Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Friday, March 7, 2008
About 150 volunteers came out in Washington, D.C. for the International Coastal Cleanup.
Courtesy Ocean Conservancy
Eleven-year-old Cammy Holmes tramped along the shores of Washington, D.C.'s Anacostia River with her big sister and a friend. Wearing gloves to protect their hands, they filled a garbage bag with everything from fishing line and dirty plastic bottles to old grocery bags.
The girls, and about 150 others volunteered in the International Coastal Cleanup, an annual event that raises awareness of the importance of keeping the world's waterways and oceans clean.
The cleanup was sponsored by an organization called the Ocean Conservancy that works to protect ocean animals and their homes. Unfortunately, a lot of trash never makes it into a trash can. It blows on the wind, and travels down streams and rivers to the sea.
Trash isn't just ugly—it can be dangerous for creatures that live in the water. Every year, plastic trash like old fishing gear, shopping bags, and food wrappers kills one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles.
Sometimes these animals get tangled up in garbage and die. Sometimes they eat trash that chokes or poisons them. Sea turtles, for example, mistake plastic bags for the jellyfish they love to eat.
At the Anacostia River, Cammy helped the volunteers pick up 2,380 pounds (1079.5 kilograms) of trash in just a few hours along three miles (4.83 kilometers) of shoreline.
"When you hear about a coastal cleanup you think, gross, you have to pick up trash," says Cammy. "But then you get there and find out it is actually fun! I liked meeting all the other people and helping out the environment."
This one-day event has an important message 365 days of the year: "We are all connected to the ocean. You can help keep the ocean clean by putting trash in the right place. Take the extra time to put your snack wrapper in the garbage can instead of throwing it on the ground, and recycle everything you can," says Sonia Besteiro of the Ocean Conservancy.
- In the past 21 years, volunteers with the International Coastal Cleanup have cleared millions of pounds of litter from 211,460 miles (340,312 kilometers) of coastline worldwide. That distance is the equivalent of going around the Earth eight times!
- In 2006, 358,617 volunteers cleaned 34,560 miles (55,619 kilometers) of shoreline, collecting 7 million tons of trash!
- In the 2007 cleanup, nearly half a million people in 70 countries pitched in.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
The hydrogen-powered Lifecar, based on the design of the Morgan Aero-8 roadster, produces little noise and only water vapour from its exhaust.
The lightweight model packs advanced fuel cells and an energy storage system that gives the car a range of 250 miles (400km) per tank of hydrogen.
It has been developed by a consortium of UK companies and universities.
"Figures suggest the car should be capable of doing 0-60 [miles per hour] in about seven seconds," Matthew Parkin of classic sports car manufacturer Morgan told BBC News.
However, the exact acceleration will not be known until the complete car is taken for its first test drive.
"It's nearly there and the plan is to drive it when the show is over," said Mr Parkin.
The £1.9m project to build the Lifecar, part funded by the UK government, has taken nearly three years.
"The basic concept was to build an entertaining and fun sports car that would act as a showcase for the technology and would deliver 150 miles to the gallon," said Mr Parkin.
"Everything else has tumbled out from that."
The car is powered by a bank of lightweight hydrogen fuel-cells developed by UK defence firm Qinetiq.
"If you took a typical internal combustion engine and replaced it with a fuel cell, the fuel cell would be very large," explained Ian Whiting of Qinetiq. "That's not an efficient way to do things."
The fuel cells in the Lifecar produce about 22 kilowatts - roughly one fifth of the amount of power of a typical combustion engine.
"With that we can provide all of the cruise capability we need to," he said.
When the car needs to accelerate or climb a hill it draws extra power from a bank of ultra-capacitors aligned down the centre of the car.
"They are like a battery but they do not store quite as much energy and they allow the energy in and out much quicker," explained Mr Whiting.
These are primarily charged by a regenerative braking system which slows the car by converting the vehicle's kinetic energy into useful electrical energy using a motor.
"Hybrid cars already use regenerative braking - normally it restores about 10% of the energy," said Mr Parkin. "Lifecar is aiming for 50%."
The car has a range of about 250 miles (400km) and has a top speed of around 90mph (145km/h).
"The whole thing has to be built around efficiency which comes down to weight at the end of the day," explained Mr Parkin.
As a result, the car has an aluminium chassis and a lightweight wooden interior, including seats.
It also doesn't have any of the "luxuries" such as a stereo, central locking or even airbags, found on many modern cars.
"The objective is to get the weight down to 700kg."
There are also other notable omissions such as a gearbox and - as the fuels cells produce little noise - the roar of an engine.
"We may have to supply headphones with the sounds of a five litre V8 linked to the throttle pedal," said Mr Parkin.
Other car manufacturers have shown off hydrogen-powered sports cars, although many have been conversions of existing models or hybrid cars that can also run on petrol.
For example, Japanese manufacturer Mazda has unveiled a modified version of its RX-8, known as the Hydrogen RE, which uses a dual-fuel system.
Honda has also announced that its petrol hybrid CR-Z sports car concept would launch in 2009.
However, the road to a hydrogen-fuelled future has a number of obstacles.
Critics point out that to produce hydrogen by splitting water uses a large amount of electricity. At present, the majority of this electricity comes power stations burning fossil fuels and therefore brings no environmental benefit.
In addition, there is little infrastructure for refuelling the vehicles.
