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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Scientists Design A Chip To Measure The Wind On Mars

Illustrations of the Mars Science Laboratory. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A team of researchers at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) has designed the first chip manufactured completely in Spain that will be used to measure the wind on Mars. This chip is the key piece of the anemometer on a weather monitoring station run by Spanish scientists for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, whose launch is planned for fall 2009.

The MSL rover, a robotised vehicle, will determine whether Mars is or has been able to support any kind of life. Among the instruments it contains are the Rover Environment Monitoring Station (REMS), which will measure air and ground temperature, atmospheric pressure, ultraviolet radiation and humidity, in addition to the speed and direction of the wind measured by the chip designed by the Spanish engineers. The details on this scientific contribution were recently published in the journal Planetary and Space Science.

Luis Castañer, coordinator of the Micro and Nano Technologies Research Group at the UPC which developed the piece, tells SINC that this chip “is more efficient in terms of energy than those previously developed, and silicon technology is being used for the first time for this application in space”.

Each silicon chip is 1.5 millimetres thick and includes three temperature-sensitive platinum components: One measures the temperature of the chip, the second heats it to some 25ºC above ambient temperature and the third controls the characteristics of the wind sensor. The chip also carries the names of its creators.

Hot wire anemometry was the principle used by the engineers to measure the wind. Castañer, a founding member of the Royal Spanish Academy of Engineering (RAI), notes that wind had traditionally been measured by a technique in which a wire was heated and then the air cooled it, varying its temperature. This made it possible to establish a relationship with the speed of the air flow. “In the case of the chip, the hot point is not a wire, but instead a piece of silicon heated by a fine film that covers it and acts as the resistance to heat”, he says.

The Micro and Nano Technologies Research Group (MNT) has patented a system that makes it possible to calculate the magnitude of the wind and its direction on a plane using four chips on a plate on that same plane, while at the same time taking the ambient temperature as a reference. The temperature is measured by a fifth chip, identical to the other four.

Wind speed can be measured in 2D with this methodology, but the speed in 3D can be deduced by using as many plates as necessary. The REMS weather monitoring station uses 6 wind sensors, with 5 silicon chips each, located on the ends of two booms and separated by an angle of 120°.

The chips were manufactured at the MNT group’s Laboratorio de la Sala Blanca, which counts on collaboration from the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, the joint centre of the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas), EADS Astrium Crisa (the company in charge of the industrial assembly of the station) and the Centro Nacional de Microelectrónica in Barcelona. Some tests were carried out in the wind tunnel at the University of Aarhus (Denmark).

The first principal researcher of the REMS project was Professor Luis Vázquez from the Complutense University of Madrid. This year, aeronautic engineer Javier Gómez Elvira from CAB, the centre responsible for the Martian weather monitoring station, as well as its principal contractor, took over.

The station has already incorporated the MSL rover, and is currently verifying its instruments under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California (USA) so as to have everything ready in the fall of 2009 when its launch is planned.

The MSL will carry out four types of research. First, it will study the biological potential of the environment, taking inventory of the chemical elements required for life and detecting the presence of organic compounds. It will also classify the geology and geo-chemical makeup of the region, analysing the composition of the planet’s surface and interpreting the processes that have formed and modified its rocks. The rover’s instruments will also be used to investigate surface radiation and some atmospheric processes- such as those that involve water- that may be relevant in determining if living beings could have existed on the red planet in the past.

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The World's Greatest Aviation Innovations

By Dave Demerjian

It seems all news is bad news when it comes to aviation these days, and it's too bad because it overshadows just how wonderful it is that we can fly. Think about it -- 100 years ago, few could imagine it. Today we take it for granted.

It's an amazing accomplishment, and too often people lose sight of that. has compiled a list of the greatest innovations of aviation that have taken us ever further and faster in the 100 years since the Wright Brothers took wing. It includes things like the monoplane, transatlantic flight, the steam catapault and human-powered aircraft.

We looked at their list, tweaked it a bit and came up with our top 12 because 10 wasn't enough.

