Sunday, June 12, 2011

Are We Heading To A Mass Extension?

The bad news is that our dear planet might be heading towards a mass extinction, where at least 75% of the life on earth will be gone.
The good news is the chances of it happening are pretty low for at least three more centuries.
Scientists writing in the journal Nature are suggesting that we might be on the brink of a massive extinction, the kind of which has only been seen only five times in 540 million years.
“If you look only at the critically endangered mammals–those where the risk of extinction is at least 50 percent within three of their generations & assume that their time will run out and they will be extinct in 1,000 years, that puts us clearly outside any range of normal and tells us that we are moving into the mass extinction realm,” said Anthony Barnosky, an integrative biologist at the University of California at Berkeley.
Who is responsible for this? Possibly we.
“A modern global mass extinction is a largely unaddressed hazard of climate change and human activities,” H. Richard Lane of the National Science Foundation said.
According to Barnosky, if the species that are now considered critically endangered, endangered & vulnerable actually went extinct, and that rate of extinction continued, the sixth mass extinction could arrive in three to twenty-two centuries.
However, this is not a very solid thing and according to the researchers we still have enough time to rescue these species. For this we're gonna have to deal with threats of storms, destruction of habitat, disease and global warming.
Last time such thing ever happened was 65 million years ago when that meteor fell into whats now Yucatan, causing the massive die-off.
Arctic polar bears are often symbolized as species facing threats because of their icy habitat that is melting fast.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Environment Friendly Construction Material

Civil engineers at Purdue University are on working on a low cost and lightweight mixture for road and bridge building. Its made up of shredded tires & sand, and it is applicable for the regions of roads and bridges that get the weight & pressure, particularly the areas that are built above soft, weak soil deposits. It can also be applied as backfill behind retaining walls and to increase the strength of slopes prone to landslides etc.
As per 2007 EPA report, 7.5 million tons of rubber ends up as waste every year, most of it comes from vehicle tires. And approximately just 35 percent of tires are recycled. The Indiana Department of Transportation has used this new compound on nine different projects so far & 1.1 million tires have been utilized, thus saving $1.2 million.
Most importantly, this mixture is very easily compacted when compared to other materials, it uses far less energy. Another factor contributing to its cost efficiency.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ants Form Live & Kicking Life Rafts

After briefly analyzing the biomechanics of many animals, engineers are now turning their tools to some pesty creatures, the fire ants.
Engineers from Georgia Institute of Technology observed the notoriously and tough ants more closely than ever before and uncovered that they have a rough skin with hairy surface which makes it difficult for water to pass in, bit like how duck feathers resist water because of their small bumps. This can be advantageous discovery for those who are working on new and high efficiency waterproof materials.
Whenever fire ants see a risk of drowning, they engage in a amazingly effective survival mechanism. Involving a group of ants(sometimes reaching thousands) stack up, lock their limbs & jaws, and form a live and kicking life raft that can survive for months.
A single fire ant, when put in water, will struggle and flail. A detail observation, however, reveals a thin layer of air along the body of the ant. But if multiple of them come together, proximity pushes each ant’s individual air bubble against the next ant’s. This giant bubble  then protects the whole raft and its precious cargo, including the queen, off springs and the food.
This ant raft doesn't only hold strength but it also gives more buoyancy. Even the bottom layer of ants doesn't get wet. This unique ability of this species  likely evolved because they belong from a place that frequently faces floods, amazons of Brazil and Argentina.
This discovery is not only fruitful for people hunting for better waterproof materials, according to robotics engineers the fire ants can be helpful in designing blueprints for a system of programming many simple robots to work together, which can help accomplish greater objectives than one large clumsy robot.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Solar Powered Water Purifiers

Far off villages in developing countries might find these 40-ft long containers pretty useful — a water purification system that runs on solar power and is ideal thing to replace the noisy generators that run on oil, water-tankers and can save hours for people who walk daily to fetch it from distant sources.

