Robber fly - Nature photographer Thomas Shahan specializes in amazing portraits of tiny insects. It isn't easy. Shahan says that this Robber Fly (Holcocephala fusca), for instance, is "skittish" and doesn't like its picture taken.

Eye-popping bug photos

Nature by Numbers (Video)

"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
"The Quantum Factor" – Apr 10, 2011 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Galaxies, Universe, Intelligent design, Benevolent design, Aliens, Nikola Tesla (Quantum energy), Inter-Planetary Travel, DNA, Genes, Stem Cells, Cells, Rejuvenation, Shift of Human Consciousness, Spontaneous Remission, Religion, Dictators, Africa, China, Nuclear Power, Sustainable Development, Animals, Global Unity.. etc.) - (Text Version)

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."

(Live Kryon Channelings was given 7 times within the United Nations building.)

"Update on Current Events" – Jul 23, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) - (Subjects: The Humanization of God, Gaia, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Benevolent Design, Financial Institutes (Recession, System to Change ...), Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Nuclear Power Revealed, Geothermal Power, Hydro Power, Drinking Water from Seawater, No need for Oil as Much, Middle East in Peace, Persia/Iran Uprising, Muhammad, Israel, DNA, Two Dictators to fall soon, Africa, China, (Old) Souls, Species to go, Whales to Humans, Global Unity,..... etc.)

"Recalibration of Free Choice"– Mar 3, 2012 (Kryon Channelling by Lee Caroll) - (Subjects: (Old) Souls, Midpoint on 21-12-2012, Shift of Human Consciousness, Black & White vs. Color, 1 - Spirituality (Religions) shifting, Loose a Pope “soon”, 2 - Humans will change react to drama, 3 - Civilizations/Population on Earth, 4 - Alternate energy sources (Geothermal, Tidal (Paddle wheels), Wind), 5 – Financials Institutes/concepts will change (Integrity – Ethical) , 6 - News/Media/TV to change, 7 – Big Pharmaceutical company will collapse “soon”, (Keep people sick), (Integrity – Ethical) 8 – Wars will be over on Earth, Global Unity, … etc.) - (Text version)

“… 4 - Energy (again)

The natural resources of the planet are finite and will not support the continuation of what you've been doing. We've been saying this for a decade. Watch for increased science and increased funding for alternate ways of creating electricity (finally). Watch for the very companies who have the most to lose being the ones who fund it. It is the beginning of a full realization that a change of thinking is at hand. You can take things from Gaia that are energy, instead of physical resources. We speak yet again about geothermal, about tidal, about wind. Again, we plead with you not to over-engineer this. For one of the things that Human Beings do in a technological age is to over-engineer simple things. Look at nuclear - the most over-engineered and expensive steam engine in existence!

Your current ideas of capturing energy from tidal and wave motion don't have to be technical marvels. Think paddle wheel on a pier with waves, which will create energy in both directions [waves coming and going] tied to a generator that can power dozens of neighborhoods, not full cities. Think simple and decentralize the idea of utilities. The same goes for wind and geothermal. Think of utilities for groups of homes in a cluster. You won't have a grid failure if there is no grid. This is the way of the future, and you'll be more inclined to have it sooner than later if you do this, and it won't cost as much….”

"Fast-Tracking" - Feb 8, 2014 (Kryon Channelling by Lee Carroll) - (Reference to Fukushima / H-bomb nuclear pollution and a warning about nuclear > 20 Min)

Obama unveils landmark regulations to combat climate change

Obama unveils landmark regulations to combat climate change
In a bid to combat climate change, US President Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan on Monday, marking the first time power plants have been targeted by mandatory regulations on carbon dioxide emissions in the US.
Google: Earthday 2013

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Air New Zealand Flies on Engine With Jatropha Biofuel Blend

By JAMES KANTER, The New York Times, December 30, 2008, 11:33 AM

Captain Keith Pattie, right, the test pilot for Air New Zealand’s maiden biofuel flight, poses with Captain David Morgan, left, and the company’s C.E.O., Rob Fyfe, on Tuesday. (Photo: The Associated Press)

Some in the aviation industry say they could one day be flying the biggest jets across the planet without contributing to climate change — using biofuels.