1. Cabin pressurization -- The average passenger doesn't think about cabin pressurization until their yellow safety masks fall from the ceiling, but the reality is that if the technology hadn't been developed during WWII, we wouldn't be able to fly much above 10,000 feet.

2. Black Box -- Morbid but essential, the black box was invented in the mid-1950s, and not only helps investigators learn why a plane crashed, but how that information can be applied to other aircraft to prevent a repeat.

3. The Concorde -- It never delivered on its commercial promise, and it was an environmental bad boy, but who can deny that breaking the sound barrier aboard a commercial aircraft is cool. And have you ever seen a more beautiful plane?

4. Radar -- Sure, the airlines are dying to replace it with GPS technology, but for decades it's been radar that helps air traffic controllers locate and track planes up to 200 miles away. Would our modern air traffic infrastructure exist without it? Probably not.

5. The jumbo jet -- Whether you think they're graceful or ungainly, you can't deny that jumbo jets have changed the face of commercial aviation. The economies of scale provided by a 400-seat airliner meant airlines could offer cheap tickets that made it possible for the masses to fly.

6. The hub and spoke system -- People hate, hate, hate having to make stopovers at jam packed airports controlled by a single airline. Yeah, they're expensive to fly into and delay prone, but hub airports are a big part of the reason that you have 20 flights a day to choose from when flying between most large American cities.

7.The Very Light Jet (VLJ) -- It's been a tough road for the VLJ, with manufacturers suffering production problems and customers going out of business, but that doesn't diminish the allure of a 37 foot, 3,500 pound plane designed to carry four to six passengers on short hops that would otherwise require a car ride.

8. Winglets -- Here's another one that most of us don't think about. The small upward-pointing extensions at the tips of aircraft wings reduce drag, improve climb performance, increase range, and make flight more fuel efficient. With oil at over $100 a barrel, no wonder most airlines have added winglets across their fleets.

9. The flying wing -- Yves Rossy keeps breaking records and defying expectations with his 8-foot-diameter, carbon composite flying wing. Last week he made a successful 13 minute, 125 mph trip across the English Channel.

10. Stealth aircraft -- What's cooler than a plane that can outsmart radar? Because the surfaces of a stealth are designed to absorb radio waves or reflect them away from the receiver, stealth planes can sneak in and sneak out undetected. Too bad they're so expensive: The 21 plane B-2 program cost over $45 billion.

11. Jetway -- Another one most of us don't think about is the long covered walkway the connects our departure gate with our plane. It means we don't have to wait outside on the tarmac in sleet and rain, or contend with the shriek of jet engines. The A380 is served by three jet bridges, one of them leading directly to the first class lounge.

12. Deicing -- Ice buildup is the cause of many fatal aircraft accidents, which is why applying monopropylene de-icing fluid to wings pre-flight has become standard operating procedure. Without it, air traffic would ground to a halt every time things got a little stormy.

That's it. That's our top 12. Use the Reddit Widget below to tell us what we got wrong, what you'd add and why you think it's important.

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Bacteria Think Ahead

By Stephan Reebs, Natural History Magazine

Bacteria may be humble single-celled creatures, but they're sophisticated enough to anticipate regular events, such as the arrival of day, thanks to their internal circadian clocks. A new study shows that they can also anticipate and prepare for sporadic events, as long as the events are reliably preceded by a signal.

What kinds of events? Well, to colonize the gut of a mammal, Escherichia coli must first enter the warm-blooded diner's mouth, where the bacteria experience a temperature rise; a short time later, they end up in the intestines—a place with low oxygen levels, as well as fierce competition from other microscopic settlers.

Bacteria would do well to anticipate low-oxygen conditions and begin to adjust metabolically from the moment they enter the mouth.

Indeed, when Ilias Tagkopoulos, his graduate advisor Saeed Tavazoie, and Yir-Chung Liu, all at Princeton University, cranked up the heat on E. coli in the laboratory from 77 to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the bacteria immediately deactivated genes involved in aerobic respiration (which requires oxygen) and activated genes governing anaerobic respiration (which doesn't).

