Hexbyte Glen Cove Trip to space with Jeff Bezos sells for $28 mn thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Trip to space with Jeff Bezos sells for $28 mn

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket has successfully carried out more than a dozen uncrewed test runs launching from its facility in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas.

A mystery bidder paid $28 million at auction Saturday for a seat alongside Jeff Bezos on board the first crewed spaceflight of the billionaire’s company Blue Origin next month.

The Amazon founder revealed this week that both he and his brother Mark would take seats on board the company’s New Shepard launch vehicle on July 20, to fly to the edge of and back.

The Bezos brothers will be joined by the winner of Saturday’s , whose identity remains unknown, and by a fourth, as yet unnamed space tourist.

“The name of the auction winner will be released in the weeks following the auction’s conclusion,” tweeted Blue Origin following the sale.

“Then, the fourth and final crew member will be announced—stay tuned.”

Saturday’s successful bidder beat out some 20 rivals in an auction launched on May 19 and wrapped up with a 10-minute, livecast frenzy.

Bidding had reached $4.8 million by Thursday, but shot up spectacularly in the final live auction, rising by million dollar increments.

The proceeds—aside from a six percent auctioneer’s commission—will go to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, which aims to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to fly into space on a rocket built by his company Blue Origin.

Taking off from a desert in western Texas, the New Shepard trip will last 10 minutes, four of which passengers will spend above the Karman line that marks the recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.

After lift-off, the capsule separates from its booster, then spends four minutes at an altitude exceeding 60 miles (100 kilometers), during which time those on board experience weightlessness and can observe the curvature of Earth.

The booster lands autonomously on a pad two miles from the launch site, and the capsule floats back to the surface with three large parachutes that slow it down to about a mile per hour when it lands.

Lifelong dream

Bezos, who announced earlier this year he is stepping down as Amazon’s chief executive to spend more time on other projects including Blue Origin, has said it was a lifelong dream to fly into space.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard has successfully carried out more than a dozen uncrewed test runs from its facility in Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains.

The interior of the Blue Origin crew capsule—an unnamed bidder has paid $28 million for a seat on board, alongside Jeff Bezos.

“We’re ready to fly some astronauts,” said Blue Origin’s director of astronaut and orbital sales, Ariane Cornell, on Saturday.

The reusable suborbital rocket system was named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space 60 years ago.

The automated capsules with no pilot have six seats with horizontal backrests placed next to large portholes, in a futuristic cabin with swish lighting. Multiple cameras help immortalize the few minutes the space tourists experience weightlessness.

Private space race

Blue Origin’s maiden crewed flight comes in a context of fierce competition in the field of private space exploration—with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, all jostling for pole position.

Bezos has a very public rivalry with Musk, whose SpaceX is planning orbital flights that would cost millions of dollars and send people much further into space.

The New Shepard crew capsule is seen prepared for liftoff on its eighth test flight.

SpaceX has already begun to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and is a competitor for government space contracts.

Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, hopes to begin regular commercial suborbital flights in early 2022, with eventual plans for 400 trips a year.

Some 600 people have booked flights, costing $200,000 to $250,000—and there has been talk of Branson himself taking part in a test flight this summer, although no date has been set.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant

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Jordan is one of the world’s most and is facing one of the most severe droughts in its history.

Jordan said Sunday it plans to build a Red Sea desalination plant operating within five years, to provide the mostly-desert and drought-hit kingdom with critical drinking water.

The cost of the project is estimated at “around $1 billion”, ministry of water and irrigation spokesman Omar Salameh told AFP, adding that the plant would be built in the Gulf of Aqaba, in southern Jordan.

The plant is expected to produce 250-300 million cubic meters of potable water per year, and should be ready for operation in 2025 or 2026, Salameh said.

“It will cover the need for drinking water (in Jordan) for the next two centuries,” he said, adding that the desalinated water would be piped from Aqaba on the Red Sea to the rest of the country.

Jordan is one of the world’s most water-deficient countries and experts say the country, home to 10 million people, is now in the grip of one of the most in its history.

Thirteen international consortiums have put in bids, and the government will chose five of them by July, Salameh said.

