Fifth Blue Origin flight scheduled for next week

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Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space tourism company announced Friday that its next rocket will take off on May 20 with six passengers on board.

One of the travelers will be the first woman born in Mexico to go into .

Liftoff is scheduled for 8:30 am (1330 GMT) from western Texas. It will be the fifth manned space flight for the company.

Katya Echazarreta, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, arrived in the United States at age seven. Now 26, she will become the youngest American woman in space. The engineer was sponsored by the “Space for Humanity” program, which seeks to democratize access to space and selected her from among 7,000 candidates.

The crew will also include the second Brazilian person to go into space, Victor Correa Hespanha.

Blue Origin takes passengers above the Karman line, which marks the start of space at 100 kilometers (62 miles) high. The flight lasts about 10 minutes total.

Passengers can unfasten their and float for a few moments in while they admire the curvature of Earth through the rocket windows.

The price of a ticket is not known.

Amazon founder Bezos participated in the first manned flight of the New Shepard rocket in July 2021. Since then, the rocket has also carried Star Trek icon William Shatner and Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of the first American in space.

© 2022 AFP

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Seasonal variations of methane consuming and methane producing microbial communities contribute to emissions

The eddy covariance system (left center) installed in Dajiuhu subalpine peatland in Shennongjia, central China’s Hubei Province. Credit: Jiwen Ge’s team

Wetland ecosystems are the most important and prolific natural methane (CH4) sources. CH4 is constantly flowing in and out of these regions (flux), and that flow periodically fluctuates. Methanogens (methane producers) and methanotrophs (methane consumers) are microorganisms that influence CH4 fluxes in wetlands. However, the mutual, or symbiotic relationship between methanogens and methanotrophs remains unclear. Biologists and atmospheric scientists see a critical opportunity to explore methanogen and methanotroph population co-occurrence patterns and their influences on natural CH4 fluxes.

Prof. Jiwen GE and his team members representing the Laboratory of Basin Hydrology and Wetland Eco-Restoration, the Wuhan/Hubei Key Laboratory of Wetland Evolution and Ecological Restoration, and the Wuhan/Institution of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, of the China University of Geosciences, Wuhan, studied the variables that influence between methanogenic and methanotrophic community influence on wetland CH4 emissions. Through biological (phylogenetic) , they identified a keystone species that plays a pivotal role in mediating CH4 fluxes. Their full study is now available in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

The team adapted an eddy covariance (EC) system used to study microclimatological gas exchange to analyze seasonal methane flux data. EC systems are capable of long-term (years or even decades) CH4 flux measurements without disturbing the surrounding environment. Then, they identified the keystone CH4 mediating microorganism species using phylogenetic molecular ecological networks (pMENs) analysis, which biologists typically use to determine a group of organisms’ evolutionary development and their features.

The researchers combined the methanogenic and methanotrophic pMENs to analyze how the functions of methanogenic and methanotrophic communities behave differently season-to-season. Along with pMENs, they used correlation analysis methods to demonstrate the interrelationships among several , including methane metabolic microbials and CH4 fluxes.

The study provided substantial evidence that explains the seasonal patterns and microbial driving mechanisms of CH4 emissions in wetlands. These data are able to provide scientific support for wetlands management and sustainable, carbon neutral development near these biodiverse regions.

To prepare for future research, the team is calculating and analyzing methane fluxes over long-term periods (five years or more). However, deeper research involving metagenomic sequencing (multiple communities of organisms) is needed to analyze the impact of microbials on methane fluxes.

More information:
Luwen Wang et al, The Synergism between Methanogens and Methanotrophs and the Nature of their Contributions to the Seasonal Variation of Methane Fluxes in a Wetland: The Case of Dajiuhu Subalpine Peatland, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s00376-021-1255-z

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Fishing gear and plastic bag pieces found in the stomach of a dead sperm whale in Keys

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Biologists conducting an necropsy on a sperm whale that beached itself in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida Keys said they found man-made materials in the mammal’s stomach that likely contributed to its death.

The was one of two that died in Florida Keys waters within seven days. The other was a that became separated from its mother off Key Largo on May 4.

Both deaths are under investigation, but state and federal scientists say they don’t initially appear to be related.

Carlisle Jones, spokeswoman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the whale that died Tuesday—a 47-foot adult male—”had a mass of intertwined line, net pieces and a plastic bag type of material in its stomach.”

