Sci-Tech

  • Funding extended for simulated nuclear reactor project

    Hard on the heels of a five-year funding renewal, modeling, and simulation (M&S) technology developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory as part of the Consortium for the Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL) will now be deployed to industry and academia under a new inter-institutional agreement for intellectual property. CASL is a U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Innovation Hub established in 2010 to develop advanced M&S capabilities that serve as a virtual version of existing, operating nuclear reactors. As announced by DOE in January, the hub would receive up to $121.5 million over five years, subject to congressional appropriations.

  • Warming temperatures cause of recent California droughts

    California has experienced more frequent drought years in the last two decades than it has in the past several centuries. That observed uptick is primarily the result of rising temperatures in the region, which have climbed to record highs as a result of climate change, Stanford scientists say. Researchers have examined the role that temperature has played in California droughts over the past 120 years. They also examined the effect that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are having on temperature and precipitation, focusing on the influence of global warming upon California’s past, present, and future drought risk. The team found that the worst droughts in California have historically occurred when conditions were both dry and warm, and that global warming is increasing the probability that dry and warm years will coincide. The findings suggest that California could be entering an era when nearly every year that has low precipitation also has temperatures similar to or higher than 2013-14, when the statewide average annual temperature was the warmest on record.

  • Quantum radar can detect stealth aircraft

    A prototype quantum radar that has the potential to detect objects which are invisible to conventional systems has been developed by an international research team. The new breed of radar is a hybrid system that uses quantum correlation between microwave and optical beams to detect objects of low reflectivity such as cancer cells or aircraft with a stealth capability. Because the quantum radar operates at much lower energies than conventional systems, it has the long-term potential for a range of applications in biomedicine including non-invasive NMR scans.

  • Recycling valuable rare earth metals from old electronics

    Rare earth metals are valuable ingredients in a variety of modern technologies and are found in cell phones, hard disk drives in computers, and other consumer electronics, which are frequently discarded for newer and more up-to-date versions. U.S. consumers disposed of 3.4 million tons of electronics waste in 2012. Continuously increasing global demand for new consumer electronics in turn drives demand for rare-earth metals, which are difficult and costly to mine. Scientists have developed a two-step recovery process that makes recycling rare earth metals easier and more cost-effective.

  • IPCC sea-level rise scenarios insufficient for high-risk coastal areas management

    The sea-level rise scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not necessarily provide the right information for high-risk coastal decision-making and management, according to new research. Researchers warn that the IPCC scenarios are often inappropriate or incomplete for the management of high-risk coastal areas as they exclude the potential for extreme sea-level rises. This missing information is also crucial for a number of policy processes, such as discussions by G7 countries to establish climate insurance policies and allocations of adaptation funding by the Green Climate Funds.

  • A 2-year spike in sea level along NE North America

    Sea levels from New York to Newfoundland jumped up about four inches in 2009 and 2010 because ocean circulation changed, new research has found. Independent of any hurricanes or winter storms, the event – which stands out in its time extent as well as its spatial extent — caused flooding along the northeast coast of North America. Some of the sea level rise and the resulting flooding extended as far south as Cape Hatteras. The spike was the result of a change in the ocean’s Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and also a change in part of the climate system known as the North Atlantic Oscillation. The researchers found that at the current rate that atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, such extreme events are likely to occur more frequently. The research also confirmed that, as others have reported, sea level has been gradually rising since the 1920s and that there is some year-to-year variation.

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  • Ocean acidification threatens U.S. coastal communities

    Coastal communities in fifteen states that depend on the $1 billion shelled mollusk industry (primarily oysters and clams) are at long-term economic risk from the increasing threat of ocean acidification, a new report concludes. The Pacific Northwest has been the most frequently cited region with vulnerable shellfish populations, the authors say, but the report notes that newly identified areas of risk from acidification range from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay, to the bayous of Louisiana.

  • Overcoming problems, risks associated with rare earth metals

    Numerous metallic elements – called rare earth materials — are regarded as critical: they play an ever more important role in future technologies, but there is a high risk of supply bottlenecks. Small and medium-sized companies are also affected by this, and they are often not sure which of these materials they are dependent on. A recent event at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) aimed to demonstrate ways in which industry and the research community can counter supply risks and the consequence of the ever greater use of these raw materials.

