Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Official NASA Guide To Drinking Your Own Urine

By Ed Grabianowski

If you're going on a long space trip, you'll soon realize that you can't carry all the fresh water you'll need with you. The cost of getting all that water into space would destroy your budget before you ever built a single photon torpedo launcher. The answer, of course, is recycling. Those childhood dreams of traveling to space probably didn't include drinking your own sweat and pee.

If you'd like to enjoy a cool pint of fresh water in space, the "shipped-from-Earth" variety will cost you $15,000. That's why the International Space Station captures every bit of evaporated water possible, collects it and purifies it for use as drinking water. While astronauts were apparently fine with drinking each other's sweat, exhaled water vapor and shower water, NASA hadn't crossed the urine barrier yet. But that's about to change.

Last week, Space Shuttle Endeavor carried aloft a Michigan Technological University designed Water Recovery System. Here's how it turns pee into a refreshing drink:

1). Urine is distilled, removing a bunch of the "bad stuff" you wouldn't want to drink.
2). It's combined with the other waste water (the sweat and shower water).
3). Solids are filtered out. You don't want someone's hair in your morning drink.
4). The water passes through a bunch of multi-filtration beds made of materials that remove contaminants either by absorbing them or negating them via ion exchange.
5). At this point, the water holds some non-organics and solvents. A reactor breaks those impurities down into carbon dioxide, water and ions.
6). Leaving behind the CO2 and the ions gives you water that's as pure as a mountain stream. Probably purer. Image by: NASA.

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Sun shines on future Mars colonies

by Paul Marks

Solar power might actually be viable on Mars, despite its distance from the Sun (Image: Detlev Van Ravenswaay / SPL)

Solar power might actually be viable on Mars, despite its distance from the Sun (Image: Detlev Van Ravenswaay / SPL)

WHILE NASA's Phoenix lander slowly dies of power loss in the darkening Martian arctic, the space agency is weighing up the pros and cons of nuclear and solar power for a human mission to Mars.

Vocal protests accompanied the launch of the deep-space probes Cassini, Galileo and New Horizons, which all contained nuclear power generators, with anti-nuclear groups saying any disaster could rain radioactive debris on Earth. Off-planet colonies powered with fission reactors are likely to raise similar concerns.

The question is whether solar power can generate the 100 kilowatts that Martian explorers will need to power their life-support systems and to make the fuel needed for the journey back to Earth. To find out, NASA commissioned a study by energy specialists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It was generally thought that the sun's rays would be too weak on Mars to supply a significant amount of energy. However, the MIT team concludes that with a careful choice of location, solar energy can provide all the power a colony would need - even in the teeth of the Red Planet's infamous dust storms.

The team assessed 13 energy-generation systems, MIT engineer Wilfried Hofstetter told the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, UK, last month, comparing nuclear fission reactors, solar arrays that track the sun, non-tracking thin-film solar arrays laid on the Martian surface, and radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs), which use a decaying chunk of radioisotope to create heat that is used to generate electricity.

The MIT team's main aim, says Hofstetter, was to ensure that astronauts squeeze the most power from every kilogram of energy-generating equipment they take to Mars, but always have adequate back-up too.

While nuclear is the clear winner because it can produce a constant supply of power, a large solar array with fuel cells to store power matches its performance - but only if it is sited at a latitude between 0 and 40 degrees north of the Martian equator. "Southern latitudes have much less solar energy available most of the year," says Hofstetter.

Assuming a mission can take several 2-metre-wide rolls of thin-film solar panel material to Mars, a 100-metre by 100-metre surface array would provide the 100 kilowatts needed at 25 degrees north. The team calculates that it would take two crew members 17 hours to lay out the array and get it working, though robotic rollout is also a possibility.

Of course, Mars is no benign environment - dust storms are a major hazard and degrade solar arrays. But planetary scientist Colin Pillinger of the Open University in the UK says they shouldn't be a problem: "Dust storms tend to start in well-known places in the southern hemisphere as it warms up, so it shouldn't be too difficult to avoid them," he says.

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Race on to build world's first space elevator

By Andrew Ramadge and Kate Schneider

AUSTRALIA could play a key role in the 21st century space race, with competition heating up between Japan and the US to build the world's first "space elevator".

As the technology required to create a physical link between Earth and outer space becomes closer to a reality, discussions of next-generation space exploration have been given new life.

Japan announced recently that it was researching plans to build a space elevator – a link to space that could transport cargo and even tourists – for as little as 1 trillion yen ($11 billion).

"Just like travelling abroad, anyone will be able to ride the elevator into space," chairman of the Japan Space Elevator Association, Shuichi Ono, told The Times.

The news is believed to have shaken up scientists at NASA, who have traditionally focused on rockets to reach space but could now be considering following Japan's suit.

Australia too may play a part in the creation of a space elevator, with a region off the west coast identified as ideal for an Earth dock – the structure that would anchor the link.

