In the sixties, Roger Zelazny wrote ‘Damnation Alley’, in which Hell Tanner drives from Los Angeles to Boston in a land ravaged by near constant hurricanes and tornadoes in an attempt to deliver a life-saving plague vaccine. While we’re nowhere near that doomsday scenario, this year’s hurricane season is certainly hotting up.
Hurricane Gustav is crossing Cuba into the centre of the Gulf of Mexico today, with many of the simulations projecting it to land as a strength three hurricane somewhere in Louisiana on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, a few days further out in the Atlantic tropical storm Hanna (the eighth named storm of the year) is growing steadily and is also projected to land as a hurricane next weekend anywhere from Florida to Mexico. It may or may not enter the Gulf.
Further out than that a number of other weather systems are beginning to form in the infamous ‘hurricane alley’, creating a conveyor belt of large storms. High ocean temperatures of 28-32 degrees in the Gulf of Mexico in particular are increasing the size of intensity of these systems. When the sea temperatures are above 26 degrees, a tropical storm or hurricane above it will intensify. Below that level the cyclone begins to unravel. With Ocean temperatures high and a number of storms forming, the Southeast coast of the US and the caribbean are in for a pounding over the next few weeks. Oil experts are already beginning to predict problems for oil production, with large percentages of US oil production and refining taking place in the Gulf of Mexico. While it would be inaccurate to link a single hurricane to climate change, if tropical ocean temperatures remain high, the residents at the end of hurricane rally will have to expect more storms.
[via The Oil Drum, Gustav weather picture via Weather Underground]
Earlier today TJ wrote a post about the possibility of solar power as an alternative fuel. Now I have to admit to having a vested interest in this field as recently I began work as a Solar Analyst for a renewable energy developer. I’ve spent the last six weeks conducting studies into every aspect of the solar market and its feasibility. Although some more outlandish technologies have been overstated, the future of solar is incredibly bright.
There are four main types of solar power on the horizon. Most people know about silicon photovoltaics, which are now reaching record efficiencies of 23%.
Whilst some of first generation biofuels like corn and soy based ethanol are proving to be more trouble than their worth, scientists are working hard on second and third generation alternatives that should add to our energy mix without damaging our food supply. One new development is microbial fuel cells (MFCs) – bacteria that breaks down garbage and conducts electricity. Scientists think by digesting our waste these cells could replace up to 25% of the fuels we currently use.
In a microbial fuel cell, the bacteria acts on the anode of the circuit, breaking down waste with oxidation. As a byproduct they produce electrons. Normally a bacteria would transfer these electrons to a nearby oxygen molecule but if the fuel cell has no oxygen in it, the microbe must move these electrons elsewhere and an MFC uses this to drive an electrical current.
Researchers are beginning to make headway in creating self-contained microbial fuel cells. Biofilms are bacteria that create matrices of material to attach themselves to the anode. This mix of sugars, proteins and cells is thought to contain tiny conducting nanowires that help move the electrons into the electrical circuit, making the whole clump of bacteria act like a big living anode. If this works, people aren’t going to be leaving their litter on the streets any longer. It’ll be too valuable!
[via Daily Galaxy, picture by Alan Stanton]
What do busy busy bumblebees and sinister serial killers have in common? They both stray far from their home when doing plying their trade, according to scientists from the University of London. When foraging for nectar, a bumblebee will create a ‘buffer zone’ around its nest that it won’t drink the flowers in, so that predators and parasites don’t follow it back to its home. The researchers found that this buffer zone was very similar to the pattern created by serial killers when they kill their victims. By studying the paths of bumblebees they hope to give forensic experts better clues as to where a killer might live based on his killings. We’d better make sure we keep the bees alive then.
[Story via bbc, picture by feileacan]