An English bog
It’s a battle over turf—peat, to be exact. In Great Britain, government plans to phase out the use of peat in gardening products—intended to protect bogs, from which peat is harvested—have created a division between gardeners and environmentalists, writes The New York Times. That’s because peat bogs are tremendous carbon sinks that hold one-quarter of the carbon stored in the world’s soil, or more than 200 billion tons of carbon, but also happen to contain nutrients that make plants grow like gangbusters.
The Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico brought us those gut-wrenching pictures of pelicans covered in oil, but up to now there have been mercifully few reports of the disaster causing specific large-scale damage to the Gulf environment. That may be beginning to change: This week oceanographers report a vast swath of coral about seven miles southwest of the Deepwater Horizon site that are coated in brownish-black gunk and dying off. The team says the evidence points to the oil spill as the culprit.
The scientists sailed aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research boat Ronald H. Brown, and used remotely operated submersibles to survey the seafloor and find this devastation.
“The coral were either dead or dying, and in some cases they were simply exposed skeletons,” said team member Timothy Shank of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “I’ve never seen that before. And when we tried to take samples of the coral, this black—I don’t know how to describe it—black, fluffylike substance fell off of them.” [National Geographic]
Researchers camped on the Greenland ice sheet hit bedrock this week after almost three years of drilling, reaching a depth of 8,000 feet. They hope that the ice they’ve uncovered from some 120,000 years ago, might give them a better understanding of what a warmer future might look like, if Greenland has less ice and the sea level rises.
The team, which is part of the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling (NEEM) project, is looking to learn more about carbon dioxide levels during the Eemian period, when global temperatures were over 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea level was about 15 feet higher. They believe these conditions might mirror effects caused by the earth’s changing climate during the next century.
Scientists believe that by the end of the 21st century the planet will experience similar conditions again. Over the Greenland ice sheet, temperatures at the height of the Eemian may have been around 5 degrees Celsius warmer–mirroring the Arctic amplification of modern climate change. . . There are large uncertainties concerning the response of ice sheets to warming air and ocean temperatures. Understanding what happened to the Greenland ice sheet during the Eemian could help constrain projections of future sea level rise. [Nature]
A lucrative new car market, a former General Motors employee, and a dumpster with shredded documents. According to a federal court indictment (pdf) released on Thursday, these may be a recipe for hybrid car espionage. A former GM employee and her husband–Shanshan Du and Yu Qin–stand accused of shuttling secrets out of the American automobile company and attempting to provide design information to a Chinese competitor.
Earth2Tech reports that as hybrids become a bigger part of the automotive landscape, they’re also the cause of more legal fights, including recent legal battles over hybrid technology patents involving Ford and Toyota.
According to Australia-based IP law firm Griffith Hack, filings for patents covering hybrid technology have been “increasing roughly exponentially” across much of the industry in the last few years, although the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index from intellectual property law firm Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti suggests a more gradual climb.[Earth2Tech]
General Motors values the stolen secrets at over $40 million and suspects that Du started loading documents onto a hard drive after the company offered her a severance package in January 2005.
Michael Gratzel has come clean and revealed that he stole his award-winning design for a new kind of solar cell–stole it from a leaf, that is. The Swiss inventor and first prize-winner of the $960,000 Millennium Technology Prize believes he has a cheap way to power everything from cell phones to street lamps, copying plants’ power to harness sunlight and turn it into energy.
“I was always intrigued with natural photosynthesis,” Gratzel says in a Millennium Technology Prize video (see below), “the way the plant uses molecules to generate charges.”
His solar cells aren’t as efficient as the current silicon photovoltaic panels, but they do use cheaper manufacturing materials.
“Gratzel’s innovation is likely to have an important role in low-cost, large-scale solutions for renewable energy,” Ainomaija Haarla, president of Finland’s Technology Academy, says in a prepared news release on the group’s website. [CNN]
Gratzel can also make his solar cells transparent or flexible. This means that designers might integrate them into existing structures, for example windows or even furniture.
“You can imagine using those cells as electricity producing windows…. What’s very exciting is that you collect light from all sides, so can capture electricity from the inside as well as the outside…. You could think that the glass of all high-rises in New York would be electricity generating panels,” he said. [BBC]
The Mojave Desert has become a battlefield for how President Obama’s clean energy goals should be moved forward, and conservationists and renewable energy advocates, usually natural allies, are now pitted against each other. California Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed legislation last week that would designate more than 800,000 acres of desert land a national monument, putting it off-limits to energy projects.
The area of concern to Feinstein is between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park…. The area includes desert tortoise habitat, wildlife corridors, cactus gardens and the Amboy Crater [Los Angeles Times]. While many believe that the desert is an ideal location to establish solar and wind farms, conservationists say that such projects would destroy the ecosystem. David Myers, head of the Wildlands Conservancy, says, “How can you say you’re going to blade off hundreds of thousands of acres of earth to preserve the Earth?” [The New York Times].
Myers stands firmly on one side, while other environmentalists are working with the state on its renewable energy plans for the desert. “We have to accept our responsibility that something that we have been advocating for decades is about to happen. My job is to make sure that it happens in an environmentally responsible way” [The New York Times], says Johanna Wald of the Natural Resources Defense Council.