Unlike some science-fiction depictions of a giant tower or elevator reaching into the stars, modern plans for a space elevator rely on a cable being stretched between a satellite and a platform on Earth along which vehicles could travel.

One location being considered by NASA for such a platform is off the coast of Perth, according to the West Australian co-author of the book Leaving The Earth By Space Elevator, Philip Ragan.

Mr Ragan, who wrote the book with former NASA scientist and space elevator expert Dr Bradley C. Edwards, said there were 12 criteria that had to be met when choosing a possible location for the Earth port including consideration of storms and lightning.

"We identified that the Indian Ocean, about 500km off of Perth, was a prime location to site the Earth end of the cable," Mr Ragan said.

"A second preferred location is about 2000 miles (3218km) south of Hawaii... (which would be) closer for Americans in air time but logistically more remote for servicing by shipping."

An Australian Senate report released last week backed up Mr Ragan's claims and said the West Australian oil industry's expertise in building offshore platforms could prove useful if the plans went ahead.

"The Indian Ocean off Western Australia has been identified as an ideal location for a space elevator – a thin carbon nanotube connecting a barge to a space station, along which supplies could be carried up," said the report.

Professor Lachlan Thompson, from RMIT's School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, said Australia would also be an ideal partner for space agencies because its land mass was not divided into different nations.

"Australia is an ideal place for suborbital and orbital tourism due to it being a large land mass not divided by countries," he said.

Technical challenges

Professor Thompson, who co-chaired the Space Elevator Technology Session at the 59th International Astronautical Congress in Scotland last month, said the creation of a space elevator, while not yet possible, was supported by theoretical evidence.

“Elevators to space can be made to work... eight papers presented (at the congress) supported strongly the idea is sound," he said.

If a space elevator was built, it would provide a method of transportation to a space platform floating about 36,000km or more above the Earth. But where to from there?

Many of the costs associated with space exploration stem from trying to get off Earth itself – by overcoming the planet's gravitational pull using extremely expensive rocket blasts.

Missions launched from a platform already outside of the Earth's atmosphere would be cheaper and more efficient, allowing for more exploration projects.

However plans for a space elevator rely on finding a material strong enough to form the cable, or "ribbon", stretched between Earth and space. Scientists say the ribbon would need to be 150 times stronger than steel to be stable.

"The stresses in the cable due to its own weight are partially relieved by the mass in space at the end of the cable, so that's not a problem," Professor Thompson said.

"But the loads are enormous and get dangerously high once the elevator starts oscillating as it moves along the cable.

"The first challenge is to develop fibres that have sufficient strength-to-weight ratio so that they will take the load without being so ridiculously large in diameter that it could never be deployed.

"The next is to work out how to make the cable, which is why everyone is looking at nanofibre technology."

Mr Ragan said it was likely that carbon nanofibre cables strong enough to sustain a space elevator would be produced within the next five years, and could be tested in space within a decade.

"If anyone can do it, the Japanese certainly can as they are currently the world's largest producer and user of carbon nanofibre at lower strengths," Mr Ragan said.

Mr Ragan said competition between space agencies would heat up in coming years as the technology to build a space elevator became available and the cost efficiency of launching missions from outside the Earth's gravitational pull became clear.

"When the appropriate strength carbon nanofibre is definitely in production, interest will intensify," he said.

"The first country to deploy a space elevator will have a 95 per cent cost advantage and could potentially control all space activities."

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How to Get Lucky

Scientific proof that you make your own breaks.

Knee injuries could be healed by 'living bandage' made from stem cells

Martin Petrov: knee injuries could be healed by 'living bandage' made from stem cells
Manchester City's Martin Petrov is currently out of the game for four months as a result of torn meniscal cartilage Photo: GETTY

Torn meniscal cartilage, which affects about 80,000 men and women in Britain every year, is so difficult to repair that many professional sportsmen opt to have it removed altogether, risking osteoarthritis in later life.

The cartilage acts as a shock absorbing cushion between the bones of the upper and lower leg and is frequently torn by twisting the leg during activities such as jogging, football, horse riding or skiing.

Martin Petrov, a winger for Manchester City, is currently out of the game for four months as a result of the injury.

Scientists at Bristol University have now managed to heal cartilage tissue in a laboratory with stem cells taken from a patient's own bone marrow. They placed the cells inside the tear, held in place by a spongy scaffold made from collagen, and found the stem cells brought the two pieces of torn cartilage together.

Anthony Hollander, professor of rheumatology and tissue engineering and leader of the team that made the breakthrough, will now test out the treatment on their first patients.

He said: "The stem cells knit across the two sides of the lesion and cause a reuniting of the two sides. We hope that in the patient we can reunite the cartilage in a strong enough way to heal the wound completely."

Jonathan Webb, a rugby full-back who played 33 times for England, became a victim of a meniscal cartilage injury in 1989.

Webb, 45, who became an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in sports injuries after retiring from professional rugby, had cartilage removed but still needs repeated surgery on his knee.