Then the team repeatedly exposed a population of E. coli to a rise in oxygen following a rise in temperature, a sequence unlikely to occur in nature.

The bacteria's native low-oxygen response all but vanished within a hundred generations, confirming that their foresight is flexible and results from natural selection.

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Halls of shame: biggest CO2 offenders unveiled

The Imperial War Museum North in Salford

The Imperial War Museum North in Trafford Park, Manchester, which opened in 2002, was given a G, the lowest score - the same as its 91-year-old sister museum in London. Photograph: Don McPhee

The Palace of Westminster and the Bank of England have been exposed as among the country's least energy efficient public buildings by a new law to measure carbon dioxide emissions from the national estate.

Around 18,000 buildings, including town halls, museums, schools and job centres, are being tested to discover their energy efficiency on a sliding scale where A is the best and G is the worst. Parliament and the Bank both scored a G. Together, they consume enough electricity and gas to pump out 21,356 tonnes of CO2 a year, the equivalent of more than 14,000 people flying from London to New York.

New buildings also fared badly, raising questions about the validity of sustainability claims made by architects and developers. London's City Hall scored E despite opening in 2002 and being described by its architect Foster & Partners as a "virtually non-polluting public building". The Treasury's headquarters on Horse Guards Parade scored the same despite a complete office refurbishment six years ago that was supposed to "set new environmental standards in Whitehall".

In Salford, the Imperial War Museum North, designed by Daniel Libeskind and opened in 2002, scored a G, the same as its 91-year-old sister museum in London.

The government estimates that almost a fifth of all carbon dioxide emissions in the UK are caused by non-residential buildings, and environmental campaigners said the findings mean the government must launch an urgent refurbishment programme to slash carbon emissions.

The Natural History Museum spends £1.4m a year on electricity and gas - a figure that is expected to double from this month as a result of rising world energy prices. One of the most energy hungry buildings in the country was the National Media Museum in Bradford, a 1960s structure, which scored a G. One in four of the 3,200 buildings assessed so far scored F or G, and the average was D. Only 22 buildings - under 1% - scored A.

"These results show our leaky and draughty public buildings should be a priority target for refurbishment," said Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Buildings Council. "In a turbulent financial climate, lower energy bills will benefit the taxpayer for years to come. If we are to cut our carbon, save money and achieve energy security, our buildings have to be on the front line of this battle."

"We review 350 significant new build projects a year at design stage and we hear a lot of greenwash," said Matt Bell, director of public affairs at the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the government's architecture watchdog. "The knowledge that from now on this performance will be objectively measured should mark the end of that."

The findings emerged yesterday as it became law for any public building larger than 1,000 square metres to show a display energy certificate (DEC). The system is similar to the colour coded labels which show carbon emissions caused by refrigerators and cars. On that basis, the Bank and parliament are the building equivalent of a petrol-hungry Land Rover Discovery.

No 10 Downing Street managed a D rating, which is better than average for its building type. But the prime minister's heating, lighting and air conditioning still create 675 tonnes of CO2 a year, a bigger carbon footprint than a street of 28 families of four living in semi detached homes, each driving 10,000 miles a year and flying to Spain on an annual holiday.

The findings are likely to embarrass the government, which has pledged to make all new public buildings zero carbon by 2018. The Department for the Environment's head office recorded an E.

Forty-three per cent of 374 jobcentres scored E or lower. Eland House, the 10- year-old head office of the Department for Communities and Local Government, which has overseen the DEC system, scored an F.

Building occupiers can be fined up to £1,500 if they fail to display the certificate and report on how efficiency might be improved. The Welsh Assembly, built to supposedly environmentally friendly designs by the architect Lord Rogers, is one of many occupiers which could face the fine after they missed the deadline and failed to put certificates up.

