Tag Archives: Ecology

Updates from Georgia Tech

Driving Cassini: Doctoral Student Controls Spacecraft in Mission’s Final Days

By Jason Maderer – When the Cassini spacecraft plunges into Saturn on September 15 to end a nearly two-decade mission, Georgia Tech student Michael Staab will have a front row seat. It’s almost literally the driver’s seat.

Staab is working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California while pursuing his aerospace engineering doctoral degree in the distance learning program. He’s a Cassini Spacecraft Flight Controller, which means he’s one of only three people authorized to tell the machine what to do and where to go as it orbits Saturn.

The job is almost finished. Just before 8 a.m. (Atlanta time) on Friday, Staab will hear Cassini’s signal for the final time before it dives into the planet’s atmosphere, becoming a part of Saturn.

Prior to attending Georgia Tech, I was a flight test engineering intern at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California and, later, a test requirements and analysis engineer for Boeing in St. Louis. I had a lot of control room and operations experience, which is exactly what JPL was looking for.

The duty of a flight controller at JPL is fairly straight-forward; we possess absolute command and control authority of the spacecraft when tracking it through the Deep-Space Network. more> https://goo.gl/aAU76G

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Updates from Aalto University

Aalto-1 satellite sends first image
By Jaan Praks, Antti Kestilä – Launched on the morning of 23 June from India, the Aalto-1 satellite’s first month in space has gone according to plan.

‘We have run checks on the majority of the satellite’s systems and found that the devices are fully functional,’ Professor Jaan Praks, who is heading the satellite project, explains.

‘We have also downloaded the first image sent by Aalto-1, which is also the first ever image taken from a Finnish satellite. It was taken while on orbit over Norway at an altitude of about 500 kilometres. The image shows the Danish coast as well as a portion of the Norwegian coastline.

Unlike traditional cameras, which measure three colours, the hyperspectral camera is able to measure dozens of freely selected narrow color channels. For this reason, it can be utilised for example in surveying forest types, algae and vegetation and as a tool in geological research. more> https://goo.gl/QGMNGu

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These 5 Countries Are Killing It in the Battle Against Climate Change

By Raya Bidshahri – When it comes to climate change, government leaders and politicians must begin to think beyond their term limits and lifetimes. They must ask themselves not how they can serve their voters, but rather how they can contribute to our species’ progress. They must think beyond the short term economic benefits of fossil fuels, and consider the long term costs to our planet.

Climate change is considered one of the greatest threats to our species. If current trends continue, we can expect an increase in frequency of extreme weather events like floods, droughts and heat waves. All of these pose a threat to crops, biodiversity, freshwater supplies and above all, human life.

Here are examples of a few countries leading the way.

Denmark: Considered the most climate-friendly country in the world, Denmark is on the path to be completely independent of fossil fuels by 2050.

China: Home to the world’s biggest solar farm, China is the world’s biggest investor in domestic solar energy and is also expanding its investments in renewable energies overseas.

France: Thanks to the production of nuclear energy, representing 80 percent of nationwide energy production, France has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions.

India: The nation is on the path to becoming the third-largest solar market in the world. Solar power has become cheaper than coal in India.

Sweden: Sweden has passed a law that obliges the government to cut all greenhouse emissions by 2045. With more than half of its energy coming from renewable sources and a very successful recycling program, the country leads many initiatives on climate change. more> https://goo.gl/PPrn3b

End-times for humanity

BOOK REVIEW

Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction, Author: Claire Colebrook.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Author: Naomi Klein.
Antifragile, Author: Nicholas Taleb.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Author: Mary Wollstonecraft.
The Social Contract, Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

By Claire Colebrook – The panic isn’t merely about civilisational threats, but existential ones. Beyond doomsday proclamations about mass extinction, climate change, viral pandemics, global systemic collapse and resource depletion, we seem to be seized by an anxiety about losing the qualities that make us human.

Social media, we’re told, threatens our capacity for empathy and genuine connection.

How did we arrive at this moment in history, in which humanity is more technologically powerful than ever before, and yet we feel ourselves to be increasingly fragile?

What contemporary post-apocalyptic culture fears isn’t the end of ‘the world’ so much as the end of ‘a world’ – the rich, white, leisured, affluent one. Western lifestyles are reliant on what the French philosopher Bruno Latour has referred to as a ‘slowly built set of irreversibilities’, requiring the rest of the world to live in conditions that ‘humanity’ regards as unlivable.

And nothing could be more precarious than a species that contracts itself to a small portion of the Earth, draws its resources from elsewhere, transfers its waste and violence, and then declares that its mode of existence is humanity as such. more> https://goo.gl/1nriI9

Updates from Aalto University

Solar energy to Otaniemi – campus planning invests in energy efficiency
By Satu Kankaala – Right now, the Aalto University main campus is growing and developing rapidly. Campus planning is investing in energy efficiency, which is an important step in the goal towards an energy self-sufficient Otaniemi ‘According to our report, ground heat and solar energy are the most suitable options for Otaniemi, and we are gradually increasing their use’, tells Satu Kankaala, Head of Workplaces and Sustainability at Aalto CRE.

‘The campus is made unique by several culturally significant locations as well as the nearby nature and conservation area. They also impact what kinds of energy technologies can be used in the properties’, she continues.

According to Kankaala, also financial sustainability, the wellbeing of people working in the spaces, and improving the utilization of the spaces are central aspects of responsible campus development.

