Sci-Tech

  • Assessing climate change vulnerability in Georgia

    New research from the University of Georgia assesses the communities in the state most vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation. The study examines not only the sensitivity and susceptibility of populations that are vulnerable to flooding along the coast, but also the social vulnerability of inland populations in Georgia. The research presents a vulnerability assessment of Georgia based on county-level statistics from 1975 to 2012.

  • Testing wave energy generation in rough sea conditions

    Oceans, which cover some 71 percent of the earth’s surface, represent an untapped source of clean, renewable energy. Early demonstrations have already shown that the energy stored in waves can be captured by floating energy converters. Now scientists want to rigorously test this technology on a much larger scale, to see whether the concept is truly viable and whether hardware is capable of surviving rough sea conditions over a period of several years. EU-funded researchers with the CEFOW project are about to put cutting edge wave power technology to the test in real ocean conditions.

  • Himalayas glaciers volume to decline dramatically, affecting region’s water supply

    Glaciers in High Mountain Asia, a region that includes the Himalayas, contain the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, glaciers in the Everest region of the Himalayas could experience dramatic change in the decades to come – and may decline by between 70 percent and 99 percent by 2100. Changes in glacier volume can impact the availability of water, with consequences for agriculture and hydropower generation. While increased glacier melt initially increases water flows, ongoing retreat leads to reduced meltwater from the glaciers during the warmer months. “The signal of future glacier change in the region is clear: continued and possibly accelerated mass loss from glaciers is likely given the projected increase in temperatures,” says a researcher.

  • California group blames immigrants for state’s historic drought

    Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), an anti-immigration environmentalist group, has made a splash with provocative advertisements which feature a young child asking, “If Californians are having fewer children, why isn’t there enough water?” The ad is part of a broader media campaign by the organization which blames immigrant populations for the historic drought in the state. CAPS is calling for stricter enforcement of immigration laws on environmental grounds: it argues that the state’s natural resources cannot sustain the high levels immigration-driven population growth of recent decades. Drought experts and climatologists dismiss CAPS’s claims about the connection between immigration and drought as laughable.

  • Social circles explain why members of Congress vote the way they do

    The standard model of voting behavior basically assumes there is only one factor that matters: where a legislator lives on the liberal-conservative axis. That position, derived from their roll call votes, serves as an ideological marker that presumably summarizes the various forces that can influence the legislators’ votes, including personal preferences, party preferences, and constituent opinion. Researchers developed a new model called “social identity voting” based on social identity theory, which says our identity is partially created and reinforced by the various circles within which we move and the various ideologies with which we identify. In other words, it is not just friends and friends of friends, but also potentially something more subtle — you can identify with a movement without necessarily being part of an explicit “social circle.” The researchers conclude that U.S. Congress members’ social circles are more important in how they vote than their liberal or conservative beliefs or constituents’ opinions.

  • “Echo chambers” fuel climate change debate: Study

    A new study demonstrates that the highly contentious debate on climate change is fueled in part by how information flows throughout policy networks. The researchers found that “echo chambers” — social network structures in which individuals with the same viewpoint share information with each other — play a significant role in climate policy communication. The researchers point out that the debate on climate change is not indicative of inconclusive science. Rather, the debate is illustrative of how echo chambers influence information flows in policy networks. “Our research underscores how important it is for people on both sides of the climate debate to be careful about where they get their information. If their sources are limited to those that repeat and amplify a single perspective, they can’t be certain about the reliability or objectivity of their information,” says one of the authors.

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  • Researchers use seismic signals to track above-ground explosions

    Seismology has long been used to determine the source characteristics of underground explosions, such as yield and depth, and plays a prominent role in nuclear explosion monitoring. Now, however, some of the same techniques have been modified to determine the strength and source of near and above-ground blasts. Thus, researchers have determined that a tunnel bomb explosion by Syrian rebels was less than sixty tons as claimed by sources. Using seismic stations in Turkey, the researchers created a method to determine source characteristics of near-earth surface explosions. They found the above-ground tunnel bomb blast under the Wadi al-Deif Army Base near Aleppo last spring was likely not as large as originally estimated and was closer to forty tons.

