The northwest Chinese city of Lanzhou has a serious water shortage problem. To address the issue, its urban planners have sketched out an ambitious plan to deliver water from Siberia’s Lake Baikal to the city along a 1,000-mile-long pipeline. Getting approval for the project will be a monumental challenge, but it may be a sign of things to come for other water-poor regions of the world.
Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, containing roughly 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen surface water. The pipeline would extend for 1,068 miles (1,720 km) along the Hexi Corridor, a desert region that runs between the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi Desert. The pipeline would cut a swath straight through Mongolia.
The Lanzhou planners say the chronic water shortage is stunting the region, which experienced just 15 inches (380 mm) of rain last year.
“The pipeline will boost the utilization rate and business prospects of [Gansu province], improve the ecological environment of Northwest China, and promote Lanzhou’s economic growth,” the authors wrote in the proposal, titled “Vision for Urban Planning 2030.”
The proposal is calling attention toChina’s ongoing water shortages. The country has 20 percent of the world’s population, but only 7 percent of its fresh water. Back in 2005, China’s former minister of water resources warnedthat many northern cities, including Lanzhou, would run out of water by 2020.
Unsurprisingly, the Lanzhou plan has been met with criticism. Some are questioning the feasibility of the plan, citing the tremendous costs involved, and the difficulties of coordinating the countries and local jurisdictions involved.
“To declare the global plans of the transfer of fresh water to China, without detailed calculations, is total folly,” noted environmentalist and economist Viktor Danilov-Danilyan told the Siberian Times. “It would require big funds and the price of the water will be very high. Almost certainly this project is simply unprofitable.”
That said, Russia may be willing to entertain the idea. A year ago, Russia’s agriculture minister proposed a similar pipeline between Kazakhstan and Xinjiang, saying it would only happen “under the condition of full compliance with the interests of Russia, including environmental.” The Russian petro-state—i.e. a country with an economy largely driven by its oil and gas interests—with its abundance of fresh water, may be willing to capitalize on its commodities even further, becoming the world’s first hydro-state.
“Water is the same resource as oil, gas, gold, and sooner or later we will start to sell it,” noted Stepan Svartsev from Tomsk State University in the Guardian.“Our country has very large reserves and certain volumes could be sold.”
In addition to the political and diplomatic hurdles, there’s also the environment to consider. An environmental impact assessment would have to be conducted along the 1,000 mile corridor. The effects of the pipeline on Lake Baikal would also have to be addressed. This source of fresh water is a haven for 1,200 animal species and 600 types of plants, of which half are local to the region.
It’s also important to point out that Lake Baikal is already facing severe environmental problems. Once prized for its crystal clean water, scientists say its southern-most areas have become inundated with algae, making it unsafe to drink. Surface runoff of nutrients into the lake, plus warming conditions, are allowing the algae to thrive. Adding insult to injury, water levels have dropped in recent years, and residents near the lake have already been told to cut down on water usage.
Certinaly, it’ll be interesting to see how this story plays out. The proposal from Lanzhou may be rejected, but that doesn’t mean other pipeline plans won’t work out, both in China and abroad.
Or more practically, we should push for industrial-scale desalination. Approximately 97 percent of the world’s water is tied up in our oceans, but we can’t drink it. Should gains in solar power efficiency continue, we should start to see the first large-scale desalination plants appear by the 2030s.
“The truth is, most people underestimate the importance of owning a great flashlight. These days, power outages are becoming more common in heavy storms – it’s more important than ever to have the right gear and be ready for a blackout.”
Tactical Flashlights aren’t like average home flashlights:
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Up until recently ‘Tactical Flashlights’ – haven’t been available for purchase by the public.
An online company got a large surplus amount of excess stock.
A new, unforgettable image is revealing how water flows through every river basin in the United States.
The stunning visualization follows the path of blue gold throughout the country. Surprisingly, no area is too far from the path of water. For instance, the arid Southwest may go months without significant rainfall, yet most of the region is threaded by hundreds of rivers fanning out from the Upper and Lower Colorado Rivers.
The new map was created by geographer Robert Szucs, who goes by the username Fejetlenfej on the image curation site Imgur. Szucs created the map using open-source mapping software and publicly available data.