Desalinating water is a major drain of energy, and the companies must suggest how to run the plant in Jordan, which does not have major oil reserves.

Last month Salameh told AFP that Jordan needs about 1.3 billion cubic metres of water per year.

But the quantities available are around 850 to 900 million cubic metres, with the shortfall “due to low rainfall, , and successive refugee inflows”, he said.

This year, the reserves of key drinking dams have reached critical levels, many now a third of their normal capacity.

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Norway sees oil in its future despite warnings thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Norway sees oil in its future despite warnings

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“We will supply energy to the world as long as the demand exists,” Norwegian Petroleum and Energy Minister Tina Bru says.

Norway, Western Europe’s biggest oil producer, plans to continue exploration and drilling in coming decades, the government said Friday, despite concerns about its impact on the climate.

In a white book on its energy future, Oslo said it wanted to “extend the with regular concession cycles on the Norwegian continental shelf to give the industry access to new prospecting zones.”

The Norwegian position contrasts sharply with that of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which recently warned that all future fossil fuel projects must be scrapped if the world is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“We will supply energy to the world as long as the demand exists,” Petroleum and Energy Minister Tina Bru told a press conference.

“The government will therefore maintain an oil policy that facilitates profitable oil and in the framework of the Norwegian climate policy and our climate goals,” she said.

Keen to present itself as a role model with its efforts to fight deforestation in the tropics and being a world leader in electric car sales, the Scandinavian country aims to reduce its by between 50 and 55 percent by 2030, and to almost nothing by 2050.

But it is regularly criticised for the CO2 emissions generated abroad by the oil it exports.

While Oslo regularly cites the need for a “green transition”, it still relies heavily on oil and gas revenues for its public finances, trade balance (accounting for 42 percent of exports of goods), employment (more than 200,000 jobs are either directly or indirectly linked to the sector) and to keep rural Norway populated.

The black gold is also the reason Norway’s 5.4 million inhabitants today have the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund, worth a whopping $1.36 trillion (1.13 trillion euros).

This week, Norway also opened new areas for oil exploration and production of petroleum, despite the IEA warning.


Neighbouring Denmark has meanwhile vowed to end all of its oil production in the North Sea by 2050.

“The countries that say that are those that are done” exploiting their oil and gas resources, Prime Minister Erna Solberg retorted on Friday. “It doesn’t cost them anything, not a single job.”

Norway nonetheless expects oil output to diminish significantly in the coming years.

In its defense, the oil sector argues that its oil is “one of the cleanest”, at least in the production stage.

For instance, connecting a growing number of offshore platforms to the land-based electricity grid has made the industry greener, by eliminating the need for onboard diesel generators.

International observers have criticised the Norwegian position however.

“The Norwegian government and industry cannot ignore science,” said Sandrine Dixson-Decleve, co-president of international think tank The Club of Rome.

“We look to Norway for leadership and ambition on the energy transition –- not complacency and backtracking,” she said in a statement.

The head of climate and issues at the WWF, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, said that “by standing on the side of fossil fuel interests, Norway risks having stranded assets.

“Norway’s position will increase the risk of the world reaching fragile climate tipping points, which in turn will cause devastating impacts on the on which we depend,” he said.

Not surprisingly, Norway’s oil lobby organisation Norsk olje og gass said it was “very happy that the government will keep the main parts of its oil and gas policy.”

In 2018, Norway was the world’s 14th biggest producer of oil and eighth biggest producer of natural gas, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove 'Space pups': Mouse sperm stored on ISS produces healthy young thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove ‘Space pups’: Mouse sperm stored on ISS produces healthy young

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This September 11, 2020, image courtesy of Teruhiko Wakayama, University of Yamanashi, shows healthy offspring and next generation of mice derived from space preserved spermatozoa.

Turns out the comic books were wrong.

Japanese researchers found mouse sperm exposed to high levels of cosmic radiation for nearly six years produced a large brood of healthy, unremarkable “space pups.”

Their study was published Friday in Science Advances—which noted no signs so far of Mousezillas or rodent Hulks.

The sperm was stored in the International Space Station in freeze-dried form. Once brought back to Earth and rehydrated, it resulted in the birth of 168 young, free of .