Buildings that performed well included a Jobcentre Plus office in Goole in the East Riding of Yorkshire, which received a B after lighting movement sensors were installed, a policy of turning off all computer monitors at night was introduced and timers were fitted to heating boilers.

"There are cheap measures which can be carried out to reduce most energy bills in these kinds of buildings by 20% quite quickly," said Jacqueline Balian, director of information for the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers, whose members have carried out around two thirds of the DECs. "Common problems are chillers and boilers running at the same time and leaving boilers on all night. This system of DECs should make the management of energy used by buildings much more high profile."

Iain Wright, the housing minister, who is responsible for the certification programme, said: "Display energy certificates are a valuable tool in the fight against climate change."

· This article was amended on Saturday October 4 2008. There were two errors in an article above about the energy efficiency of public buildings. The Imperial War Museum North is in Trafford Park, Manchester, not Salford. Goole is in the East Riding of Yorkshire, not Humberside. The county of Humberside was abolished in 1996. These errors have been corrected.

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Anything Into Ethanol

by Robb Mandelbaum

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Biofuels could be a crucial weapon against both rising temperatures and dwindling global oil supplies. They are made from organic material such as plants, so they essentially recycle existing carbon in the atmosphere instead of releasing new carbon from the depths of the earth; they are also, in principle, endlessly renewable. But the best-known biofuel, ethanol, is looking decidedly unpromising right now. Today most ethanol in the United States is made from corn, using an energy-intensive process that may not actually save a lot of fossil fuel, and in any case America cannot produce enough ethanol from corn to really matter.

Scientists have long tried to devise an efficient way to make ethanol from a wider range of raw materials, especially waste products rather than food. The U.S. government has calculated that the country could generate 1.4 billion tons of biomass a year. This could make 100 billion gallons of fuel or more, enough to meet much of America’s demand for motor gasoline. One approach to tapping into all that biomass focuses on cellulose, the material that gives plant cells their strong walls. The cellulose is converted into sugar and then from sugar into ethanol. But despite decades of research, the technology is still far from commercially viable.

Now several companies, including Coskata and Range Fuels, say they have cracked the problem. They are pursuing a different strategy, one that turns any carbon-rich matter into a gas, which is then converted to liquid fuel. This approach can use any organic material, so the potential sources for this fuel are virtually unlimited. Soon, the companies claim, they will be able to refine vast quantities of noncorn ethanol. Coskata even predicts they will do so for as little as $1 a gallon.

“In the Southeast there is enough biomass from wood products alone to make 10 to 15 billion gallons of fuel a year,” says Mitch Mandich, CEO of Range Fuels, based in Broomfield, Colorado, the firm building what may be the first U.S. plant to make next-generation ethanol commercially. The refinery, in Soperton, Georgia, will open late next year, and Range Fuels is already scouting locations for more plants. Meanwhile, other firms here and abroad have announced plans to make ethanol from pine trees, from the contents of a city dump, even from the carbon monoxide generated by steel mills.

Making liquid fuels from gasified carbon-rich matter isn’t actually a new idea, but it has never before been practical for biomass. The first step, gasification, usually requires either pure oxygen, which is expensive, or regular air, which introduces nitrogen that is costly to remove. Range Fuels has designed a system that delivers oxygen cheaply through steam and converts all the raw material into a gas in just 20 minutes. “Under those conditions you get a very high conversion of all the carbon in the biomass into various gaseous products,” says Arie Geertsema, Range Fuel’s chief technical officer. The process also reduces by-products such as carbon dioxide and slag, the company says.

The gas that comes out, called syngas, is a mixture of mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Traditionally, syngas is converted to liquid fuel by means of a catalyst; Range Fuels is tweaking the catalyst to improve this procedure as well.

Some competitors are going further. To boost efficiency, they are ditching the catalyst entirely and enlisting bacteria to ferment syngas into ethanol. “The amount of ethanol produced by chemical catalysis is around 70 or 80 gallons per ton,” says Wes Bolsen, chief marketing officer for Coskata, located in Warrenville, Illinois. (Coskata generated headlines recently by attracting an investment from General Motors.) The company can produce more than 100 gallons of fuel per ton based on lab experiments because bacteria make more ethanol: “We aren’t producing butanol, propanol, hexanol, octanol, and all the other alcohols,” Bolsen says.