The new image shows the flow of different river systems in different colors. For instance, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, which meet up near St. Louis, Missouri, are painted pink, while the Colorado River shows up in vibrant yellow. The Pacific Northwest river basin in the United States is fed by two major rivers — the Columbia and the Snake — both of which originate in Canada. Thicker arterials represent major rivers, while the thinner lines depict minor streams, rivers and tributaries.
The striking image also reveals that the vast majority of the Midwest and much of the Mountain West are threaded with streams, rivers and tributaries that fan out from the Missouri and the mighty Mississippi. The Missouri River is the longest river in North America, while the second-longest, the Mississippi holds the most water. The Mississippi meanders 2,350 miles (3,781 kilometers) from Lake Itasca in Minnesota before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico (The Missouri River is longer). At Lake Itasca, the river is less than 30 feet (9 m) wide, but it sprawls 11 miles (17 km) across near Lake Winnibigoshish in Minnesota, according to the National Park Service.
By contrast, the coastal regions look like a patchwork of smaller river networks. For instance, waterlogged Florida is threaded by dozens of smaller rivers, such as the Ocklawaha, the St. Lucie, the Kissimmee and the Miami.
To allow U.S. military vehicles to drive through deep water during World War II beach landings, the armed forces devised a fascinating method of waterproofing involving a goopy putty called “Asbestos Waterproofing Compound.” Here’s a video showing all the steps needed to keep that Jeep moving through the deep stuff.
Water and internal combustion engines just don’t go together, we’ve shown that time and time and time again. But during World War II, particularly in Europe, allied forces needed to conduct beach landings, wherein soldiers and vehicles were dropped from landing crafts, often far from the shore.
To withstand these beach landings, military vehicles had to be thoroughly waterproofed. The air intake and gasoline vent had to be extended, and pretty much every electronic connector and button had to be covered in what the U.S. military called AWC for Asbestos Waterproofing Compound.
The military’s waterproofing kit contained not just the big AWC patty, but also wire, friction tape and rubber impregnated tubing. When done properly, the U.S. Army Signal Corps claimed, the sealing job could keep a Jeep running for up to six minutes in depths of up to 3.5 feet of water.
That’s a full foot higher than the water fording rating on the new Jeep Wrangler, and means the little Jeep can drive with water filling the entire cabin all the way up to the base of the windshield.
The steel towers loom in the distance, like shiny toy soldiers arranged in formation. As our boat approaches, the dizzying size of the machines becomes clear. A few minutes later, I’m standing right next to one, holding the guardrails and craning my head to take it all in. The boat bucks like a rollercoaster as giant waves crash against the bow. Salty spray lashes my eyeballs. I try not to vomit.
Up close, the machines are not toy-like at all. They are aliens, fifty-story monoliths, each crowned with three enormous, outstretched blades that dazzle in the morning light of this crisp October day. This is America’s first offshore wind farm—a pilot project compared with the vast offshore energy plants in European waters—but still, a hard-won victory.
Anchored to the seafloor twenty miles south of Rhode Island, the five turbines comprising Deepwater Wind’s $300 million Block Island Wind Farm wereerected over the summer. The blades were unlocked several weeks back, and in November, they’ll start generating electricity—30 megawatts (MW) at peak capacity, which is enough to power 17,000 homes.
To the dozens of men and women present on today’s boat tour—executives from Deepwater Wind, Rhode Island state politicians, labor leaders and environmentalists—the wind farm is a sign of things to come.
“It’s going to be a stepping stone,” says Walt Trombly, a union representative for the Utility Workers Union of Rhode Island. “The entire country is going to see this.”
If the country likes what it sees, offshore wind could become a cornerstone of America’s bid to wean off fossil fuels. Proponents imagine a future where coastlines from the Carolinas to Maine are lined with thousands of turbines, siphoning energy out of fierce north Atlantic winds and delivering carbon-free power to millions. But not everyone wants that future, and even those who do acknowledge the enormous political, economic, and technological hurdles we need to overcome before it arrives.
It’s a beautiful idea, that the solution to our oil and gas addiction is already at our fingertips. That, with a concerted effort, we could halt climate change by tapping the strong, sustained winds gusting just offshore—an endlessly renewable energy source.
The United States has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world. According to the Department Energy, our “technical offshore potential” is more than 2,000 gigwatts (GW) of power, which translates to double the electricity generated by all oil, coal, and gas-fired power plants last year. Harnessing that full potential would take a mind-boggling number of turbines, but even a fraction of the energy contained in stiff offshore breezes could go a long way toward meeting high power demands along densely populated coastlines.
