August 31, 2009

Collecting Climate Change Data

Researchers studying how climate change affects the earth struggle with big gaps in the data -- gaps half the size of an ocean, in fact. Scientists have been seeding the Pacific with all kinds of sensors in recent years to help cover that gap, but this month, a team in Monterey, California launched what may be the most ingenious device yet.

A Silicon Valley engineering firm called Liquid Robotics recently launched a new device called a Wave Glider off the California coast. It's the latest, and perhaps the most ingenious design in the growing network of "autonomous ocean samplers," or sea-going science robots. The glider is a sensor-carrying platform, powered entirely by wave energy. It has the potential to collect an enormous amount of data about the ocean, which in turn will give scientists a better understanding of climate change. As reporter Thayer Walker sums up this project, "Right now, our ability to change the oceans far outstrips our ability to understand them."

Photo of Wave Glider "Red Flash" at sea and diagram of how it works courtesy of Liquid Robotics

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August 28, 2009

Giant Floating Garbage Island in the Pacific

It's no Club Med. Instead, it's a ball of floating garbage so big that it has a name: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It's floating and growing in the north Pacific Ocean. It's roughly the size of Texas and comprised of approximately 3.5 million tons of trash, 80% of it plastic, floating about midway between Hawaii and San Francisco. Most of the trash in the Patch is broken into bite-sized bits that are sickening and killing the fish, plankton, and sea birds that try to eat them. The garbage patch also includes a large quantity of plastic drink bottles. Most of the plastic bottles and other plastic items have labels printed in English or Chinese, hinting at the long distances the trash has traveled.

 Plastic sea trash does not biodegrade and often floats to the surface. Bottle caps, bags, and wrappers that end up in the ocean from the wind or through overflowing sewage systems can then drift thousands of miles. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only the largest of several balls of floating waste that accumulate in the North Pacific Gyre, a vortex formed by ocean and wind currents and located 1,000 miles off the California coast. Scientists are very worried about how all of this trash harms sea life, and in turn, all life on earth. Click here to watch the video: What Garbage Island Means to You.

August 25, 2009

400 Years Since Galileo's Telescope

This undated drawing depicts Galileo Galilei looking
at the cosmos through his telescope.
Google users will have noticed that today is the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope and that Galileo has posthumously received the ultimate online tribute. Victoria Jaggard writes for National Geographic, "Just over 400 years ago, Galileo, then chair of mathematics at Italy's University of Padua, got word that Dutch glass makers had invented a device that allowed viewers to see very distant objects as if they were nearby. The mathematician soon acquired a Dutch instrument, and on August 25, 1609, he presented an improved, more powerful telescope of his own design to the senate of the city-state of Venice. The government officials were so impressed with Galileo's telescope that they rewarded the professor with a higher salary and tenure for life at his university. At the time, Galileo was touting the telescope for commercial and military applications, such as watching ships at sea. But in the fall of 1609 Galileo turned his telescope to the heavens, setting into motion a new kind of science: telescopic astronomy."

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August 13, 2009

Chevy Volt to Launch in 2010

Fritz henderson and the Chevy Volt
The long-awaited Chevy Volt is set to go from concept car to reality very soon. General Motors reps said Tuesday that the Chevrolet Volt electric car could get 230 mpg in city driving, making it the first American vehicle to achieve triple-digit fuel economy if that figure is confirmed by federal regulators.

With a base price of US$40,000, Chevy boasts that the Volt's fuel efficiency in the city could potentially be four times more than the popular Toyota Prius hybrid, which is the most efficient car now sold in the U.S. Volt buyers will also qualify for a recently approved $7,500 federal tax credit. Most with-it automakers are working on similar designs, but GM would offer the first mainstream plug-in with the Volt, which seats four and was introduced as a future concept car at the 2007 Detroit auto show.

The Volt is powered by an electric motor and a battery pack with a 40-mile range. After that, a small internal combustion engine kicks in to generate electricity for a total range of 300 miles. The battery pack can be recharged from a standard home outlet. The EPA guidelines, developed with help from automakers, predict that cars such as the Volt will travel more on straight electricity in the city than on the highway. If drivers operate the Volt for less than 40 miles at a time, in theory they could do so without ever using a drop of gasoline. Highway mileage estimates for the Volt based on the EPA's methodology have yet to be released, but GM CEO Fritz Henderson says, "We are confident the highway (mileage) will be a triple-digit."

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August 11, 2009

Oceans From Space

A new study indicates that a barrage of comets may have delivered Earth's oceans around 3.85 billion years ago. Scientists have long suspected that Earth and its near neighbors were walloped by tens of thousands of impactors during an ancient event known as the Late Heavy Bombardment. But it's been unclear whether the impactors were icy comets or rocky asteroids.

Now, based on levels of a certain metal in ancient Earth rocks, a team led by Uffe Jorgensen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark says comets were the culprits. Whether Earth had oceans before any comets arrived has been intensely debated, Jorgensen notes, and the issue is being hotly debated. Some experts say enough water could have existed from the moment Earth formed, while others argue that the young planet's heat would have vaporized any liquids. His team thinks early Earth was just too hot to retain large bodies of water. But by the time of the Late Heavy Bombardment, things had cooled down, allowing melted ice from the flurry of comets to become the world's first seas.

