May 27, 2010

Gulf Disaster Worst US Offshore Oil Spill

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey say the flow rate from the blown-out well is at least twice as much and possibly five times as much as estimates cited by BP. Since live streaming video of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico have been made available, scientists and the public have become increasingly vocal about BPs estimates being impossibly low. The oil giant says engineers won't know until at least Thursday afternoon if the latest attempt to plug the leak is succeeding.

Meanwhile, in response to the oil spill, the head of the troubled agency that oversees offshore drilling was fired on Thursday, sources said, as President Barack Obama moved more aggressively to take charge of the Gulf oil spill.
The departure of Minerals Management Service Director Elizabeth Birnbaum came just hours before Obama's planned White House press conference on the oil spill, where he was expected to extend a moratorium on new deep water oil drilling. It was a day of fast-moving developments in Washington and in the Gulf, where engineers worked with some apparent success to stanch the gushing leak five weeks into the catastrophe, NPR reported. Birnbaum was asked to step down after she and her agency came under withering criticism from both democrat and republican lawmakers over lax oversight of drilling and cozy ties with industry.

May 26, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Live Video

Oil is still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. According to Sierra Club data, more than 300 sea birds, nearly 200 sea turtles and 19 dolphins have been found dead along the U.S. Gulf Coast. With each passing second, more gallons of crude oil and natural gas escape into the ocean. Thanks in part to congressional pressure, we can all watch the environmental crisis unfold via a live video feed courtesy of PBS, live from the ocean floor.

We're sorry, it appears that the live feed is no longer available.

Until Thursday, BP and NOAA had stood by their early estimate -- produced April 29, a week after the Deepwater Horizon rig sank -- that about 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) were leaking per day from the damaged well, although they had acknowledged that the estimate was not precise. After the world first witnessed the 30-second video clip that BP released on May 12, scientists and the public began to wonder more loudly how the estimate could be that low.

Here's a look at some of the other numbers that form the basis of the estimated oil leak range:
  • NOAA | 210,000 gal/day
  • Outside Estimates | 1,050,000 gal/day
  • BP (Worst Case as of May 5) | 2,520,000 gal/day
  • Experts' Worst Case | 4,200,000 gal/day
A new "flow rate technical team" comprised of outside experts and multiple government agencies is beginning work on a new estimate of the leak's magnitude, which could come as early as this weekend. PBS will maintain and update the leak widgets until the leak is stopped. Wire services reported Friday evening that the White House plans to name former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and former EPA administrator William K. Reilly to lead the presidential commission investigating the oil leak.

May 21, 2010

Offshore Drilling Regulator Under Scrutiny After Most Recent Spill

Critics of the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling and collects revenues from it, have long said it had a stake in the oil industry, but those were problems little discussed in Congress until the catastrophic oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Experts have warned that the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster caused by BP could be developing into one of the worst spills in US history. Currently there are at least 5,000 barrels, or 200,000 gallons, spewing every day into the Gulf of Mexico.

The current problems of a lack of enforcement and lack of attention to oil drilling safety date back to 2001, when Bush took office and Cheney began to head what has since then been known as "Cheney's Energy Task Force". Bear in mind that Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force appeared to have significant private  interest in early 2001 in Iraq's oil industry, including which foreign companies were pursuing business there.

May 18, 2010

Guest Appearance on Gamers With Jobs: What's In A Game?

Gaming is no longer just for kids. Gone are the days of heading for the local video arcade, eating a slice, and playing a game of Frogger or the original Street Fighter for 25 cents. Many kids who used to drop quarters into cabinet game slots are now working adults who sit at home in the evenings playing the latest generation of games on consoles that cost between US$100 and $600 and on computers priced in the thousands. Today's games have elaborate story lines, characters, and resemble interactive movies than they do pinball. Games can be played online with friends and strangers around the world. This month, one of our EH Science team (an avid grown up gamer with a job) was invited to contribute to an article for Gamers With Jobs, a website and forum for professionals who enjoy games of all kinds as their hobbies, so we have posted a link below.

The article, entitled Signposts Along the Way, is an analysis of Achievements in X-box 360 games. The goal is to examine the achievements so often embedded in various computer and console games to discover why players like (or hate) them so much. In this edition, we examined what we call Signpost Achievements, which are achievements given out regularly while playing the main story of a game.

Read the article online at Gamers With Jobs.

Image via

May 12, 2010

Heroic Rats Sniff Out Landmines

For the past seven years, Bart Weetjens has been running a unique lab in Tanzania, where he trains rats to sniff out deadly unexploded land mines. The unexploded mines are the terrible legacy of countless bloody conflicts in Tanzania. Although dogs have traditionally been used around the world to help humans detect mines, Weetjens realized that rats are lighter, cheaper to maintain and less susceptible to tropical disease. They are also intelligent and trainable.

“I’ve always felt a very strong bonding with rodents,” he says. In “Hero Rats,” (FRONTLINE) Alexis Bloom accompanies Weetjens to work in Mozambique to watch his trained rodents in action. She also visits a school there that was cleared of land mines with the help of the rats, allowing the children to resume their education and play without fear of stepping on an unexploded mine. “They save human lives,” Weetjens says of the rats, "and, yes, they are heroes." The Weetjens project and heroic rats certainly give new meaning to the phrase "Oh, rats!"

May 11, 2010

Do Mosquito Eaters Eat Mosquitos?

Have you seen more Crane Flies (commonly known as mosquito eaters) around than usual? There are a lot of them, but the name mosquito eater is a bit deceptive.
Crane fly, or "mosquito eater"
Photo courtesy of Pinzo, Wikimedia Commons

Despite their common name, crane flies do not prey on mosquitoes as adults, nor do they bite humans. Adult crane flies feed on nectar or they do not feed at all. You see, once they become adults, most crane fly species exist only to mate and die. Their larvae, called "leatherjackets", "leatherbacks", "leatherback bugs" or "leatherjacket slugs", consume roots (such as those of turf grass) and other vegetation, in some cases causing damage to plants.

FUN FACT: The crane fly is occasionally considered a mild turf pest in some areas. For example, in 1935, Lord's Cricket Ground in London was among the venues affected by leatherjackets. Several thousand of the little creatures were collected by ground staff and burned because they caused bald patches on the pitch, giving balls an unusual sort of spin for much of the 1935 cricket season.

May 6, 2010

The Global Rich List, How Rich Are You?

The Global Rich List

Every year some people gaze enviously at the lists of the richest people in world, perhaps wondering what it would be like to have their assets. But where would you actually sit on one of those lists? Here's your chance to find out. Just use the link below, select your currency, type in your approximate annual income, and click the "show me the money" button. While it's all too easy to covet what others are perceived to possess, you might be much better off than you realize. Well enough off, in fact, to share a bit of the wealth. Since only an estimated 12-14% of the world's population has access to a computer (not necessarily ownership thereof) and only 4-5% has Internet access, the fact that you are reading an online magazine already puts you, the reader, in the top ranks of the global rich. Perspective, it's good for the mind.

Click here to check out the Global Rich List

For a little more perspective, consider the following:

$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market.

$30 could buy you an ER DVD Boxset OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.

$73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

$2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.

Three decades ago, the people in well-to-do countries were 30 times better off than those in countries where the poorest 20 percent of the world's people lived. By 1998, this gap had widened to 82 times.