He said the stem cell breakthrough offered "the opportunity to rebuild the meniscal cartilage if it cannot be repaired. It may be that the professional sportsmen, who have the most to lose, will drive the technology forward".

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Men who take aspirin have significantly lower PSA levels

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is significantly associated with lower PSA levels, especially among men with prostate cancer, say researchers at Vanderbilt University.

This large analysis known as the Nashville Men's Health Study included 1,277 participants referred to a urologist for a biopsy of their prostate. Approximately 46 percent of the men reported taking an NSAID, mostly aspirin (37 percent of all men). After adjusting for age, race, family prostate cancer history, obesity, and other variables that have independent effects on the size of the prostate organ, cancer risk, and PSA levels, the researchers found that aspirin use was significantly associated with lower PSA levels. PSA levels were 9 percent lower in men taking aspirin (the NSAID most commonly used) compared with men who did not use aspirin, say the researchers, who will present their findings at the American Association for Cancer Research's Seventh Annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research.

A PSA test is used widely as a method to screen men for the possibility of prostate cancer, with higher blood PSA levels suggesting a greater chance of having prostate cancer. High PSA levels can also signify benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate organ.

"To begin to understand how aspirin may lower PSA, we also looked at the association between NSAID use and prostate volume," said the study's lead investigator Jay H. Fowke, Ph.D., an assistant professor in medicine at Vanderbilt. "Aspirin users and men who didn't use aspirin had the same prostate volume, so I don't think aspirin was changing PSA by changing the prostate volume. It was doing something different, and that suggests a beneficial effect on cancer development."

Furthermore, "the effect of aspirin on PSA was only somewhat evident among men without prostate cancer but was strongest in men later found to have prostate cancer. This also suggests an effect on cancer as opposed to other prostate diseases."

"There are several ways to consider the impact of these results," said Dr. Fowke.

"Several prior studies reported anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDs were associated with lower prostate cancer risk. Our data also suggest that NSAID use has a beneficial effect on prostate cancer. These findings could be consistent with a protective effect, because aspirin reduced PSA levels more among those men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer than among men with other prostate diseases."

However, these data also indicate that NSAID use could affect our ability to detect prostate cancer, regardless of any reduction in prostate cancer risk. "This analysis raises the concern that aspirin and other NSAIDs may lower PSA levels below the level of clinical suspicion without having any effect on prostate cancer development, and if that is true, use of these agents could be hampering our ability to detect early-stage prostate cancer through PSA screening," Fowke said.

It is also possible that results from prior studies suggesting that NSAID use reduced prostate cancer risk may just be picking up a reduced ability to detect prostate cancer among NSAID users.

These results are consistent with a recent survey of healthy men from the general population, and future studies will need to find a way to determine if NSAID use is affecting prostate cancer risk or our simply our ability to detect prostate cancer.

"It will be important to understand which mechanism is in play because many men take NSAIDs for their cardiovascular health, so we need to know whether that reduces their prostate cancer risk, or simply reduces PSA, which would then be even less reliable as a marker of prostate cancer risk," he said. "Basing treatment on an artificially suppressed PSA score would also be problematic."


The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 28,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and 80 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes five major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The AACR's most recent publication and its sixth major journal, Cancer Prevention Research, is dedicated exclusively to cancer prevention, from preclinical research to clinical trials. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

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Chemical From Medicinal Plants May Be Used To Fight HIV

Astragalus membranaceus. A chemical from the Astragalus root, frequently used in Chinese herbal therapy, can prevent or slow progressive telomere shortening, which could make it a key weapon in the fight against HIV. (Credit: iStockphoto/Yong Hian Lim)

Like other kinds of cells, immune cells lose the ability to divide as they age because a part of their chromosomes known as a telomere becomes progressively shorter with cell division. As a result, the cell changes in many ways, and its disease fighting ability is compromised.

But a new UCLA AIDS Institute study has found that a chemical from the Astragalus root, frequently used in Chinese herbal therapy, can prevent or slow this progressive telomere shortening, which could make it a key weapon in the fight against HIV.

"This has the potential to be either added to or possibly even replace the HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), which is not tolerated well by some patients and is also costly," said study co-author Rita Effros, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and member of the UCLA AIDS Institute.

A telomere is a region at the end of every cell chromosome that contains repeated DNA sequences but no genes; telomeres act to protect the ends of the chromosomes and prevent them from fusing together — rather like the plastic tips that keep shoelaces from unraveling. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter, eventually causing the cell to reach a stage called replicative senescence, when it can no longer divide. This seems to indicate that the cell has reached an end stage, but, in fact, the cell has changed into one with new genetic and functional characteristics.

A great deal of cell division must take place within the immune system for the system to function properly. For example, the so-called "killer" CD8 T-cells that help fight infection have unique receptors for particular antigens. When a virus enters the body, the killer T-cells whose receptors recognize that virus create, through division, versions of themselves that fight the invader.