Developmental biologist and lead author Teruhiko Wakayama told AFP on Thursday that there was little difference between mice fertilized by space sperm and sperm that had remained confined to our planet.

“All pups had normal appearance,” he said, and when researchers examined their genes “no abnormalities were found.”

In 2013, Wakayama and colleagues at the University of Yamanashi in Japan launched three boxes, each containing 48 ampoules of freeze-dried sperm, to the ISS for the long-term study.

They wanted to determine whether long term exposure to radiation in space would damage DNA in or pass mutations along to offspring.

That could be a problem for our own species in future space exploration and colonization missions.

Batches were returned to Earth for fertilization after the first nine months, then after two years, and finally after six years, leading to hundreds of births.

Freeze-dried sperm was selected for the experiment because it can be preserved at , rather than needing a freezer.

The ampoules were also small and very light, about the size of a small pencil, further cutting launch costs.

When the space mice reached adulthood, they were randomly mated and the next generation appeared normal as well.

This July 21, 2020, image courtesy of Teruhiko Wakayama, University of Yamanashi, shows space sperm from mice injected into eggs.

Space colonies

Wakayama, now director for Advanced Biotechnology Center at the University of Yamanashi, told AFP he had been inspired by the science fiction of Heinlein and Asimov and once wanted to be an astronaut.

Though he settled on becoming a scientist, the sense of wonder and whimsy about space exploration never left him.

“In the future, when the time comes to migrate to other planets, we will need to mantain the diversity of genetic resources, not only for humans but also for pets and ,” Wakayama and colleagues wrote in their paper.

“For cost and , it is likely that stored germ cells will be transported by spaceships rather than by living animals.”

Getting to other planets means leaving the safety of Earth’s protective atmosphere and —which also extends to the ISS, 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the surface.

Deep space is filled with strong radiation from both solar particles and from outside our system.

Solar flares from the surface of the Sun generate particles that can have particularly devastating impacts on human health and penetrate current generation spaceships.

According to Wakayama, the process of freeze drying sperm increases its tolerance compared to fresh sperm, since the former does not contain water inside its cell nuclei and cytoplasms.

According to the team’s calculations, freeze-dried could be stored for up to 200 years on board the orbital outpost.

Humanity might also want to spread its genetic resources off planet in case of a disaster on Earth, the paper added.

The study noted it is still necessary to investigate the effects of space radiation on frozen female eggs and fertilized embryos before humans take this next step into the age.

More information:
Sayaka Wakayama et al, Evaluating the long-term effect of space radiation on the reproductive normality of mammalian sperm preserved on the International Space Station, Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg5554

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Nobel-winning Japanese chemist dies at 85 thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Nobel-winning Japanese chemist dies at 85

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Japanese chemist Ei-ichi Negishi (R, with his family) won the Nobel Prize for his work developing a method to create complex chemicals.

Japanese chemist Ei-ichi Negishi who won the Nobel prize for developing a method for creating complex chemicals necessary for manufacturing drugs and electronics has died aged 85, his US university said.

Negishi died on Sunday in Indianapolis, Purdue University said in a statement on Friday, adding his family would lay him to rest in Japan sometime next year.

The Manchuria-born scientist graduated from the prestigious University of Tokyo and worked at Japanese giant Teijin before going to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship in 1960 to study chemistry. He joined the Purdue faculty in 1979.

In 2010, he won the Nobel Prize for chemistry along with Richard Heck of the University of Delaware and Akira Suzuki of Hokkaido University.

Through the trio’s work, has developed into “an art form, where scientists produce marvellous chemical creations in their test tubes,” the award citation said.

Heck laid the groundwork for bonding by using a catalyzer to promote the process in the 1960s.

Negishi fine-tuned it in 1977 and it was taken a step further by Suzuki, who found a practical way to carry out the process.

Negishi likened their work to playing with Lego building blocks.

“We found catalysts and created reactions that allow complex to, in effect, snap together with other compounds to more economically and efficiently build desired materials,” he was quoted as saying in the university statement.

“Legos can be combined to make things of any shape, size and color, and our reactions make this a possibility for organic compounds.”

