Sci-Tech

  • Coastal infrastructureSea level rise or not, coastal development in south Florida is booming

    Miami and Miami Beach are both considered ground zero for the challenges posed by climate change, as both cities will experience considerable sea level rise by mid-century. Constant flooding will become the norm as high tides reach shores, posing a threat to property and human life. As discouraging as the future may seem for South Florida, residents, real estate investors, and companies are increasing their investments in the area.

  • DroughtsStudy finds 1934 had worst drought of last thousand years

    A new study using a reconstruction of North American drought history over the last 1,000 years found that the drought of 1934 was the driest and most widespread of the last millennium. Using a tree-ring-based drought record from the years 1000 to 2005 and modern records, scientists found the 1934 drought was 30 percent more severe than the runner-up drought (in 1580) and extended across 71.6 percent of western North America. For comparison, the average extent of the 2012 drought was 59.7 percent.

  • EnergyA boom in global natural gas, by itself, will not slow climate change

    A new analysis of global energy use, economics, and the climate shows that without new climate policies, expanding the current bounty of inexpensive natural gas alone would not slow the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide over the long term. Because natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, many people hoped the recent natural gas boom could help slow climate change — and according to government analyses, natural gas did contribute partially to a decline in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions between 2007 and 2012. In the long run, however, according to this study, a global abundance of inexpensive natural gas would compete with all energy sources — not just higher-emitting coal, but also lower-emitting nuclear and renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar. Inexpensive natural gas would also accelerate economic growth and expand overall energy use.

  • Infrastructure protectionFloating cities increasingly attractive prospect in the face of sea level rise, floods

    More and more urban planners and disaster managers are asking the question: “Has the time come for floating cities?” Experts say thatin the face of climate change-driven sea level rise and shifting weather patterns poised seriously to impact many cities over the course of the next decades, the option of having cities that can accommodate shifting tides is making more and more sense.

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  • EbolaU.S. seeking innovative solutions for protecting healthcare workers on Ebola front lines

    The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), saying the agency is looking for opportunities to co-create, co-design, co-invest, and otherwise collaborate in the development, testing, and scaling of practical and cost-effective innovations to help healthcare workers on the front lines provide better care and stop the spread of Ebola. USAID notes that this funding mechanism will not support research that does not provide a clear path to development and testing of prevention and intervention strategies. Awards are in the range of $100,000 to $1million.

  • EbolaNew tool can be used as a universal Ebola drug target

    University of Utah biochemists have reported a new drug discovery tool against the Ebola virus. According to a study published in this week’s online edition of Protein Science, they have produced a molecule, known as a peptide mimic, which displays a functionally critical region of the virus that is universally conserved in all known species of Ebola. This new tool can be used as a drug target in the discovery of anti-Ebola agents which are effective against all known strains and likely future strains. The same group of biochemists has previously developed highly potent and broadly acting D-peptide inhibitors of HIV entry, currently in preclinical studies, and is now adapting this approach to Ebola using the mimics developed in this study.

  • Coastal infrastructureIn worst-case scenario, sea level would rise 1.8 meters

    The climate is getting warmer, the ice sheets are melting and sea levels are rising — but how much? The report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 was based on the best available estimates of future sea levels, but the panel was not able to come up with an upper limit for sea level rise within this century. Now researchers have calculated the risk for a worst-case scenario. The results indicate that at worst, the sea level would rise a maximum of 1.8 meters – but the much more likely rise in sea level would be around 80 cm.

  • Synthetic biologyMore research needed to address synthetic biology security concerns

    Synthetic biology involves the design of new biological components, devices, or systems that do not exist in nature, or the redesign of existing natural biological systems. Synthetic biology aims to make biological systems work more efficiently or to design biological tools for specific applications — such as developing more effective antibiotics. A new paper examines security risks and policy questions related to the growing field of synthetic biology. While the author does not think the field is ripe for exploitation by terrorists, it does highlight significant gaps in our understanding of the nuts and bolts of lab work in synthetic biology that can contribute to security risks.

  • TechnologyBuilding a better lie detector

    The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), announced the other day the winner of its first public challenge contest, Investigating Novel Statistical Techniques to Identify Neurophysiological Correlates of Trustworthiness (INSTINCT). The winning solution, JEDI MIND — Joint Estimation of Deception Intent via Multisource Integration of Neuropsychological Discriminators — uses a combination of innovative statistical techniques to improve predictions approximately 15 percent over the baseline analysis.

  • Oil spillsReliance on BP, feeble regulations make U.S. partially culpable in Deepwater Horizon oil spill

    A recent ruling by a federal judge that BP was “grossly negligent” in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in the Gulf of Mexico placed the majority of blame on the multinational oil and gas company. Although not on trial in this case, the federal government was also culpable in the largest oil spill in U.S. history, according to a new paper. Based on reports from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, the Chief Council’s Report and other government documents, the report’s authors determined that the government’s reliance on market-based accountability mechanisms and its failure to implement a regulatory process based on a mutually agreed upon set of robust standards and voluntary information disclosure led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

  • RoboticsSnake-inspired robots show how sidewinders conquer sandy slopes

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    The amazing ability of sidewinder snakes to quickly climb sandy slopes was once something biologists only vaguely understood and roboticists only dreamed of replicating. By studying the snakes in a unique bed of inclined sand and using a snake-like robot to test ideas spawned by observing the real animals, both biologists and roboticists have now gained long-sought insights.

  • Coastal infrastructureAs sea level rises, coastal communities brace for more frequent, destructive tidal flooding

    Today, many coastal communities are seeing more frequent flooding during high tides. As sea level rises higher over the next fifteen to thirty years, tidal flooding is expected to occur more often, cause more disruption, and even render some areas unusable — all within the time frame of a typical home mortgage. An analysis of fifty-two tide gauges in communities stretching from Portland, Maine to Freeport, Texas shows that most of these communities will experience a steep increase in the number and severity of tidal flooding events over the coming decades, with significant implications for property, infrastructure, and daily life in affected areas. The report warns that given the substantial and nearly ubiquitous rise in the frequency of floods at these fifty-two locations, many other communities along the East and Gulf Coasts will need to brace for similar changes.

  • EnergyFusion reactor concept could be cheaper than coal

    Fusion energy almost sounds too good to be true — zero greenhouse gas emissions, no long-lived radioactive waste, a nearly unlimited fuel supply. Perhaps the biggest roadblock to adopting fusion energy is that the economics have not penciled out. Fusion power designs aren’t cheap enough to outperform systems that use fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. University of Washington engineers hope to change that. They have designed a concept for a fusion reactor that, when scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output.

  • In the trenchesU.S. Navy unveils autonomous swarmboats to “swarm” hostile vessels

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    As autonomy and unmanned systems grow in importance for naval operations, officials at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced the other day a technological breakthrough that will allow any unmanned surface vehicle (USV) to not only protect Navy ships, but also, for the first time, autonomously “swarm” offensively on hostile vessels. The first-of-its-kind technology — successfully demonstrated over two weeks in August on the James River in Virginia — allows unmanned Navy vessels to overwhelm an adversary.

  • FirefightingMopping up toxic fire-fighting chemicals

    Australian scientists have come up with the solution to a world-wide pollution problem — how to mop up the toxic residues left after the use of special foams to fight fires. The technology uses a modified clay to soak up potential cancer-causing substances in the foam used by fire fighters, defense facilities, and airports worldwide to suppress fires.