"We may sip a piece of the impactors every time we drink a glass of water," the study authors write in their paper, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Icarus.


August 10, 2009

The 2011 Tesla S Sedan Plug-In Electric Car

The automotive future is now, or at least it's coming in 2011. Many are excited that the new Tesla S sedan is about to become the first mass-produced highway-capable plug-in electric car. Tesla S production will ramp up to 20,000 units annually by the end of the first year of production; after a $7,500 U.S. federal government tax break, the Model S will cost buyers US$49,900. That's the base price for the 160-mile range pack, but a 230-mile range pack and a 300-mile range version will also be available.

August 6, 2009

U.S. to Invest Billions in Electric Vehicle Development

American cars are about to be propelled into the 21st century. President Obama has announced that $2.4 billion in grants will be awarded to companies and universities that develop electric vehicles, parts for electric vehicles and the batteries that power them. The money will come from the recently approved $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Each company and university that receives one of the grants must match the grant amount with its own investment funds.

The president explained the details today in Elkhart County, Indiana, which currently has the worst unemployment rate in the United States at 16.8%. The president has made four trips there in the last 15 months. Elkhart was a manufacturing center for R.V.s until the industry for gas-guzzling vehicles collapsed. One of those plants, Navistar International, will get a $39 million grant to develop manufacturing of electric trucks. Indiana stands to get seven grants totaling $400 million.

In Michigan, the state with the worst state unemployment rate at 15.2%, Vice President Biden announced $1 billion in grants there for developing fuel cells. Smith Electric will receive a $10 million grant. Another $73 million grant goes to Chrysler for manufacturing 220 "plug-in hybrid and electric pickup trucks and vans" in St. Louis and Michigan. Ford will get a $30 million grant for manufacturing "plug-in hybrid vehicles" in Kansas City and Michigan.

According to the White House press release, the grants are intended to "establish American leadership in creating the next generation of advanced vehicles." With this infusion of domestic investment, Americans can hope to see some rapid and exciting advances in alternative fuel technology.


August 4, 2009

Who is Producing Greener Electronics?

Are you shopping around for a new computer or cell phone? In addition to price and quality, please remember to consider the environmental impact of what you buy. The following companies have been ranked by Greenpeace as of July 2009. In response to the dangerous amounts of electronic waste being shipped from developed to undeveloped nations, the organization has been ranking major producers of consumer electronics since the summer of 2006. Read the list below to find out who is producing greener, toxic chemical-free, and recyclable electronics...and who isn't.

August 3, 2009

On the Lighter Side: Some Norwegian-American Humor

The following is a little "Norse Humor" from the Sons of Norway, an organization of Norwegian Americans. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, there are now more than five million American citizens of Norwegian decent, and most of them live in the Upper Midwest part of the United States. Enjoy their humor, everyone!
Lutheran Airlines: 
A U.S. 5 cent postage stamp
from 1925
“Velcome to da Lutern Airlines! Da latest air service to sprout up in Minnesohta vit service to Visconsin, Nort Dah-Kota, and sometimes Sout Dah-Kota.
I am Lena Ingvist, yer flight attendant and stewardess, tew.

Ve are a no-frills airline. Ve are all in da same boat on Lutern Air, vere flying is an uplifting experience, so velcome aboard. As you know, der is no first class on Lutern Airlines, airflight tew thousand tventy tew. Meals are pot luck: rows one tru 6 ver to bring da lefsa; 7 tru 15, da salad; 16 tru 21, da main hot-dish; and 22-30 da romniegrot. Ve vill be singing 99 bottles uv beer on da vall, so basses and tenors pleess sit in da rear of da aircraft, and remember everyvun is responsible for der own baggage. All fares are free-vil offering and the plane vil not land until da budget is met.

And now I vill acqvaint yew vit da safety systems aboard this Lutheran Tvin Yet 599.
Okay den, listen up; I'm only gonna say dis vunce. In da event of sudden loss uv cabin pressure, I am frankly gonna be real surprised, so vill Captain Olson, becuz ye vill be flying right around 2 tousand feet, so loss of cabin pressure vud prolly indicate the Second Coming or somting of dat nature, so I vuldn't bodder vit dem little masks on dem rubber tubes, Yer gonna have bigger tings to vorry about dan yust dat. Just stuff dose tings back up in der little holes. Prolly da masks fell out because of turbulence, which to be honest vit yew, we've been flying at 2 tousand feet and dat is sort of like driving across a plowed field, but after a vile, you vill get used to it.

In da ewent of a vater landing, I'd say yust furgit it. Start saying Da Lord's Prayer and yust hope you have time to git to da part about forgive us our sins as ye forgive dose who sint against us (vich some people say “trespass against us”, vich isn't right, but vot can ya dew?

Cell phone use is strictly forbidden, not because dey interfere vit the plane's navigational system, vich is”seat of the pants all da vay”. No, cell phones is a pain in da wazoo, and if God had meant yew to use dem, he vould have put yer mout on da side of yer head, so stow dose suckers!

Ve're gonna start lunch buffet style vit da coffee pot up front. First, ve'll have da hymn sing; hymnals are in da seat pocket right in front of yew. Don't take yers vit you yen you go or I am going to be real upset vit yew, and I ain't kiddin' eider!” Tanks for flying Lutem Airlines, flight tew thousand tventy tew.