According to Purdue, their work is widely used, from fluorescent marking essential for DNA sequencing to agricultural chemicals that protect crops from fungi to materials for thin LED displays.

“The world lost a great and gracious man -— one who made a difference in lives as a scientist and a human being,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said.

“We’re saddened by Dr. Negishi’s passing but grateful for his world-changing discoveries and the lives he touched and influenced as a Purdue professor.”

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Pine Island Glacier's ice shelf is ripping apart, speeding up key Antarctic glacier thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf is ripping apart, speeding up key Antarctic glacier

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Pine Island Glacier ends in an ice shelf that floats in the Amundsen Sea. These crevasses are near the grounding line, where the glacier makes contact with the Antarctic continent. The photo was taken in January 2010 from the east side of the glacier, looking westward. This ice shelf lost one-fifth of its area from 2017 to 2020, causing the inland glacier to speed up by 12%. Credit: Ian Joughin/University of Washington

For decades, the ice shelf helping to hold back one of the fastest-moving glaciers in Antarctica has gradually thinned. Analysis of satellite images reveals a more dramatic process in recent years: From 2017 to 2020, large icebergs at the ice shelf’s edge broke off, and the glacier sped up.

Since floating ice shelves help to hold back the larger grounded mass of the glacier, the recent speedup due to the weakening edge could shorten the timeline for Pine Island Glacier’s eventual collapse into the sea. The study from researchers at the University of Washington and British Antarctic Survey was published June 11 in the open-access journal Science Advances.

“We may not have the luxury of waiting for slow changes on Pine Island; things could actually go much quicker than expected,” said lead author Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. “The processes we’d been studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a fairly measured pace. Things could be much more abrupt if we lose the rest of that ice shelf.”

Pine Island Glacier contains approximately 180 trillion tons of ice—equivalent to 0.5 meters, or 1.6 feet, of . It is already responsible for much of Antarctica’s contribution to sea-level rise, causing about one-sixth of a millimeter of sea level rise each year, or about two-thirds of an inch per century, a rate that’s expected to increase. If it and neighboring Thwaites Glacier speed up and flow completely into the ocean, releasing their hold on the larger West Antarctic Ice Sheet, global seas could rise by several feet over the next few centuries.

These have attracted attention in recent decades as their thinned because warmer ocean currents melted the ice’s underside. From the 1990s to 2009, Pine Island Glacier’s motion toward the sea accelerated from 2.5 kilometers per year to 4 kilometers per year (1.5 miles per year to 2.5 miles per year). The glacier’s speed then stabilized for almost a decade.

Results show that what’s happened more recently is a different process, Joughin said, related to internal forces on the glacier.

From 2017 to 2020, Pine Island’s ice shelf lost one-fifth of its area in a few dramatic breaks that were captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites, operated by the European Space Agency on behalf of the European Union. The researchers analyzed images from January 2015 to March 2020 and found that the recent changes on the ice shelf were not caused by processes directly related to ocean melting.

The ice shelf on Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier lost about one-fifth of its area from 2017 to 2020, mostly in three dramatic breaks. The timelapse video incorporates satellite images from January 2015 to March 2020. For most of the first two years, the satellite took high-resolution images every 12 days; then for more than three years it captured images of the ice shelf every six days. Images are from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites operated by the European Space Agency on behalf of the European Union. Credit: Joughin et al./Science Advances

“The ice shelf appears to be ripping itself apart due to the glacier’s acceleration in the past decade or two,” Joughin said.

Two points on the glacier’s surface that were analyzed in the paper sped up by 12% between 2017 and 2020. The authors used an ice flow model developed at the UW to confirm that the loss of the ice shelf caused the observed speedup.

“The recent changes in speed are not due to melt-driven thinning; instead they’re due to the loss of the outer part of the ice shelf,” Joughin said. “The glacier’s speedup is not catastrophic at this point. But if the rest of that ice shelf breaks up and goes away then this glacier could speed up quite a lot.”