The items were found Wednesday by the state agency and federal biologists conducting the necropsy, an animal autopsy, on the large mammal on the docks of Robbie’s Marina in Stock Island near Key West. A boat towing company took the whale there the day before from where it was found off Mud Key, an island about 15 miles northeast of Key West.

“The debris likely did not allow the whale to eat properly, leading to its emaciated condition and stranding,” Jones said Thursday.

Scientists, however, still need to conduct more diagnostic analysis on the collected from the whale during the necropsy to confirm the exact cause of stranding and , Jones said.

“The material collected from its stomach will also be sent out to determine its type and where it may have originated from,” Jones said.

Sperm whales are listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act and “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They are the largest of the toothed whales and are found in oceans throughout the world, including in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean in South Florida.

They mostly live and hunt in very , however, so it’s rare to see them near shore in the Keys where the water is typically shallow. And when they are spotted there, that’s usually a sign they are sick or in distress.

The calf that died last week still had an open umbilical cord when it was found on a small barrier island off John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo in the Upper Keys, said Blair Mase, southeast regional marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Fisheries Service.

Necropsy results are still pending in the 9 1/2-foot-long female whale’s death, but Mase said the fact she was separated from her mother so soon after birth was likely a significant contributing factor.

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California Coastal Commission rejects plan for Poseidon desalination plant

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After hearing hours of heated debate, the California Coastal Commission voted against a controversial plan by the company Poseidon Water to build a huge desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

Despite worsening drought and repeated calls from Gov. Gavin Newsom to tap the Pacific Ocean as a source of drinking water, commissioners voted unanimously against the plan on Thursday night. The decision, which was recommended by commission staff, may end the company’s plans for the $1.4 billion plant.

In denying Poseidon a permit, the commission demonstrated its independence from the Newsom administration and also sent the message that , vocal opposition and hazards such as sea-level rise can present major hurdles for large desalination plants on the California coast.

The governor had said California needs the desalination plant to cope with extreme drought, and recently warned that a vote against the project would be a “big mistake.”

Activists, who called the proposal a boondoggle that would privatize for profit, said the decision was a victory for fact-based regulation over politics.

The project was first proposed more than two decades ago, and the long-running fight has encompassed a list of contentious issues. They include the proposed plant’s impact on marine life, whether it was vulnerable to and the company’s heavy political lobbying.

Before casting her vote Thursday night, Vice Chair Caryl Hart said the proposal raised many concerns for her.

“This desal proposal is privatization of water. It provides a large private profit,” Hart said. She agreed with the agency’s staff and said the site is the wrong place to build a plant, partly because it would be atop an earthquake fault.

She also noted that the company still didn’t have a binding agreement from any water district requesting the water. “It would harm the public welfare,” she said.

Commissioner Dayna Bochco said she agreed with the staff’s findings and the impacts on would be “an incredible amount of destruction.”

Meagan Harmon, one of the governor’s appointees on the commission, said the project would have a “disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable.”

“I wish that I didn’t have to take this vote. I’m not opposed to desalination,” Harmon said.

In testimony leading up to the vote, Poseidon and its supporters argued that building the would buttress local water supplies and make the area more resilient. They cited the in California and the West and higher temperatures brought on by , pointing to the worsening shortages of imported water supplies from the State Water Project and the Colorado River.

Poseidon’s opponents argued the desalinated water was unnecessary because northern Orange County already has ample groundwater supply and is recycling its wastewater. They said the project would only benefit Canadian parent company Brookfield Infrastructure and its investors, while low-income people would be hit especially hard by rate increases.

“Seawater desalination should be the option of last resort,” said Tracy Quinn, president and CEO of the environmental group Heal the Bay. She said there are better, more economical solutions to bolster water supplies in Orange County.

The company said the costs had yet to be finalized but that monthly water rates could increase by roughly $3 to $6 per household. The commission’s staff concluded that despite a lack of detailed information on costs, the water rate hike for the project “would disproportionately impact millions of low-income residents.”

When the commission’s staff recommended rejecting the project last month, they wrote in their report that in this area of Orange County, there is a “lack of a near-term need for the project” and that other proposed water projects—including wastewater recycling—would be more cost-effective and seem able to address projected demand over the coming decades.

©2022 Los Angeles Times.
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California Coastal Commission rejects plan for Poseidon desalination plant (2022, May 13)

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