  • Robots to the rescue in disaster situations

    Real-life disaster scenarios have awakened the robotics community to the limitations of existing emergency-response robots. EU-funded researchers are redoubling efforts to ensure that disaster response robots can better support rescue workers in future emergencies. Research in the lab and on-site simulations have helped in improving the capabilities of emergency-response robots in recent years. When real disaster strikes unexpected, however, complications lay bare the limitations of test scenarios. In light of the lessons learned following the Fukushima nuclear accident, researchers are following a range of different pathways to advance emergency-response robotics.

  • Drought, heat to affect U.S. West's power grid

    Expected increases in extreme heat and drought will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density and humidity, scientists say. These changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy generation capacity of power plants — unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate. Power providers should invest in more resilient renewable energy sources and consider local climate constraints when selecting sites for new generation facilities, the researchers say.

  • How climate change is making California’s epic drought worse

    California is undergoing a record-setting drought that began in 2012, the worst in at least 1,200 years. California and other southwestern states have suffered through multi-year droughts in the past, but how does climate change figure into what’s happening now? Can scientists separate the effect of rising greenhouse gas levels on the current drought from other factors? Detecting and attributing observed or projected impacts to man-caused climate change is not an easy task. But there is some supporting evidence from improving numerical climate models and the record of several diverse meteorological and hydrological events already happening, including heat waves, flooding, or droughts. Scientists can run climate model experiments that include only natural variability and then include manmade factors, such as greenhouse gases. These tools serve to highlight and distinguish the dominant mechanisms responsible for particular air circulation characteristics. These climate model simulations show that the extreme and persistent circulation patterns that have caused droughts on the West Coast this century are due to anthropogenic external forces, not natural causes. Studies suggest that climate change might give rise to a new climate regime, one in which the years of low precipitation will be accompanied by warm conditions, creating the aforementioned “warm drought.”

  • Compact orbital debris sensor detects space refuse

    The number of man-made debris objects orbiting the Earth continues to increase at an alarming rate — with objects smaller than one centimeter (cm) exceeding 100 million. The effects of collisions occurring at orbital velocities, approaching several kilometers per second, can range from minor to catastrophic. In Low Earth Orbit (LEO), where many space-based assets reside, small debris objects are of concern not only due to their abundance, but because they are often difficult to track or even detect on a routine basis. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has received a U.S. patent for the Optical Orbital Debris Spotter, a compact, low power, low cost, local space debris detection concept that can be integrated into larger satellite designs, or flown independently on-board nano-satellite platforms.

  • How will California cities meet water-rationing mandates? Universities have some ideas

    California is in the fourth year of an historic drought. It’s now so bad that state water authorities canceled the last monthly measurement of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. There wasn’t enough snow to even bother trying. The situation compelled Governor Jerry Brown to impose emergency water-conservation measures that will require a 25 percent cut in urban water use over the next year. The water footprint of the state’s higher education system is substantial: there are ten University of California campuses, twenty-three California State University campuses, and 112 California community colleges. Yet the university system is putting in place a number of measures to conserve water. Municipalities, too, will need to implement similar measures to meet the mandates and adapt to this prolonged drought.

  • DHS S&T completes Virtua Shooter robotic device, delivers it to ICE

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) the other day announced the successful completion of a robotic device that tests multiple types of handguns and ammunition. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will use the device to supplement manual testing of the weapons by laboratory staff.

  • How best to adapt to the U.S. water shortage?

    The water crisis in the western United States — most notably in California and Washington — may be the most severe and most publicized, but other threats to the nation’s water supply loom, says a water expert. “We have settled in places and undertaken industrial and agricultural activities largely based on water availability,” he says. “When that availability changes, we must adapt. If the change is rather rapid, we often face a crisis.”

  • Non-traditional roboticists to help bolster national security

    The past ten years have seen an explosion of robotics advances from small businesses and individuals, thanks in part to lower manufacturing costs and the global rise of community workshops such as makerspaces and hackerspaces, which serve as incubators for rapid, low-cost collaboration and innovation. Unfortunately, the small-scale robotics community has tended to fly under the radar of traditional federal agencies and commercial technology providers, which generally rely on multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts for technology development. DARPA’s Robotics Fast Track foresees cost-effective development of new capabilities by engaging cutting-edge groups and individuals who traditionally have not worked with the federal government.