Generally, the telomeres in cells are sufficiently long that they can divide many times without a problem. Moreover, when fighting infections, T-cells can turn on an enzyme called telomerase, which can prevent the telomeres from shortening.

"The problem is that when we're dealing with a virus that can't be totally eliminated from the body, such as HIV, the T-cells fighting that virus can't keep their telomerase turned on forever," Effros said. "They turn off, and telomeres get shorter and they enter this stage of replicative senescence."

Previous studies have shown that injecting the telomerase gene into T-cells can keep the telomeres from shortening, enabling them to maintain their HIV-fighting function for much longer. This gene-therapy approach, however, is not a practical way to treat the millions of people living with HIV.

For the present study, rather than utilizing gene therapy, the researchers used a chemical called TAT2, which was originally identified from plants used in traditional Chinese therapy and which enhances telomerase activity in other cell types.

They tested TAT2 in several ways. First, they exposed the CD8 T-cells from HIV-infected persons to TAT2 to see if the chemical not only slowed the shortening of the telomeres but improved the cells' production of soluble factors called chemokines and cytokines, which had been previously shown to inhibit HIV replication. It did.

They then took blood samples from HIV-infected individuals and separated out the CD8 T-cells and the CD4 T-cells — those infected with HIV. They treated the CD8 T-cells with TAT2 and combined them with the CD4 T-cells in the dish-and found that the treated CD8 cells inhibited production of HIV by the CD4 cells.

"The ability to enhance telomerase activity and antiviral functions of CD8 T-lymphocytes suggests that this strategy could be useful in treating HIV disease, as well as immunodeficiency and increased susceptibility to other viral infections associated with chronic diseases or aging," the researchers write.

In addition to Effros, researchers were Steven Russell Fauce, Beth D. Jamieson, Ronald T. Mitsuyasu, Stan T. Parish, Christina M. Ramirez Kitchen, and Otto O. Yang, all of UCLA, and Allison C. Chin and Calvin B. Harley of the Geron Corp.

The Geron Corp., TA Therapeutics Ltd., the National Institutes of Health and the Frank Jernigan Foundation funded this study.

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Solar-Powered Plane to Perform Test Flight

Africa trade bust 'biggest ever'

Tusk haul (AP)
Smuggled ivory finds its way all over the globe

More than one tonne of ivory products has been seized in Africa's largest-ever international crackdown on wildlife crime.

The operation, co-ordinated by Interpol and the Kenya Wildlife Service, led to the arrest of 57 illegal traders across five African nations.

The haul also included animal skins and hippopotamus teeth.

Interpol said that similar trans-national operations will be carried out worldwide to combat wildlife crime.

Planning for the bust, dubbed Operation Baba, started in June in response to a plea to Interpol from African nations dealing with illegal elephant killings.

Over the past weekend, undercover agents intercepted local dealers and brokers at ivory markets, border crossings and airports in the nations of Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia.

More than one tonne of ivory products - including powdered ivory and carved items - was recovered, as well as leopard, cheetah and serval cat skins.

"Co-operation among countries in East, West and Southern Africa against wildlife crime has set an inspired example," said Giuliano Zaccardelli, director of Interpol's Oasis programme that supports African law enforcement.

"Similar operations could also be conducted in Asia, the Americas and in any other region where criminal interests, including trafficking in illegal wildlife products, are common," he added.

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California Colleges Pay Students to Bike

by Kristin Underwood, San Diego, CA on 11.17.08
Cars & Transportation

Cars on Freeway Photo

Image source: Getty Images

Universities in southern California are implementing several green commuting programs and incentives to encourage carpooling and biking to campus, reports the San Diego Union Tribune. While southern California is known for loving its autos, its also known for year round near-perfect weather. If there is any place in the US to encourage biking and hiking, this is it, but unfortunately public transit is not "mass" transit, yet. If there was just a way to flip the trend away from single-person auto use, it would change the entire culture and environment of southern California and several universities are working to do just that.

Mesa College is designating 33 prime parking spaces to hybrids and other high-fuel efficiency autos. San Diego State University also allocated 52 spots for car-pools in the faculty parking lot and subsidizes bus and trolley passes for faculty and students. With the new trolley line now running out to SDSU, students can get to other neighborhoods and even downtown with no traffic. Cal State San Marcos designated 80 spots for car pools, and permits have sold out in recent semesters. This year these passes sold out before the semester started.

UC San Diego

UC San Diego now uses a biodiesel bus and even improved its current bus service to transport 1,000 more students with 10 fewer buses. They also give 10 free days of parking to students that agree to bike the majority of their trips to campus. The programs appear to be working, at least at UCSD, as officials have noticed a drop in single-person car trips from 66% in 2001 to 49% in 2008. To further promote car-sharing, the university also now has 2 Zipcars on campus to give students the option of a car just for the longer trips, say to Target to get hair dye and decorations for their dorm room.

