Friday, September 22, 2017
Breaking News
Home » Brendon Bosworth

Brendon Bosworth

Rocky Mountain Wildfires Set to Intensify?

A NASA global wildfire model does not cast happy projections for the forests of the West in future. As global temperatures increase and the West becomes drier, fire activity in the region could increase by 30 percent to 60 percent from present day levels by the turn of the century, according to NASA scientist Olga Pechony, who designed the model with colleague Drew Shindell. At the same time, Pechony and Shindell expect that the wetter, eastern half of the country will experience a drop in wildfires as warmer temperatures lead to more humid conditions there. Increased wildfire activity would continue a trend that has been playing out over the past 30 years due to warmer and drier conditions in the West making fuel for wildfires more flammable, Peter Hildebrand, director of the earth sciences directorate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said at the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado in April. As the earth heats up circulation systems are changing and the winter storm track is being pushed further north. This results in less precipitation, higher temperatures and more evaporation in the Rocky Mountain West, Hildebrand explained.

Read More »

Could a New Transmission System Make the Wind Power Industry More Profitable?

About 25 years ago Utah inventor Gary Lee was growing frustrated with his snowmobile’s gearbox. Far too often when he was out riding the transmission would get really hot and burn out the rubber belt inside the gearbox. This got Lee thinking about how to design a more durable transmission. After years of work he’s designed a prototype of a recently patented transmission that he claims could make wind power profitable and help the industry move away from subsidies. The poor reliability of gearboxes is a challenge for the wind power industry and the high cost of replacing busted gearboxes is a chief expense, according to the American Wind Energy Association. While wind turbines are designed to operate for 20 years, estimates for the life of an average gearbox are in the six-to-10-year range, although this can vary, Jeroen van Dam, an engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Gearbox Reliability Collaborative, said in an email. The collaborative, which includes wind turbine manufacturers, owners, operators and research institutes, has found that gearbox problems are an industry-wide issue and not tied to a particular wind turbine or gearbox manufacturer, he added. The fixed gearboxes currently used in wind turbines are vulnerable to spikes in wind speeds, Lee said in a telephone interview. High-speed gusts apply a lot of torque (the force that spins the turbine’s shaft) to the transmission, placing it under stress. Sometimes, the wind doesn’t hit the turbine straight on and might catch just one of the blades, which can bend the gears, Lee said. “If you look at windmills, you’ll see quite often that several of them are not turning and that’s because they’re broken,” he said.

Read More »

In Montana, Cheap Filters to Combat Well Water Radiation

Naturally occurring uranium and the radioactive products it forms as it breaks down over time cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled in water. This lesson hit home for some residents in southwest Montana recently, when laboratory testing showed their well water contained high concentrations of radioactive material.

Read More »

Challenges of a Colorado Local Food Initiative

Building up Boulder County’s local food system – increasing the capacity for food to be grown, processed, distributed and sold within the county – is a goal of Boulder-based nonprofit organization Transition Colorado. The organization’s outlook is informed by the global Transition movement, a grassroots effort tied to the Transition Network in the United Kingdom and focused on strengthening communities dealing with what Michael Brownlee, cofounder of Transition Colorado, refers to as a “convergence of global crises.” With his silvery hair pulled into a neat ponytail, 64-year-old Brownlee has a contemplative mien that melds with an unmasked pessimism about these impending crises: peak oil (the point at which global oil production hits its apex and begins to decline, resulting in rising fuel prices), global warming and economic instability. Re-localizing the food economy dovetails with localizing manufacturing and energy production and is key to curbing consumption of resources, he said during an interview around a small conference table at the organization’s headquarters, a three-level house in Boulder. “We’re not saying we want everything to be produced within a 100-mile radius,” he said. “We’re saying we want to shrink the local food shed, our food shed, to be as local as possible.” Transition Colorado has a goal of steering the county toward 25 percent food localization by 2020. To outline the economic benefits of achieving this goal and map out the strategies for reaching it, Brownlee has enlisted economist and author Michael Shuman to compile a report on the county’s food economy.

Read More »

New Mexico Team In Pre-Indy 500 Solar Car Race

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. In the first week of May, before the air is filled with the throaty sounds of supercharged engines, the iconic racetrack will play host to a gasoline-free event when 12 teams from around the country race their solar-powered cars in the Formula Sun Grand Prix. A group of engineering students from the University of New Mexico will be racing their three-wheel, single-seat vehicle, the Lobo del Sol, which can hit speeds of up to 70 mph. Four drivers will take shifts as they lap the car around a 0.9-mile closed track with the goal of racking up the most mileage during three days of racing, explained Olga Lavrova, research assistant professor at the university’s electrical and computer engineering department and the team’s advisor. Resembling a pod-like craft from a retro science fiction flick, the Lobo del Sol is 6 feet wide and 16 feet long. An 64-square-foot array of photovoltaic cells attached across the front and back of the car convert sunlight into electricity to run the engine, which uses between one and two kilowatts of power for regular driving. This is comparable to an average microwave oven that uses about 1.5 kilowatts of electricity.

