September
28
2016

A New Leaf: Scientists turn Carbon Dioxide Back Into Fuel

As scientists and policymakers around the world try to combat the increasing rate of climate change, they have focused on the chief culprit: carbon dioxide.

Produced by the burning of fossil fuels in power plants and car engines, carbon dioxide continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, warming the planet. But trees and other plants do slowly capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting it to sugars that store energy.

In a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers have found a similar way to convert carbon dioxide into a usable energy source using sunlight.

One of the chief challenges of sequestering carbon dioxide is that it is relatively chemically unreactive. “On its own, it is quite difficult to convert carbon dioxide into something else,” said Argonne chemist Larry Curtiss, an author of the study.

September
26
2016

Wind Power Fiercer than Expected

University of Delaware researchers report in a new study that offshore wind may be more powerful, yet more turbulent than expected in the North Eastern United States.

The findings, published in a paper in the Journal of Geophysical ResearchAtmospheres, could have important implications for the future development of offshore wind farms in the U.S., including the assessment of how much wind power can be produced, what type of turbines should be used, how many turbines should be installed and the spacing between each.

The study, led by Cristina Archer at UD and Brian Colle at Stony Brook University, analyzed historical data from 2003-2011 at the Cape Wind tower located near the center of Nantucket Sound off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and collected complementary data at the same location in 2013-2014.

Co-authors on the paper, titled “On the predominance of unstable atmospheric conditions in the marine boundary layer offshore of the U.S. northeastern coast,” include UD professors Dana Veron and Fabrice Veron, and Matthew Sienkiewicz from Stony Brook.

September
22
2016

Low-Cost Solar Device Converts Sunlight to Steam in Dusty Environment

A team of researchers from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a novel, low-cost solar thermal energy conversion system that can easily generate steam from sunlight. The solar conversion system can help make technologies that rely on steam, like seawater desalination, wastewater treatment, residential water heating, medical tool sterilization and power generation, more efficient and affordable.

The new device floats on water, converting 20% of incoming solar energy into steam at 100 degrees Celsius without expensive optical concentration devices and is made of cheap, commercially available materials, including bubble wrap and a polystyrene (plastic) foam.

September
20
2016

Where are Golden Eagles the most Abundant?

Golden eagles may be more abundant in elevated, undeveloped landscapes with high wind speeds, according to a study published August 24, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ryan Nielson from Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc., USA, and colleagues.

Better understanding of golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) abundance and distribution across the developing western United States is needed to help identify and conserve their habitats in the face of anthropogenic threats. The authors of the present study monitored golden eagle abundance across four major Bird Conservation Regions, comprising ~2 million-km2, in the western United States. They used existing data from aerial surveys and distance sampling during late summer in 2006-2013. The authors then modelled counts of golden eagle observations based on land cover and other environmental factors.

September
16
2016

Which Snowy Owls Thrive in Saskatchewan’s Winters?

Snowy Owls capture the imagination, but ornithologists know surprisingly little about how these birds of the far north fare during the harsh winters they endure. The researchers behind a new study inThe Auk: Ornithological Advances trapped and tracked Snowy Owls wintering in Canada and found that while age and sex affect the birds’ condition, most do fairly well, showing few signs of starvation and some even putting on weight over the winter months.

Female Snowy Owls are bigger than males, and Alexander Chang and Karen Wiebe of the University of Saskatchewan expected that their dominant behavior would give females access to greater food resources during the challenging winter season. Their results bore this out — females tended to be in better condition than males, and adults, with their greater hunting experience, tended to be in better condition than juveniles.

September
14
2016

Devotion to Rearing Chicks can Come at a Cost for Migratory Birds

Birds that have to work harder during breeding season will feel the effects of their exertions the following year, according to research by Oxford University scientists.

A new study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology found that migratory seabirds suffered negative repercussions when they had to spend more time rearing chicks, including decreased breeding success when they returned to the colony the following spring.

The study artificially altered the length of the chick-rearing period for pairs of Manx shearwaters, giving new insights into the consequences for birds whose reproductive phase doesn’t go to plan. All parent pairs involved in the study cared for their foster chicks until they were fully reared — often at their own expense.

Lead author Dr Annette Fayet, of the Oxford Navigation Group in the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said: ‘The results of this study provide evidence for carry-over effects on the subsequent migratory, wintering and breeding behaviour of birds.’

September
12
2016

Migrating birds speed up in spring

It turns out being the early bird really does have its advantages. A new study in The Auk: Ornithological Advances shows that migrating birds fly faster and put more effort into staying on course in spring than in fall, racing to arrive to their breeding grounds as soon as possible to get an edge in raising the next generation.

Migrating birds travel faster in spring than in fall because arriving late to their breeding grounds can affect their reproductive success. Past studies have shown that migrants take shorter breaks in spring, but it’s harder to tell whether they also move faster in the air.

September
8
2016

Hummingbird Vision Wired to Avoid High-Speed Collisions

Hummingbirds are among nature’s most agile fliers. They can travel faster than 50 kilometres per hour and stop on a dime to navigate through dense vegetation.

Now researchers have discovered that the tiny birds process visual information differently from other animals, perhaps to handle the demands of their extreme aerial acrobatics.

“Birds fly faster than insects and it’s more dangerous if they collide with things,” said Roslyn Dakin, a postdoctoral fellow in the UBC’s department of zoology who led the study. “We wanted to know how they avoid collisions and we found that hummingbirds use their environment differently than insects to steer a precise course.”

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