About 45% of the energy used for heating and 75% of the energy used for cooling the recently repaired Dipoli comes from geothermal energy. Geothermal energy will comprise about 90% of the heating and up to 95% of the cooling of Väre, which will be finished next year. The electricity consumption of campus buildings has considerably been reduced by measures such as shifting to LED lighting and improving the power management of the computer base. With these energy efficiency measures, the carbon footprint of the buildings has been significantly reduced. more> https://goo.gl/crp3uu

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Decades of Data on World’s Oceans Reveal a Troubling Oxygen Decline
By Takamitsu Ito, Shoshiro Minobe, Matthew C. Long and Curtis Deutsch – A new analysis of decades of data on oceans across the globe has revealed that the amount of dissolved oxygen contained in the water – an important measure of ocean health – has been declining for more than 20 years.

The majority of the oxygen in the ocean is absorbed from the atmosphere at the surface or created by photosynthesizing phytoplankton. Ocean currents then mix that more highly oxygenated water with subsurface water. But rising ocean water temperatures near the surface have made it more buoyant and harder for the warmer surface waters to mix downward with the cooler subsurface waters. Melting polar ice has added more freshwater to the ocean surface – another factor that hampers the natural mixing and leads to increased ocean more> stratification.

Falling oxygen levels in water have the potential to impact the habitat of marine organisms worldwide and in recent years led to more frequent “hypoxic events” that killed or displaced populations of fish, crabs and many other organisms. more> https://goo.gl/3F17TB

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Updates from GE

The Power Of Data: How Software Is Helping Keep Iceland’s Lights On
By Julie Khoo – There are many reasons to visit Iceland. This former Viking stronghold is now the most peaceful country and home to the happiest and most literate people in the world — one in 10 Icelanders on average reportedly has published a book.

A nation of glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls, Iceland is also, at least metaphorically, one of the greenest places, generating all of its electricity from renewable sources such as hydropower and geothermal energy.

The grid receives electricity from generators that move at a constant frequency, just like the merry-go-round. When a power-hungry load suddenly disconnects from a high-inertia grid with lots of generators, the grid frequency will barely change.

But when a generator or load goes offline in a low-inertia grid like the one in Iceland, Landsnet has to act quickly to return the frequency to its normal level.

This can be a real headache. If the frequency drops or climbs too quickly, it can knock down parts of the grid and cause power failures. It can even cause a geothermal power station to automatically disconnect from the grid to protect the equipment from large stresses. Dramatic changes in frequency can also create “electrical islands” as different areas on the grid react to the changes. This can lead to blackouts. more> https://goo.gl/LyyN60

Updates from Aalto University

Aalto-2 satellite arrived at the International Space Station
By Jaan Praks – The robot arm was operated by US astronaut Peggy Whitson from NASA and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet from ESA.

‘I am glad that I could be a part of docking the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the Space Station and welcome the QB50 satellites. They will be sent into space in May. One of them is Aalto-2 – the first satellite from Finland! I am very pleased that another European Space Agency member state is becoming “a true space nation”’, greeted Pesquet.

‘The Aalto-2 satellite will now spend a few weeks at the Space Station and wait for its turn to be launched. As the plan stands now, the small satellites will be detached to their orbits either on 8 or 15 May’, says Aalto Professor Jaan Praks, who is in charge of Aalto satellite projects. more> https://goo.gl/28ckbx

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Updates from GE

Dam Powerful: These Engineers Are Connecting Hydropower To The Internet
By Tomas Kellner – There are many large waterways in North America. Then there’s the Saint Lawrence River, whose lumbering current links the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Montreal, Quebec’s business capital with 1.7 million inhabitants, fits on an island sliced off from the mainland by the waterway and its tributaries. Just west of the city, the river’s surface is so wide it could pass for a sea.

This abundance of water is a clue to why Quebec has become one of the world’s leaders in carbon-free energy. Lakes and rivers here pack enough power to supply the 7 million Quebecois with 95 percent of the electricity they need.

“This country and this region really know how to run hydropower well,” says Anne McEntee, vice president for renewable energy services at GE Renewable Energy. “But there’s no reason why you cannot get even better. For decades, advances in hydro have primarily been on the physical side of things, being able to get more out of your physical assets through redesign and engineering. We are now looking at digital applications as the next advance.”

“Our new software allows us to observe how the physical components behave in real time.”

McEntee says the insights allow customers to adapt the turbine’s operations to the specific conditions on-site, rather than strictly follow the manual. “We can take into account the real water and flow conditions versus what it was designed to do,” she says. “This allows us to make use of the error tolerance and get more power when we need it, like when the price is favorable. We are constantly looking for opportunities to squeeze out 1, 2, 3 percent of efficiency.” more> https://goo.gl/PTA8xd

How the U.S. Prepared for Nuclear Catastrophe

BOOK REVIEW

Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die, Author: Garrett Graff.

By Mahita Gajanan – Raven Rock is the name of the military installation built in the late 1940s near Camp David, in case of disaster during the Cold War. As Graff’s subtitle indicates, not everyone was invited to take shelter.

“It’s too hard to keep people scared enough that every family will have a shelter,” Graff said. “The planners were like, ‘This is going to be too much to save America. So, we’re going to try to figure out how to save the idea of America.'”

As we think about Russia and North Korea, these questions are more relevant today,” he said. “We just don’t know what [Trump] is doing or who might be appointed to some of these secret roles after a catastrophic incident.”

Graff said plans for a nuclear disaster today “absolutely exist,” although they remain classified. more> https://goo.gl/G1DnyD