It’s not clear whether the shelf will continue to crumble. Other factors, like the slope of the land below the glacier’s receding edge, will come into play, Joughin said. But the results change the timeline for when Pine Island’s ice shelf might disappear and how fast the glacier might move, boosting its contribution to rising seas.

“The loss of Pine Island’s ice shelf now looks like it possibly could occur in the next decade or two, as opposed to the melt-driven subsurface change playing out over 100 or more years,” said co-author Pierre Dutrieux, an ocean physicist at British Antarctic Survey. “So it’s a potentially much more rapid and abrupt change.”

Pine Island’s ice shelf is important because it’s helping to hold back this relatively unstable West Antarctic glacier, the way the curved buttresses on Notre Dame cathedral hold up the cathedral’s mass. Once those buttresses are removed, the slow-moving glacier can flow more quickly downward to the ocean, contributing to rising seas.

“Sediment records in front of and beneath the Pine Island indicate that the glacier front has remained relatively stable over a few thousand years,” Dutrieux said. “Regular advance and break-ups happened at approximately the same location until 2017, and then successively worsened each year until 2020.”

More information:
Ice-shelf retreat drives recent Pine Island Glacier speedup, Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg3080 , advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/24/eabg3080

Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf is ripping apart, speeding up key Antarctic glacier (2021, June 11)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Big data: IPK researchers double accuracy in predicting wheat yields thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Big data: IPK researchers double accuracy in predicting wheat yields

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By increasing population sizes, an international team of scientists led by IPK Leibniz-Institute was able to double the prediction accuracy for wheat yield. Credit: IPK/ Christoph Martin

The enormous potential of Big Data has already been demonstrated in areas such as financial services and telecommunications. An international team of researchers led by the IPK Leibniz Institute has now tapped the potential of big data for the first time on a large scale for plant research. To this end, data from three projects were used to increase the predictive accuracy for yield in hybrid varieties of wheat.

“We were able to draw on the largest dataset published to date, which contains information from almost a decade of wheat research and development,” says Prof. Dr. Jochen Reif, Head of the Breeding Research Department at IPK. The results, which could herald a new era for , have now been published in the magazine Science Advances.

Finally, data on more than 13,000 genotypes tested in 125,000 yield plots were analyzed. For comparison: In a breeding program, are tested in 20,000 yield plots every year. “It was clear to us that we would have to increase the population sizes in order to ultimately develop robust predictive models for yield,” says Prof. Dr. Jochen Reif, “so in this case it was really once: ‘a lot goes a long way.'” The effort was worth it, he said. “We were able to double the predictive accuracy for yield in our study.”

The research team used data from the two previous projects HYWHEAT (funded by the Federal Ministry of Research and Education) and Zuchtwert (funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture) as well as from a program of the seed producer KWS. Basically, the challenge in such studies is to prepare the information to a uniform quality level and thus enable a common analysis. “Since we were responsible for the designs of the experiments from the start, we were able to plan them in such a way that a small proportion of the same genotypes were always tested across the projects, thus enabling an integrated analysis in the first place,” says Prof. Dr. Jochen Reif.

The scientist is firmly convinced that it pays off to use Big Data for plant breeding and research. “We have ultimately worked on the future of all of us,” says the IPK scientist. “We have succeeded in showing the potential of Big Data for breeding yield-stable varieties in times of climate change.”

According to Prof. Dr. Jochen Reif, the current model study has a significance that goes far beyond one crop type and hopefully heralds a cultural change in breeding. “We were able to show the great benefits of Big Data for plant breeding. However, the possibilities for this are only possible through a trusting cooperation of all stakeholders to share data and master the challenges of the future together.”

Ultimately, this is also the entry point for the use of artificial intelligence (AI). “The successful use of AI also stands and falls in plant breeding and research with curated and comprehensive data. Our current study is an important door opener for this path.”

More information:
Unlocking big data doubled the accuracy in predicting the grain yield in hybrid wheat, Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf9106

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Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Climate change is a threat to Africa's transport systems: What must be done thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Climate change is a threat to Africa’s transport systems: What must be done

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Railway bridge over the river on the border with Tanzania. Credit: vladimirat/Shutterstock

Transportation infrastructure, such as roads and railway systems, is one of the sectors most threatened by climate change. Extreme weather events—such as flooding, sea level rises and storm surges—repeatedly wreak havoc on transport networks.