That’s what the makers hope, an environmental technology group known as SwissINSO Holding Inc. This small company has succeeded in winning its first contracts and will soon be supplying these plants to Algeria and Malaysia. And now it is aiming to sell forty two units of what it says is the world’s “first high-volume, 100 percent-solar turnkey water purification system” in 2011.
Today's world of more than a billion people who lack access to fresh water has lots of room for this incredible system. It can also find its application in disaster struck areas and other fields like construction and military.
Company's Chief Executive 'Yves Ducommun' says that his machines(housed in the two containers) are capable of pumping a 100,000 liters of drinking water daily for 20 years costing less than $0.03 per litermaintenance included. This setup itself costs somewhere between $800,000 and $1.2 million up front, depending on factors such as how many solar panels are needed to drive the purification, which filters out dirt and toxins, or salt from seawater, through a membrane.
This might sound like a lot of money for a village in sub-Saharan Africa, but when we see it on a scale of 20 years then it starts sounding nice enough for governments or aid agencies to show interest. The developers reckon it supplies enough water for about five thousand people. And can free them from walking long distances each day to collect water, therefore  allowing them to do other fruitful things, like working or studying.
“It’s a cost, but if you think of the cost of carrying water by tanker or truck to remote places, or a unit powered by diesel you are in a better position with our system,” said Ducommun. Especially with the forecast of more frequent floods, drought and desertification that'll arise due to climate change.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Magic Wrap

Now a plastic wrap can tell you if  your lunch fresh enough to eat.
Consumers often dump food suspecting that it has “gone bad” when actually it is perfectly fit to eat. Result is increase in the refuse the cities produce and wastage of food. According to the Environmental Protection Agency estimates; such food scraps constitute twelve percent of municipal landfills, making food items the single largest element of the waste stream of the United States.
So now, the scientists are developing a plastic wrap that will change its color when the food turns unsafe to eat. Therefore preventing the consumers from throwing away food prematurely.
Made up of “intelligent plastics” this wrap will warn the consumers as food looses its freshness because it has broken or damaged packaging, has passed its “best before” date or hasn't been refrigerated properly.
This inexpensive wrap is far more economical than high-tech equipment that inserts freshness indicators inside the labels or food-industry packaging.
It wont just cut down the waste-mass produced but it will also help save many live that are lost due to food poisoning and other diseases(an estimated 76 million Americans contract food poisoning every year.)
The researchers at Scotland’s Strathclyde University have received over $500,000 in funding form Scottish Enterprise, a government board. Hopefully soon they’ll be able to say, “that’s a wrap!"

Friday, April 29, 2011

Eco Domes; World's Largest Classrooms

Eden Project, as they call it is composed of giant eye catching open rooms planed to be constructed in South Korea. It will be a series of unique looking structures that are based on world's ecosystems & will provide a place for ecologists and ordinary people to examine the environment.

The "Green Architecture" has seen many things like smog-eating cement and vertical farms, but now green buildings will recreate & simulate entire ecological environments. Developed by SAMOO Architects and Engineers, the EcoriumProject spans 33,000 square meters of floor area. This project will feature an education center, a wild plant area, a wetland reserve, an environmentally-focused think tank, and a large system of interconnected greenhouses.
The scientists at Ecorium will research on multiple different ecosystems that are found in nature and find better ways to preserve them, this project will also offer a perfect point for public expos and education programs on ecology. The National Ecological Institute of South Korea aims to find ways to influence public policy and help environment friendly laws. And I thought my local science center was cool!

railway track is also being planned to increase public accessibility. The greenhouses will include high tech equipment capable of modifying the internal conditions with the change in the climate outside, thus decrease energy needs. Each structure will be built out of metal panels, wood, and plexiglass, and look like a winding river, if seen from above. Twisting, leaf-like shapes will also be used throughout the architecture.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Genetically Engineered Salmon

New genetically engineered salmon grows two times as fast as its traditional counterpart

Some people can be freaked out on the idea of genetically modified food. But keep in mind that we have been genetically modifying plants & animals for agricultural & livestock purposes for thousands of years via selective breeding and similar techniques. Which means that major portion of the food items that we consume in our everyday lives has seen genetic mutation in one way or another. So now, you may find a fish whose DNA has been altered swimming into your grocery store.
"AquAdvantage" is a new type of transgenic(genetically modified) Atlantic Salmon who's genetic structure has been altered by introducing a growth genes from two other fish; the Chinook salmon & Ocean pout(an eel-like creature). This project has been managed by a bioengineering company named AquaBounty Technologies. The company says that the new product will be cheaper & plentiful than the unaltered fish.
The transgenic salmon grows twice as quickly as old one which takes up to 5 years to fully mature. The reason is that their DNA is joined with the genes of fish that mature all year long, unlike only in warmer seasons. Here’s a graph that compares the growth rates:

The news of this ”super salmon” just like all revolutionary things is also facing controversies and suspicions in many communities. Critics have dubbed it “Frankenfish” & are questioning if its safe for humans to consume. However, even after a lots of testing, the FDA(US Food and Drug Administration) has not found any objectionable health threat, so the suspicions may be unfounded.

