• Mountain snowpack melt more slowly in a warming world

    As the world warms, mountain snowpack will not only melt earlier, it will also melt more slowly, according to a new study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The counterintuitive finding could have widespread implications for water supplies, ecosystem health, and flood risk.

  • Fewer grain dust explosions reported in U.S. in 2016

    The number of grain dust explosions in the United States fell to a 10-year low in 2016, but two of the incidents resulted in the first reported fatalities since 2013, according to an annual report released by Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. There were five grain dust explosions in 2016, compared to eight in 2015 and a 10-year average of 9.2 per year.

  • System automatically detects cracks in steel components of nuclear power plants

    The United States operates 99 commercial nuclear power plants, which account for about 20 percent of total U.S. electricity generation. Aging can result in cracking, fatigue, embrittlement of metal components, wear, erosion, corrosion and oxidation. Researchers have developed a new automated system which detects cracks in the steel components of nuclear power plants and has been shown to be more accurate than other automated systems.

  • Recovery lessons from Hurricane Sandy to help improve resilience, disaster preparedness

    Purdue University will lead a $2.5 million, four-year research to determine why some communities recover from natural disasters more quickly than others, an effort aimed at addressing the nation’s critical need for more resilient infrastructure and to enhance preparedness. The research team will apply advanced simulations and game-theory algorithms, access millions of social media posts and survey data collected along the New Jersey shore, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

  • Cybersecurity of the power grid: A growing challenge

    Called the “largest interconnected machine,” the U.S. electricity grid is a complex digital and physical system crucial to life and commerce in this country. Today, it is made up of more than 7,000 power plants, 55,000 substations, 160,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, and millions of miles of low-voltage distribution lines. This web of generators, substations, and power lines is organized into three major interconnections, operated by 66 balancing authorities and 3,000 different utilities. That’s a lot of power, and many possible vulnerabilities. The grid has been vulnerable physically for decades. Today, we are just beginning to understand the seriousness of an emerging threat to the grid’s cybersecurity.

  • Finding new clues for nuclear waste cleanup

    Technetium-99 is a byproduct of plutonium weapons production and is considered a major U.S. challenge for environmental cleanup. At the Hanford Site nuclear complex in Washington state, there are about 2,000 pounds of the element dispersed within approximately 56 million gallons of nuclear waste in 177 storage tanks. The U.S. Department of Energy is in the process of building a waste treatment plant at Hanford to immobilize hazardous nuclear waste in glass. But researchers have been stymied because not all the technetium-99 is incorporated into the glass and volatilized gas must be recycled back into the melter system.

  • Identifying the right sites for storing radioactive waste

    In 2008, a Swiss government agency identified six regions in Switzerland, approved by the Federal Council, which could be used to store radioactive waste. An EPFL research project has developed a detailed profile of the sites selected to store radioactive waste from Swiss nuclear power plants. The project helped identify the two sites that meet both safety and feasibility requirements.

  • As climate warms, Colorado River flows will keep shrinking

    Warming in the twenty-first century reduced Colorado River flows by at least 0.5 million acre-feet, about the amount of water used by two million people for one year. From 2000 to 2014, the river’s flows declined to only 81 percent of the twentieth-century average, a reduction of about 2.9 million acre-feet of water per year. One acre-foot of water will serve a family of four for one year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. From one-sixth to one-half of the twenty-first-century reduction in flow can be attributed to the higher temperatures since 2000. As temperature continues to increase with climate change, Colorado River flows will continue to decline.

  • Over time, nuisance flooding can cost more than extreme, infrequent events

    Global climate change is being felt in many coastal communities of the United States, not always in the form of big weather disasters but as a steady drip, drip, drip of nuisance flooding. Rising sea levels will cause these smaller events to become increasingly frequent in the future, and the cumulative effect will be comparable to extreme events such as Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy.

  • Snow science in support of U.S. water supply

    More than one-sixth of the world’s population relies on seasonal snow for water. In the western U.S., nearly three-quarters of the annual streamflow that provides the water supply arrives as spring and summer melt from the mountain snow packs. Right now, predictions of streamflow can vary widely due to limited ground measurement sites. This is one of the reasons scientists and resource managers are interested in a comprehensive view from space of what they call snow-water equivalent — the amount of liquid water contained in snow cover. Scientists use snow-water equivalent to estimate the amount of water that will melt into mountain streams, rivers and reservoirs.

  • Coal and oil demand to peak by 2020: Report

    A boom in the popularity of solar panels and electric cars could spark irreversible changes in the energy sector within three years. By 2020, the global demand for coal and oil could peak and start to decline, according to a new report. The power and road transport sectors account for approximately half of fossil fuel consumption, so growth in the solar panel and electric vehicle markets can have a major impact on demand. The findings of this report could have serious implications for businesses and governments that supply these fossil fuels.

  • Sea-level rise in Southeast Asia 6,000 years ago relevant for coastal dwellers today

    For the 100 million people who live within three feet of sea level in East and Southeast Asia, the news that sea level in their region fluctuated wildly more than 6,000 years ago is important, according to researchers. This is because those fluctuations occurred without the assistance of human-influenced climate change. Such a change in sea level could happen again now, on top of the rise in sea level that is already projected to result from climate change. This could be catastrophic for people living so close to the sea.

  • Last year’s El Niño resulted in unprecedented erosion of the Pacific coastline

    Last winter’s El Niño might have felt weak to residents of Southern California, but it was in fact one of the most powerful climate events of the past 145 years. If such severe El Niño events become more common in the future as some studies suggest they might, the California coast — home to more than twenty-five million people — may become increasingly vulnerable to coastal hazards. And that’s independent of projected sea level rise.

  • Challenges, opportunities ahead for repairing the U.A. aging infrastructure

    President Donald Trump underscored repairing the nation’s aging infrastructure as a national priority both throughout the campaign and in his inauguration address. Senate Democrats last week also unveiled their own $1 trillion plan. But how did the country’s infrastructure fall into a state of such disrepair? What are the greatest challenges facing an infrastructure boom? And how can engineering foster innovation and the development of new technology to address this national priority?

  • Protecting bulk power Systems from hackers

    Most of us take turning the lights on for granted. In reality, the energy we draw from the electrical grid to brighten homes, freeze food and watch TV is part of a complicated and widespread system. Understanding that system’s vulnerabilities and reliability is a crucial step towards improving its security. Reliability measures of electrical grid has risen to a new norm as it involves physical security and cybersecurity. Threats to either can trigger instability, leading to blackouts and economic losses.