In Africa, extreme weather is a threat that can cause extensive structural damage. It can also accelerate the aging of infrastructure components. This can lead to considerable financial losses.

For instance, a recent report on Tanzania uncovered the vulnerability of the country’s transportation systems. Long stretches of road and rail networks are exposed to extreme flooding events, with growing exposure in the future.

The report estimated that worst-case disruptions to Tanzania’s multi-modal could cause losses of up to US$1.4 million per day. In addition, damage to these networks can disrupt the flow of goods and people, thereby lowering economic productivity.

This suggests that governments must ensure that transport infrastructure is developed with the ability to cope with current and future climatic shifts.

Fortunately an effective way to “-proof” transport infrastructure already exists within the planning machinery of governments. In our recent work, which investigated the Standard Gauge Rail in Tanzania, we show how and adaptation capabilities can be incorporated in environmental impact procedures.

Environmental impact assessment is a widespread environmental safeguard. It’s used by governments, donors and lending agencies when approving new development projects or major expansions to existing ones. The process can be used to identify climate risks and ensure that they are minimized through environmentally sound project design.

Transport infrastructure is vital to developing countries because efficient and reliable transport networks are critical for local and international trade. We hope that, with a changing climate, our findings offer useful lessons for policymakers, planners and developers.

Checking for risks

Environmental impact assessment is the essential process of identifying, predicting and evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed development action, both positive and negative. These are risks to the project, and risks to the natural environment from the project.

The assessment is meant to happen before major decisions are taken and commitments made. Developers, both private and public, often commission registered environmental experts to carry out the study.

Virtually every country has some form of legislation that requires an environmental impact assessment. These are carried out on certain development projects, particularly those likely to have significant effects on the environment. This often includes major transport infrastructure.

The study culminates in a set of observations and recommendations, which regulators and developers are meant to take on board. Legislation usually provides for followups on whether they were. In countries with strong institutional frameworks, violators often face fines, suspension of operations or even jail time.

Because the assessment has to be carried out for major projects, it offers an efficient and direct way to include adaptation measures.

Tanzania’s railway

This is what happened for Tanzania’s Standard Gauge Railway.

The railway, a US$14.2 billion investment by the Tanzanian government, is currently under construction. It’s part of the “central corridor” connecting Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It will also provide access to the Indian ocean. The government contracted a Turkish firm, Yapi Merkezi, to design and build the project’s first phase, traversing about 541km. Work started in 2017.

Because it is vulnerable to climate change—there are particular concerns over heavy floods and landslides—the environmental impact assessment has tried to prepare the project for potential climate risks.

The assessment was conducted by a multidisciplinary team under an international consulting firm, Environmental Resources Management. They carried out climate projections along the proposed route and outlined adaptation measures for the projected risks.

Recommendations included using heat-resistant asphalt, installing flood defence walls and using reinforced steel. They also proposed a monitoring plan which outlined key monitoring aspects, indicators, responsible parties and timing.

Climate change issues are not explicitly prescribed by Tanzanian environmental impact assessment law and regulations. The drive to carry out the assessment was a result of pressure from climate-sensitive international lenders. It remains to be seen if the recommendations are implemented throughout construction and following project phases.

Our study demonstrates the huge potential of environmental impact assessments to foster adaptation in transport projects. It makes sense. Most African countries lack the necessary resources to invest in stand-alone adaptation projects.

Roadblocks to remove

Even though integrating climate change adaptation into an is a simple step, it’s not being done.

This is due to several challenges including a lack of knowledge, awareness, technical and financial resources, and legislative support. Tanzania’s laws and regulations, for instance, do not specifically mandate the practice.

Moreover, developers seldom go beyond what the law requires. Because of factors such as costs or time constraints, they would naturally view such requirements as unwelcome. Additional project approval processes could lead to delays and increased costs for the developer.

Climate-proofing projects

To ensure projects are “climate-proofed” in future, several steps must be taken.

First, laws and regulations must be formalized so that climate change is included in the assessment process. These must be supported by technical guidelines and strategic planning.