They also say that it will be easier to convert planes to biofuels than land transport, because there are fewer planes than cars, trucks and buses, and there is a far less complex infrastructure to deal with, comprising only a few hundred airport fueling stations across the globe.


On Tuesday, Air New Zealand joined a clutch of other commercial airlines in testing out alternative fuels.


During a two-hour flight to and from Auckland International Airport, the Air New Zealand crew sought to test how the fuel, made from jatropha plants and blended 50:50 with Jet A1 fuel in the tank of one of four Rolls-Royce engines on a 747-400, stood up to use at high altitudes and in other demanding conditions.


Air New Zealand and the other companies participating the project were to “review all the results as part of our drive to have jatropha certified as an aviation fuel,” said Air New Zealand Chief Pilot Captain David Morgan, who was part of the test flight.

Using jatropha-based fuel still emits carbon dioxide, but the gas is typically recycled in the growing of the feedstock, so there is ostensibly no additional CO2 added to the atmosphere.


Even so, critics have taken issue with biofuels, which they say could drive expanded deforestation, or would compete with food commodities, raising food prices across the board — particularly for poor families and poor communities.


Aviation industry officials say that they are committed to using sustainable biofuels that do not threaten food supplies for land or water as part of their alternative fuel tests. “A major part of the industry’s future carbon emissions reduction plans rely on the ability for aircraft to shift towards biofuels,” according to the industry.


Air New Zealand said the jatropha it sourced and refined for its test flight came from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and India, and was from seeds grown on environmentally sustainable farms. The airline said each jatropha seed produces between 30 and 40 percent of its mass in oil and that jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas available for food crops.


Air New Zealand also explained that the criteria for sourcing the jatropha oil required that the land was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades. The quality of the soil and climate was such that the land was not suitable for the vast majority of food crops. Furthermore, the farms the jatropha was grown on were rain-fed, not mechanically irrigated.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Food needs 'fundamental rethink'

By Mark Kinver, Science and environment reporter, BBC News

A sustainable global food system in the 21st Century needs to be built on a series of "new fundamentals", according to a leading food expert.

Tim Lang warned that the current system, designed in the 1940s, was showing "structural failures", such as "astronomic" environmental costs.

Food crops, agriculture and biodiversity cannot be separated from one another

The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation, he added.

Professor Lang is a member of the UK government's newly formed Food Council.

"Essentially, what we are dealing with at the moment is a food system that was laid down in the 1940s," he told BBC News.

"It followed on from the dust bowl in the US, the collapse of food production in Europe and starvation in Asia.

"At the time, there was clear evidence showing that there was a mismatch between producers and the need of consumers."

Professor Lang, from City University, London, added that during the post-war period, food scientists and policymakers also thought increasing production would reduce the cost of food, while improving people's diets and public health.

"But by the 1970s, evidence was beginning to emerge that the public health outcomes were not quite as expected," he explained.

"Secondly, there were a whole new set of problems associated with the environment."

Thirty years on and the world was now facing an even more complex situation, he added.

"The level of growth in food production per capita is dropping off, even dropping, and we have got huge problems ahead with an explosion in human population."

Fussy eaters

Professor Lang lists a series of "new fundamentals", which he outlined during a speech he made as the president-elect of charity Garden Organic, which will shape future food production, including:

Oil and energy: "We have an entirely oil-based food economy, and yet oil is running out. The impact of that on agriculture is one of the drivers of the volatility in the world food commodity markets."

Water scarcity: "One of the key things that I have been pushing is to get the UK government to start auditing food by water," Professor Lang said, adding that 50% of the UK's vegetables are imported, many from water-stressed nations.

Biodiversity: "Biodiversity must not just be protected, it must be replaced and enhanced; but that is going to require a very different way growing food and using the land."

Urbanisation: "Probably the most important thing within the social sphere. More people now live in towns than in the countryside. In which case, where do they get their food?"

Professor Lang said that in order to feed a projected nine billion people by 2050, policymakers and scientists face a fundamental challenge: how can food systems work with the planet and biodiversity, rather than raiding and pillaging it?