The northeast, with its fair weather and shallow continental shelves, is considered the ideal place to get started.
“The resource is enough to run all electrical needs for all coastal states from Massachusetts to North Carolina, and much more,” says Willet Kemptom, a professor at the University of Delaware’s School of Marine Science and Policy.
Some of the technology we need already exists. Thanks to decades of government incentive programs, offshore wind is taking off in Europe, with turbine costs falling fast as production becomes more industrialized. The offshore wind industry still only accounts for 1.5 percent of the EU’s electricity production, but with three thousand turbines producing 41 terawatt-hours of energy last year, it’s nothing to sniff at.
But in America, offshore wind has made little progress, thanks to high initial costs, lack of political leadership, and fierce pushback from oceanfront communities who don’t want their views marred by gigantic machines.“It’s a typical not-in-my-backyard scenario, and I get it,” says Fiore Grassetti, a steel worker who’s helped install dozens of land-based turbines in New England. “If they’re placed in the wrong location, I agree.”
The first offshore wind project to receive serious vetting in the United States was Cape Wind, a $2.6 billion proposal to build 130 turbines in the Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod. But after receiving state and federal approval back in 2009 and 2010, the project was held hostage for years by an opposition movementspearheaded by a Koch brother and backed by Mitt Romney, among other wealthy and well-connected residents of the Cape. Not only do Cape Wind’s opponents say the project would cause significant “visual pollution,” they insist it will raise the cost of electricity rather than lower it. Last year, after endless construction delays, Cape Wind lost its power purchase agreements with utility companies. It now seems unlikely the project will ever break ground.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the first offshore wind farm to succeed where Cape Wind failed is much smaller, and addresses a much moreglaring energy issue. Lacking a direct connection to Rhode Island’s power grid, the 1,000 year-round residents of the sleepy community of Block Island have, for decades, been forced to burn diesel fuel shipped over from the mainland—a dirty and extremely pricey way of keeping the lights on.
Now that Block Island is producing power, it’s been integrated into the system. In June, utility company National Grid—which is buying electricity from Deepwater Wind and selling it to customers throughout the state—installed a submarine cable connection linking the wind farm and the nearby community to the mainland. The clean energy Block Islanders will start buying this month isn’t exactly a bargain: the first year power-price is 24 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with an average of 14 cents per kilowatt hour throughout the state. But it’sabout 40 percent less than the cost of diesel. The island will also be avoiding an estimated 40,000 tons of carbon emissions per year, and as an added bonus, that new submarine cable includes a fiber optic connection. For the first time, residents will have high-speed internet.
Despite the project’s apparent benefits, not everyone on Block Island is thrilled about it. Some residents see the wind farm as a political charade, arguing that they arebearing the burden of above-market energy costs to enrich private investors, and that the long-term savings will be minimal. As with Cape Wind, opponents feel they are trading environmentally-destructive carbon pollution for economically-destructive visual pollution. “No one can argue that the loss of [Block Island’s] viewshed will not harm my business and any other on the Island,” Block Island grocery store owner Mary Jane Balser wrote in a letter to the Block Island Times in 2014.
Matthew Morrissey, Vice President of Massachusetts for Deepwater Wind, says that the controversy over the Block Island Wind Farm is relatively small. After all, Block Island’s town council and resident’s association supported the project, as did recent Rhode Island governors, state senators, environmental groups, labor union leaders, and the Obama administration.
“Based on the Cape Wind experience, you’d think there’d have been much more pushback,” he says. “I think overwhelmingly, the citizens appreciated the cutting of the energy cost, the clean nature of our fuel source, and the fiber optic line that gave them fast internet.”
At this point, only time will tell if he’s right.
As our boat weaves between turbines like a guppy amongst whales, I learn that there’s far more to the structures than meets the eye. Designed by French energy company GE, Block Island’s 6 MW, 589 foot-tall Haliade turbines employ new “direct drive” technology, which replaces the rotating gearbox of older models with a giant, permanent magnet generator. “This reduces mechanical systems inside the machine,” GE project director Eric Crucerey says. “Fewer pieces mean less maintenance.” In fact, if all is running well, nobody will need to be inside the turbines at all.
