was so much nitrogen present in the alpine lakes that organisms were not missing phosphorus to continue their growth. This discovery shows that there has been a significant increase of nitrogen in the atmosphere due to the increase of technology and burning of fossil fuels from the time after the industrial revolution until now.

The pollution of water due to agricultural practices, industry, urbanization, and the burning of fossil fuels could prove to be devastating to the world in the next 50 years. There has been a prediction that water will be the most essential natural resources to protect as the world population continues to climb. If waterways continue to be polluted with nitrogen, they will become less productive for providing food resources and drinkable water to humans and animals. It is important that the agricultural practices of spreading excess ammonium fertilizer and the extreme burning of fossil fuels stops in order to preserve the potable water that the world currently has access to in order to benefit future generations.