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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Soil Studies Continue at Site of Phoenix Mars Lander

sample delivered through gap in oven
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This false-color image shows a soil sample after being delivered to a gap between partially opened doors on the lander's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

TUCSON, Ariz. -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has continued studies of its landing site by widening a trench, making overnight measurements of conductivity in the Martian soil and depositing a sample of surface soil into a gap between partially opened doors to an analytical oven on the lander.

Phoenix's robotic arm delivered soil Thursday from a trench informally named "Rosy Red" through a narrow opening to a screen above the No. 5 oven on the lander's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA). A few particles of the sample passed through the screen on Thursday, but not enough to fill the oven and allow analysis of the sample to begin. The Phoenix team sent commands for TEGA to vibrate the screen again on Friday, and more material reached the oven, though still not enough to proceed with analysis.

"There appear to be clumps blocking the opening," said Doug Ming of NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, the Phoenix team's science lead on Friday. "However, we have seen in the past that when this soil sits for a while, it disperses. We intend to fill an oven with this material, either by additional vibration of the same screen or by opening doors to one of the other TEGA cells."

The conductivity measurements completed Wednesday ran from the afternoon of Phoenix's 70th Martian day, or sol, to the morning of Sol 71. A fork-like probe inserted into the soil checks how well heat and electricity move through the soil from one prong to another.

Friday's activities by the spacecraft included extending the width of an exploratory trench informally named "Neverland," which extends between two rocks on the surface of the ground.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of The University of Arizona with project management at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Original here

Is Mars Between Ice Ages?

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"Mars is not a dead planet -it undergoes climate changes that are even more pronounced than on Earth."

James Head, planetary geologist, Brown University

The prevailing thinking is that Mars is a planet whose active climate has been confined to the distant past. About 3.5 billion years ago, the Red Planet had extensive flowing water and then fell quiet - deadly quiet. It didn't seem the climate had changed much since. Now, recent studies by scientists at Brown University show that Mars' climate has been much more dynamic than previously believed.

Dicksonetal_figure3 After examining stunning high-resolution images taken last year by the Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers have documented for the first time that ice packs at least 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) thick and perhaps 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) thick existed along Mars' mid-latitude belt as recently as 100 million years ago. In addition, the team believes other images tell them that glaciers flowed in localized areas in the last 10 to 100 million years - a blink of the eye in Mars's geological timeline.

This evidence of recent activity means the Martian climate may change again and could bolster speculation about whether the Red Planet can, or did, support life.

"We've gone from seeing as a dead planet for three-plus billion years to one that has been alive in recent times," said Jay Dickson, a research analyst in the Department of Geological Sciences at Brown and lead author. "[The finding] has changed our perspective from a planet that has been dry and dead to one that is icy and active."

In fact, Dickson and his co-authors, James Head, and David Marchant, a associate professor at Boston University, believe the images show that has gone through multiple Ice Ages - episodes in its recent past in which the planet's mid-latitudes were covered by glaciers that disappeared with changes in the Red Planet's obliquity, which changes the climate by altering the amount of sunlight falling on different areas.

NASA's Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions have provided evidence of a relatively recent ice age on Mars. In contrast to Earth's ice ages, a Martian ice age expands when the poles warm, and water vapor is transported toward lower latitudes. Martian ice ages wane when the poles cool and lock water into polar icecaps.

The catalysts of ice ages on appear to be much more extreme than the comparable drivers of climate change on Earth. Variations in the planet's orbit and tilt produce remarkable changes in the distribution of water ice from Polar Regions down to latitudes equivalent to Houston or Egypt. Researchers, using NASA spacecraft data and analogies to Earth's Antarctic Dry Valleys, reported their findings in the journal Nature.

"Of all the solar system planets, has the climate most like that of Earth. Both are sensitive to small changes in orbital parameters," said Head. "Now we're seeing that Mars, like Earth, is in a period between ice ages," he said. This evidence of recent activity means the Martian climate may change again and could bolster speculation about whether the Red Planet can, or did, support life.

Head and his team examined global patterns of landscape shapes and near-surface water ice Nasa's orbiters mapped. They concluded a covering of water ice mixed with dust mantled the surface of to latitudes as low as 30 degrees, and is degrading and retreating. By observing the small number of impact craters in those features and by backtracking the known patterns of changes in Mars' orbit and tilt, they estimated the most recent ice age occurred just 400 thousand to 2.1 million years ago.

