Sci-Tech

  • STEM education, STEM jobs, and immigration

    Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) is a leading critic of immigration reform which would legalize the status of undocumented immigrants, and a chief proponent of limiting the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States. One of his arguments is that Americans with college STEM degrees cannot get a job in their fields because these jobs are taken by skilled foreigners. There are two problems with Sessions’s argument: First, his definition of “STEM job” is so narrow, that Apple CEO Tim Cook and a Noble Prize scientist who works as a university professor would not be regarded as holding STEM jobs; second, his argument contradicts what basic economic teaches: Skilled immigrants contribute to American prosperity and security, and the labor market is not a zero-sum proposition.

  • Miami Beach luxury real estate market is booming in the face of rising sea levels

    By 2100, sea levels could rise by as much as six feet. Miami Beach, with its dense population and low altitude, is on the list of U.S. cities at greatest risk. This recognition has not slowed down the region’s luxury real estate market. To help drain city streets during high tides and floods, Miami Beach is installing an eighty pumping system units expected to cost between $300 and $500 million.Scientists are skeptical of plans to solve the city’s flood and tackle sea level rise problem with pumps, saying the only solution is rebuilding and retrofitting some city infrastructure at higher levels – and moving some neighborhood inland. “If you spend [the money] on the easy stuff, you’re not going to have any money left for the hard stuff,” says one geologist. “So my concern is the longer-term sea level rise that’s going to get real expensive — and if we’re all broke because we blew all that money saving a few places that should have been moved.”

  • As climate warms, vast amounts of carbon may be release from long-frozen Arctic soils

    Scientists estimate there is more than ten times the amount of carbon in the Arctic soil than has been put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels since the start of the Industrial Revolution. To look at it another way, scientists estimate there is two and a half times more carbon locked away in the Arctic deep freezer than there is in the atmosphere today. Now, with a warming climate, that deep freezer is beginning to thaw and that long-frozen carbon is beginning to be released into the environment.

  • Oklahoma scientists warn about fracking-induced earthquakes

    Using stronger language than in the past, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) announced on Tuesday that the state’s ongoing waves of earthquakes are “very unlikely to represent a naturally occurring process.” The OGS says that fracking was likely a cause for the increased seismicity. The state’s seismicity rate in 2013 was seventy times greater than the rate before 2008, and rapidly grew to about 600 times greater today, according to the OGS. The average oil well in Oklahoma requires about ten barrels of saltwater to be injected for every barrel of oil that can be pumped out.

  • Marine Le Pen: The rhetoric behind extremist politician's mainstream success

    Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the French National Front in 1972 to unite under the same political banner several fringe groups – royalists, conservative Catholics, those nostalgic for the Vichy régime and the colonial Empire — and offer a political home to voters who opposed immigration to France from France’s former colonies in Africa and who wanted to take France out of the European Union. Le Pen, however, was an obstacle to the growth of FN. He is a crude anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, and a vulgar racist. He refuses to support the French national soccer team because some of its players are black or Muslim, and hence not “real” French. He criticized the French government’s participation in the efforts to contain Ebola in West Africa because, he argued, if the Ebola virus were allowed to spread freely, it would have “solved” the global “population explosion” (that is, having too many black-skinned people) and, by extension, France’s – and Europe’s — “immigration problem.” His daughter, Marine Le Pen, became the leader of FN in 2011 and set out to rebrand the FN in order to make it acceptable to more centrist voters. Recent election results show that she has been successful. A textual analysis of French political speeches reveals how Marine Le Pen has made extremism palatable in a land of republican values.

  • U.S. action on climate change hobbled by economics and politics, not divided science: Study

    The U.S. Congress successfully hears the “supermajority” consensus on the reality and causes of climate change, according to new research, which analyzed 1,350 testimonies from 253 relevant congressional hearings from 1969 to 2007. Among expert witnesses who expressed a view, 86 percent say that global warming and climate change is happening and 78 percent say it is caused by human activity. Under Republican-controlled Congresses, a three-quarter supermajority of scientists say that global warming and climate change are real and anthropogenic. Most significant of all, 95 percent of scientists giving testimonies support action to combat it. “Different perceptions and claims among lawmakers are a major hurdle to agreeing on action to address global warming and these were thought to simply reflect scientific uncertainty,” says one of the authors. “However, our findings show that congressional testimonies are in fact consistent with agreement in the climate science community and that the sources of controversies must lie elsewhere.”

