Category: Environment

How to Harvest Terawatts of Solar Power on the Moon

By David Warmflash | April 22, 2016 1:03 pm
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(Credit: Shimzu)

Planet Earth isn’t the most ideal place for solar power to thrive. Sunsets and weather afford solar panels a significant amount of downtime.

But there’s a place not too far from here where the sun never stops shining.

A handful of researchers, and more recently the Japanese corporation Shimizu, have been gearing up to develop solar power on the moon.

Shimizu took off with the idea in 2013 in the aftermath of Japan’s 2011 Fukishima accident, which produced a political climate demanding alternatives to nuclear power plants. Shimizu’s plans call for beginning construction of a lunar solar power base as early as 2035. The solar array would be 250 miles wide and span the lunar circumference of 6,800 miles. They’re calling it the Luna Ring. Read More

Unintended Consequences: The Sinister Side of Species Protection

By Susan Brackney | April 6, 2016 1:49 pm
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One of 13 bald eagles found dead on a farm in Maryland. (Credit: Maryland Natural Resources Police)

There’s something dark at work when it comes to certain human-animal interactions.

A recent report from the Ecological Society of America admits that calling attention to plants and animals in need of special protections can actually result in “perverse consequences,” ultimately putting some species in harm’s way—even in the face of stiff penalties.

Killing a bald eagle is a federal offense punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. “A subsequent conviction under the Bald and Golden Eagles Act, raises the maximum penalty up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine,” says Neil Mendelsohn, assistant special agent in charge at the Northeast Regional Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

He’s currently investigating the mysterious deaths of 13 bald eagles discovered in Federalsburg, Maryland in late February. The reward for information now stands at $25,000. Necropsies show the birds didn’t die of disease or natural causes, and officials are keeping mum so far—other than to say human intervention is suspected.

Why do some people target and kill protected animals? It’s a question scientists have asked before. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

South Asia’s Vultures Back From the Brink

By William H. Funk | April 4, 2016 8:00 am
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A long-billed (Indian) vulture (Credit: Vaibhavcho, CC)

Unlovely, unloved and utterly necessary for controlling disease and stabilizing ecological health, vultures are under attack around the world.

In Africa, populations of a half-dozen species are nearing collapse due to a combination of human-caused killings ranging from poaching for bushmeat and religious objects to the deliberate poisoning of poached elephant carcasses to destroy the circling scavengers.

In southern Asia, and particularly in India, the chief villain has been a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac, widely used to treat arthritis symptoms in cattle and water buffalo. Diclofenac causes acute kidney failure in vultures feeding from the carcasses of recently treated livestock, and has caused catastrophic declines in all three species of vulture populations in the genus Gyps, including the white-rumped, the long-billed and the slender-billed vultures; the first of these listed species declined by more than 99.9 percent between 1992 and 2007, with tens of millions of individuals dying across South Asia. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

Why Nuclear Fusion Is Always 30 Years Away

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 23, 2016 11:50 am
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The Joint European Torus tokamak generator, as seen from the inside. (Credit: EUROfusion)

Nuclear fusion has long been considered the “holy grail” of energy research. It represents a nearly limitless source of energy that is clean, safe and self-sustaining. Ever since its existence was first theorized in the 1920s by English physicist Arthur Eddington, nuclear fusion has captured the imaginations of scientists and science-fiction writers alike.

Fusion, at its core, is a simple concept. Take two hydrogen isotopes and smash them together with overwhelming force. The two atoms overcome their natural repulsion and fuse, yielding a reaction that produces an enormous amount of energy.

But a big payoff requires an equally large investment, and for decades we have wrestled with the problem of energizing and holding on to the hydrogen fuel as it reaches temperatures in excess of 150 million degrees Fahrenheit. To date, the most successful fusion experiments have succeeded in heating plasma to over 900 million degrees Fahrenheit, and held onto a plasma for three and a half minutes, although not at the same time, and with different reactors.

The most recent advancements have come from Germany, where the Wendelstein 7-X reactor recently came online with a successful test run reaching almost 180 million degrees, and China, where the EAST reactor sustained a fusion plasma for 102 seconds, although at lower temperatures.

Still, even with these steps forward, researchers have said for decades that we’re still 30 years away from a working fusion reactor. Even as scientists take steps toward their holy grail, it becomes ever more clear that we don’t even yet know what we don’t know. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: energy

Saving Black Rhinos Through ‘Radical Conservation’

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 9, 2016 12:15 pm
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An endangered black rhinoceros on the African savannah. (Credit: PicturesWild/Shutterstock)

Today, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the black rhinoceros as “critically endangered.” In the early 20th century, nearly 1 million black rhinos roamed the planet, but their numbers dipped below 3,000 by the late 1990s. Rhino horns can fetch up to $30,000 a pound, and rampant poaching is largely to blame for black rhinos’ rapid decline.

In recent years, the International Rhino Foundation has worked to restore the black rhino population by tracking, monitoring, rehabilitating and sometimes even relocating the animals.

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Ed Warner.