The generator is located at the top of the turbine, inside a 400-ton, schoolbus-sized steelhouse called the nacelle. Directly in front of it lies the rotor hub, which supports three 240 foot-long, fiberglass blades that sweep an area larger than three football fields. The nacelle also includes a control room, with computer systems that automatically monitor windspeed and direction and adjust the blades accordingly. “These blades are not dumb, static things,” Morrissey says, sweeping his arm out across the sky. “They’re highly tuned, sensitive instruments.”
If the nacelle includes the brain and muscles of the turbine, the tower—an enormous metal tube built of three 200-ton sections of cast steel—is its backbone. The Block Island Wind Farm towers were assembled over the summer with the help of Brave Tern, an aircraft carrier-esque Norwegian vessel that can lift a gigantic crane hundreds of feet out of the water on four enormous stilts. The tower, in turn, rests on a 1,500-ton steel jacket foundation, which is anchored to the seafloor 100 feet down.
The turbines are hardy things, designed to endure everyday wind and waves, but also powerful storms and even hurricanes. They start spinning to generate power at wind speeds of approximately 6.5 mph, and from there, run merrily along until wind speeds approach that of a strong tropical storm. “When wind speeds get up to 55 miles per hour, we will feather the blades so they’re not creating friction with the wind,” Morrissey says. With the blades in a safer configuration, Morrissey reckons they can withstand gusts of over 200 mph. “They’re insured, which says something,” he notes.
Under normal conditions, electricity generated by a turbine is transmitted via cables down the length of the tower to the seafloor, then to a substation located on Block Island. From there, it’s supplied to the island’s residents and fed back into Rhode Island’s grid. As Catharine Bowes of the National Wildlife Federation points out, one turbine is needed to power Block Island, even at peak summertime usage (approximately 4 MW). “All of the surplus goes to the mainland,” she says.
How big that surplus is depends on how fast the wind blows and how well the machines perform, something Deepwater Wind will be monitoring closely. On average, Wilhelm says, offshore wind operations run at 45 percent capacity. Land-based wind farms in the Great Plains run at about 33 percent capacity, while solar farms reach capacities of up to 20 percent.
While each of the turbines is designed to operate autonomously and can be controlled remotely, workers will still have to enter them periodically for maintenance. Normally, they’ll take a boat out, scale ladders attached to the jacket foundation, enter at the base of the tower, and take the long elevator ride to the top. But in a pinch, workers can also airlift in and out via a helipad located next to the nacelle.
In a truly dire situation, Crucery says,a person can sky-dive to the base of the turbine using rappelling gear attached to the helipad. Similar gear can also be used to exit the turbine from the tower, should the elevator break down. “People need training to be inside this machine,” Crucery says.
Indeed, these safety measures serve as a reminder that, while working on a wind turbine is much safer than working on an explosion-prone oil rig or inside a coal mine, clean energy plants are not risk-free. Human accidents involving wind turbines are underreported, but data compiled by theCaithness Windfarm Information Forum indicates that blade failures represent the biggest danger, followed by turbine fires.
Bracing myself against winds that could fling me into the sea if I let my guard down, I try to imagine making the six hundred-foot leap out of a flaming nacelle. If Deepwater Wind’s reticence to discuss emergency evacuations is any indicator, I’m not the only one who finds the scenario a bit frightening.
“Three hundred local tradesmen worked on this wind farm,” says Scott Duhamel, a labor activist from Rhode Island’s Building and Construction Trades Council with a thick Boston accent. For him, there’s nothing better than finishing a big construction project, and the turbines directly ahead of us are—quite literally—as big as they come. “For years, now, they get to drive by and say, ‘I built that, I worked on that, I did that.’ The first one in America.”
A swell of pride at having planted the very first wind turbines in US waters was palpable among everyone I spoke with at on the recent Block Island Wind Farm tour, which was organized by wind energy supporters at the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, the BlueGreen Alliance, and the National Wildlife Federation. So was a sense that the momentum generated here needs to be maintained. “We saw a job opportunity,” says Rhode Island senator Joshua Miller, who helped pass legislation that required utilities to buy Deepwater Wind’s electricity. “Whoever was first in this part of America was going to set up the platform for [offshore wind] jobs.”
Job creation is often touted as a reason to support wind energy, even if you don’t care about climate change. The reality is that switching to clean power at industrial scales is going to require industrial-scale manufacturing and development, such as we’re starting to see in Europe, where most of the Block Island Wind Farm’s parts were built. The DOE estimates that an offshore wind industry could support 600,000 new jobs on US shores by 2050.