Bolsen also points to estimates by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that the high pressure and high temperature required for syngas cleaning and catalytic conversion add about 30 to 40 cents to the cost of a gallon of fuel. In contrast, Coskata says its process works at relatively low pressure and temperature: about twice atmospheric pressure and 97 degrees Fahrenheit.

But building a system to turn any carbon into ethanol is one thing; finding a steady diet for such an omnivore is another. Take trash, for instance. Many environmentalists are eager to harvest fuel from bald tires and junk plastic. Yet Range Fuels’ fancy new ethanol plant, which will eventually pump out 100 million gallons of fuel a year, will feed mostly on wood chips. “What’s nice about wood chips is that they’re pretty uniform. You’re not sorting out hearing aid batteries from it,” says Samir Kaul, a principal at Khos­la Ventures, a venture capital firm started by Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla. Khosla Ventures is financing at least three ethanol producers, including both Range Fuels and Coskata, and so is sensitive to practical issues. “Garbage is risky,” Kaul says, “and when you scale a technology for the first time, you don’t want to add risk where you don’t have to.”

Surprisingly, the other problem with trash is that there may not be enough of it. Coskata estimates that municipal solid waste is less than 10 percent of all the available biomass—too little, perhaps, to make developing a sorting process worthwhile, at least at the outset.

Other sources of waste are more promising. The government biomass study that came up with 1.4 billion tons of annually available biomass identified farming and timber residues (cornstalks and the unusable parts of logged trees) as the source for nearly half of the nation’s bioenergy. The trick will be cheaply delivering these leftovers to the ethanol plant.

Range Fuels initially hoped to feed its refinery with leaves and small limbs that the timber industry cannot process. The Georgia Forestry Commission reports that each year loggers leave behind some 8 million tons of waste wood, including too-small living trees, within a 75-mile radius of the new refinery—enough for four of Range Fuels’ plants. But getting that material to the refinery has proved difficult. “The timber industries are really not set up to do that,” says Range Fuels’ Mandich.

Nobody has yet figured out how to compact forest leftovers for transport. “Have you ever tried to move your leaves in the fall?” asks Richard Hess, a scientist studying the problem at Idaho National Laboratory. “You fill up this garbage sack and it doesn’t weigh anything. That’s the problem. It takes a lot of energy to move air.” Still, Hess expects optimized handling systems will be ready by 2012, meeting the government’s goal and in time for a wave of new refineries. “We’re rich in opportunities to make fairly epic gains,” he says. Until then Range Fuels will source its wood chips from whole trees—not a waste product at all, but a commodity used to make paper pulp.

It might not be long before the ethanol companies are paying to get more biomass waste headed into their plants. According to Richard Bain, a researcher at NREL, the estimated cost of producing a gallon of ethanol stands at $2.10 today. By 2012 this should fall to $1.33—at least for those companies using steam to turn biomass into syngas (several firms, he says, have developed this technology). At the same time, the steep price of gasoline—and corn—means that next-generation ethanol can be profitable even if its price doesn’t reach what Khosla Ventures’ Kaul calls the “holy grail” of $1 a gallon. Freed from the bad rap of corn ethanol, bio­fuel-powered cars could then drive us toward a better future.

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Climate Change Deniers: “But They Are Scientists!”

One of the Deniers1 favourite tactics is to throw out this or that list or petition of “scientists” who are Climate Deniers (eg “The Deniers“). After you discard the obvious frauds (eg the Oregon Petition), cull out the names that are made up, the ones who are not scientists, the ones who are dead, the real scientists who are not actually Deniers, etc, you are invariably left with a handful who do seem to be scientists and really are Climate Deniers. Huh?

This can be very confusing to the lay person who has no experience with the sciences.

