Tag Archives: environment

Thousands Of Cameras Capture The Thriving Wildlife In World’s Protected Forests

The worlds tropical forests are thick with trees, rich in life, and dense with humidity. However, high-quality information and expansive data about the biodiversity within these understudiedwildlife hospots is scarce. This makes conservation initiatives all the more difficult to create.

So, to find out how effective protected forests are at helping wildlife, a recent study by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM) has captured an unbelievable amount of images documenting the intense biodiversity of protected sites in 15 tropical forests aroundthe world.

TEAM -a coalition led byConservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute – recently published theirfindings online in PLOS Biology.

For the study, TEAM set up a network of over 1,000 camera traps across forests in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Each site was surveyed for at least three years, creating a total of over 500,000 images per year of 244 ground-dwelling vertebratespecies from African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) in the Republic of Congo to giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) in Ecuador.

The images were captured using motion-triggered cameras thatsnapaway if they detectan animal walking through their path. Each site had between 60 to 90 cameras set up, placed around every 1 to 2 kilometers squared (0.38 to 0.77 miles squared).

African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo.TEAM Network and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Male Drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus) close-up in Cameroon, with a female and juvenile in the background. Image credit:TEAM Network and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest cat in the western hemisphere and a near threatened species. This individual was photographed at Volcn Barva, Costa Rica. Image credit:Courtesy of TEAM Network and Conservation International

Using the images as data, the researchers created occupancy models of each species over a threeto eightyear period. Overall, the results were remarkably positive: 17 percent of the monitored populations were found to be increasing, 22 percent were remaining stable, and 22 percent showed some decline. The remaining 39 were animals not detected often enough for their population statistics. According to the authors, these results paint a more optmistic pictureabout the success of protected areas, contrasting earlier reports of widespread decline.

It’s hoped that the study will therefore verifythat protected areas are highly effective at preserving and indeed increasing numbers of endangeredwildlife.

“At a time when environmental concerns are taking center stage, these results show that protected areas play an important role in maintaining biodiversity,” said Jorge Ahumada, executive director of the TEAM Network and a coauthor of the study said in a press release.

“Our study reflects a more optimistic outlook about the effectiveness of protected areas. For the first time we are not relying on disparate data sources, but rather using primary data collected in a standardized way across a range of protected areas throughout the world.

With this data we have created a public resource that can be used by governments or others in the conservation community to inform decisions.”

Make sure you check outthe officialTEAM galleryfor more of their incredible photographs.

Two rarely-seen bush dogs (Speothos venaticus) are captured for the first time in YanachagaChemilln National Park, Peru. TEAM Network and Wildlife Conservation Society

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/thousands-cameras-capture-thriving-wildlife-worlds-protected-forests

What Tech Is Next for the Solar Industry?


Solar panel installations have become increasingly popular, but the solar panel manufacturing industry is in the doldrums because supply far exceeds demand. The poor market may be slowing innovation, but advances continue; judging by the mood this week at the IEEE Photovoltaics Specialists Conference in Tampa, Fla., people in the industry remain optimistic about its long-term prospects.

The technology that’s surprised almost everyone is conventional crystalline silicon. A few years ago, silicon solar panels cost $4 per watt, and Martin Green, professor at the University of New South Wales and one of the leading silicon solar panel researchers, declared that they’d never go below $1 a watt. “Now it’s down to something like $0.50 of watt, and there’s talk of hitting 36 cents per watt,” he says.

The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal of reaching less than $1 a watt — not just for the solar panels, but for complete, installed systems — by 2020. Green thinks the solar industry will hit that target even sooner than that. If so, that would bring the direct cost of solar power to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour, which is cheaper than the average cost expected for power from new natural gas power plants. (The total cost of solar power, which includes the cost to utilities to compensate for its intermittency, would be higher, though precisely how much higher will depend on how much solar power is on the grid, and other factors.)

All parts of the silicon solar panel industry have been looking for ways to cut costs and improve the power output of solar panels, and that’s led to steady cost reductions. Green points to something as mundane as the pastes used to screen print some of the features on solar panels. Green’s lab built a solar cell in the 1990s that set a record efficiency for silicon solar cells — a record that stands to this day. To achieve that level of efficiency, he had to use expensive lithography techniques to make fine wires for collecting current from the solar cell. But gradual improvements have made it possible to use screen printing to produce ever finer lines. Recent research suggests that screen printing techniques can produce lines as thin as 30 micrometers — about the width of the lines Green used for his record solar cells, but at costs far lower than his lithography techniques.