Second, there’s a need to make substantial investments in building capacity and raising awareness at the institutional level. In addition, climate data must be available and communication between climate scientists and assessment practitioners should be strengthened.

Finally, our paper calls for adaptation aid providers, development partners and international lenders—such as the World Bank, Africa Development Bank and the IMF—to leverage their influence, for instance through funding procedures. This would add pressure to include climate change scenarios in the planning process.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Machine learning model doubles accuracy of global landslide 'nowcasts' thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Machine learning model doubles accuracy of global landslide ‘nowcasts’

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Image shows a map of potential landslide risk output by NASA’s Landslide Hazard Assessment Model (LHASA) in June 2021. Red indicates the highest risk and dark blue indicates the lowest risk. Credit: NASA

Every year, landslides—the movement of rock, soil, and debris down a slope—cause thousands of deaths, billions of dollars in damages, and disruptions to roads and power lines. Because terrain, characteristics of the rocks and soil, weather, and climate all contribute to landslide activity, accurately pinpointing areas most at risk of these hazards at any given time can be a challenge. Early warning systems are generally regional—based on region-specific data provided by ground sensors, field observations, and rainfall totals. But what if we could identify at-risk areas anywhere in the world at any time?

Enter NASA’s Global Landslide Hazard Assessment (LHASA) and mapping tool.

LHASA Version 2, released last month along with corresponding research, is a -based model that analyzes a collection of individual variables and satellite-derived datasets to produce customizable “nowcasts.” These timely and targeted nowcasts are estimates of potential activity in near-real time for each 1-square-kilometer area between the poles. The model factors in the slope of the land (higher slopes are more prone to landslides), distance to geologic faults, the makeup of rock, past and present rainfall, and satellite-derived soil moisture and snow mass data.

“The model processes all of this data and outputs a probabilistic estimate of landslide hazard in the form of an interactive map,” said Thomas Stanley, Universities Space Research Association scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the research. “This is valuable because it provides a relative scale of landslide hazard, rather than just saying there is or is not landslide risk. Users can define their area of interest and adjust the categories and probability threshold to suit their needs.”

In order to “teach” the model, researchers input a table with all of the relevant landslide variables and many locations that have recorded landslides in the past. The machine learning algorithm takes the table and tests out different possible scenarios and outcomes, and when it finds the one that fits the data most accurately, it outputs a decision tree. It then identifies the errors in the decision tree and calculates another tree that fixes those errors. This process continues until the model has “learned” and improved 300 times.

“The result is that this version of the model is roughly twice as accurate as the first version of the model, making it the most accurate global nowcasting tool available,” said Stanley. “While the accuracy is highest—often 100%—for major landslide events triggered by tropical cyclones, it improved significantly across all inventories.”

Version 1, released in 2018, was not a machine learning model. It combined satellite precipitation data with a global landslide susceptibility map to produce its nowcasts. It made its predictions using one decision tree largely based on rainfall data from the preceding week and categorized each grid cell as low, moderate, or high risk.

This image shows a landslide “nowcast” for Nov. 18, 2020 during the passage of Hurricane Iota through Nicaragua and Honduras. Credit: NASA

“In this new version, we have 300 trees of better and better information compared with the first , which was based on just one decision tree,” Stanley said. “Version 2 also incorporates more variables than its predecessor, including soil moisture and snow mass data.”

Generally speaking, soil can only absorb so much water before becoming saturated, and combined with other conditions, posing a landslide risk. By incorporating soil moisture data, the model can discern how much water is already present in the soil and how much additional rainfall would push it past that threshold. Likewise, if the model knows the amount of snow present in a given area, it can factor in the additional water entering the soil as the snow melts. This data comes from the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. It launched in 2015 and provides continuous coverage.

LHASA Version 2 also adds a new exposure feature that analyzes the distribution of roads and population in each grid cell to calculate the number of people or infrastructure exposed to landslide hazards. The exposure data is downloadable and has been integrated into the interactive map. Adding this type of information about exposed roads and populations vulnerable to landslides helps improve situational awareness and actions by stakeholders from international organizations to local officials.