Marchant, a glacial geologist who spent 17 field seasons in the Mars-like Antarctic Dry Valleys, said, "These extreme changes on Mars provide perspective for interpreting what we see on Earth. Landforms on that appear to be related to climate changes help us calibrate and understand similar landforms on Earth. Furthermore, the range of microenvironments in the Antarctic Dry Valleys helps us read the Mars record."

According to the researchers, during a Martian ice age, polar warming drives water vapor from polar ice into the atmosphere. The water comes back to ground at lower latitudes as deposits of frost or snow mixed generously with dust. This ice-rich mantle, a few meters thick, smooths the contours of the land. It locally develops a bumpy texture at human scales, resembling the surface of a basketball, and also seen in some Antarctic icy terrains. When ice at the top of the mantling layer sublimes back into the atmosphere, it leaves behind dust, which forms an insulating layer over remaining ice. On Earth, by contrast, ice ages are periods of polar cooling. The buildup of ice sheets draws water from liquid-water oceans, which lacks.

Dickson and the other researchers focused on an area called Protonilus Mensae-Coloe Fossae. The region is located in Mars's mid-latitude and is marked by splotches of mesas, massifs and steep-walled valleys that separate the lowlands in the north from the highlands in the south.

The team looked in particular at a box canyon set in a low-lying plain. Images show the canyon has moraines - deposits of rocks that mark the limits of a glacier's advance or the path of its retreat. The rock deposit lines appear to show a glacier that flowed up the box canyon, which "physically cannot happen," Dickson said.

Instead, the team deduced the ice in the surrounding plain grew higher than the canyon's walls and then flowed downward onto the top of the canyon, which had become the lowest point on the ice-laden terrain. The team calculated the ice pack must have been one kilometer thick by past measurements of height between the plain and the lip of the canyon. Based on the ice flow patterns, the ice pack could have reached 2.5 kilometers at peak thickness during a period known as the late Amazonian, the authors said.

The finding could have implications for the life-on-argument by strengthening the case for liquid water. Ice can melt two ways: by temperature or by pressure. As currently understood, the Martian climate is dominated by sublimation, the process by which solid substances are transformed directly to vapor. But ice packs can exert such strong pressure at the base to produce liquid water, which makes the thickness of past glaciers on its surface so intriguing.

Dickson also looked at a lobe across the valley from the box canyon site. There, he saw a clear, semi-circular moraine that had spilled from an ancient tributary on to the surrounding plain. The lobe is superimposed on a past ice deposit and appears to be evidence of more recent glaciation. Although geologists can't date either event, the landscape appears to show at least two periods in which glaciation occurred, bolstering their theory that the Martian climate has undergone past Ice Ages.

Posted by Casey Kazan.

Original here

Bees, Fish Analyzed to Understand Serial Killers

Not a Killer But...
Not a Killer But...

Studying species in the animal world helps police catch human criminals -- and vice versa. Originally developed to catch serial killers, a method called geographic profiling is now being used to study great white sharks, bats and bees.

In turn, criminologists expect that these biological studies will help refine their criminal studies, making it easier for them to catch criminals more quickly. Eventually they want to apply it to other fields, such as epidemiology.

"The same general geographic framework that criminologists use to catch criminals can be used by zoologists as well," said Kim Rossmo, co-author of an article in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface and a professor at the Texas State University Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation.

"This makes us think that it can be applied to other areas as well, like epidemiology."

Rossmo originally developed geographic profiling back in the 1980's. GP, as it's known, has since been adopted by police forces across the world and has been applied in such high profile cases as the BTK Killer and the D.C. Sniper.

GP works on the assumption that, like bats, bees and sharks, serial killers don't work right next to their homes and instead travel to a more distant locations to commit crimes, creating a buffer zone around their home or work.

"They want to operate in a comfort zone, close to an area they know but not where everyone knows them," said Rossmo.

By examining the geographic locations of crimes, scientists can determine a general vicinity for the home or work location of a criminal.

The idea to apply GP to animal studies came from watching stickleback fish, said Nigel Raine, a co-author on the JRSI paper and a professor from Queen Mary, University of London.

Sticklebacks create nests for their eggs in the midst of vegetation. They keep vegetation next to their nests intact, to help hide it from predators and parasites, and travel further away to forage.