"There's a whole range of questions about how you [could roll out a hydrogen infrastructure] and when you could do that," said Mr Whiting.
"For vehicles which have a central base you can readily install a system to refuel those."
For example, hydrogen buses that return to a central depot already operate in many cities.
An infrastructure to refuel personal hydrogen vehicles would take longer, he said.
However, interim solutions do exist, such as so-called "reformer technology".
"It allows you to take the existing fuel infrastructure - diesel for instance - and convert it into hydrogen on the vehicle," said Mr Whiting.
The car is a concept at this stage but Morgan does not rule out going into production at some point in the future.
"We will gauge reaction when we show it," said Mr Parkin. "If there is an enormous response we will have to look at the project, the pricing and how it will function."
The car will be on display at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland between 6 and 16 March.
Other collaborators on the project were RiverSimple, Cranfield University, Oxford University and Linde AG.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
She describes her work as “protecting people from rattlesnakes—and protecting rattlesnakes from people.” In her part of the country, the northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus virudis oreganos) often comes face-to-face with humans.
Studies show these snakes generally only bite people who are trying to catch or kill them. Keeping your distance prevents bites, which are serious but not usually fatal with today’s medicines. A rattlesnake can even give a loud warning that says, “I am here, stay away” with the rattles located at the tip of its tail.
“We find rattlesnakes everywhere,” says Ramirez. “In houses, in yards and woodpiles, under decks.” She says that the snakes aren’t invading human homes—it’s the other way around: “These animals were here first, and we humans came in and built houses. We are living in their territory.”
Many people are frightened when they see a rattler and call for help right away. When the Ramirez phone rings, the couple drops whatever they are doing and rushes to work, often leaving a meal half-eaten on the table.
The team is good at finding snakes that have gone into hiding. A tool that looks like long spaghetti tongs allow them to handle the snakes without harming them (see photo), and the tongs are long enough that the snake cannot reach them to bite.
“Never pick up a rattlesnake,” says Ramirez. “I’ve been doing this job for 12 years, and I have never touched one with my hands. There’s no reason to take that risk.”
“We put the snakes in wooden crates in our pickup truck. Those crates are bolted to the floor and locked for safety,” explains Ramirez. She takes the captives to holding pens at her house until she can let them go far away from human activity.
Ramirez tells people to read all they can about snakes so they understand these amazing animals. For example, snakes actually help humans. Small mammals like rats, mice, and gophers carry fleas and ticks that spread serious illnesses like bubonic plague and Lyme disease to people. A snake might eat a dozen rodents a year, helping control the population—and the spread of disease.
Ramirez and her husband relocate more than a thousand snakes a year. “The longest was 5 feet 9 inches (1.8 meters), and I’m only five-foot-three, so that was amazing to see.” She enjoys every day working with snakes. “I just love my job!”
Snake Safety Tips
* If you see a snake, don’t touch it. Go tell an adult.
* Snakes like warmth, and they often curl up at night next to big plastic toys outside that hold the warmth of the sun. Look carefully when you go out to play.
* Never put your hands into woodpiles or dark corners of the garage in case a snake is hiding there.
* When you’re out playing, step on rocks and logs, not over them. You don’t want to surprise a snake that might be hiding underneath.
The Boston Massacre began when a young apprentice yelled an insult at a custom house guard. The guard responded by hitting the teenager on the head with the butt of his rifle. The young man called for help, and the soldier found himself confronted with an angry crowd of (mostly) young men. He shouted for back-up and was joined by six more redcoats and an officer, who directed the soldiers to fix bayonets but not to load their weapons. Soon the crowd was several hundred strong and had begun to throw rocks and chunks of ice. Led by Crispus Attucks, they dared the soldiers to fire. The soldiers loaded their guns but didn't shoot until some in the mob began to attack them with clubs and a cutlass. When finally they did fire a volley, three men were killed and two more were mortally wounded. Six others were wounded but survived. As a result of the incident, the British withdrew their troops from the town, arrested those who had fired on the crowd, and scheduled a trial for the following fall. John Adams defended the soldiers, all but two of whom were acquitted; those two were found guilty of manslaughter and branded.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Any human mother of multiples knows it's hard to raise two or more children of the same age at the same time. And it's true for other mammals, too.
"Nearly half of all giant panda births in zoos and research stations result in twins," Don Lindburg says. Lindburg is the leader of the giant panda research team at the San Diego Zoo.
"Taking care of tiny infants is an awesome chore, and mother pandas usually can't handle two," Lindburg says.
"Every newborn panda is important," says Lindburg "After giant pandas have grown to adulthood, some of the captive-born bears could be released into the mountainous wilds," he says. Those that mate and give birth to more cubs will help rebuild China's perilously small population of wild pandas.
At China's Wolong facility, caregivers are helping make the mother's situation more "bear-able." They gently remove one of the twins, keeping it warm and well fed for a week before trading it for the cub's brother or sister.
The cubs continue to be swapped for months, until they can eat solid foods and no longer need to nurse.
Bamboo, apples, carrots, and biscuits are added to the diet of mother's milk when the cubs are about seven months old. By adulthood, the pandas will eat fresh stems, shoots, and leaves of wild bamboo plants.
- In five years female cubs will be mature enough to give birth to cubs of her own.
- Sixteen pandas were born in Wolong Nature Reserve in 2005.