Building on years of research and applications, LHASA Version 2 was tested by the NASA Disasters program and stakeholders in real-world situations leading up to its formal release. In November 2020, when hurricanes Eta and Iota struck Central America within a span of two weeks, researchers working with NASA’s Earth Applied Sciences Disasters program used LHASA Version 2 to generate maps of predicted landslide hazard for Guatemala and Honduras. The researchers overlaid the model with district-level population data so they could better assess the proximity between potential hazards and densely populated communities. Disasters program coordinators shared the information with national and international emergency response agencies to provide better insight of the hazards to personnel on the ground.

While it is a useful tool for planning and risk mitigation purposes, Stanley says the model is meant to be used with a global perspective in mind rather than as a local emergency warning system for any specific area. However, future research may expand that goal.

“We are working on incorporating a precipitation forecast into LHASA Version 2, and we hope it will provide further information for advanced planning and actions prior to major rainfall events,” said Stanley. One challenge, Stanley notes, is obtaining a long-enough archive of forecasted precipitation data from which the model can learn.

In the meantime, governments, relief agencies, emergency responders, and other stakeholders (as well as the general public) have access to a powerful risk assessment tool in LHASA Version 2.

Machine learning model doubles accuracy of global landslide ‘nowcasts’ (2021, June 10)
retrieved 10 June 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-06-machine

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Novel liquid crystal metalens offers electric zoom thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Novel liquid crystal metalens offers electric zoom

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Conceptual rendering of an ultrathin, electrically tunable metalens developed by Cornell and Samsung engineers. Credit: Daniil Shilkin

Researchers from Cornell University’s School of Applied and Engineering Physics and Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology have created a first-of-its-kind metalens—a metamaterial lens—that can be focused using voltage instead of mechanically moving its components.

The proof of concept opens the door to a range of compact varifocal lenses for possible use in many imaging applications such as satellites, telescopes and microscopes, which traditionally focus light using curved lenses that adjust using mechanical parts. In some applications, moving traditional glass or plastic lenses to vary the focal distance is simply not practical due to space, weight or size considerations.

Metalenses are flat arrays of nano-antennas or resonators, less than a micron thick, that act as focusing devices. But until now, once a metalens was fabricated, its was hard to change, according to Melissa Bosch, doctoral student and first author of a paper detailing the research in the American Chemical Society’s journal Nano Letters.

The innovation, developed in the collaboration between Samsung and Cornell researchers, involved merging a metalens with the well-established technology of liquid crystals to tailor the local phase response of the metalens. This allowed the researchers to vary the focus of the metalens in a controlled way by varying the voltage applied across the device.

“This combination worked out as we hoped and predicted it would,” said Bosch, who works in the lab of Gennady Shvets, professor of applied and and senior author of the paper. “It resulted in an ultrathin, electrically tunable lens capable of continuous zoom and up to 20% total focal length shift.”

Samsung researchers are hoping to develop the technology for use in augmented reality glasses, according to Bosch. She sees many other possible applications such as replacing the optical lenses on satellites, spacecraft, drones, night-vision goggles, endoscopes and other applications where saving space and weight are priorities.

Maxim Shcherbakov, postdoctoral associate in the Shvets lab and corresponding author of the paper, said that researchers have made progress in marrying liquid crystals to nanostructures for the past decade, but nobody had applied this idea to lenses. Now the group plans to continue the project and improve the prototype’s capabilities.

“For instance,” Shcherbakov said, “this works at a single wavelength, red, but it will be much more useful when it can work across the color spectrum—red, green, blue.”

The Cornell research group is now developing a multiwavelength varifocal version of the metalens using the existing platform as a starting point.

“The optimization procedure for other wavelengths is very similar to that of red. In some ways, the hardest step is already finished, so now it is simply a matter of building on the work already done,” Bosch said.

More information:
Melissa Bosch et al, Electrically Actuated Varifocal Lens Based on Liquid-Crystal-Embedded Dielectric Metasurfaces, Nano Letters (2021). DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.1c00356

Novel liquid crystal metalens offers electric zoom (2021, June 10)
retrieved 10 June 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-06-liquid-crystal-metalens-electric.html

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