Infrastructure

  • Sensor cable monitors fences—and can even detect low-level drones

    Fenced-in areas, such as airports, nuclear power stations, industrial sites, or private plots of land, can now be monitored thanks to novel sensor technology that has been developed by a team of experimental physicists. The sensors respond immediately as soon as someone tries to climb over or cut through the fence, providing information on the precise location of the security breach.

  • U.K. coastal railways at increasing risk from climate change

    Footage of a railway line suspended in mid-air and buffeted remorselessly by the storm that had caused the sea wall to collapse beneath it made for one of the defining images of 2014. Scenes such as those witnessed at Dawlish in Devon are set to become more frequent as a result of climate change, and the U.K. government and rail companies must face up to difficult funding decisions if rural areas currently served by coastal lines are to continue to be connected to the rail network. For railway builders in the mid-nineteenth century the coast was cheaper, flatter, and easier than using inland sites, one expert points out. “We wouldn’t have built these railway lines where they are if we had today’s knowledge.”

  • Earthquake-proofing L.A.’s water infrastructure

    Since Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced his earthquake-safety proposal in December 2014, public attention has focused on requirements to retrofit old vulnerable buildings, but the plan also calls for fortifying the city’s vast network of water pipes and aqueducts. Water infrastructure is “the single biggest vulnerability we’re facing in Southern California,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones, who helped develop Garcetti’s earthquake-safety plans.

  • Chemical plants safety must be tightened to prevent a Bhopal-like disaster in the U.S.

    Late last week, hundreds of individuals and organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama to say that time was running out for taking action to protect the U.S. population from the dangers of accidents or deliberate attacks at U.S. chemical plants. As a senator, Obama described chemical facilities in which dangerous chemicals were processed or stored as “stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country.” On 2-3 December 1984, more than 500,000 people in the Indian city of Bhopal were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals from the near-by Union Carbide plant. About 16,000 died and 558,000 injured — 3,900 of them permanently disabled. Security experts say that a Bhopal-like disaster could happen in the United States

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  • World population may outpace water supply by mid-century

    Population growth could cause global demand for water to outpace supply by mid-century if current levels of consumption continue. It would not, however, be the first time this has happened, a new study finds. Using a delayed-feedback mathematical model which analyzes historic data to help project future trends, the researchers identified a regularly recurring pattern of global water use in recent centuries. Periods of increased demand for water — often coinciding with population growth or other major demographic and social changes — were followed by periods of rapid innovation of new water technologies that helped end or ease any shortages. The researchers’ conclusions: Technological advances will be needed in coming decades to avoid water shortages.

  • A 2-square-meter model city shows cyber-threats real cities face

    In a secret location in New Jersey, Ed Skoudis operates CyberCity, a model town of 15,000 people, which employs the same software and control systems used by power and water utilities in major cities. CyberCity has its own Internet service provider, bank, media outlets, military base, hospital, and school. The two-square-meter model town serves as a mock staging ground for the cyber threats faced by city officials around the world. There, computer security professionals get offensive and defensive training in their battle against hackers. Skoudis, founder of CounterHack, designed CyberCity four years ago when military clients complained that most cybersecurity training felt too much like video games.

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  • Air-gapped computer systems can be hacked by using heat: Researchers

    Computers and networks are air-gapped – that is, kept approximately fifteen inches (40 cm) apart — when they need to be kept highly secure and isolated from unsecured networks, such as the public Internet or an unsecured local area network. Typically, air-gapped computers are used in financial transactions, mission critical tasks, or military applications. Israeli researchers have discovered a new method, called BitWhisper, to breach air-gapped computer systems. The new method enables covert, two-way communications between adjacent, unconnected PC computers using heat – meaning that hackers to hack information from inside an air-gapped network, as well as transmit commands to it.

  • Damage-sensing, self-repairing concrete

    Skin is renewable and self-repairing — our first line of defense against the wear and tear of everyday life. If damaged, a myriad of repair processes spring into action to protect and heal the body. Clotting factors seal the break, a scab forms to protect the wound from infection, and healing agents begin to generate new tissue. Taking inspiration from this remarkable living healthcare package, researchers are asking whether damage sensing and repair can be engineered into a quite different material: concrete. Their aim is to produce a “material for life,” one with an in-built first-aid system that responds to all manner of physical and chemical damage by self-repairing, over and over again.

  • Rising sea level will double Hawaii’s coastal erosion by mid-century

    New research brings into clearer focus just how dramatically Hawaiʻi beaches might change as sea level rises in the future. Chronic erosion dominates the sandy beaches of Hawaiʻi, causing beach loss as it damages homes, infrastructure, and critical habitat. Researchers have long understood that global sea level rise will affect the rate of coastal erosion. The research team developed a simple model to assess future erosion hazards under higher sea levels, taking into account historical changes of Hawaiʻi shorelines and the projected acceleration of sea level rise reported from the IPCC. The results indicate that coastal erosion of Hawaiʻi’s beaches may double by mid-century.

  • Policy makers discount damages from future climate tipping points – but they should not

    Most methods that weigh up the costs and benefits of tackling climate change ignore climate tipping points, and especially the uncertainty surrounding them. Instead, they assume that future damages from climate change are known perfectly and can therefore be discounted at a rate comparable to the market interest rate – thus reducing the willingness to pay now to protect future generations. New research shows, however, that the prospect of an uncertain future tipping point should greatly increase the amount we are willing to pay now to limit climate change. The study argues that society should set a high carbon tax now to try and prevent climate change reaching a point of no return.

  • Living near railroad tracks? Prepare for crude-oil-train accidents, spills

    The Minnesota Department of Transportation(MnDOT) reports that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region. An area covering a half mile on each side of the tracks, public safety officials say, is the area from which residents are likely to be evacuated in the event of an oil train incident or explosion. The department urges all residents living near an oil train track to be prepared for a train accident.

  • Japan debating 400 km sea wall to protect coast from tsunami, floods

    Four years after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami destroyed much of Japan’s northeastern coast, officials are reviewing plans for a $6.8 billion, 400 kilometer chain of concrete seawalls for protecting coastal towns from future flooding and tsunamis. Opponents say the project will harm fisheries and damage marine ecology and scenery, while offering little, if any, actual protection and creating unjustified complacency among coastal residents. Former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa is leading a Green Wall coalition which calls for an alternative: planting mixed forests along the coasts on tall mounds of soil or rubble, creating a living green wall which would last long after the concrete walls have crumbled. The green wall project would not completely prevent flooding but it would slow tsunamis and weaken the force of their waves.

  • A first: UAV inspects energy pipeline route in rural Virginia

    The first Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech test flight using a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft to inspect an energy pipeline route — with a piloted chase plane following behind to ensure safety beyond the ground observers’ sight line — was completed last week. The flight was a step toward making aerial inspections of energy pipelines safer and more economical, researchers say. The flight lasted about ninety minutes and covered about eleven miles over a Colonial Pipeline Company right of way near Fork Union in rural Virginia.

  • 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.