Infrastructure

  • Oklahoma Supreme Court: Oil companies may be sued for fracking-induced quakes

    On 30 June the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that oil companies may be sued over quakes if they can be linked to hydraulic shale fracturing methods, or “fracking.” Numerous scientific studies found a direct link between the increase in fracking activity in Oklahoma and the sharp rise in the number of quakes in Oklahoma, a region which until 2009 was considered seismically stable. The number of earthquake in the state has increased from 1.5 tremblors a year before to 2008, to an average of 2.5 a day, according a report from Richard Andrews, the Oklahoma state geologist.

  • Senior federal officials join initiative to help secure power supply to healthcare facilities during disasters

    Powered for Patients, a not-for-profit public private partnership established after Hurricane Sandy to help safeguard backup power and expedite power restoration for critical healthcare facilities, has added two former senior federal officials to serve as advisors. Initial funding for Powered for Patients was provided in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) through ASPR’s cooperative agreement with Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul N. Stockton and former HHS Director of the Office of Preparedness and Emergency Operations Kevin Yeskey join Powered for Patients.

  • A giant Pac-Man devours space debris

    The Clean Space One Project has passed a milestone. The space cleanup satellite will deploy a conical net to capture the small SwissCube satellite before destroying it in the atmosphere. The SwissCube satellite has been in Earth orbit for more than five years. The challenge was to ensure that it would not become just one more piece of space garbage. The Clean Space One project is one of the solutions being tested for eliminating dangerous debris orbiting the Earth.

  • Crowdsourced computing used to improve water filtration

    Nearly 800 million people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water, and some 2.5 billion people live in precariously unsanitary conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Together, unsafe drinking water and the inadequate supply of water for hygiene purposes contribute to almost 90 percent of all deaths from diarrheal diseases — and effective water sanitation interventions are still challenging scientists and engineers. Researchers propose a novel nanotechnology-based strategy to improve water filtration. The technology involves the minute vibrations of carbon nanotubes called “phonons,” which greatly enhance the diffusion of water through sanitation filters.

  • Producing fuel from Canada oil sands emits 20 percent more CO2 than from U.S. crude

    In 2013, the oil industry was producing nearly two million barrels per day from Canadian oil sands. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to just over 4.8 million barrels per day. As the United States takes stock of its greenhouse gas emissions, scientists report that the current oil sands production of fuels from “well-to-wheels” releases about 20 percent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than making gasoline and diesel from conventional crudes.

  • Our new anti-earthquake technology could protect cities from destruction

    Protecting cities from earthquakes is still a grand challenge that needs addressing, as recent disasters in Nepal, Japan, Haiti, and Chile confirm. Although significant progress has been made in understanding seismic activity and developing building technology, we still don’t have a satisfactory way of protecting buildings on a large scale. This is a serious problem, since large numbers of buildings that don’t have built-in protection exist in earthquake zones, particularly in developing countries where replacing them or introducing stricter — and more expensive — building codes aren’t seen as an option. Researchers have designed a novel vibrating barrier (ViBa) to reduce the vibrations of nearby structures caused by an earthquake’s ground waves. The device would be buried in the soil and detached from surrounding buildings, and should be able to absorb a significant portion of the dynamic energy arising from the ground motion with a consequent reduction of seismic response (between 40-80 percent).

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  • Duqu 2.0: New, menacing programming concept

    In 2011, the security world was rocked by the announcement of a newly discovered virus named Stuxnet. This malware, unlike previous viruses, was targeted at one particular victim. That target was Iran’s nuclear program.Following on the heels of Stuxnet was a variant named Duqu.Duqu is different from Stuxnet, however, in that it was designed to gather information for future attacks, rather than perform the attack itself.There is evidence that the malware was used to gather information on the U.S. talks with Iran over the Iranian nuclear program.Since this worm is able to move laterally, and runs only in system memory, a given computer can be easily re-infected from elsewhere in the home network, without using any mechanisms that would provide persistence. Duqu 2.0 represents programming concepts never used before that make it extremely dangerous.