Other College Commuter Incentive Programs

Other campuses, as reported by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), are offering financial give-aways to keep cars off of the road. Stanford University, for example, will pay up to $282 a year to students that dont drive at all to campus. Ripon College in Wisconsin gives non-driving students a Trek mountain bike, helmet and lock.

With gas prices soaring this summer, Coastal Bend College in Beeville, TX switched to essentially a four-day work week for classes. The program was so popular among students and staff that its been expanded to the other 3 campuses. Similarly J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, VA developed Fuel $mart Fridays wheres students can elect to take all of their classes on Friday. Since community colleges typically tend to be commuter campuses, this saves students the daily commute and gets cars off campus with some students only attending one day a week.

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Geoff Strong

VAST numbers of marine "jelly balls" now appearing off the Australian east coast could be part of the planet's mechanism for combating global warming.

The jellyfish-like animals are known as salps and their main food is phytoplankton (marine algae) which absorbs the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the top level of the ocean. This in turn comes from the atmosphere.

Mark Baird of the CSIRO said salps were notoriously difficult for scientists to study in the laboratory and consequently little attention has been paid to their ecological role until recently.

Dr Baird was part of a CSIRO and University of NSW marine survey last month that found a massive abundance of salps in the waters around Sydney. They were up to 10 times what they were when first surveyed 70 years ago.

Different salp species are found around the world and attention is now being paid to what effect they might have on global warming.

They are also of interest because in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica they are thought to be displacing krill, which is a key food source for many marine animals, including filter-feeding whales such as the southern right and humpback. By eating the algae, the salps turn the algae and their carbon dioxide into faeces which drops to the ocean floor. They also take carbon to the floor with them when they die after a life cycle as short as only a couple of weeks.

This is thought to be a natural form of carbon sequestration similar to what scientists are trying to do with carbon capture from emission sources such as power stations.

Dr Baird said Australian salps, which grow to about half a centimetre, are biologically closer to vertebrates such as humans than to jellyfish because they have the rudiments of a primitive nervous system.

"They are interesting because they are the fastest reproducing multi-celled animal on the planet and can double their numbers several times a day."

Salps had in the past been considered of little interest because they had fairly low nutrient value and were insignificant as a food source.

He said this was a concern because as the Antarctic ice melted, they were replacing krill, which is a high-nutrient food.

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Scientists Recommend Permanent Method For Carbon Sequestration: Turn CO2 into Rock

A breaking study indicates that 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year could be locked up in rock formations that cover half of Oman—finally putting a dent in global greenhouse gases. And the same principle could be transferred to rock formations in shallow seas.

Bangkok Dispatch: Seeking Clean Asian Air

Hanoi traffic
Asian cities, including Hanoi pictured here, are beset by traffic and smog. (Credit: Lee Schipper)

Lee Schipper, a specialist on cities, transportation and pollution diving time between Stanford and Berkeley, is a frequent presence on Dot Earth and a source for me when pondering how the world heads toward nine billion mainly-urban humans with the fewest traffic jams and smog alerts. He sent the following note from a conference in Bangkok on cleaning the air in Asian cities. You may have seen the news on Asia’s growing brown clouds this week.

Postcard from Better Air Quality ‘08:

Much has been made of rising aspirations of the middle class in developing countries, with the implication that this must mean literally hundreds of millions of cars — and hundreds of millions of tonnes of oil use and resulting CO2 emissions. Unfortunately these aspirations continue to collide with reality in the congested and polluted cities all over Asia, compounded by the huge brown clouds of pollution hovering over many parts of Asia recently noted in The Times. The foul air, with people stuck in traffic, is costing thousands of unnecessary deaths every year. This is not a new problem, as I have noted elsewhere.

This week, leaders from all the major countries and cities have been gathering at a semi-annual event, Better Air Quality ‘08, organized by the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities, a group recently spun off from the Asian Development Bank.

There are four main goals:

• Liveable, walkable, safe cities as the examples of Singapore and Seoul in Asia show.
• Better technologies, not necessarily as expensive as many think, since Asians have not yet dug holes as Americans have with a very car-intensive world.
• Modest lifestyles, not the kinds Americans are used to but ones we’re beginning to adjust to as home ownership, water, food, energy and everything else is suddenly more expensive or risky than we thought.
• Good governance, with the usual panoply of taxes, regulations to make the first three outcomes happen. This was brought out by Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, who transformed that city and its bus system into the envy of the world.

Many informal, and in some cases, closed-door sessions here let public and private stakeholders work on real solutions. BAQ 08 is upbeat on local air pollution. In Hanoi, for example, a city with more motorcycles per capita than New York has cars per capita, measures are being taken to clean up the resulting pollution. China has developed fuel economy standards on new cars, and high-level representatives from other Asian governments attended a special workshop to discuss how their countries should approach this issue. Bus rapid transit around the world was featured as well.

But some of the messages from such conferences are depressing: Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and the success stories are still the exception.