However, tracking and caring for rhinos is a dangerous task. The black rhino is a notoriously aggressive creature that charges at the slightest provocation, moving at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour while brandishing its impressive horn.

Ed Warner, a former geologist and natural gas executive, retired from his field in 2000 to begin a second career as a philanthropic conservationist. He sits on the board of the Sand County Foundation, which works in the American west, and established an endowment at Colorado State University. He credits a lifelong love of nature for his charitable work, as well as a constant yearning to be out in the field. It was this passion for tangible work that drew him to Africa and the International Rhino Foundation, where he has spent over a decade working on the ground with rhino conservationists. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts

Going Green With Blue Roofs

By Sophie Krause | March 8, 2016 9:51 am
A green roof on San Francisco's Bernal Hill. Photo courtesy of Ike Edeani.

A green roof on San Francisco’s Bernal Hill. (Credit: Courtesy of Ike Edeani)

(This post originally appeared in the online science magazine Hawkmoth. Follow @HawkmothMag to discover more of their work.) 

There are good reasons to think green when it comes to urban rooftops: planting gardens called “green roofs” atop skyscrapers benefits cities environmentally, economically, aesthetically, educationally, and psychologically.

But what about thinking blue?

Although newer and lesser known than green roofs, blue roofs are another nature-mimicking tool to improve our cities. More specifically, blue roofs help our urban watersheds by rethinking rainfall. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts

Are Hatcheries Helping, or Hurting, Wild Fish Populations?

By Matthew Berger | March 3, 2016 12:52 pm
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A spawning steelhead trout works its way up the Lewis River at Lucia Falls near Vancouver, WA. (Credit: Greg Shields/Flickr)

The Columbia River basin, stretching from Idaho down through Washington and Oregon, is dotted with more than 200 hatcheries in which salmon and steelhead trout are raised before being released to supplement wild populations.

Those wild fish have struggled on their own, due to fishing, dams that block migration routes and other human-related pressures. Hatcheries can help stabilize populations, allowing fishing operations to continue, but only if they produce fish whose offspring can thrive in the wild.

Michael Blouin, a biology professor at Oregon State University, has long known that fish raised in the concrete troughs of a hatchery are different than wild fish. Blouin and his fellow researchers discovered this back in 2011. Their 19-year examination of steelhead trout — an anadromous fish in the same genus as Pacific salmon — found that steelhead raised in captivity were adapting to the evolutionary pressures of the hatcheries within a single generation. The steelhead that best adapted to hatcheries did worst, in terms of reproductive success, once they were released into the wild. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

How the Malheur Occupation Hamstrung Science

By April Reese | February 8, 2016 12:14 pm
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In this January 2013 photo, piles of wood from a thinning project designed to reduce wildfire risk to an adjacent town burn on a hillside at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Similar projects are in limbo while armed militants continue to occupy the site. (Credit: USFWS – Pacific Region/Flickr)

Last month, a flock of trumpeter swans alighted on the wetlands of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, repeating an annual ritual that dates back centuries. But for the first time in 80 years, biologists were not there to count them. 

The annual winter bird count, which dates back to 1935, provides key data on multiple species for a national migratory bird monitoring program. Biologists and volunteers count ibis, sandhill cranes, horned larks and other birds that stop at the refuge – an oasis in the high desert of the Great Basin.

But this year, the only people inside the refuge at the start of bird-counting season were a small group of armed militants. Instead of counting birds, refuge scientists are counting days. Monday marks the 38th day of the occupation, orchestrated by ranchers and others angered by a five-year prison sentence handed to local cattlemen Steven and Dwight Hammond for arson – and, more broadly, federal oversight of cattle grazing on public lands. Last week, 11 of the occupiers were arrested while traveling to a meeting, including the movement’s ringleader, Ammon Bundy. Another man, Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was killed by local law enforcement. But four holdouts remain at the refuge, and the site remains closed. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

How Scientists Detect Nuclear Explosions Around the World

By Carl Engelking | January 6, 2016 4:34 pm
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(Credit: CUTWORLD/Shutterstock)

The world was literally shaken before news broke that North Korea detonated what leaders in the Hermit Kingdom claimed was a hydrogen bomb Tuesday morning local time.

Officials and experts around the world quickly cast doubt on that claim, as the amount of energy produced by the explosion was likely too small to be that of a hydrogen bomb. Instead, early evidence suggests North Korea may have instead detonated a boosted-fission bomb, which produces a smaller explosive yield. It will likely take several more days to determine what kind of nuclear device Pyongyang actually detonated. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts

Stonehenge Wasn’t the First ‘Second-Hand’ Prehistoric Monument

By Mike Parker Pearson, University College London | December 11, 2015 2:59 pm
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(Credit: Fulcanelli/Shutterstock)

I led the team of researchers that discovered that Stonehenge was most likely to have been originally built in Pembrokeshire, Wales, before it was taken apart and transported some 180 miles to Wiltshire, England. It may sound like an impossible task without modern technology, but it wouldn’t have been the first time prehistoric Europeans managed to move a monument.

Archaeologists are increasingly discovering megaliths across the continent – albeit a small number so far – that were previously put up in earlier monuments. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology
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