Watch this news story covering the debate:

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Dragonfly: A Giant Vertical Farm for New York City

Inspired by the wings of a dragonfly, this astonishing urban farm concept for New York City's Roosevelt Island is a proposed solution for problems of food scarcity & reconnect consumers with producers. Urban farming is a developing idea amongst savvy citizens today, but in a densely packed borough like Manhattan, where there is not much space for growing plants, growth must come vertically. Consisting of 132 floors and 600 meters high, the Dragonfly can house 28 different fields for the production of fruit, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy. Plus a combination of solar and wind power make Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut's Dragonfly concept 100% self sufficient.

In this jaw dropping building offices, research labs, housing, and communal areas are merged    between orchards, farms, and production rooms. In order to reuse bio waste and get nutrients plant & animal are specially arranged throughout the Dragonfly’s steel and glass set of wings.
The spaces between the wings are designed to take advantage of solar energy by storing warm air in the exo-structure during winter. Cooling in the summer will be facilitated through natural ventilation and evapo-perspiration from the plants.

Outer vertical gardens filter rain water which is then mixed with domestic liquid waste. Together they are treated organically and then used in farms, preserving and distributing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This urban farm, perhaps more appropriate for Dubai than New York, is intended to be cultivated by its own inhabitants, thus closing the loop of self-sustenance.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Houses Can Now Be Powered by Artifical Leaves

Creating electricity out of leaves. Sounds strange, but thats exactly what was presented at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
This device is called an artificial leaf, which is powered by an advanced solar cell that is inspired by natural photosynthesis (the chemical process through which green plants convert sunlight and water into energy.)
This invention is the size of a playing card & is made from silicon, electronics & catalysts, materials that aren't very costly are widely available & highly stable. These substances also help to speed up the chemical reactions that don't even occur otherwise.
When placed in a gallon of water in sunlight, the device can generate enough electricity to supply a normal home in a developing country for a whole day. Making every home self sufficient in its electricity needs & become its own power station.
The power comes from splitting water into its basic elements; hydrogen(H) and Oxygen(O). Both these gases would be then stored in a fuel cell located either on the top or beside the house, and it would use the two materials to produce electricity.
Right now the artificial leaf is ten times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf, & scientists believe that they can boost its efficiency in the future.
This innovative research was presented at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day

Earth Day is celebrated every year on 22nd of April. Today's story is about one man, who was dreamed to alter the way we treat our planet, and kept struggling until he converted it into reality in the end.

Making  World A  Better  Place 
In 1963, US Senator Gaylord Nelson wasn't very pleased with the earth's condition. He wished to purify the planet and solve pollution and environmental problems. As a senator, Gaylord Nelson was in position to put some significant efforts in making laws spo he consulted the then Us president John F. Kennedy. Kennedy agreed with him on the point that the earth's environment was a severe problem, so he went around on a five day country wide journey to promote the idea of clean environment. After this people began making small efforts, but they were not enough.
Becoming  an  Official  Holiday
After a few years, senator named Nelson raised a point that every year one day should be reserved for nothing but care of the planet. On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated. Since then, Earth Day has become an international holiday & is celebrated by people all around the world to highlight the importance of making Earth a cleaner & greener place.
Did U Know?
  • 1980s rock band, Dramarama, wrote a song about Earth Day in 1993 called What Are We Gonna Do?
  • There were more than 20 million demonstrators in Earth Day activities of 1970.
  • Today more than 500 million people in 164 countries participate in Earth Day festivities!
  • Every year, 14 billion tons of garbage is dumped in the ocean.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Virgin Oceanic Opens Abyss Of Fun

Virgin group; a company that aims to the creation of one of the world’s first commercial spaceflights,  is now gonna explore new uncharted territories, and this time its below the sea surface. Once unleashed Virgin Oceanic will be the most exotic way to visit the depths, featuring five dives in the oceans all around the world over the course of the next two years. Four of the five selected places (in map below), have never seen a man made vessel other then shipwrecks.