  • Muons from cosmic rays used to find fraying infrastructure

    In the United States, electricity comes with the flip of a switch and heat arrives with the push of a button. Behind such convenience lies a massive infrastructure network that produces and distributes energy. And just like roads wear down and need to be repaved occasionally, this energy infrastructure degrades over time. Pipes can corrode and concrete can wear thin. Failure can be catastrophic. Seeking a better way to identify faulty energy infrastructure before it fails, researchers are using subatomic particles called muons to analyze the thickness of concrete slabs and metal pipes. Subatomic particles naturally generated when cosmic rays collide with molecules in the atmosphere, and they can be used to locate weak points in pipes and concrete.

  • Rising fossil fuel energy costs risk global food security

    Ongoing efforts to feed a growing global population are threatened by rising fossil-fuel energy costs and breakdowns in transportation infrastructure. Without new ways to preserve, store, and transport food products, the likelihood of shortages looms in the future. In an analysis of food preservation and transportation trends, scientists warn that new sustainable technologies will be needed for humanity just to stay even in the arms race against the microorganisms that can rapidly spoil the outputs of the modern food system.

  • Major Midwest flood risk underestimated by as much as five feet: Study

    As floodwaters surge along major rivers in the Midwestern United States, a new study suggests federal agencies are underestimating historic 100-year flood levels on these rivers by as much as five feet, a miscalculation that has serious implications for future flood risks, flood insurance, and business development in an expanding floodplain. Moreover, high-water marks are inching higher as global warming makes megafloods more common.

  • A new look for nuclear power

    Many experts cite nuclear power as a critical component of a low-carbon energy future. Nuclear plants are steady, reliable sources of large amounts of power; they run on inexpensive and abundant fuel; and they emit no carbon dioxide (CO2). A novel nuclear power plant that will float eight or more miles out to sea promises to be safer, cheaper, and easier to deploy than today’s land-based plants.

  • Our mostly dry planetary neighbors once had lots of water -- what does that imply for us?

    Our two closest solar system neighbors, Venus and Mars, once had oceans — planet-encircling, globe-girdling, Earth-like oceans, but neither Venus nor Mars could hold onto their water for long enough to nurture advanced life forms until they could flourish. The lessons from Venus and Mars are clear and simple: water worlds are delicate and fragile. Water worlds that can survive the ravages of aging, whether natural or inflicted by their inhabitants — and can nurture and sustain life over the long term — are rare and precious. If we allow the temperature of our planet to rise a degree or two, we may survive it as a minor environmental catastrophe. But beyond a few degrees, if we allow a runaway greenhouse effect to kick up the temperature a few more notches, do we know the point at which global warming sends our atmosphere into a runaway death spiral, turning Earth into Venus? We know what the endgame looks like.

  • Abu Dhabi’s power system to be used for critical infrastructure cybersecurity study

    Abu Dhabi, UAE-based Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and MIT will use Abu Dhabi’s power system as a case study for developing a knowledge map of the power system and its cybersecurity shortcomings. The project is due to run for two years. At the end of this two year period, the collaborating institutions hope that data from the analysis of Abu Dhabi’s power system could be compared against data from the projects running concurrently in New York and Singapore to develop a comprehensive knowledge map, capable of being applied to critical infrastructure worldwide.

  • Eco-friendly oil spill solution developed

    Chemists have developed an eco-friendly biodegradable green “herding” agent that can be used to clean up light crude oil spills on water. Derived from the plant-based small molecule phytol abundant in the marine environment, the new substance would potentially replace chemical herders currently in use.

  • Sea-level rise threatens $40 billion of national park assets, historical and cultural infrastructure

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell last week released a report revealing that national park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources totaling more than $40 billion are at high risk of damage from sea-level rise caused by climate change. The report was conducted by scientists from the National Park Service and Western Carolina University and is based on an examination of forty parks — about one-third of those considered threatened by sea-level rise — and the survey is on-going.