The UK's Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, recently set up a Council of Food Policy Advisers in order to address the growing concern of food security and rising prices.

Mr Benn, speaking at the council's launch, warned: "Global food production will need to double just to meet demand.

"We have the knowledge and the technology to do this, as things stand, but the perfect storm of climate change, environmental degradation and water and oil scarcity, threatens our ability to succeed."

Professor Lang, who is a member of the council, offered a suggestion: "We are going to have to get biodiversity into gardens and fields, and then eat it.

"We have to do this rather than saying that biodiversity is what is on the edge of the field or just outside my garden."

Michelin-starred chef and long-time food campaigner Raymond Blanc agrees with Professor Lang, adding that there is a need for people, especially in the UK, to reconnect with their food.

He is heading a campaign called Dig for Your Dinner, which he hopes will help people reconnect with their food and how, where and when it is grown.

"Food culture is a whole series of steps," he told BBC News.

"Whatever amount of space you have in your backyard, it is possible to create a fantastic little garden that will allow you to reconnect with the real value of gardening, which is knowing how to grow food.

"And once you know how to grow food, it would be very nice to be able to cook it. If you are growing food, then it only makes sense that you know how to cook it as well.

"And cooking food will introduce you to the basic knowledge of nutrition. So you can see how this can slowly reintroduce food back into our culture."

Waste not...

Mr Blanc warned that food prices were likely to continue to rise in the future, which was likely to prompt more people to start growing their own food.

He was also hopeful that the food sector would become less wasteful.

"We all know that waste is everywhere; it is immoral what is happening in the world of food.

"In Europe, 30% of the food grown did not appear on the shelves of the retailers because it was a funny shape or odd colour.

"At least the amendment to European rules means that we can now have some odd-shaped carrots on our shelves. This is fantastic news, but why was it not done before?"

He suggested that the problem was down to people choosing food based on sight alone, not smell and touch.

"The way that seeds are selected is about immunity to any known disease; they have also got to grow big and fast, and have a fantastic shelf life.

"Never mind taste, texture or nutrition, it is all about how it looks.

"The British consumer today has got to understand that when they make a choice, let's say an apple - either Chinese, French or English one - they are making a political choice, a socio-economic choice, as well as an environmental one.

"They are making a statement about what sort of society and farming they are supporting."

Growing appetite

The latest estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that another 40 million people have been pushed into hunger in 2008 as a result of higher food prices.

This brings the overall number of undernourished people in the world to 963 million, compared to 923 million in 2007.

The FAO warned that the ongoing financial and economic crisis could tip even more people into hunger and poverty.

"World food prices have dropped since early 2008, but lower prices have not ended the food crisis in many poor countries," said FAO assistant director-general Hafez Ghanem at the launch of the agency's State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008 report.

"The structural problems of hunger, like the lack of access to land, credit and employment, combined with high food prices remain a dire reality," he added.

Professor Lang outlined the challenges facing the global food supply system: "The 21st Century is going to have to produce a new diet for people, more sustainably, and in a way that feeds more people more equitably using less land."

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Friday, December 26, 2008

How an old phone can make money

BBC World


It is unlikely that the global recession has completely dampened people's enthusiasm for new gadgets this Christmas.


But for cash-strapped consumers with a shiny new mobile in their hands, there is a way of making money from their old, unwanted handsets.


According to mobile phone trade-in website FoneBank, only 20% of UK consumers are recycling their mobiles but those that do can recycle their old mobiles for cash.


As well as making money people are helping others and the environment. In November Fonebank recycled 10,000 mobiles.

A survey it conducted to find out what people did with their mobile found that 28% put them away in a drawer while 23% simply threw them away.


"It's crazy that a lot of people out there are still just chucking their phones in the bin when they no longer have any use for them," said Mark Harrison, director of Fonebank.


The need to recycle electronic devices such as phones, PDAs and digital music players is more than just a financial one as many contain materials that can be harmful to the environment.


The main problem lies with the batteries used to power the phones, some of which contain toxic substances such as cadmium, which can contaminate the water table.


Mobile phones now come under the WEEE directive, a piece of European legislation which aims to reduce the amount of electronic waste that ends up in landfill sites.