Pilots will be roaming these new waters riding the most high-tech & advanced single-person submarines ever built, the only vessels that can reach full ocean depth. Made by blending carbon fiber & titanium, the Virgin Oceanic's submarine can survive tremendous pressure levels (at the deepest diving point, pressure on the quartz dome could reach up to 13 million pounds, or the weight of three space shuttles!).
Marine engineer & Virgin Oceanic sub designer Graham Hawkes may be the best person to ask about these sci-fi subs. According to, Hawkes’ ingeniously designed submersibles “ look like airplanes and behave like ocean creatures, using their wings and unique propulsion to gracefully soar and somersault into the deep”. Here is a Video that describes the science behind his creations:
Mr Richard Branson  Virgin Group's founder & an eager adventurer, will himself pilot at least one of these subs. If the experimental expeditions succeed, then the world will develop a whole new view of the oceans & abysses.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Whale Friendly Bioacoustics

In 2000, the Navy of United States accepted that loud sounds of its Sonar were the reason of a mass gathering of whales in the Bahamas region in the western Atlantic Ocean. And in 2005, 37 whales beached themselves and died along the North Carolina coast after some Naval vessels used a high power sonar during exercises.
It is said that the loud sonar sound hurts the sensitive hearing of marine mammals & forces them to come to the surface very rapidly or cause a type of decompression sickness. However, this view is often disputed. Now, the Office of Naval Research has decided to start a two-three year of advance research on the effects of man made noises on the whales.
Grants are awarded to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) and a sum of $2 million plus is given. BRP’s research documents the effects of marine noise on ocean life and tracks species facing extinction threats like North Atlantic right whale.
This grant will help the scientists to develop intelligent underwater recorders that can classify whale sounds from background noises, identify its type, and zero in its precise location utilizing multiple microphones in the water.

The guys at BRP will join hands with engineers at the Science Applications International Corp(SAIC) to build a portable marine acoustic monitoring and recording device powered by sea waves and sun. The vessel consists of a floating platform & a submerged "glider wing" that converts the wave power into thrust which moves the platform.
Through this machine recorders will move into the desired areas of interest or follow the animal or other sounds.The Navy has a vast experience with sea mammals. For example, it has trained dolphins that search for the sea mines.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Agriculture Of The Future

Today the population of the world is increasing dramatically increasing the number of people that are needed to be fed, but the land available for farming is shrinking. Thats why we need farms that occupy less space, rely on fewer pesticides an give more output that can stay fresh longer.

Aquaponic farming can be the answer, a new system of mini vertical farms where fish and plants live symbiotically.
These ecosystems of plants & animals are connected by tubes– microbes eat the (refined) waste produced by the fish, convert it into fertilizer, and fertilize the lettuce, kale, wheatgrass, or other crops growing in a shallow pool of water nearby.

Aquaponic farming makes possible year long harvest while minimizing the need of waterIt also removes the dangerous waste, the only place for which were the landfills. Says Miles Harston, an aquaponic farming in Illinois, “In nature, there is no ‘waste.’ Every waste product becomes a benefit for another [natural] event.”
A great deal of aquaponic farmers are utilizing large, abandoned structures such as truck yards or meat plants. With less money to spend on building an completely new compound, these indoor farms are both sustainable and give profit, & have the ability to produce more food to feed more mouths.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Preserve The Species Facing Possible Extinction?

Because each & every creature in this world relies on other species for its survival. If we remove one out, then it will effect the whole ecosystem. Especially eliminating a keystone species can have seriously nasty results.

Think of the american grey wolf for example. Once their population started to fall in the yellow stone national park(World's First National Park) the numbers of the elks started to rise dramatically. Which only resulted in a lots of tummies that needed to be filled with willows, aspens and other trees that provided shade for the water in the park & kept it cool. With the shade gone the water became too hot for the local trout fish, which in turn took the breeding areas away from the migratory birds that fed on those trouts.
After gray wolves were brought back into the park, they kept a check on the elk population and system came back to normal.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ants Are Very Good At Maths

Ants, the tiny creatures we don't even think about much are believed to be able to solve ordinary arithmetic problems and communicate numbers to their colony mates, according to a new study in the journal Behaviour. We already know that birds like pigeons are very good at maths and chimps are average, but ants might be the best ones we know in the whole animal kingdom.
Biologists Zhanna Reznikova from Novosibirsk State University and Boris Ryabko from Siberian State University were studying the ants for sometime. They did an expoeriment in which they set up few mazes containing food at some spots. They observed that the ants communicated the food's position to other ants in distance and number of steps

They said that the ants can "perform simple arithmetic operations with small numbers. We suggest that applying ideas of information theory and using the natural communication systems of highly social animals can open new horizons in studying numerical cognition."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Geoengineering: Solution For Global Warming?

