Infrastructure

  • Studying Louisiana's wetlands -- a natural barrier between land and sea

    NASA recently completed an intensive study of Louisiana Gulf Coast levees and wetlands, making measurements with three advanced imaging instruments on two research aircraft. NASA instruments fly over the Gulf Coast one to three times per year to keep consistent records of ground subsidence — the gradual sinking of an area of land — which can compromise the integrity of roads, buildings and levee systems. Scientists also closely monitor vegetation changes in the coastal wetlands to better understand how to preserve them. The marshlands not only are home to a delicate ecosystem, but also serve as a natural barrier between land and sea.

  • World running out of fresh water: NASA data

    Two new studies using data from NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites show that human consumption is rapidly draining some of the world’s largest groundwater basins, yet there is little to no accurate data about how much water remains in them. This means that the world’s largest underground aquifers, on which hundreds of millions of people rely for fresh water, are being depleted at an accelerated rate – a rate of depletion which has pushed these aquifers beyond their sustainability tipping points: During the 10-year study period, more water was removed than replaced.

  • UAV in test flights to detect mock pipeline hazards

    Unmanned aircraft researchers associated with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech tested new sensor technology designed to detect potentially disruptive activities along energy pipeline routes. The flights last week near Farmville, in rural Virginia, involved a fixed-wing RS-20 unmanned aircraft flying beyond the visual line of sight of ground observers. The aircraft had a wingspan of more than seventeen feet and was equipped with optical and infrared sensors designed to detect threats to pipeline integrity. A piloted chase aircraft, with a visual observer onboard, followed behind the UAS [unmanned aerial system] to ensure safety.

  • Chicago, center of fracking oil shipments, debates rail safety

    Chicago is home to the busiest crossroads of the nation’s rail network, and the country’s boom in oil fracking has led the city to see not only a massive increase in crude oil transferred by rail in the region, but also debates about the public safety of such an influx. The Windy City has experienced a 4,000 percent increase in oil train traffic since 2008, with many of the densely packed suburbs surrounding the city located very close to rail lines and switches.

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  • Bacteria may help clean groundwater contaminated by uranium ore processing

    A strain of bacteria that “breathes” uranium may hold the key to cleaning up polluted groundwater at sites where uranium ore was processed to make nuclear weapons. The bacterium can breathe either oxygen or uranium to drive the chemical reactions that provide life-giving energy. Scientists had previously witnessed decreasing concentrations of uranium in groundwater when iron-breathing bacteria were active.

  • Giant foam blocks keep approach slabs of bridges from settling

    The majority of the world’s largest cities, often built in areas near water bodies, have soft and compressible soils. For example, a good number of the 52,000 bridges in Texas have bump problems on entry due to settling of the soil under the pavement slabs. A research team at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) is using giant lightweight geofoam blocks to bolster the earth beneath roads and bridges and slow down the settling of roadways and bridges.

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  • NIST releases update of Industrial Control Systems Security Guide

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued the second revision to its Guide to Industrial Control Systems (ICS) Security. It includes new guidance on how to tailor traditional IT security controls to accommodate unique ICS performance, reliability, and safety requirements, as well as updates to sections on threats and vulnerabilities, risk management, recommended practices, security architectures and security capabilities and tools.

  • South Australia needs to look beyond wind for its clean energy

    South Australia cannot complete its move to clean energy through a continued focus on wind energy. This is the conclusion of the most comprehensive review to date of renewable energy in the state, conducted by researchers in the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. The success of wind power (27 percent of the state’s energy and 3-4 percent nationally) is a credit to SA’s proactive approach and should continue, the review says. However, that success has relied on the reliability of the national grid. There remains no answer to the inherent limitations of wind because of the mismatch between supply variability and demand.

  • Inexpensive process to clean water in developing nations

    Lack of potable water is a huge problem in many developing countries. According to UNICEF, 783 million people worldwide are without improved drinking water, and the World Health Organization estimates that lack of proper drinking water causes 1.6 million deaths each year from diarrheal and parasitic diseases. Part of the problem is that many of these countries must import expensive chemicals to clarify the water, limiting the amount they can afford to produce. What would happen if a common tree had the potential to turn cloudy, contaminated water into clean, safe drinking water for millions in need? Researchers are hoping to find out using the seeds of the Moringa oleifera tree.

  • State-by-state plan to convert U.S. to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050

    One potential way to combat ongoing climate change, eliminate air pollution mortality, create jobs, and stabilize energy prices involves converting the world’s entire energy infrastructure to run on clean, renewable energy. This is a daunting challenge. Now, researchers for the first time have outlined how each of the fifty states can achieve such a transition by 2050. The fifty individual state plans call for aggressive changes to both infrastructure and the ways we currently consume energy, but indicate that the conversion is technically and economically possible through the wide-scale implementation of existing technologies.

  • Can the power grid survive a cyberattack?

    It is very hard to overstate how important the U.S. power grid is to American society and its economy. Every critical infrastructure, from communications to water, is built on it and every important business function from banking to milking cows is completely dependent on it. And the dependence on the grid continues to grow as more machines, including equipment on the power grid, get connected to the Internet. The grid’s vulnerability to nature and physical damage by man, including a sniper attack in a California substation in 2013, has been repeatedly demonstrated. But it is the threat of cyberattack that keeps many of the most serious people up at night, including the U.S. Department of Defense. In a 2012 report, the National Academy of Sciences called for more research to make the grid more resilient to attack and for utilities to modernize their systems to make them safer. Indeed, as society becomes increasingly reliant on the power grid and an array of devices are connected to the internet, security and protection must be a high priority.

  • DHS selects U Illinois for Critical Infrastructure Resilience Center of Excellence

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) yesterday announced the selection of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as the lead institution to establish a new Critical Infrastructure Resilience (CIRC) Center of Excellence (COE). The university will be supported by a consortium of U.S. academic and industry institutions, S&T will provide CIRC with a $3.4 million grant for its first operating year.

  • Floods as tools of war: Many floods in the Netherlands in past 500 years were deliberately caused during wartime

    A new study shows that, from 1500 until 2000, about a third of floods in southwestern Netherlands were deliberately caused by humans during wartimes. Some of these inundations resulted in significant changes to the landscape, being as damaging as floods caused by heavy rainfall or storm surges. The study shows that floods in the Netherlands were used as a weapon as recently as the 1940s. “Strategic flooding during the Second World War undertaken by the Germans remained purely defensive, while the Allied flooding of the former island of Walcheren in the southwest of the country sped up the Allied offensive,” says the study’s author.

  • Florida better prepared for hurricane season

    Florida’s coastal communities are far more prepared for hurricane season than they were a decade ago, when eight hurricanes swept through the state during back-to-back seasons causing $33 billion in insurance claims. The state’s coastal communities have added an additional 1.5 million people and almost a half-million new houses, but experts say the risk of catastrophic destruction has not increased because builders are doing a better job of constructing new homes with hurricane resistant materials.

  • NOAA’s new National Water Center will bolster U.S. ability to manage threats to water security

    The National Water Center, a new facility located at the University of Alabama, aims to become an incubator for innovative breakthroughs in water prediction products and services. As the country becomes more vulnerable to water-related events, from drought to flooding, the predictive science and services developed by NOAA and its partners at the National Water Center will bolster the U.S. ability to manage threats to its finite water resources and mitigate impacts to communities. Bringing experts together in this new collaborative center provides an unprecedented opportunity to improve federal coordination in the water sector to address twenty-first century water resource challenges, such as water security, and analysis and prediction of hydrologic extremes, like droughts and floods.