The researchers tried GP first on bats, and then bees, the subject of the JRSI paper. Another study using GP in sharks is in press.

While the technique works better for some animals (bees) and less well for others (bats), the principle is still the same. By watching where animals feed, researchers can find their homes to study the animals more effectively or to help save endangered or threatened species by identifying what geographic areas need increased protection.

While the new information is certainly valuable to biologists, criminologists are looking at the new studies as a way to perform experiments that would be unethical or flat out impossible in the human world.

"You can control the settings in biology; where you put the flowers, what kind of flowers, et cetera," said Rossmo. "You can't do that with criminal offenders."

Lorie Velarde, a GIS analyst for the Irvine California Police Department, was recently recognized for using GP to catch a burglar who operated for about 20 years.

"[GP] works great," said Velarde. "The cases where it isn't as accurate is where we don't have enough crimes," said Velarde.

That's where the animal studies will have the biggest impact, says Velarde, by refining the models to make them more sensitive so detectives and analysts can find criminals sooner.

"If there is something happening in the animal world it certainly applies to the human world as well," she said.

The next step for GP, according to Rossmo and his colleagues, is to use it to find bigger killers, like disease-carrying mosquitoes and contaminated water.

"If we see a pattern of people being infected with malaria in an area, we can use that data to find a leaking pipe or empty tire and then spray it," said Rossmo.

That technique harkens back to the very beginnings of public health, said Rossmo, when scientists identified the source of a cholera epidemic as a water pump on a certain street using a technique very similar to modern day geographic profiling.

Original here

Do you believe in evolution ... and why?

Greetings, fellow minions. Sastra OM, here, belatedly logging in as guest blogger #4. My smooth entry into the blogosphere was temporarily delayed by my fierce objections to signing Seed's contract, which to my horror appeared to involve some sort of ritualized Cthulhu chanting to the Elder Gods. Turns out it simply needed reformatting. My bad.

Unlike some of the other guest bloggers this week, I do NOT have a strong background in biology and impressive credentials from prestigious universities and research labs. Instead, I have a BA in English Lit from Western Illinois University (everybody go OOooo) and a passing familiarity with various skeptic and atheist organizations and issues.

So I am starting out my guestblogging by passing on a link to a survey on the public understanding of evolution from Michael Shermer's Skeptic Society at Cal Tech. It's part of a study they're doing "on general knowledge of and beliefs about evolution," and it only takes a few minutes. So, by the powers of Pharyngula invested in me, I command you go forth. Only if you feel like it, of course.

http://www.evolutionsurvey.com/


One thing I found particularly interesting (and challenging) about this survey was that it

requires essay answers, instead of the usual multiple choice. Good choice. I think that approach is more likely to get down to the nitty gritty of what and how people actually think.

First question: "To the best of your understanding and in your own words, please explain what 'evolution' means." And you may enter up to 1001 characters. Just like a test.

How easily can you do it - summarize the theory of evolution while being brief, accurate, and even eloquent, just off the top of your head? In your "own words?" I found it a bit difficult myself.. I wasn't sure where to start, what to put in, and what to leave out. I was also concerned about getting terms right, and not making a sloppy or fatal mistake.( I hated exams, too.)

The next question is more personal: "If you accept the theory of evolution, please explain in your own words why; if you do not accept the theory of evolution, please explain in your own words why not." And another whopping 1001 character limit. They then have you select your education level, religious belief, location, age, ethnicity, sex, and so forth.

I find that I usually try to "psych out" the goals of any survey I take, partly to know how I'm supposed to interpret any ambiguous questions, and partly out of curiosity. What are they expecting to discover: what are they trying to isolate? What would I expect to find? The big payoff in any study, I think, is being surprised by the result.

One of the interesting results of a similar survey on religious belief - also done by Shermer - was that people of faith have a strong tendency to think that other people believe in God because that's what they were taught as children - but that they themselves had used reason and evidence to evaluate and confirm their views. I would have expected their rose-colored interpretation of God's convincing evidence would have been extended to other believers as well. I'm not sure what interesting bits will come out of this one.

Here it looks like Dr. Shermer is once again seeking to dig beneath the statistics and try to understand the psychology behind them -- "why smart people believe weird things." The most obvious thing they may be looking for is to see if the people who accept evolution understand it, and the people who don't, don't. I think that's a reasonable prediction. It might be especially useful to see what types of errors creationists are making. But I can think of a lot of other possibilities they might be exploring. I suppose it depends on how closely they're going to look at and dissect the answers.

