The Great Pacific Garbage Patch comprises three massive, floating marine debris “islands” within a circular ocean current, or gyre - stark reminders of the major environmental pollutant that plastic has become. Fortunately, scientists and engineers are developing novel alternatives for tasks currently filled by petrochemicals. Two alternative packaging materials that especially intrigue me are the mycelium of fungus like mushrooms and spider silk.
The risk of megafloods is increasing dramatically as global temperatures rise and store more moisture in the atmosphere. We are not as prepared as many assume. For California, both history and modeling studies of the storm events we can expect in the future provide interesting insights.
The Star of Bethlehem, or the Christmas Star, has an important place in tradition. A mystery surrounds the history of this star, and searches for an explanation have concerned theologians, philosophers, and scientists for nearly 2,000 years. In this post, I focus on whether astronomers have identified a celestial body that could have been a Christmas star.
Erupting volcanoes are forming new real estate all around our planet. Beneath Iceland and Hawaii, hot lava upwelling from deep underground is hardening into rock. Hotspots create chains of volcanoes on these islands as a tectonic plate slowly crosses a mantle plume. In Iceland, there are also volcanic eruptions occurring from the location astride the spreading center known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The result: LOTS of lava.
Rich deposits of metals cover vast areas of deep ocean floors. Mining companies have focused on polymetallic nodules, and large-scale seafloor mining could begin by 2024. Given the potential for irreversible consequences to ocean environments and our climate, many are calling for a moratorium or a delay in this mining.
Opportunities from mining metals like manganese and cobalt to developing new drugs are being found by researchers who are examining our oceans more carefully. Polymetallic nodules, sometimes referred to as “a battery in a rock”, have attracted particular attention. By volume, the oceans provide an astonishing 99 percent of the planet’s living space. We have a lot to learn about these complex and fragile environments.
Earthquakes and volcanoes can provide us with surprising and unexpected new data. Just within this century, several dramatic events have increased our understanding of these natural hazards, including the catastrophic 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan. Now, examination of the events leading up to a 2021 volcanic eruption has brought new – and sobering - information.
Safeguarding ancient Egyptian cultural treasures in the 1960s laid the groundwork for the UNESCO World Heritage Site program. These designations provide protections for places having outstanding cultural and natural heritage. Both Egypt and Peru have fabulous archaeological sites with World Heritage designations, and I’ve had the good fortune to see many. I hope to visit World Heritage Sites in many other countries.
Many researchers are working on new and intriguing renewable energy storage sources. Interesting approaches for gravity, compressed air, and thermal storage are under development. A few of these, each based on relatively simple mechanical engineering fundamentals, have captured my interest and I describe them in this post.
Renewable energy from sunlight, water, and wind plays an important role worldwide—and renewable storage is essential to reduce imbalances between energy demand and energy production. We need to develop much more storage capacity; fortunately, there are efficient storage technologies already in use, as well as innovative alternative approaches under development.