Infrastructure

  • Using fishing nets to snag derelict satellites

    The European Space Agency (ESA) is testing the feasibility of removing a large item of debris in orbit — either a large derelict satellite or rocket upper stage – to help control the debris levels in busy orbits. The best method of snagging an uncontrolled, tumbling satellite is still being decided. ESA’s Clean Space initiative to reduce the impact of the space industry on the terrestrial and orbital environments is overseeing studies which include a robotic arm, a harpoon, and an ion beam – but one of humanity’s oldest technologies, the humble fishing net, may yet find a new role in space, as it appears to offer the most effective way to bring down dead satellites.

  • New membranes deliver clean water more efficiently

    Researchers have developed new membranes or micro-filters that will result in clean water in a much more energy efficient manner. The new membranes will supply clean water for use in desalination and water purification applications. The novel membrane technology uses layer-by-layer polymer assembly.

  • Blowing up Mississippi River levee reduced 2011 flood risk

    A controversial decision in 2011 to blow up Mississippi River levees reduced the risk of flooding in a city upstream, lowering the height of the rain-swollen river just before it reached its peak, according to a new analysis. “Our model’s not saying the water would have definitely overtopped the levees at Cairo,” says one of the study’s authors. “It doesn’t say it wouldn’t have happened. What we’re saying is that detonation reduced the risk of flooding.” The new research found that allowing those levees to overtop naturally would have resulted in less erosion – so they urge greater control of erosion in future scenarios involving blowing up levees.

  • Economists count true business costs of climate change

    A new report, prepared for leading social housing provider Aster Group, urges businesses to consider the true financial costs of climate change in order to better plan for extreme weather events. From countering the effects of extreme winter weather to summer heat waves, the report highlights three main risk factors: flooding, subsidence, and the risk of over-heating for elderly residents. The report pinpoints detailed cost implications for the organization were no actions to be taken.

  • U.S. water infrastructure in crisis as a result of lack of investment

    Over the past decades, America’s water infrastructure has deteriorated, lacking the much needed investment to secure and ensure the sustainability of a vital natural resource. An analysis of U.S. infrastructure investment shows that spending on capital improvements to U.S. ports, for example, has averaged $10 billion annually over the last ten years. By 2025, that figure will reach $20 billion annually. In contrast, U.S. capital investments in water supply and wastewater treatment was roughly $2 billion annually over the last decade. It is projected to reach just $3 billion annually by 2025. “Our water infrastructure is in a state of crisis that is only exacerbated by the effects of climate change, growing populations and demand. The longer we ignore the problem, the more it costs us,” said Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).

  • California exploring water purification, imports, and conservation as water situation worsens

    California officials are calling on residents better to manage their water usage as the state enters its fourth consecutive year of drought. An average American uses 100 gallons of water each day, and reservoirs in California only have enough water to supply this level of consumption until the end of 2015. In 2014 alone, the state’s agriculture sector lost $2.2 billion in revenue as a result of the drought. State officials acknowledge that a heavy rainfall alone will not be sufficient to restore the groundwater the state needs, so water districts are investing in water recycling plants and exploring strategies ranging from importing water to encouraging greater conservation.

  • Diminished Utah snowpack threatens Salt Lake City water supply

    Studies of water use from 2005 to 2010 show that Utahans used more water for public supply than any other state, despite Utah being ranked the second most arid within the country. Significantly lower levels of Utah snowpack this winter are the biggest climate challenge now facing Salt Lake City: The Northeastern part of the country is inundated with record amounts of snow, but Salt Lake City’s snowpack is 69 percent below the 30-year average.

  • States must consider climate change threats to be eligible for FEMA disaster preparation funds

    Roughly every five years, states publish reports detailing their vulnerability to natural disasters, qualifying them for part of the nearly $1 billion aid money administered annually by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). States looking to receive grants from the federal Hazard Mitigation Assistance program to help them prepare for natural disasters such as floods, storms, and wildfires will have,beginning next year, to consider the threats posed by climate change.

  • Investigating changing sea levels

    The sea level has been rising by an average of 3.1 millimeters a year since 1993. Long-term measurements recorded since the start of the twentieth century indicate an acceleration in the averaged sea level change. Coastal flooding and land loss are just some of the severe consequences. Traditionally, sea level changes are recorded at coastal tide gauge stations, which measure the water level relative to a fixed point of the Earth’s crust. Some of the records go back to the nineteenth century and provide important insights into sea level evolution. Since 1991 it has been possible to measure the surface of the oceans across the entire globe using satellite altimetry.

  • Climate change discussion: Shifting from mitigation to adaptation

    Many infrastructure protection experts say that there is a need to discuss not only how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also how to plan for and adapt to the inevitable consequences of those emissions, which are already changing the climate. One area in which adaptation to climate change is likely to be especially painful is in coastal areas affected by sea level rise. In some coastal regions, communities will be forced to retreat from the coast as a result of rising sea level and increasing damage from storms and flooding. Part of the problem is that policies such as disaster relief programs and insurance regulations create a system that protects many property owners from the true costs of building in risk-prone areas of the coast. “We have a system of private gains and externalized costs,” said one expert.

  • Record seasonal snowfall caused significant financial losses in New England

    Following large snowfall totals this winter, much of New England is now coping with massive economic losses to the regional economy as a result of business closures. Economists estimated that the state of Massachusetts alone suffered roughly $1 billion in lost profits and lost wages following the recent winter storms. Economists expect that ripple effects from the New England winter will be felt nationally, but they warn that it is still too early to measure these effects.

  • Averting global water crisis

    Climate change is increasing the demand for desalinated water — by 2025,14 percent of the global population will be forced to use desalinated sea water — as greater evaporation and rising seas further limit freshwater supplies for a growing world population. Current methods to desalinate water, however, come at a very high cost in terms of energy, which means more greenhouse gases and more global warming. Carbon nanotube membranes have the potential to tackle the current and future challenges in water purification.

  • Rising seas bring heavy burden to Florida coastal economy. Can it adapt?

    Florida is a coastal state. Nearly 80 percent of its twenty million residents live near the coast on land just a few feet above sea level, and over a hundred million tourists visit the beaches and stay in beach-front hotels every year. The coastal economy in Florida is estimated to account for 79 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, a measure of direct revenue into the economy. It now is widely accepted that climate change is causing an unprecedented rise in sea levels around the world, and that locations such as Florida, where huge infrastructure and large populations live right on the coast, are especially vulnerable. An important reality is that sea-level rise is not a future phenomenon. It has been happening slowly over the past decades, at about one inch every ten years. That’s a half foot since the 1960s and already it is taking a toll.

  • Solar could meet California power needs three to five times over

    In the face of global climate change, increasing the use of renewable energy resources is one of the most urgent challenges facing the world. Further development of one resource, solar energy, is complicated by the need to find space for solar power-generating equipment without significantly altering the surrounding environment. New study found that the amount of energy that could be generated from solar equipment constructed on and around existing infrastructure in California would exceed the state’s demand by up to five times.

  • Protecting crops from radiation-contaminated soil

    Almost four years after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, farmland remains contaminated with higher-than-natural levels of radiocesium in some regions of Japan, with cesium-134 and cesium-137 being the most troublesome because of the slow rate at which they decay. In a just-published study, scientists have identified a chemical compound that prevents plants from taking up cesium, thus protecting them — and us — from its harmful effects.