Do evolutionists - or atheists - approach the questions differently than creationists/theists? Is one side more likely to use narrative, or focus on mechanism? Does the process of science get emphasized, or only the particulars of evidence? What about when you look at sex? Or country? Are there consistent distinctions?

And for the second question, on WHY you do (or don't) accept evolution, they could also separate the answers according to different criteria. There would be answers that were personal, and answers that are impersonal. Emotional motivations vs. factual conclusions; authority vs. self-discovery; consequences vs. process. You could also look to see which side, if any, was more verbose. Or used ALL CAPS. One could have all sorts of fun and games sorting the data.

On the issue of science and religion, there are presumably 3 basic groups here: theistic creationists, theistic evolutionists, and atheistic evolutionists (if there's a 4th group of 'atheistic creationists,' that might set off its own new survey.) What sorts of distinctions would you expect to find? What would surprise you? It will be interesting to compare what the different groups think - and how they think -- about evolution, when the results are out, and no doubt summarized in the very excellent Skeptic Magazine (a plug).

Good luck then to the Skeptic Society, and sympathies to the poor grad students and flunkies who are going to have to wade through and categorize what will probably be multiple complex factors teased out of a lot of complicated and long-winded essays.

Now then - what answers did you give? To start you off, here are my own (and now that I look at them again I see they certainly could have been better):

To the best of your understanding, and in your own words, please explain what "evolution" means.

Descent with modification, through replication -- variation -- and selection. Through a simple, mindless, algorithmic process, plants and animals have become more complex by adapting over time to fit their environment; those which were slightly better adapted tended to leave more offspring, and pass on the slight changes in their genes.

If you accept the theory of evolution, please explain in your own words why; or if you do not accept the theory of evolution, please explain in your own words why not.

The theory of evolution is the best explanation for the evidence across many disciplines, and has generated testable hypotheses, made successful predictions, withstood stringent criticism, and today forms the underlying basis for our understanding of how living things got to be the way they are. It is the overwhelming consensus of expert opinion, and is constantly being modified and improved. Scientists do not "believe" in evolution: they use it, and accept it because it continues to work.

Ok. Your turn.

Original here

Nanotech Research Could Remove Need For Hydrogen In Fuel Cells

Drink it or Drive it: The Promise of Agave for Ethanol

The White House's Real Explanation for Global Warming

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3092/2742558870_dd454c7eca_o.jpg

Beijing Leads in Race for Most Polluted Olympics

By Alexis Madrigal

With a single day to go before the Olympics, both government and independent readings suggest that Beijing's air is getting worse.

And if the winds don't change, this could wind up being one of the most polluted Olympics in modern history, with more particulate matter in the air than Atlanta in 1996 or possibly even notoriously smoggy Los Angeles in 1984.

Despite the government's anti-smog efforts, the entire Beijing region's pollution has been locked in by a stubborn summer weather pattern that brings air pollution up from the south, said Kenneth Rahn, a Rhode Island professor who has been studying Chinese air quality for almost a decade.

Olympic organizers could get lucky, though, if the weather pattern breaks before the actual competitions begin later this week. But the bad weather is likely to return some time during the games, demonstrating how difficult it is to control the air quality of a city.

"This cyclic pattern will continue because it always has. That's the nature of Beijing," Rahn said.

Like many other cities, Beijing's pollution problems result from a combination of massive amounts of human activities and less-than-ideal geography. And the city's mix -- despite traffic bans, factory shutdowns and construction halts -- could turn out to be the worst of any Olympic games.

Direct comparisons between host sites are difficult because air quality measurements vary. China uses the "air pollution index" which combines measurements of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. On that scale, a day with 350 micrograms of particulates per cubic meter of air -- seven times the World Health Organization's recommended levels -- could still receive an air quality rating of "slightly polluted."

Among recent Olympics, Beijing looks to be the most polluted city. For comparison, take Atlanta, as measured by Georgia's air-monitoring authorities. During the 1996 Olympics, the daily concentration of PM10, the dominant pollutant in Beijing, was 31 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Beijing, even with the most optimistic spin on the data, is averaging 111 micrograms per cubic meter of air since July 20th, or more than three times Atlanta's level of pollution, according to the Chinese government. Independent sensors deployed by the BBC and AP have detected local levels reaching into the 300s.