Lee Schipper, Global Metropolitan Studies, Univ. of Calif., Berkeley, and Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency, Stanford University

Have you traveled or lived in Asia? If so, what do you see as signs of progress, or big trouble? Dr. Schipper did point out to me that at least one other element of the meeting was upbeat –- the music, provided at the opening reception by none other than Lee Schipper and the Mitigators. Let’s go to the videotape:

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GM crops 'to be grown in secret'

GM crops 'to be grown in secret'
GM food trials in this country have been affected by vandalism Photo: STEPHEN HIRD

Trials could also be conducted away from the public in the Government's Porton Down military research site in Salisbury, Wiltshire, it is claimed.

There are currently no GM food trials underway in the country and the more than 50 that have been conducted since 2000 have been affected by vandalism. Opponents of GM benefit from current rules, which dictate that all trials must be disclosed on a Government website.

However, a review of security arrangements for trials has been ordered by Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary and Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary.

The Independent reported that ministers are preparing to scrap the disclosure rule.

A Government source told the newspaper: "We need to review the security arrangements. The rules are a charter for people who want to stop the experiments. A lot of information has to be put in the public domain and that makes it very easy for people to trash them."

Mr Benn said: "We need to see if GM foods have a contribution to make, and we won't know the answer about their environmental impact unless we run controlled experiments. It's important to go with the science."

Lord Mandelson acted to loosen rules on GM licensing in his previous job as EU Trade Commisioner, and it is thought he favours a relaxation of the conditions in Britain.

While the Government has signalled that GM crops hold the potential to prevent future food crises, Gordon Brown has trodden carefully around the issue due to fierce opposition from large sections of the public.

Leeds University, where a trial batch of 400 GM potato plants was destroyed by vandals in June, is planning to make a final attempt to complete the trial, and is asking the Government to fund security fences and CCTV cameras on its farm.

Professor Tim Benton, the research dean at the university's Faculty of Biological Science, told The Independent: "We need to find a way to do crop trials in a safe way and to minimise the environmental risk. We cannot carry on for the next 20 or 30 years saying it's too scary, the public is too frightened, it is politically too dangerous.

"There is absolutely no way we can move towards a world with food security without using GM technology. The amount of food we need could double because the population is growing, climate change will reduce yields and we will take land out of food production for biofuels."

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Mountains and molehills

Filed under: — gavin @ 12:07 PM

As many people will have read there was a glitch in the surface temperature record reporting for October. For many Russian stations (and some others), September temperatures were apparently copied over into October, giving an erroneous positive anomaly. The error appears to have been made somewhere between the reporting by the National Weather Services and NOAA's collation of the GHCN database. GISS, which produces one of the more visible analyses of this raw data, processed the input data as normal and ended up with an October anomaly that was too high. That analysis has now been pulled (in under 24 hours) while they await a correction of input data from NOAA (Update: now (partially) completed).

There were 90 stations for which October numbers equalled September numbers in the corrupted GHCN file for 2008 (out of 908). This compares with an average of about 16 stations each year in the last decade (some earlier years have bigger counts, but none as big as this month, and are much less as a percentage of stations). These other cases seem to be mostly legitimate tropical stations where there isn't much of a seasonal cycle. That makes it a little tricky to automatically scan for this problem, but putting in a check for the total number or percentage is probably sensible going forward.

It's clearly true that the more eyes there are looking, the faster errors get noticed and fixed. The cottage industry that has sprung up to examine the daily sea ice numbers or the monthly analyses of surface and satellite temperatures, has certainly increased the number of eyes and that is generally for the good. Whether it's a discovery of an odd shift in the annual cycle in the UAH MSU-LT data, or this flub in the GHCN data, or the USHCN/GHCN merge issue last year, the extra attention has led to improvements in many products. Nothing of any consequence has changed in terms of our understanding of climate change, but a few more i's have been dotted and t's crossed.

But unlike in other fields of citizen-science (astronomy or phenology spring to mind), the motivation for the temperature observers is heavily weighted towards wanting to find something wrong. As we discussed last year, there is a strong yearning among some to want to wake up tomorrow and find that the globe hasn't been warming, that the sea ice hasn't melted, that the glaciers have not receded and that indeed, CO2 is not a greenhouse gas. Thus when mistakes occur (and with science being a human endeavour, they always will) the exuberance of the response can be breathtaking - and quite telling.

A few examples from the comments at Watt's blog will suffice to give you a flavour of the conspiratorial thinking: "I believe they had two sets of data: One would be released if Republicans won, and another if Democrats won.", "could this be a sneaky way to set up the BO presidency with an urgent need to regulate CO2?", "There are a great many of us who will under no circumstance allow the oppression of government rule to pervade over our freedom—-PERIOD!!!!!!" (exclamation marks reduced enormously), "these people are blinded by their own bias", "this sort of scientific fraud", "Climate science on the warmer side has degenerated to competitive lying", etc… (To be fair, there were people who made sensible comments as well).