To Jimmy Shillitto, Vice President for Local 1-2 Utility in New York, adaptation to the shifting energy landscape is inevitable. “Times are changing,” he says. “If we don’t get involved, we’ll die off.”
Rhode Island may be first out the gates on offshore wind, but other states are poised to catch up quickly. Over the summer, Massachusetts passed a bill that will require its utilities to purchase 1,600 MW of electricity from offshore wind farms by 2027. The state of New York, meanwhile, recently approved a Clean Energy Standard that compels New York City to draw 50 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030.
Will the industry catch on elsewhere in the northeast? According to Wilhelm, electricity from offshore wind is still about double the market cost, “which is kind of discouraging,” he admits. States that haven’t been eager to pick up some of that cost may be waiting for a signal from the feds—say, a tax creditsimilar to the soon-expiring production tax credit that’s driven the price of land-based wind power down. Of course, national energy policies depend entirely on who we elect into office this November and in the years to come.
There’s also the issue of actually using the seafloor. The Obama administration has designated 11 wind energy areas in the northeast, but many more are needed for offshore wind energy to make a dent in our carbon pollution. State governments and energy companies need to do environmental vetting, to ensure they aren’t building on top of sensitive habitats, or during key migration periods for birds and whales. These processes take time.
Looking further into the future, new technologies will be needed to expand offshore wind into other environments. “On the west coast, the continental shelf gets really deep really fast,” says Jose Zayas, director of the DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office. “In the Gulf of Mexico, you’ve got to deal with hurricane survivability. The Great Lakes tend to freeze, which is problematic from a structural perspective. The ocean is a complicated environment.”
Deepwater Wind, for its part, has already secured rights to another lease area, about 20 miles east of the Block Island Wind Farm, and is in the process of negotiating a power purchase agreement with Long Island for the first phase of the site’s development, the 90 MW South Fork Wind Farm. If the deal is approved, construction could begin as soon as 2019.
As our boat crests around the craggy southeastern shore of Block Island, past cliffs and harbors dotted with picturesque New England homes, the turbines recede from view. The blades, which we could see swaying lazily in the breeze from directly underneath, now appear suspended in place against the brilliant blue horizon. Looking back on the wind farm from far away, I’m once again reminded what a small step this is compared with what’s needed to transform our grid and prevent dangerous climate change.
But small steps are how new ideas take root. Whether these turbines are the first ambassadors of our brave new energy future, or a curious blip in the history books, I can’t yet say. We’ll have to see how the winds blow.
Japanese hand planes or kannas are remarkable tools that can shave off layers of wood so ridiculously thin that they look like tissue paper. The wood shaving in the GIF above is only 8 microns thick which almost sounds like an impossible measurement because even human hair has a diameter of about 50 microns.
Kannas are used in carpentry to shave down wood and create a smooth finish, because the tools can maintain the wood’s natural pattern. (Sandpaper scrubs that all away.) It looks fun to use because it turns the stuff of trees into translucent curls of nothingness.
This therapy stops serious conditions from being passed down from mother to child. In this case, the five-month old boy was born to a Jordanian mother who was at risk of passing down a fatal and debilitating genetic disorder called Leigh Syndrome, which affects the developing nervous system. The mother had previously lost two children to the disorder, so she sought the help of John Zhang, a researcher at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City. As noted in New Scientist, Zhang performed the procedure in Mexico, where “there are no rules,” adding that “[saving] lives is the ethical thing to do.”
Mitochondria are the powerpacks that fuel every human cell, and just like the nucleus, they contain DNA. Unfortunately, inherited defects in mitochondrial DNA can cause severe or even fatal results. To overcome this problem, scientists extract two eggs—one from the mother and one from a donor. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed, leaving the mitochondria intact, and replaced by the mother’s nucleus. The resulting embryo is free from the inherited defect, resulting in a potentially healthy baby—albeit it with three parents.
Zhang and his colleagues tested the baby’s mitochondria, and found that less than one percent contains the harmful mutation. It usually takes about 18 percent of mitochondria to be affected before problems set in.
More important are the questions of safety and efficacy. Running off to Mexico to perform a procedure because it’s still illegal in the United States may push the science forward, but it’s clearly sending the wrong message.