The Seoul Olympics of 1988 most closely mirror the Beijing Olympics, although, again, directly comparable data does not exist. Annual Korean data (.pdf) suggests PM10 levels of close to 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air, although air quality information was not accessible for the period of the Olympics.

Perhaps the most telling comparison would be between Beijing in 2008 and the notoriously smoggy Los Angeles in 1984. Unfortunately, data on PM10 is not available for Los Angeles for that time period. One analysis found that Los Angeles probably had PM10 levels of somewhere around 70.

If the weather patterns shift, the Chinese Olympic organizers could escape notice as having held the most polluted Olympics in memory. But their fate is, literally, in the wind. If they continue pushing southern pollution into the city, the opening ceremony will be smoggy, Rahn said. If they change direction, the opening ceremony air could be relatively clear.

"It seems to me that the authorities are not in a very nice spot right now," Rahn said. "They are having, at last, to come to terms with the fact that all their best laid plans might not work out. They might work, but they might not."

Original here

China Launches Its First Chicken Manure-Biogas Plant

If GM Wants to Look “Green,” it Can’t Skip Events Like HybridFest

Recently, I spent time at HybridFest, a car show dedicated to emerging green technologies and fuel economy. The kind of person who attends HybridFest is that same kind that talks around the water cooler about their MPG and how much money their hybrid has saved them. And this kind of person is exactly who companies like GM need to convince to buy their products.

That’s probably why GM was the #2 sponsor, right after Toyota. That doesn’t explain, however, why GM didn’t show up. Show organizer, Eric Powers, told me that GM representatives were on hand for dinner Friday night to kick off the show, which began officially on Saturday morning, but after that no one saw them.

Instead of putting their floor space at the show to use, GM chose to leave a musty old city bus sitting in the corner looking inconspicuous (see first photo). Not too many people wondered where GM was, but personally, I was excited to see what they’d have at the show to counteract the Toyota party van:

Seeing the GM logo on everything made me sure that at some point I would see GM there. But alas, it was not to be. There was no clash of automotive giants, and no GM reps to talk about upcoming designs with.

So, what happened?

Firstly, let me say that this article is not some cookie-cutter condemnation of GM. I have spent time with GM and discussed their plans, as well as test-driven their HCCI technology, and I can honestly say that there are a lot of smart people at all levels in the company working to rebuild their image and their product lineup as one that is fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.

We all know that GM is going through hard times, posting $15.5B losses and still two years away from releasing the earliest production models of the Volt, which they hope will be their saving grace.

Part of me hoped that GM would come to HybridFest with some surprise mock up of the Volt, or perhaps even one of their drivetrains strapped to the body of another car. I’d also hoped to strike up a conversation with someone from GM about the future of the Chevy Aveo, that small, affordable car that seems to get no media attention and surprisingly bad fuel economy (GM has promised to make it a class leader in 2009 with a total redesign, and I wanted some insight into this).

Another, perhaps pernicious part of me didn’t want Toyota to steal the show. I knew HybridFest would be like a Prius collectors show, but since I knew Honda wouldn’t be there I feared that Toyota would only increase it’s legacy as “the hybrid company.” Obviously, other companies can do it (and Honda did, with the Insight, which was released in the US earlier than the Prius and with better fuel economy), but somehow Prius and hybrid have become pretty much the same thing to some people.

Anyway, one can only assume that all the pressures weighing down on GM right now finally got to them, and caused them to back out. HybridFest is great, but it’s not like the media is buzzing with this story, so there has been little word of why GM suddenly disappeared.

What does this mean for GM?

Well, GM is in a tough place, but this wasn’t the right place to cut corners, I think. As I said earlier, the type of people that go to HybridFest are influencers and pushers. They want to brag about hybrid tech, take their friends on test drives, and change the way people look at fuel consumption. Sure, GM might have only reached a few thousand people, but they missed an opportunity, for just one weekend’s work, to have high-quality interaction with the people they are trying to win over to their side.

By not showing up, HybridFest allowed Toyota to dominate, with the only GM in sight (Honda pun!) being a modified Equinox that showed up with the University of Wisconsin. No one is impressed by a shallow advertising blitz talking about fuel-efficient truck hybrids. What GM needs to do is generate real, meaningful buzz around their products, and they need to do it at the grassroots level or else their efforts will just be passed off as another round of corporate greenwashing.