The amount of simply made up stuff is also impressive - the GISS press release declaring the October the 'warmest ever'? Imaginary (GISS only puts out press releases on the temperature analysis at the end of the year). The headlines trumpeting this result? Non-existent. One clearly sees the relief that finally the grand conspiracy has been rumbled, that the mainstream media will get it's comeuppance, and that surely now, the powers that be will listen to those voices that had been crying in the wilderness.

Alas! none of this will come to pass. In this case, someone's programming error will be fixed and nothing will change except for the reporting of a single month's anomaly. No heads will roll, no congressional investigations will be launched, no politicians (with one possible exception) will take note. This will undoubtedly be disappointing to many, but they should comfort themselves with the thought that the chances of this error happening again has now been diminished. Which is good, right?

In contrast to this molehill, there is an excellent story about how the scientific community really deals with serious mismatches between theory, models and data. That piece concerns the 'ocean cooling' story that was all the rage a year or two ago. An initial analysis of a new data source (the Argo float network) had revealed a dramatic short term cooling of the oceans over only 3 years. The problem was that this didn't match the sea level data, nor theoretical expectations. Nonetheless, the paper was published (somewhat undermining claims that the peer-review system is irretrievably biased) to great acclaim in sections of the blogosphere, and to more muted puzzlement elsewhere. With the community's attention focused on this issue, it wasn't however long before problems turned up in the Argo floats themselves, but also in some of the other measurement devices - particularly XBTs. It took a couple of years for these things to fully work themselves out, but the most recent analyses show far fewer of the artifacts that had plagued the ocean heat content analyses in the past. A classic example in fact, of science moving forward on the back of apparent mismatches. Unfortunately, the resolution ended up favoring the models over the initial data reports, and so the whole story is horribly disappointing to some.

Which brings me to my last point, the role of models. It is clear that many of the temperature watchers are doing so in order to show that the IPCC-class models are wrong in their projections. However, the direct approach of downloading those models, running them and looking for flaws is clearly either too onerous or too boring. Even downloading the output (from here or here) is eschewed in favour of firing off Freedom of Information Act requests for data already publicly available - very odd. For another example, despite a few comments about the lack of sufficient comments in the GISS ModelE code (a complaint I also often make), I am unaware of anyone actually independently finding any errors in the publicly available Feb 2004 version (and I know there are a few). Instead, the anti-model crowd focuses on the minor issues that crop up every now and again in real-time data processing hoping that, by proxy, they'll find a problem with the models.

I say good luck to them. They'll need it.

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Uproar over federal drilling leases next to parks


SALT LAKE CITY -- The view of Delicate Arch natural bridge - an unspoiled landmark so iconic it's on Utah's license plates - could one day include a drilling platform under a proposal that environmentalists call a Bush administration "fire sale" for the oil and gas industry.

Late on Election Day, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced a Dec. 19 auction of more than 50,000 acres of oil and gas parcels alongside or within view of Arches National Park and two other redrock national parks in Utah: Dinosaur and Canyonlands.

The National Park Service's top official in the state calls it "shocking and disturbing" and says his agency wasn't properly notified. Environmentalists call it a "fire sale" for the oil and gas industry by a departing administration.

Officials of the BLM, which oversees millions of acres of public land in the West, say the sale is nothing unusual, and one is "puzzled" that the Park Service is upset.

"We find it shocking and disturbing," said Cordell Roy, the chief Park Service administrator in Utah. "They added 51,000 acres of tracts near Arches, Dinosaur and Canyonlands without telling us about it. That's 40 tracts within four miles of these parks."

Top aides to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne stepped into the fray, ordering the sister agencies to make amends. His press secretary, Shane Wolfe, told The Associated Press that deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett "resolved the dispute within 24 hours" last week.

A compromise ordered by the Interior Department requires the BLM to "take quite seriously" the Park Service's objections, said Wolfe.

However, the BLM didn't promise to pull any parcels from the sale, and in an interview after the supposed truce, BLM state director Selma Sierra was defiant, saying she saw nothing wrong with drilling near national parks.

"I'm puzzled the Park Service has been as upset as they are," said Sierra.

"There are already many parcels leased around the parks. It's not like they've never been leased," she said. "I don't see it as something we are doing to undermine the Park Service."

Roy and conservation groups dispute that, saying never before has the bureau bunched drilling parcels on the fence lines of national parks.

"This is the fire sale, the Bush administration's last great gift to the oil and gas industry," said Stephen Bloch, a staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

"The tracts of land offered here, next to Arches National Park or above Desolation Canyon, these are the crown jewels of America's lands that the BLM is offering to the highest bidder," he said.

An examination of the parcels, superimposing low-resolution government graphics onto Google Earth maps, shows that in one case drilling parcels bordering Arches National Park are just 1.3 miles from Delicate Arch.

"If you're standing at Delicate Arch, like thousands of people do every year, and you're looking through the arch, you could see drill pads on the hillside behind it. That's how ridiculous this proposed lease sale is," said Franklin Seal, a spokesman for the environmental group Wildland CPR.

