Sooner than predicted, parts of the world already too hot for humans


Streetside cooling station

Global warming has already made parts of the world hotter than the human body can withstand, decades earlier than climate models expected this to happen.

Jacobabad in Pakistan and Ras al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates have both repeatedly crossed a deadly threshold for one or two hours at a time, an analysis of weather station data found.

Wet bulb temperature (TW) is a measure of heat and humidity, taken from a thermometer covered in a water-soaked cloth. Beyond a threshold of 35°C TW the body is unable to cool itself by sweating, but lower levels can still be deadly, as was seen in the 2003 European heatwave that killed thousands without passing 28°C TW.

A US-UK team analysed weather station data across the world, and found that the frequency of wet bulb temperatures exceeding temperatures between 27°C TW and 35°C TW had all doubled since 1979. Though 35°C TW is thought of as a key threshold, harm and even death is possible at lower temperatures, so the team included these in their analysis.

Fat cats in their kool-aid kastles and kars ain’t going to be worrying about themselves. Not likely to worry about the rest of us. Question remains the usual: can we, will we, build a movement that threatens political gigs more than the dollar$ that keep politicians in office?

Planning for this weekend’s snowstorm — or any other snowstorm?

The East Coast might face a massive snowstorm this weekend, one that meteorologists say could be of “historic” proportions.

There are lots of fun things to do during a snowstorm, like drink hot chocolate and build snowmen. But there is one specific thing that pretty much everyone should avoid during a big snowstorm — the thing you should keep in mind as you make preparations for this week.

Do not, if you can possibly avoid it, drive anywhere.

Alan Black and Thomas Mote at the University of Georgia compared deaths from winter-related travel with those from other weather events. Between 2002 and 2011, there were an average of 842 deaths from winter-related automobile accidents annually. That’s more than the average deaths from lightning strikes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and rip currents combined.

So, be certain you have backup groceries, batteries charged for mobile devices, alternatives on hand for staying warm if and when the power goes out.

Fighting wildfires with science

Fire modeling tools rely on information from the National Weather Service, detailed maps of fuel layers in forests and other factors. They estimate how fast the fire will burn and how it will spread in relation to vegetation, trees, homes and other properties.

For Joe Hudson and Byron Bonney, the WFDSS program calculated the Johnson Bar fire’s potential spread within a 26,000-acre planning area where firefighter actions could slow or stop the fire. The modeled fire behavior informed them on the potential effects on threatened values: homes along the Selway and in nearby Lowell, a rustic lookout, the historic Tahoe Trail, habitat for fish, and timber and replanted forests.

“Once the fire has escaped initial direct attack, the goal is to protect the values at risk and contain the fire,” said Hudson.

Hudson called in the Incident Management Team, an interagency group that manages large fires. The IMT set up camp Aug. 8 at the Kooskia airport, 20 miles west of the fire.

Winds were pushing the fire north. Winds were gusting 35 mph on the ridges, triggering an Aug. 12 flare that doubled the size of the fire in one day. People living in the 30 homes along the Selway already had been evacuated.

The IMT kept the fire from spreading and establishing itself on the other side of the river. The WFDSS analysis was helping guide their decisions.

With the fire spreading down the slopes of the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater River, the managers decided to perform burnouts using the rivers as barriers.

It worked. Welcome rains helped tame the fire. Firefighters were able to establish containment lines.

There are a few sections to this article – each valuable. It all leads up to fire science, divining the factors affecting heat, fuel and oxygen – the determinants of a fire.

Read the article. Especially if you live in the Moiuntain West.

TechKnow on Aljazeera America had a good segment on these studies a week or so ago. Here are the producer’s notes. Haven’t a video of the segment, yet – only a promo for the show.

Thanks, Mike

Glowing polymer detects explosives


William Dichtel and Deepti Gopalakrishnan

Detecting bombs in places such as airports could be getting easier, thanks to a new fluorescing polymer. While you might expect the material to glow in the presence of explosives, they actually cause it to stop glowing.

The polymer was developed at Cornell University by chemist William Dichtel and his graduate student, Deepti Gopalakrishnan.

Ordinarily, its random cross-linked structure lets it absorb light, transport the energy through itself, and ultimately release that energy back out as light. Should the energy meet up with even a single molecule of explosive as it moves through the polymer, however, it will be released as heat instead of light. This causes the polymer to promptly cease fluorescing.

It is now hoped that the polymer could be incorporated into low-cost hand-held sensors, which could be used with or instead of bomb-sniffing dogs.

This is definitely better than using X-Rays to peer beneath my underwear.

Tall, red and green: Housing scheme sells energy back to the grid

Look up this project on the website of its architects, ACXT, and you will find that it goes by the rather understated name of 242 Affordable Housing Units in Salburúa (Salburúa being a neighborhood in the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz). In many ways the downplaying of the name is in keeping with ACXT’s quiet approaches to sustainable design. Though there may be no obvious green bells and whistles such as wind turbines or photovoltaics, passive architectural methods combined with on-site generation contribute to what ACXT claims is a “considerable reduction” in the building’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Though largely a residential development the building, completed in 2011, incorporates nine shops at ground level. From there, it’s social housing all the way up: between four and seven stories for the horseshoe-shaped block that forms the building’s footprint, rising to 21 stories for the tower that rises above one end of that horseshoe.