Science, stranger than truth

Science, stranger than truth

So just how many people are we talking about here? It’s hard to say actually, in part because it depends on just how you define a Denier (or Skeptic). Heartland’s much touted PR event of last winter seems to have drawn only 19 “real scientists” and Wikipedia lists only about three dozen. Given that there are millions of scientists in the world that’s pretty lame. Even so, if it were only one and she happened to be right then the millions wouldn’t matter - so what’s going on here?

Let’s step back for a moment and do a reality check. Reality - scientists are human beings. This has some implications:

In the first place there are some scientists who are just plain incompetent. It is an unusual department or faculty of any size that does not have at least one such creature shambling about. Whether they faked their way to tenure or subsequently developed problems of one form or another doesn’t matter, the fact remains they couldn’t conduct adequate science to save their life.

In some cases it is a more elderly member of the department who has not kept up with their field, possibly because of diminishing abilities or just plain loss of interest. Typically these people are inflicted on the first year students or cross promoted into some marginal role until they get the hint and take early retirement to devote themselves full time to their paper clip collection.

More common is the sad victims of the Dunning Kruger effect, people who are oblivious to the fact that they haven’t a clue what they are talking about. We all know people who are perfectly competent in many ways including whatever their profession is, but who hold very strong, grossly uninformed opinions about some topic, either related to their profession or completely different. For some unfathomable reason they imagine that they are also competent at this other topic. Maybe it’s how to manage the Florida Panthers, solving unified field theory, or how to “really” reduce crime.

Regardless of what the topic is the fact remains that they are actually totally clueless. Often they can even use a lot of the right terms and assemble them into coherent sentences, but really it’s utter gibberish. Normally everyone who knows them just rolls their eyes and goes to get a refill of coffee when the rant starts.

Naturally out of millions of scientists there are some who suffer from this affliction, and some of those have chosen climate science as the topic to have grossly uniformed opinions about. Regardless of the topic, what they have to say is nonsense and no one ever cared.

Until recently that is.

The last few years has seen the growth of the Denier Industry and a media wanting to present “both sides of the story”. Both have been very keen to find and publicize the views of anyone with a PhD who is willing to criticise climate science.

Chances are good that in the past few years you could get on TV if you were a Denier with a PhD, did not put your pants on backwards, and didn’t drool too much during the interview. Whether incompetent generally or just with respect to climate science, you could finally have your moment in the sun.

So how does the average person tell the difference between these drones and legitimate climate scientists? There are some tell tale clues.

One of the myths that contributes to the credibility of these crackpots is the B movie scientist who was trying to cross a hawk with a handsaw and accidentally discovered the Unified Field Theory. While there are certainly examples of the maverick who turned out to be right when everyone else was wrong, the fact is that in every case, by pure coincidence, they just happened to be working on the problem for years, if not decades.

Just mundane mad

Just everyday, normal kind of mad

So the first question is whether they are even in a relevant field. If you check the Denier lists you find many aren’t. A more important question is whether they have done any actual work on climate science. For legitimate academics their research history is almost invariably available with a quick online search.

However, these are merely indicators. The fact is that someone can have the “right” credentials and even been working directly on climate science and still be hopelessly wrong.

Equally, an intelligent street person who has spent her days reading at the University library could have a well informed, cogent and relevant critique of the science; so how do you tell? Some quick and easy to answer questions to ask yourself:

i) Do they just regurgitate the bogus Denier claims debunked at the excellent sites linked on the right under “Debunking Denier Nonsense”? Yes? Denier!

ii) Do they make specific reference to the science (eg “So and so’s 2004 paper in Nature set’s the forcing parameter too high because they assume …”) or do they give some vague, general statement that you are supposed to believe just because they are “a scientist” (eg “Models don’t work!”). The latter? Denier!

iii) Do they make wild leaps of logic that cannot be supported by the facts they present (if any)? eg “My work shows that the glaciers are actually melting slower than was previously thought, therefore humans are not causing climate change” Yes? Denier!