It requires member nations to collect and recycle the equivalent of 4kg of e-waste for every person living in the country.


Manufacturers, importers and retailers of electronic equipment are obliged to put systems in place that allow customers to recycle their obsolete devices free of charge although households are under no obligation.


Fonebank recycled around 10,000 phones in November, the majority of which are earmarked for Africa, Pakistan, India and South East Asia.


"It is a lot more difficult to buy a brand new phone in Africa and they are prohibitively expensive, so a good, second-hand phone is very attractive," said Ollie Tagg, director of Fonebank.


Right thing


During November Fonebank sent out £200,000 worth of cheques, with an average per person of £50, although an iPhone can raise much more.


"One of the most popular ones traded in during October was Nokia's N95 which can raise £102 for the owner," said Mr Tagg.


"People recycling their phones make a bit of money and feel they are doing the right thing. The whole process takes three minutes online and then they just have to stick their phone in a jiffy bag," he added.


This year Fonebank has teamed up with Oxfam to donate a minimum of 10% of the value of the phone to aid the charity's work in the developing world.


Other charities, including Age Concern and the British Red Cross, are also offering people the chance to donate phones.


During December some six million handsets will have been exchanged.


And for those who really can't be bothered to post off their old handset there are other ways of recycling them.


"I have spent literally hundreds over the years on toys for my kids but the thing they've liked the most are old mobiles, particularly ones that flip and flash," one respondent to the FoneBank survey revealed.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Marshall atolls declare emergency

A state of emergency has been declared in the Marshall Islands as widespread flooding displaced hundreds of people.

BBC World

The islands have been pounded three times in two weeks by powerful waves caused by storm surges and high tides.

The floods have swamped the main urban centres of Majuro and Ebeye which are less than a metre above sea level.

Government officials said the flooding showed how vulnerable the western Pacific atoll nation is to small changes in weather conditions.

Fears for public hygiene have intensified as the floods also hit cemeteries, "contributing to the already alarming sanitary conditions with the widespread debris caused by the high wave action", President Litokwa Tomeing said.

The president said at least 600 people were forced to take refuge in government-designated shelters, churches, and with other family members.

Radio Australia interviewed the government's chief secretary, Casten Nemira, who said damage to outer islands remained unknown until communication with them could be restored.

"Over 200 plus houses were affected and some houses are completely damaged, also the cemeteries by the shore lines and erosions," he said.

"We hope to get a complete picture in the coming days as the reports are still coming in."


Deborah Manase, deputy director of the Office of Environmental Planning and Policy Coordination, said damage had been caused despite the waves that crashed into the islands being "quite small" at about five feet.

"It shows that we're extremely vulnerable," the AFP news agency reported her as saying.

"If the tide had been two feet higher, it would have been much worse.

"At the global level, we're trying to explain that the smallest change in sea levels will have a big impact on our islands."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

LEDs And Smart Lighting Could Save Trillions Of Dollars, Spark Global Innovation

ScienceDaily (Dec. 20, 2008) — A "revolution" in the way we illuminate our world is imminent, according to a paper published this week by two professors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 

Innovations in photonics and solid state lighting will lead to trillions of dollars in cost savings, along with a massive reduction in the amount of energy required to light homes and businesses around the globe, the researchers forecast.

If all of the world's light bulbs were replaced with energy-efficient LEDs for a period of 10 years, researchers say it would reduce global oil consumption by 962 million barrels, reduce the need for 280 global power plants, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10.68 gigatons, and ultimately result in financial savings of $1.83 trillion. (Credit: Rensselaer/Kim and Schubert)

A new generation of lighting devices based on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will supplant the common light bulb in coming years, the paper suggests. In addition to the environmental and cost benefits of LEDs, the technology is expected to enable a wide range of advances in areas as diverse as healthcare, transportation systems, digital displays, and computer networking. 

"What the transistor meant to the development of electronics, the LED means to the field of photonics. This core device has the potential to revolutionize how we use light," wrote co-authors E. Fred Schubert and Jong Kyu Kim. 

Schubert is the Wellfleet Senior Constellation Professor of Future Chips at Rensselaer, and heads the university's National Science Foundation-funded Smart Lighting Center. Kim is a research assistant professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering. The paper, titled "Transcending the replacement paradigm of solid-state lighting," will be published in the Dec. 22, 2008 issue of Optics Express. 