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  • Changing human behavior key to tackling California drought: Expert

    California is experiencing a drought that has gone far beyond a “dry spell,” and the state has imposed the first water restriction in state history, aiming to cut back on water consumption by 25 percent. One expert says that strict water conservation measures are long overdue, and that “what is happening is a realization that you can’t simply transplant another ecosystem onto a California desert system or arid southwestern system. In a sense, California and much of the U.S. southwest are living beyond their ecological means. Certain lifestyles have been adopted and crops are being grown that are not endemic or sustainable for this particular bioregion.” He adds: “This is a moment for not just cutting off personal water use and turning the tap off when you’re brushing your teeth, as important as that is. This is a moment of reflection, invitation and, I hope, legislation that will cause people to think about water use in the industrial sector too. This is for the long-term prosperity of the state and sustainability of the ecosystem.”

  • Irish coastal communities devising ways to cope with rising sea levels

    Almost two years after the winter storms of 2013-14 caused millions of euros worth of damage to Ireland’s coastline, coastal scientists are looking to help rural communities and municipalities along the Irish coast develop systems which will prevent future destruction to buildings and beach properties. Researchers say that the city of Galway had developed too close to the shoreline, leaving little room for nature to run its course. “Erosion is a natural process that only becomes a problem when we develop in areas that are soft coastline, which are naturally mobile (they erode and build depending on conditions),” says one of the researchers.

  • New approach would boost use of geothermal energy

    Existing U.S. geothermal power plants generate up to 3.4 gigawatts of energy, making up about 0.4 percent of the nation’s energy supply. Geothermal power is generated by tapping the heat that exists under the Earth’s surface to extract steam and turn power plant turbines. Conventional geothermal power plants rely on the natural presence of three things: underground water, porous rock, and heat. A new approach to geothermal power, called enhanced geothermal systems, pumps fluids underground, a step which is called “reservoir stimulation,” to enable power production where conventional geothermal doesn’t work. It is estimated that enhanced geothermal systems could boost U.S. geothermal energy output 30-fold to more than 100 gigawatts, or enough to power 100 million typical American homes.

  • Growing worries about proliferation of “killer robots”

    Fully autonomous weapons have not yet been developed, but technology is moving toward increasing autonomy. Such weapons would select and engage targets without further intervention by a human. Governments are increasingly recognizing the potential dangers posed by these fully autonomous weapons, and during a meeting last week, numerous governments expressed support for the need to ensure meaningful human control over targeting and attack decisions in warfare.

  • Water shortage grows, and so does the need for technological solutions

    The value of freshwater is becoming more apparent, as more and more areas around the world are suffering from dwindling supply as a result of climate change. The World Bank estimates that water is $1 trillion privatized commodity. Last week, California imposed mandatory restrictions on water use for the first time in its history. California’s unprecedented move is just one example of the political and social issues which will accompany a growing water shortage moving forward.

  • Wildfires release more greenhouse gases than assumed in California’s climate targets

    A new study quantifying the amount of carbon stored and released through California forests and wildlands finds that wildfires and deforestation are contributing more than expected to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The results could have implications for California’s efforts to meet goals mandated by the state Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The bill, which passed in 2006, assumed no net emissions for wildland ecosystems by 2020.

  • California not the only state to face water shortage

    Over the past two weeks, California’s long drought — and Governor Jerry Brown’s mandatory water conservation rules — have captured the headlines. As the country keeps an eye on how Californians will adapt to the new reality of water conservation, other states must prepare to maintain the sustainability of their own water supplies. “As far as other states, if they haven’t seen it [water shortages] in the past, it’s something they will see in the future,” says a water policy analyst in Los Angeles.

  • Big data technology helps identify best river locations for hydro-power generation

    A new technology has the potential to revolutionize the sourcing of renewable energy from rivers. The software app automatically selects appropriate locations in U.K. rivers to site a large range of micro renewable hydro-power turbines in these rivers, and determines the environmental sensitivity of the location.

  • Virtual guard detects real-time leaks in water, oil-, or gas pipes

    Often, water, gas, or oil distribution networks suffer from leaks in storage tanks, pumping failures, or illegal tapping. In order to prevent losses which typically result, researchers designed a virtual guard which immediately detects abnormalities in any type of duct. Through the laws of physics and application of a mathematical model of fluid mechanics, the device calculates when an irregularity occurs on site, and issues an alert.