I will be in contact with the company soon about their future plans, and there marketing strategies, and am excited at the possibility to share that with you, so stay tuned.

If you liked this post, sign up for out RSS Feed for automatic updates.

Original here

If GM Wants to Look “Green,” it Can’t Skip Events Like HybridFest

Recently, I spent time at HybridFest, a car show dedicated to emerging green technologies and fuel economy. The kind of person who attends HybridFest is that same kind that talks around the water cooler about their MPG and how much money their hybrid has saved them. And this kind of person is exactly who companies like GM need to convince to buy their products.

That’s probably why GM was the #2 sponsor, right after Toyota. That doesn’t explain, however, why GM didn’t show up. Show organizer, Eric Powers, told me that GM representatives were on hand for dinner Friday night to kick off the show, which began officially on Saturday morning, but after that no one saw them.

Instead of putting their floor space at the show to use, GM chose to leave a musty old city bus sitting in the corner looking inconspicuous (see first photo). Not too many people wondered where GM was, but personally, I was excited to see what they’d have at the show to counteract the Toyota party van:

Seeing the GM logo on everything made me sure that at some point I would see GM there. But alas, it was not to be. There was no clash of automotive giants, and no GM reps to talk about upcoming designs with.

So, what happened?

Firstly, let me say that this article is not some cookie-cutter condemnation of GM. I have spent time with GM and discussed their plans, as well as test-driven their HCCI technology, and I can honestly say that there are a lot of smart people at all levels in the company working to rebuild their image and their product lineup as one that is fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.

We all know that GM is going through hard times, posting $15.5B losses and still two years away from releasing the earliest production models of the Volt, which they hope will be their saving grace.

Part of me hoped that GM would come to HybridFest with some surprise mock up of the Volt, or perhaps even one of their drivetrains strapped to the body of another car. I’d also hoped to strike up a conversation with someone from GM about the future of the Chevy Aveo, that small, affordable car that seems to get no media attention and surprisingly bad fuel economy (GM has promised to make it a class leader in 2009 with a total redesign, and I wanted some insight into this).

Another, perhaps pernicious part of me didn’t want Toyota to steal the show. I knew HybridFest would be like a Prius collectors show, but since I knew Honda wouldn’t be there I feared that Toyota would only increase it’s legacy as “the hybrid company.” Obviously, other companies can do it (and Honda did, with the Insight, which was released in the US earlier than the Prius and with better fuel economy), but somehow Prius and hybrid have become pretty much the same thing to some people.

Anyway, one can only assume that all the pressures weighing down on GM right now finally got to them, and caused them to back out. HybridFest is great, but it’s not like the media is buzzing with this story, so there has been little word of why GM suddenly disappeared.

What does this mean for GM?

Well, GM is in a tough place, but this wasn’t the right place to cut corners, I think. As I said earlier, the type of people that go to HybridFest are influencers and pushers. They want to brag about hybrid tech, take their friends on test drives, and change the way people look at fuel consumption. Sure, GM might have only reached a few thousand people, but they missed an opportunity, for just one weekend’s work, to have high-quality interaction with the people they are trying to win over to their side.

By not showing up, HybridFest allowed Toyota to dominate, with the only GM in sight (Honda pun!) being a modified Equinox that showed up with the University of Wisconsin. No one is impressed by a shallow advertising blitz talking about fuel-efficient truck hybrids. What GM needs to do is generate real, meaningful buzz around their products, and they need to do it at the grassroots level or else their efforts will just be passed off as another round of corporate greenwashing.

I will be in contact with the company soon about their future plans, and there marketing strategies, and am excited at the possibility to share that with you, so stay tuned.

If you liked this post, sign up for out RSS Feed for automatic updates.

Original here

Report: Nearly half world's primates face extinction

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Almost 50 percent of the world's primates are in danger of extinction, according to a report from an international conservation group that cites habitat destruction and hunting as the two greatest threats.

The golden-headed lion tamarin has been brought back from the edge of extinction.

The golden-headed lion tamarin has been brought back from the edge of extinction.

The situation is especially dire in Asia, where the report says more than 70 percent of monkeys, apes, and other primates are classified as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered.

"We've raised concerns for years about primates being in peril, but now we have solid data to show the situation is far more severe than we imagined," said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and chairman of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group.