Why the variation in height in the main block of the building? It’s all to do with daylight, or specifically sunlight – the two being subtly different things. By limiting the height of the development to the south (we’re in the northern hemisphere, needless to say), more apartments are granted a direct view of the sun. It’s an arrangement the building appears to have borrowed from its closest neighbors, and though the tower, being located at the building’s south-western corner, inevitably casts a shadow, the photographs suggest that an impressive proportion of the building’s facades are bathed in sunlight at any given time. In any case, the positioning of the tower to the south inevitably means that more apartments are granted a south-facing aspect, and though direct sunlight can be problematic, it’s also a very nice thing to have – especially at home…

More central to the building’s sustainable efforts is the cogeneration system which produces 70 kW of electricity and 109 kW of heating on site. A relatively unglamorous technology, cogeneration…is nevertheless a tremendously important weapon in a building designer’s arsenal. In this case, effectively an on-site gas-fired power station…it’s the proximity of the power generation to end use that sees CHP offering significant energy savings over grid-scale gas fired power, because a vast amount of the heat generated as a by-product can be put to use very near to where it is generated. Plus it’s heat that doesn’t have to be generated by other means, as would otherwise be the case. In a triumph of localism, cogeneration can almost be seen as putting the fuel to work twice in one go.

ACXT reports that the building is able to produce electricity to sell back to the grid, which suggests that, for some of the time at least, the cogeneration system is producing more electricity than the building needs: a good thing.

Bravo! They don’t discuss it in the article; but, I imagine the plumbing and what HVAC there is – is all home run rather than traditional right angles and elbows. You can save about 30% of the energy required to push water and air around a multi-story building.

Solar Roadways gets grant to build prototype solar parking lot

What do you need to generate a lot of electricity from photoelectric solar cells? A lot of surface area. What is a lot of the surface of the United States covered in? Roads. Put those two ideas together, and the idea of turning the nation’s highways into solar farms doesn’t sound too odd, does it? Well, maybe it doesn’t until you consider that you’re talking about taking electronics – electronics that are typically somewhat delicate and rather expensive – and purposely putting them on the ground where heavy vehicles will zoom over them at high speed…

Replacing crushed stone and tar with LEDs and capacitors seems so unlikely that when Solar Roadways was awarded $100,000 to construct a small, 12′ by 12′ prototype system in 2009, infrastructure blog The Infrastructionist gave the effort its “Dubious Green Scheme” award and labeled Solar Roadways not just “harebrained” but “totally batshit crazy.”

As it turns out, that initial panel impressed the Department of Transportation enough that Solar Roadways has now been given $750,000 to take it to the next step: a solar parking lot. Constructed out of multiple 12′ x 12′ panels, the smart parking lot will do more than the asphalt alternative. It will warm itself in cold weather to melt away snow and ice. A layer of embedded LEDs can be used create traffic warnings or crosswalks. Electricity leftover from those tasks could be used to charge electric vehicles or routed into the power grid. The electrical components will be embedded between layers of hardened, textured glass – this may sound fragile, but is already tough enough that some areas use the material for sidewalks.

Parking lots, driveways, and eventually highways are all targets for the panels. If the nation’s system of interstate highways was surfaced with Solar Roadways panels, the results would be more than three times the amount of electricity currently consumed. Of course, at $100,000 per 12′, costs would need to come down significant bit before that could happen.

Obviously, the editors never compared the cost of building solar roadways to typical American highway boondoggles. The record is held by a project near and dear to my heart – Boston’s Big Dig. A three-and-a-half mile tunnel that ended up costing over $14 billion.

Plus he’s extrapolating from the first 12′ x 12′ panel. The parking lot project will reduce square foot cost as will further ramping up towards capacity production. All of which he doubtless knows. 🙂

Five Indian coppers die during job fitness competition

Five Indian police constables died of heart attacks during a ten kilometre run as part of a selection test for promotion. A further 100 officers fainted during the trial in which they had to run 10 kilometres in less than ninety minutes in high monsoon temperatures.

Some of those who collapsed said senior officers had shown no sympathy and had shouted abuse at them as they laid on the ground.

Police recruitment managers said the deaths and the high number of men who collapsed highlighted poor fitness levels in the force. The image of the pot-bellied khaki policeman is a well-known and much-derided stereotype in India.

Most of those competing in the race were in their mid-40s and were described as “middle aged and unfit”. They died last week in three separate races in Kanpur, Meerut and Azamgarh, in Uttar Pradesh.

Vikram Chandra Goel, chairman of the state’s Police Recruitment and Promotion Board said the constables who died had been suffering from heart complaints and high blood pressure but either “did not inform the department of their ailments or they were not themselves aware of the disease”…

Promotion aspirants will now have to undergo medical tests before taking place in promotion marathon races.

What a sum of collaborative stupidity. So, no one thought to have a general physical exam for a group of mostly 40’s employees scheduled to set off on a 10K run in monsoon season. That’s DUMB 101.

It’s easy to malign the coppers who were out of shape; but, still joined the competition. They were running to make a little more income. The constabulary in India ain’t exactly the most overpaid in the world.