  • Concrete solutions to aging, structurally deficient bridges

    According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the state leads the nation in the number of bridges classified as “structurally deficient.” This is probably not a surprise to most residents who have done any driving throughout the commonwealth. The state’s more than 25,000 state-owned bridges are aging — their average age is over fifty years — and in need of repair. Penn State civil engineering faculty are researching methods for enhancing the maintenance and durability of civil infrastructure — including anything made of concrete, from bridges to roads to buildings.

  • Climate change may dramatically reduce wheat production: Study

    A recent study involving Kansas State University researchers finds that in the coming decades at least one-quarter of the world’s wheat traded will be lost to extreme weather from climate change if no adaptive measures are taken. Based on the 2012-13 wheat harvest of 701 million tons worldwide, the resulting temperature increase would result in 42 million tons less produced wheat per degree of temperature increase. To put this in perspective, the amount is equal to a quarter of the global wheat trade, which reached 147 million tons in 2013.

  • DNA synthesis creates risk of resurrecting deadly viruses

    Scientists are warning that decades of public research on the sequencing of virus DNA are now posing unforeseen threats, as synthesis technologies advance to the point where individuals without expert knowledge may be able to reconstruct long dormant viruses using readily available maps. Diseases which have been extinct for many years may be resurrected by bioterrorists using mail-order DNA kits, with openly published sequence data as their guide. Among these, smallpox eradicated since 1980, could be reintroduced by using the 1994 gene mapping which was prepared in order better to understand why the disease was so deadly.

  • Bay of Bengal: Rising seas to force 13 million to evacuate to higher grounds

    Within the next thirty years, a substantial area — called the Sundarbans — in the Bay of Bengal will be underwater as a result of climate change-induced rising sea levels. The roughly thirteen million people living in the region, which consists of approximately 200 delta islands in India and Bangladesh, will be forced to abandon their homes, making their displacement the largest exodus in modern history. The migration of eight million Bangladeshis and five million Indians inland will create the largest group of “climate refugees,” challenging social, agricultural, logistical, and governmental structures.

  • European grain yield stagnation partially caused by climate change

    The European Union led the world in wheat production and exports in 2014-15. Yet Europe is also the region where productivity has slowed the most. Yields of major crops have not increased as much as would be expected over the past twenty years, based on past productivity increases and innovations in agriculture. Finding the causes of that stagnation is key to understanding the trajectory of the global food supply. Stanford University’s researchers say climate trends account for 10 percent of that stagnation.

  • Throwing science at anti-vaxxers just makes them more hardline

    Since the uptick in outbreaks of measles in the United States, those arguing for the right not to vaccinate their children have come under increasing scrutiny. What drives anti-vaxxers is similar to what drives other groups – climate skeptics, for example – which also hold beliefs at odds with conventional scientific thought: It is a process psychologists have called “biased assimilation” — we all regard new information in the light of what we already believe. Research shows that throwing scientific facts at anti-vaxxers is not likely to change minds because the level of knowledge and expertise of the people providing the facts — government, scientists, or journalists, say — was a poor predictor of how much they were trusted on the issue. Instead, what was critical was how much these experts were perceived to have the public’s interests at heart. Researchers who conducted surveys on the issue of pollution, for example, found that groups of people — such as friends and family — who were perceived to want to act in line with the survey respondents’ best interests were highly trusted, even if their expertise on the issue was judged as poor. Rather than lacking scientific facts, anti-vaxxers lack a trust in the establishments which produce and disseminate science.

  • What historic megadroughts in the western U.S. tell us about our climate future

    In an important paper published in Science Advances last week, scientists found that future droughts driven by human-induced global warming could surpass even the driest periods in North America over the past 1,000 years. The scientists combined knowledge of past droughts and future projections in order to compare the projected twenty-first-century states of aridity in the western United States to the megadrought periods over the last millennium. They stitched 1,000 years of paleoclimatic estimates of soil moisture variability derived from tree rings, together with an ensemble of state-of-the-art climate model simulations for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. When they compared the future projections of drought to the past they found that they were more severe and persistent than at any time during the last thousand years, even if they considered only the driest megadrought periods. The findings are sobering, but they are consistent with past experience, the researchers write: “When it comes to drought in the American West, particularly in the Southwest and Central Plains, expect more, worse, and longer events.”