Researchers are able to control every aspect of light generated by LEDs, allowing the light sources to be tweaked and optimized for nearly any situation, Schubert and Kim said. In general LEDs will require 20 times less power than today's conventional light bulbs, and five times less power than "green" compact fluorescent bulbs. 

If all of the world's light bulbs were replaced with LEDs for a period of 10 years, Schubert and Kim estimate the following benefits would be realized: 

  • Energy savings of 1.9 × 1020 joules
  • Electrical energy consumption would be reduced by terawatt hours
  • Financial savings of $1.83 trillion
  • Carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 10.68 gigatons
  • Crude oil consumption would be reduced by 962 million barrels
  • The number of required global power plants would be reduced by 280 

With all of the promise and potential of LEDs, Schubert and Kim said it is important not to pigeonhole or dismiss smart lighting technology as a mere replacement for conventional light bulbs. The paper is a call to arms for scientists and engineers, and stresses that advances in photonics will position solid state lighting as a catalyst for unexpected, currently unimaginable technological advances. 

"Deployed on a large scale, LEDs have the potential to tremendously reduce pollution, save energy, save financial resources, and add new and unprecedented functionalities to photonic devices. These factors make photonics what could be termed a benevolent tsunami, an irresistible wave, a solution to many global challenges currently faced by humanity and will be facing even more in the years to come," the researchers wrote. "Transcending the replacement paradigm will open up a new chapter in photonics: Smart lighting sources that are controllable, tunable, intelligent, and communicative." 

Possible smart lighting applications include rapid biological cell identification, interactive roadways, boosting plant growth, and better supporting human circadian rhythms to reduce an individual's dependency on sleep-inducing drugs or reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. 

Journal reference: 
E. Fred Schubert and Jong Kyu Kim. Transcending the Replacement Paradigm of Solid-State Lighting. Optics Express, Vol. 16, Issue 6, December 22, 2008 [link

Adapted from materials provided by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

World’s First Solar-Powered Ship Sets Sail From Japan

The Jakarta Globe, 19 December 2008


The world’s first cargo ship partly propelled by solar power took to the seas on Friday in Japan, aiming to cut fuel costs and carbon emissions when automakers ship their exports.


The Auriga Leader, a freighter developed by shipping line Nippon Yusen KK and oil distributor Nippon Oil Corp., left from a shipyard in the western city of Kobe, officials of the companies said.


The huge freighter, capable of carrying 6,400 automobiles, is equipped with 328 solar panels at a cost of 150 million yen ($1.68 million), the officials said.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Magnetic-Shield Cracks Found; Big Solar Storms Expected

Victoria Jaggard in San Francisco, National Geographic News, December 17, 2008

Solar winds (depicted in red) are infiltrating Earth's protective magnetosphere (blue), experts said in December 2008, which could lead to a perilous period of solar storms starting in 2012.

Solar storms—when explosions from the sun send blasts of charged particles toward Earth—can cause satellites to malfunction, threaten spacewalkers, and wipe out power grids. (Image by Steele Hill/NASA)

An unexpected, thick layer of solar particles inside Earth's magnetic field suggests there are huge breaches in our planet's solar defenses, scientists said.

These breaches indicate that during the next period of high solar activity, due to start in 2012, Earth will experience some of the worst solar storms seen in decades.

Solar winds—charged particles from the sun—help create auroras, the brightly colored lights that sometimes appear above the Earth's poles.

But the winds also trigger storms that can interfere with satellites' power sources, endanger spacewalkers, and even knock out power grids on Earth.

"The sequence we're expecting … is just right to put particles in and energize them to create the biggest geomagnetic storms, the brightest auroras, the biggest disturbances in Earth's radiation belts," said David Sibeck, a space-weather expert at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

"So if all of this is true, it should be that we're in for a tough time in the next 11 years."

(Related: "Sun's Power Hits New Low, May Endanger Earth?" [September 24, 2008].)