In all, the BLM is moving to open 359,000 more acres in Utah to drilling.

Other Utah leases that are certain to draw objections from conservation groups include high cliffs along whitewater sections of Desolation Canyon, which is little changed since explorer John Wesley Powell remarked in 1896 on "a region of wildest desolation" while boating down the Green River to the Grand Canyon.

Others extend to plateaus populated by big game atop Nine Mile Canyon, site of thousands of ancient rock art panels, Moab's famous Slick Rock Trail and a campground popular with thousands of mountain bikers.

Sierra, the BLM's director for Utah, said the Park Service was consulted on the broad management plans that made the sale of parcels next to national parks permissible, even if it was not given notice on which specific leases were being offered. She apologized for that omission but said notice wasn't legally required.

She said national parks want to keep oil and gas wells five to 10 miles away "but that policy doesn't exist."

Roy said the standard for an eyesore visible from a national park turns on what a "casual" observer might see.

The hostility carried over into an e-mail exchange between Sierra and Mike Snyder, the Denver-based regional Park Service director, who noted his agency's demand that BLM pull 40 to 45 drill parcels from the auction list. "You stated that you were not willing to do this," Snyder wrote Nov. 6.

Within hours, Sierra responded "These decisions and the lands available for leasing should come to no one's surprise," according to copies of the e-mails obtained from her office.

Sierra said she instructed her district and field managers to educate the park superintendents on why drilling is OK "adjacent to and near the park boundaries."

In the e-mail, Sierra boasted of having "a very good working relationship" with Roy, the federal coordinator in Utah for the Park Service, but in an interview he said he had "no idea this sale was coming down the pike."

Roy said that when he asked Sierra what was going on, she replied: "We added some tracts, sorry we didn't notify you. We can take up these concerns when we issue" drilling permits. He said his response was: "Holy cow."

Sierra didn't dispute this account, but said "I don't think I was in a mood that dismissed his concerns lightly." She said she had promised only to review the objections, parcel by parcel, before the auction is held Dec. 19.

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10 Must Have Green Gadgets for Your Home

by Luanne Bradley

In the mad dash to go green, grow green and glow green, some energetic gadget makers are marketing devices that are so darn friendly, we might as well ask them to move into our homes. Plug into these and see:

Philips Eco TV

A 42-inch, flat-panel LCD, this TV broadcasts power-saving features, such as a backlight dimmer the viewer controls for darker scenes. It also has a power-saving mode for capping peak light output. It retails for around $1,400 at Amazon and other electronics suppliers. (Shown above.)

Bamboo Laptop

How chic can a computer get? The green batteries in the Asus boast a 35 to 70% longer life. The bamboo exterior houses all the usual extras of a notebook. Check it out at Ecomoves.

The Studio Hybrid Eco-Friendly Small Desktop

Ideal for the little green home office that could, this engine has optional upgrades to include built-in Wi-Fi Blue Ray™ and a wireless keyboard and mouse. This PC is Dell's greenest and most powerful desktop to date, using 70 percent less energy while arriving 80 percent smaller than a typical desktop minitower. Beginning at $499, it's available in cool color options. It gets a 4.0 Energy Star rating with packing material made from 95 percent recyclable material.

Jonta LED Flashlight

Described as one of the best "human powered" flashlights, you can recharge this wind-up toy by cranking it to your heart's content. Keep one handy in your nightstand drawer, the kitchen cabinet, in your kid's room. Let it shine the new fashioned way. $49.99 at Green and More.

Solar Christmas Lights

If you are inclined to deck the halls and the roof, opt for these solar lights from Eco Geek Living, $39.97 for a set.

Spin-X Spindryer

This will cut down on drying time so much, it will make you dizzy. It costs $599.95 (plus shipping) but saves an estimaed $1,104 in three years. I believe it. The Spin-X can remove one quart of water from clothes taken out of your machine. The extracted water goes into a storage container. It also removes soap, detergents, perfumes and chemicals into the container. You can order one at Spin-X.

Helios Solar Grill

Invented by Sean McGreevy, this energy-efficient outdoor grill (great for that Thanksgiving turkey in Miami) has a coil inside that heats up like the hottest coal. The dish looks like it should be receiving your favorite show, Top Chef, but instead it collects the solar power while you cook away. Fire up your curiosity at Coolest Gadgets.

Eco Fan 800

No batteries, cords or chargers required for these blades of glory. The Eco Fan generates its own electricity using the heat of your wood burning stove. The thermo-electric module inside acts as the generator, letting you cut down on those insane power bills. $119 at Northline Express.

Barbar Ceramic ECO 8000 Blow Dryer

A hair greener than other styilng tools, the ceramic ECO Dryer is equipped with a low EMF heating output, negating radiation while keeping your locks soft and shiny. $109 at Beauty Choice.


It's the favorite gismo of Alter Eco's Darren Moore. This tool lets you test how much energy is being sucked out by your appliances, helping you to calculate and cut costs. $23.89 at Smart home.

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