Green says this and other techniques will make it cheap and practical to replicate the designs of his record solar cell on production lines. Some companies have developed manufacturing techniques for the front metal contacts. Implementing the design of the back electrical contacts is harder, but he expects companies to roll that out next.

Meanwhile, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have made flexible solar cells on a new type of glass from Corning called Willow Glass, which is thin and can be rolled up. The type of solar cell they made is the only current challenger to silicon in terms of large-scale production—thin-film cadmium telluride. Right now such solar cells are made in batches (as are silicon solar cells), but the ability to make them on a flexible sheet of glass raises the possibility of continuous roll-to-roll manufacturing (like printing newspapers), which can reduce the cost per watt by increasing production.

One of Green’s former students and colleagues, Jianhua Zhao — cofounder of solar panel manufacturer China Sunergy —announced this week that he is building a pilot manufacturing line for a two-sided solar cell that can absorb light from both the front and back. The basic idea, which isn’t new, is that during some parts of the day, sunlight falls on the land between rows of solar panels in a solar power plant. That light reflects onto the back of the panels and could be harvested to increase the power output. This works particularly well when the solar panels are built on sand, which is highly reflective. Where a one-sided solar panel might generate 340 watts, a two-sided one might generate up to 400 watts. He expects the panels to generate 10% to 20% more electricity over the course of a year.

Such solar panels could be mounted vertically — like a fence — so that one side collects sunlight in the morning, the other in the afternoon. That would make it possible to install the solar panels on very little land; they could serve as noise barriers along highways, for example. Such an arrangement could also be valuable in dusty areas. Many parts of the Middle East might seem to be good places for solar panels, since they get a lot of sunlight, but frequent dust storms decrease the power output. Vertical panels wouldn’t accumulate as much dust, which could help make such systems economical.

Looking even further ahead, Green is betting on silicon, aiming to take advantage of the huge reductions in cost already seen with the technology. He hopes to greatly increase the efficiency of silicon solar panels by combining silicon with one or two other semiconductors, each selected to efficiently convert a part of the solar spectrum that silicon doesn’t convert efficiently. Adding one semiconductor could boost efficiencies from the 20% to 25% range to around 40%. Adding another could make efficiencies as high as 50% feasible, which would cut in half the number of solar panels needed for a given installation. The challenge is to produce good connections between these semiconductors — a task that the arrangement of silicon atoms in crystalline silicon makes quite difficult.

Image courtesy of Chandra Marsono/Flickr

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/21/solar-industry-tech/

NASA Just Completely Shut Down Climate Change Deniers On Facebook

Comment sections are always fun places, especially when impassioned issues are involved. But usually, the back and forthsof keyboard bashing quickly fadeinto the white noise of the Internet. So you know when NASA shows up in the comment section of a post about climate change to tell you youre wrong, its probably time to call it a day.

NASAs comments came after Bill Nyeposted a story about himselfasking a prominent climate change denier to put his money where his mouth is. Nye, the science guy, offered two $20,000 bets to leading climate change denier Marc Morano, during an interview Morano himself had requested, that this year will be in the top 10 hottest years on record and this decade will also be the hottest on record. Alas, Morana declined the wagers.

Unsurprisingly, Nye posting the story to his Facebook page created a rumble and summoned the keyboard-wielding trolls to the comments section below the article. Perhaps after a late-night binge on YouTube conspiracy videos, many people accused NASA of being a leading voice in promoting the scam of man-made climate change by skewing figures and lying to the public about its data. A few commenters also wrongly cited, or just simply made up, some previous claims of NASA.

In a rebuttal, theNASAClimate Change Facebook page begun commenting back in a cool, calm and bluntly straight-to-the-point fashion to set the record straight. They even brought charts and everything.


ImageCredits: Screenshots via Facebook

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/nasa-have-been-shutting-down-climate-change-deniers-bill-nyes-facebook

Space Tourism Could Help Save Planet Earth


Opening spaceflight up to the masses could help spark a global conservation ethic that stems the tide of environmental destruction on Earth, NASA’s science chief says.

