Today's politics focuses on the many divides in our nation and it sometimes seems like we are no longer interested in a union. But a group of recent studies and surveys from Yale University suggest that most Americans agree that we should put a tax on carbon. 78% of Americans would agree to a carbon tax that would add about $15-20 a month to utility of energy bills. Of course, the majority of Americans agree on other policy areas too, but that does not mean action will be taken. How should the revue raised by a carbon tax be used? Increased use of solar and wind energy and repair and development of infrastructure were the most popular choices. For more, read about the studies in this article from The Guardian.
And this explains why the heavy elements are so neutron-rich! Astronomers just observed the collision of super-dense neutron stars for the first time. The collision caused gravity waves, confirming another one of Einstein's hypotheses. But it also produced heavy elements like the precious metals gold and platinum. Neutron stars are produced when stars form supernovae, but don't have enough mass to produce black holes. Instead, the star becomes an incredibly dense accumulation of neutrons with the mass of several suns, but the diameter of the city of Chicago. When neutron stars collide, new atoms and elements are formed.
'Then there were the observations of the debris. This picked up the presence of gold and other heavy elements in the debris, which again, clears up an outstanding mystery. Some heavy elements are readily formed in the environment created by a supernova, meaning it's easy to explain their abundance in the cosmos. But others can only form through pathways that involve the rapid ingestion of multiple neutrons—so fast that the atom doesn't have time to rearrange to accommodate the previous neutrons it had absorbed. Supernovae aren't thought to provide an environment that's sufficiently neutron-rich for this to occur.'
For more, read this article in Ars Technica.
In May of 2009, Lauri Sybel and I took a group of six Sustainable Design & Technology students to Costa Rica on an Earthwatch expedition. We traveled to the University of Georgia campus near the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve where we helped Dr. Valerie Peters collect data to understand the pollinators that helped farmers grow coffee and other crops on the local sustainable fincas.
A 26-year study of the 4,000-acre Harvard Forest by Melillo and colleagues from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole has revealed that warming soils release more carbon to the atmosphere than had been hypothesized. And, this suggests that as rising levels of atmospheric carbo dioxide cause warming temperatures, warming soils may release even more carbon dioxide, triggering a positive feedback loop and driving global climate change forward. Humans may find it hard to overcome these positive feedback effects. The groundbreaking study used underground loops of cable to heat some areas 5 degrees C warmer than other areas. The top 60 cm of soil lost 17% more carbon in the warmed areas than in surrounding plots. The loses were cyclical suggesting that a the biological process involved takes time to begin, peaks and falls only to begin again. Read more about the study here.
A study of rainforests has found that the forests are so degraded that they are releasing more carbon than they store and not acting as the carbon sinks we'd hoped. Forests in South America, Africa and Asia are now releasing 425 teragrams of carbon annually, more than is produced by all traffic in the US. Interestingly, this change isn't due to deforestation. The forests are still present, but are thinner, less biodiverse and not able to take up the amounts of carbon they had in their pristine state. The causes of degradation appear to be selective logging, fire, drought and hunting. Read more in this coverage.
This morning the BBC reports that Elon Musk and the governor of Puerto Rico are discussing an offer from Tesla to create a series of solar-powered electric grids to power the island. This new system would use battery storage to provide power when the sun is not shining. Tesla has created such grids to provide all the power needed on several smaller islands, like Ta'u in American Samoa. Ta'u's 1.5 MW system was installed by Solar City and includes 60 Tesla Powerpacks capable of storing three days of power. Ta'u is very small, about 17 square miles, with a population of just 790. Puerto Rico is about 1/3 the size of Vermont with a population of over 3.5 million. This could be a great opportunity to prove the scalability of Tesla's systems. For more information about the Ta'u system, including a short video, check out this report from Wired.