While global warming is being accepted globally by the scientific community, multiple solutions are also emerging to solve it. Geoengineering is one such techniques that can be used to manipulate earth’s climate to balance the effects of global warming caused due to greenhouse gases. The earth's atmosphere compromises of various gases including CO2 and is filled with heat. Because earth receives sunlight constantly, if its heat retention capacity is increased (adding greenhouses gases, GHGs), then its temperature will keep rising. To balance this, we should reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the planet or diminish its absorbing capacity.

Aerosol in stratosphere
Sulphur based compounds can be sprayed to create a global dimming effect; a giant radiation management cloud: a screen. In theory, it would show instant results. However there are many side effects that are feared to originate from this measure like droughts, ozone depletion, stratosphere's humidification, effect on cloud patterns & ecosystems etc.

Giant reflectors in orbit
This concept involves a sun shield that would stop some sunlight to reach the earth. Few suggestions also include a photovoltaic solar power system.
Grow Trees
Plants grow by converting CO2 in organic compounds via photosynthesis. They've long lifespans and their wood stores carbon permanently when used as building material. This is one of the simplest and yet most feasible solutions that we have. So convert deforestation into forestation.
Pump liquid CO2 into rocks & into deep sea
Another method of removing CO2 is to absorb it from the atmosphere compress into liquid form and put in oceans or under the ground. But this requires a big deal of energy. Furthermore, there is a fear that earthquakes etc can re-release these GHGs.

Ocean nourishment (Iron fertilization)
Just like carbon capturing that trees do by turning it into into wood, the ocean algae also turns CO2 into organic compounds that eventually falls into the ocean bed as sediment. Iron is an essential nutrient for phytoplankton, by increasing its availability we can stimulates the process.

Multiple other concepts could be applied to fight the climate change but they all have one thing in common; they deal with climate change’s symptoms, not the causes of it. Whats important then any of these things is to change the way we live. As Einstein said we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them…Carbon based fuels are the reason that created this issue and if we want to heal our mother planet then first step should be saying goodbye to them, its just that simple.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Global Warming Is Real

Since the beginning our planet has seen many cool & warm times depending upon the amount of light it receives from the sun due to minor shifts in its orbit, changes in atmosphere & energy of the sun. But now , another force has entered the equation &  has started to influence Earth’s climate: Human race.

Global warming actually is the unusual increase in Earth’s atmospheric temperature over the past century primary cause of which is increase in the greenhouse gases released by people burning fossil fuels. Earth has experienced such warm times in the past but this time it is happening faster then ever before. We believe that this change is not natural this time because throughout earth’s history before the Industrial Revolution, the climate changed due to multiple natural causes not linked to human activity. These natural causes are still in action today, but their magnitude is too small to justify the temperature rise seen in recent decades.

Global Surface Temperature:
Since about 1950, planet's surface temperature has seen a rise of more than .6 degrees Celsius or just over 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Arctic Sea Ice:
The image below shows a decline of nearly 32% in the Arctic sea ice.
Sea Level Rise:
When water melts it has to go some where, most of the times it ends up in oceans and lakes.
So because of the melting ice and glaciers around the world we have seen significant rise in sea levels around the globe. From 1870 to 1992, the average sea level rise has been 1.7 mm. but that has almost doubled starting in 1993.

CO2 Levels:
Carbon dioxide has been here way longer than mankind. Manmade CO2 comes from the burning of fossil fuels in factories & transport means. The following figure shows the CO2 levels measured over the past 400,000 years. Everything appears quite normal up until about 1950 where instead of going down and following the cycle, the level keeps increasing above any other point in history.
These four factors described above are quite enough to prove to someone that something is not right here, especially the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere. We need to act now before its too late.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Howdy Earthians!

Howdy Earthians!
The objective of this blog is to edify the communities about the importance and value of life & create awareness on the life of different creatures that live on planet earth. We are trying to make this earth a better place for all of us to live. We want everyone to realize that in all the barren wildernesses of the known space, this is the only place that we consider habitable in all the universe we have seen. This earth is mother of all of us and thats why we should forget all our racial/special differences & call ourselves "EARTHIANS".
I hope we will succeed in our holy objectives.