Into the Breach

Data from NASA's THEMIS satellite showed that a 4,000-mile-thick (6,437-kilometer-thick) layer of solar particles has gathered and is rapidly growing within the outermost part of the magnetosphere, a protective bubble created by Earth's magnetic field.

Normally the magnetosphere blocks most of the solar wind, flowing outward from the sun at about a million miles (1.6 million kilometers) an hour.

"The solar wind is constantly changing, and the Earth's magnetic field is buffeted like a wind sock in gale-force winds, fluttering back and forth in response to the solar wind," Sibeck said this week during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Near Earth's Equator, where solar winds press against the magnetosphere, the field lines point north.

Solar winds also carry magnetic field lines toward Earth, and those solar field lines point in different directions during the sun's 11-year cycle of activity.

Earth's magnetic field lines align themselves in different directions over various regions of the planet.

Conventional thinking had suggested that north-pointing field lines would act like reinforcements to Earth's northward field, causing the planet to "raise shields" against solar winds.

The idea is based, in part, on the fact that auroras are brighter and space-weather hazards increase when solar winds carry southward-pointing field lines, Sibeck said.

"So it's reasonable to think that during periods when the sun's magnetic field lines point south, that's when the most particles get into Earth's magnetosphere."

THEMIS, however, showed that the opposite is true.

The satellite system "found the solar particle layer is much thicker when the two fields are pointing in the same direction," said Marit Øieroset, a THEMIS scientist based at the University of California, Berkeley, who first saw the effect.

In fact, 20 times more particles get through Earth's magnetic shield when the field lines are aligned than when they are opposed, she said.

Model Behavior

To find the mechanism behind this discovery, Oieroset and Sibeck turned to computer models that could simulate the conditions observed by THEMIS.

The models showed that the likely driver is north-facing field lines connecting with Earth's magnetosphere, said Jimmy Raeder, a physicist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham who helped build the simulations.

As a field line approaches, it latches onto the poles and wraps around the planet like an octopus using a tentacle to snare its prey, he said.

The latching, known as magnetic reconnection, tears huge cracks in the magnetosphere and allows solar plasma to leak in.

"We have other observations from other satellites that this reconnection process happens over the poles at times, but we had never appreciated what it actually does," Raeder said.

A thicker layer of solar particles, however, isn't enough by itself to create geomagnetic troubles for Earth.

Right now the planet is enjoying a period of low activity called solar minimum. But particles have been building up inside the magnetosphere as the solar wind carries northward-facing field lines to Earth.

During the next solar cycle, the winds are expected to carry southward-facing field lines, which connect with the magnetosphere in such a way that they provide extra charge to any plasma inside the shield.

"You can sort of compare [the situation] to a gas stove," Raeder said.

"If you turn on the gas and you light it right away, nothing will happen—the gas stove will go on and there will be a flame.

"But if you turn on a gas stove and you don't do anything for a while and then you throw in a match, what will happen? It will say, Boom!"

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Nasa set to launch 'CO2 hunter'

By Jonathan Amos, Science reporter, BBC News, San Francisco



The US space agency is set to launch a satellite that can map in detail where carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere.


Nasa's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) will pinpoint the key locations on the Earth's surface where CO2 is being emitted and absorbed.


CO2 from human activities is thought to be driving climate changes, but important facts about its movement through the atmosphere remain elusive.


The agency believes the technology on OCO can end some of the mysteries.


"This is Nasa's first spacecraft specifically dedicated to mapping carbon dioxide," principal investigator David Crisp told BBC News.


"The objective of the OCO mission is to make measurements that are so precise that they can be used to look for surface 'sources' and 'sinks' of CO2."


Dr Crisp has been presenting details of the mission here at the American Geophysical Union's (AGU) Fall Meeting.


As he did so, OCO's launch on a Taurus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was booked for 23 February.


Nasa already has a CO2 detection instrument on its Aqua satellite but this looks at the greenhouse gas some five to 10km above the surface.


OCO, on the other hand, will detail the concentration of carbon dioxide close to the ground where its warming effect is most keenly felt.


The observatory will be engaged in what amounts to carbon accountancy. Its fortnightly global maps of CO2 concentration will help the mission team work out where the gas is entering the atmosphere and where it is being absorbed by land plants and the oceans.