Seeing our fragile Earth hanging alone in the blackness of space tends to be a life-altering, or at least perspective-changing, experience. If more people around the world are treated to that unforgettable sight, humanity might handle the planet with a bit more care, said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“Ultimately, my vision is that lots of people get to go to space,” Grunsfeld said here Saturday (May 18) at Maker Faire Bay Area, a two-day celebration of DIY science, technology and engineering. “If we get more people, we’ll have folks who can articulate a view of the Earth that leads to more people who want to keep the Earth a nice place to live.”

Our Changing Planet

Grunsfeld is a former NASA astronaut who flew on five space shuttle missions from 1995 to 2009, including three that serviced the space agency’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope. He said the view looking down changed dramatically from his first flight to his last.

“The Earth looks totally different now,” Grunsfeld said. “We are very visibly and significantly modifying the surface of the Earth, modifying the atmosphere. You can see that easily from space.”

Back in the 1960s, Apollo astronauts noted that national borders aren’t visible from space. But this inspiring observation, which lent some much-appreciated perspective at the height of the Cold War, is no longer true, Grunsfeld said.

“It looks like a Rand McNally map. You can see where there’s rich countries and poor countries,” he said. “You can see where people have agriculture and irrigation and where people don’t. It’s very clear.”

The planet’s shrinking pockets of wilderness are also clearly visible, Grunsfeld said.

“You can see the boundaries of national parks,” he said. “They look like somebody’s drawn a dark line around them, with trees inside and nothing outside. It’s really very striking.”

Spaceflight Opening Up Soon?

To date, about 530 people have flown in space, most of them NASA astronauts or Soviet/Russian cosmonauts. But the list could soon start getting much longer.

Virgin Galactic’s suborbital SpaceShipTwo made its first rocket-powered test flight last month, and the six-passenger vehicle may start flying paying customers later this year or in 2014, company officials have said. About 580 people have put deposits down for a seat, signing on to pay a total of $200,000.

And SpaceShipTwo isn’t the only game in town. Another suborbital craft, XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx rocket plane, could be operational by about the same time as Virgin’s vehicle. XCOR is charging $95,000 per seat for a ride on the two-seat Lynx.

The suborbital flights envisioned by SpaceShipTwo and Lynx will be much different, and much briefer, than an orbital mission aboard the International Space Station or NASA’s now-retired space shuttle. But suborbital space travelers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see a black sky and the curvature of the Earth, officials with Virgin Galactic and XCOR say.

Orbital space tourism is already a reality, but the list of spaceflyers is very short. Since 2001, seven different paying customers have flown to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz capsules, plunking down tens of millions of dollars for the privilege.

Image courtesy of NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/05/20/space-tourism-save-earth/

China Tests Autonomous Smog-Busting Drone

As the air pollution situation in China worsens, local officials are turning to drones in a desperate move to combat an environmental crisis threatening to choke the country’s booming productivity.

The test of the new drone was successfully conducted at an airport in China’s Hubei Province on Saturday, giving the country a glimmer of hope that there might be a technological answer to the historic levels of smog currently plaguing the country.

China’s drone is equipped with airborne catalyzers to disperse smog and has the ability to create artificial wind currents, two tools the country hopes to use to reduce the overall effects of air pollution.

China Drone

But despite its lofty mission, the unnamed drone, which was reportedly manufactured by a subsidiary of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, isn’t very impressive visually.

Rather than the sleek military drones we’ve become familiar with, or even the amateur quadcopters that are becoming increasingly popular, China’s smog-busting drone looks like an throwback to the WWII era.

But despite its somewhat retro apperance, according to one of the engineers affiliated with the project, the drone features autonomous navigation controls that allow it to fly in even the heaviest smog conditions. Additionally, the drone is equipped with a parachute, allowing it to safely land in the event it malfunctions during a flight.

China Map

Image: Google Maps

No plans have been announced as to when or even if the drone test will become a full-fledged part of the country’s pollution management policy.

China’s pollution has reached new highs in recent years, with the most recent episode, which occurred in February, forcing cars off the road due to poor visibility.

BONUS: Shanghai’s Disappearing Skyline: 21 Images of Record Pollution