When these tests are applied to the “scientists” that appear on the Denier lists we find we are left with … well, no one really. I would be most interested if anyone knows of any exceptions, but I have never seen one.

The bottom line is that uninformed, unsubstantiated skepticism, whether by a climate scientist or a street person, is still bunk. Anyone using bunk to deny the reality of climate science is … a Denier1

Yes there are legitimate skeptics, and yes there is intense debate about aspects of climate science, such as radiative forcing and extreme weather. However, these disputes in no way undermine the general truth of anthropocentric climate change.

Fact? or IPCC Hoax?

Fact? or IPCC Hoax?

It’s equivalent to authorities having an intense discussion of exactly what shade of grey elephants are, or just how much of their diet is from grazing vs browsing. These uncertainties about specifics do not cast the very existence of elephants into doubt. Elephants exist regardless of what the answers to those questions are.

Is it possible that climate science is wrong? of course! It is also possible that elephants do not, and never did exist. Unlikely, but possible. Science never deals in absolute certainty, but it also does not reject common sense and rational thinking.

1As I discuss here I do not use the term “Denier” to refer to all climate change doubters. Those who thoughtfully and intelligently address the facts I call ’skeptics’.

Those who irrationally deny the existence of the science and instead propagate the lies and distortions such as those discussed above and linked to the right under “Debunking Denier Nonsense” are “Deniers”.

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Huge Offshore Wind Farm Wins Approval

What wind turbines would look like at varying distances from the shore. (Illustration: P.S.E.G.)

Regulators in New Jersey on Friday awarded rights to build a huge offshore wind farm in the southern part of the state to Garden State Offshore Energy, a joint venture that includes P.S.E.G. Renewable Generation, a subsidiary of P.S.E.G. Global, a sister company of the state’s largest utility.

The selection, which includes access of up to $19 million in state grants, is part of New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan, which calls for 20 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. It also comes on the heels of decisions by Delaware and Rhode Island to let energy companies install offshore wind farms.

Energy experts say that these approvals could prompt regulators in New York to support projects off the south shore of Long Island and New York City.

The proposal by Garden State Offshore Energy includes installing 96 turbines to produce as much as 346 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about tens of thousands of houses. The turbines would be arranged in a rectangle about a half-mile long by one-third of a mile wide. The project, which would cost more than $1 billion, would not start producing electricity until 2013.

The turbines, though, would be between 16 and 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey’s Atlantic and Ocean counties, and thus in much deeper water than other proposed projects. Deepwater Wind, which will work with P.S.E.G to build the wind farm, said it can affordably build turbines in 100 feet of water with the same technology used to build oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and other locations.

Because the wind blows more reliably during the day farther off shore, the company hopes to get better prices for the power it produces. And by putting the turbines that far offshore, the company hopes to blunt opposition from environmentalists and residents who say that turbines diminish ocean views and damage wildlife.

“People don’t have to choose between clean energy and a clear view,” said Nelson Garcez, the vice president of renewable generation at P.S.E.G.

Mr. Garcez said the deepwater turbines would produce enough power to help the company break even in about seven years.

The next step is for Garden State Offshore Energy to seek permits from state and federal agencies to build offshore. The company will also have to get commitments from manufacturers to build the turbines, which would be assembled in New Jersey and could potentially create hundreds of new jobs.

The decision by New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities comes just over a week after the Long Island Power Authority and Con Edison said that they would study whether it is economically feasible to build a wind farm about 10 miles off the south shore of Queens. In August, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the city would solicit proposals from companies interested in building offshore wind farms and placing turbines atop buildings in the city.

The projects being approved in neighboring states could increase the chances that offshore wind farms could also win approval in New York, where a vast majority of wind turbines are on land and upstate.

“It’s like a rising tide lifting all boats,” said Peter Iwanowicz, the director of the New York State Climate Change Office in Albany. “More projects in the Northeast helps with public acceptance that we need more clean electrons and helps us guard against rising fossil fuel prices and water levels on the coast.”

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