Scientists have calculated that nature cycles about 330 billion tonnes of CO2 every year.


Human activities put about 7.5 billion tonnes into the atmosphere - a tiny sum in comparison but enough, say researchers, to imbalance the system and raise the global mean surface temperature of Earth.


"We know where most of the fossil fuel emissions are coming from; we also know where things like cement manufacturing are producing large CO2 emissions," explained Dr Crisp, who works at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


"But there are other things such as biomass (forest) burning and clearing; and we don't have a good quantification of the CO2 released by those processes.


"If you take out the fossil fuels - for which we understand the CO2 source to within 10% - and look at the rest of the carbon dioxide that's introduced into the atmosphere by our activities, it's uncertain by 100%.


"The idea is that OCO will help us to constrain that a whole lot better."


Location, location


The sinks for CO2 - the places where it is absorbed - also have many mysteries associated with them.

The Earth is thought to be absorbing about 50% of the carbon dioxide we put out - the majority of it going into the oceans. But science's description of the other major absorbers is poor, commented UK Earth-observation scientist Shaun Quegan.


"There's a bunch of atmospheric collection flasks dotted around the planet and when we apply the models to their data, the models all show there is a carbon sink in northern mid-latitudes," he said.


"But whether that's in North America, in Siberia, or wherever and what's causing it is a big debate."


Since science does not have a good handle on where the CO2 is being absorbed, researchers can have only limited understanding of how CO2 sinks are likely to evolve as the climate changes.


"Let's say we found that the boreal forests in Canada and Siberia were the primary sinks of CO2 because of their incredibly rapid growth during summer months when the Sun is up," speculated Dr Crisp.


"Well those environments are changing dramatically right now.


"Will they still be the primary absorbers of CO2 as time goes on? We don't really know how big an impact they're having right now.


"This is why OCO is so essential."


Reflected glory


The observatory carries a single instrument - a spectrometer that breaks the sunlight reflected off the Earth's surface into its constituent colours, and then analyses the spectrum to determine how much carbon dioxide and molecular oxygen is present.


The data can be used to work out atmospheric concentrations.


OCO will produce monthly maps of carbon dioxide over 1,600-sq-km (620 sq miles) regions of the Earth's surface to an accuracy of just fractions of 1%.


However, to locate the sources and sinks, scientists will need to combine the information with models that estimate how CO2 is being moved and mixed through the air.




  1. OCO will head the 'train' of satellites when it gets into orbit. It will measure the concentration of carbon dioxide in the lower atmosphere
  2. Aqua will lag OCO by 15 minutes. It is collecting information about the Earth's water cycle - water in the oceans, the air and on the land
  3. Cloudsat will allow for the most detailed study of clouds to date. It should better characterise their role in regulating the climate
  4. Calipso views clouds just moments after Cloudsat has looked at them. Its primary interest is the way aerosols interact with clouds
  5. Parasol is a French satellite that can distinguish natural from human-produced aerosols. It makes polarised light measurements
  6. Glory will join the train in June. One task will be to measure the 'energy budget' of Earth, to determine accurately global temperature
  7. Aura also has a big European investment. It looks at atmospheric chemistry, and is producing remarkable global pollution maps


Once in orbit, OCO will join a fleet of other satellites - known as the A-Train - which carry a range of instrumentation to give a rounded picture of Earth's atmospheric and water systems.


The spacecraft cross the equator in the early afternoon on a path that takes them over broadly the same observation point in quick succession.


OCO will be followed into orbit next year by a Japanese carbon mission known as the Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT).


Europe is considering two carbon observatories - A-SCOPE (Advanced Space Carbon and Climate Observation of Planet Earth) and a mission called BIOMASS - which could fly in 2016.


Professor Quegan, from the UK's University of Sheffield, is working on the BIOMASS proposal.


"The spacecraft would measure global forest biomass at scales of about one hectare," he said.


"It's a crucial natural resource and ecosystem service - for materials, for energy, for biodiversity - there's a good correlation between how much biomass you've got and how much biodiversity you've got - and for climate and water protection."


"So from a carbon cycle science aspect, forests have some critical parameters that need to be pinned down."

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