"Tropical forest destruction has always been the main cause, but now it appears that hunting is just as serious a threat in some areas, even where the habitat is still quite intact," he said.

The report from Conservation International, issued at this week's International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland, looked at the world's 634 kinds of primates, mankind's closest relatives.

Conservation International funded the review along with the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and the Swiss-based IUCN, or International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The report found that about 90 percent of primate species in Vietnam and Cambodia were at risk of extinction. Populations of gibbons, leaf monkeys, langurs and other species had dwindled, the report said, because of "rampant habitat loss exacerbated by hunting for food and to supply the wildlife trade in traditional Chinese medicine and pets."

Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy head of the IUCN Species Program, called the situation in southeast Asia terrifying.

"To have a group of animals under such a high level of threat is, quite frankly, unlike anything we have recorded among any other group of species to date," he said in a news release.

Great apes like gorillas and bonobos still faced challenges in Africa, the report said, but it was the smaller primates -- such as the red colobus monkey, with its striking white, black and rust-colored coat -- that could die out first.

In Africa, 11 of the 13 kinds of red colobus monkeys assessed in the report were listed as critically endangered or endangered, and two may already be extinct, the report said. Bouvier's red colobus has not been seen in 25 years, and despite occasional sightings, no primatologist has recorded a living Miss Waldron's red colobus since 1978, the report says.

Primates are important to the health of their surrounding ecosystems, the report's authors say, supporting a wide range of plant and animal life in the world's tropical forests. Healthy forests, in turn, provide vital resources for local human populations.

Reforestation is crucial to restoring primate populations because it restores their habitat, the report said. It cites the cases of the black lion tamarin and golden lion tamarin in Brazil, which were downgraded from critically endangered to endangered after three decades of conservation efforts.

"If you have forests, you can save primates," said Anthony Rylands, a scientist with Conservation International and the deputy chair of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group.

"The work with lion tamarins shows that conserving forest fragments and reforesting to create corridors that connect them is not only vital for primates, but offers the multiple benefits of maintaining healthy ecosystems and water supplies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change."

Original here

Sunflower is First Solar Concentrator Safe for Rooftops


Businesses will now be able to get more solar power from rooftop systems with a Sunflower rooftop solar PV concentrator system from Energy Innovations. It is the very first concentrator system to get Underwriters Laboratories certification and is deemed safe for roofs. With the certification comes qualification for much sought after solar rebates, and the company is looking to raise $20 million so they can produce and install more systems in 2009.

By concentrating sunlight more than 1,000 times, the system makes electricity cheaper than traditional PV systems. It is self-powered and doesn’t need to penetrate the roof for installation.

Firsts like this are a pretty big deal because they show the unflagging growth of solar concentration efficiency and how the technology is catching up to coal in cheapness. Underwriters Laboratories recognizes this with the opening of their PV testing lab in San Jose, the largest in North America. The plan for the lab is to open up the bottleneck in testing and certifications for solar products.

The big step forward for Energy Innovations with their certification is hopefully the first of many to come through soon.

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Nissan Eco Pedal Stops Lead-Foot Driving


A meddling gas pedal may be the key to improving fuel efficiency. Nissan has announced it will soon sell cars that push back when drivers try to drive too fast. The new “ECO Pedal” system presses back upward when it senses drivers are driving too quickly. Think of it as the mindless version of the Kiwi or all those iPhone apps.

Nissan Motor says its ECO Pedal uses a counter push-back control mechanism that detects excess pressure which will help drivers know when they’re using more fuel than required. An eco-driving indicator in the dashboard feeds the driver with real-time fuel consumption levels to help improve driving behavior. It flashes and changes colors to let drivers know when to ease up on the pedal. A green light means the driver is at optimal fuel consumption. When you feel like wasting fuel, the system can be turned off. The ECO Pedal system is fed data on the rate of fuel consumption and transmission efficiency during acceleration and cruising and calculates the optimum acceleration rate.

Nissan says it plans to commercialize the ECO Pedal next year and its own research show that drivers can improve fuel efficiency, depending on driving conditions, by 5-10%. The car company isn’t saying yet how much the ECO Pedal will add to the price of its cars. But a cheaper option is borrowing my mother and she’ll tell you when you’re driving too fast. Until the ECO Pedal is available, take my mother, please!

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Oregon Tech To Be Powered Entirely By Geothermal Energy