Read More »

Climate Change Looms Large for Rare Glacier National Park Bug

Montana’s Glacier National Park is expected to look quite different in 20 years time. Scientists predict that that the park’s remaining 25 glaciers will disappear by 2030, their icy faces having melted as a result of global warming. Along with the depletion of the sanctum’s permanent snowfields, the destruction of the glaciers is predicted to take its toll on a lesser-known insect, the meltwater lednian stonefly, which researchers have observed in just 11 of the park’s frigid alpine streams. The Waterton–Glacier International Peace Park, which incorporates Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park, is the only place where scientists have documented the rare bug. A handful of Glacier National Park’s frosty waters, fed by crisp glacial and snow run-off in the summer time, are well suited to the stonefly’s requirements, since it inhabits streams with average summer water temperatures of less than 50 degrees. In a recent study, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey predict the stonefly will lose more than 80 percent of its habitat due to melting glaciers and reduced snowpack in the park, which could ultimately result in its extinction. And while the tribulations of this obscure invertebrate might not seem of dire importance, the stonefly’s plight speaks of challenges facing other vulnerable alpine insects.

Read More »

Why Fighting Rocky Mountain Wildfires Will Become More Expensive

Colorado was ablaze throughout March, with 27 wildfires erupting across the northern Front Range during the month. Unusually hot, dry conditions and gusty winds combined to make the beginning of spring an anomaly – the number of fires was nine times the 15-year average for March. While state, county and federal agencies, including the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, work hard to extinguish Colorado wildfires and save homes and infrastructure close to forested public lands each year, their efforts contribute to an ironic national situation. The legacy of land managers working for over a century to suppress about 98 percent of the more than 70,000 wildfires that ignite across the country annually has created a climate where wildfires tend to be worse than they would be if more fires were left to burn out naturally, because of the buildup of deadwood and other fuels. Historically, in the Rocky Mountains, frequent fires in low-lying ponderosa pine forests would thin out small trees and scour out dead material on the forest floor, ensuring large trees remained widely spaced, explained Bill Romme, professor of fire ecology at Colorado State University, in a telephone interview. Even under extreme weather conditions fires would generally stay on the ground and likely not climb into the crowns of mature trees, protecting the forest from severe damage, he said.

Read More »

From Colorado Seismologists, A Better Earthquake Alert?

When an earthquake hits anywhere in the world, the seismologists at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, are quick to know about it. Operating 24/7, the Center, a core part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Hazards Program, is plugged into real-time feeds from a network of thousands of earthquake-monitoring instruments around the globe. For many years, the Center has played an important role in sending out information about the magnitude and exact location of earthquakes within minutes of them happening. Some 230,000 people around the world currently receive earthquake notifications via text message or email, said Geological Survey seismologist David Wald in a telephone interview. While Richter scale magnitude measurements quantify the size of an earthquake, they don’t indicate the extent and intensity of ground shaking or give an idea of how people and buildings nearby will be affected, said Wald. That’s why Wald and his team created the Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response, or PAGER, system, which went live in November 2010. For global earthquakes of magnitude 5.5 and above the system creates one-page alert reports, released within 30 minutes of a quake, that provide estimates of the number of people and names of cities exposed to ground shaking and the likely range of fatalities and economic losses that will result.

Read More »

Recycling Guru: Rockies Lagging in Sustainable Waste Policies

In February, Colorado’s House Committee on Health and Environment shelved the proposed Consumer Electronics Recycling Act. If passed, the act would have required manufacturers to introduce recycling programs for their hard-to-recycle products, including televisions, computers and air conditioners, along with other electronic items. Many of these electronic devices house toxic metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury, which can leak into landfills and leach into soil and groundwater. The act would also have phased in a ban on disposing some types of electronic devices at Colorado landfills. Manufacturers would have had to pay an annual registration fee to Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment and submit annual reports to the department. Colorado’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission would have introduced new rules to regulate the recycling programs. Government regulations that mandate producers take responsibility for the fate of their products once the goods have reached the end of their lives are known as extended producer responsibility or product stewardship laws.

Read More »

Are Regulators Doing Enough to Prevent Bee Die-Offs?

For beekeepers, loss is something that comes with the territory. It’s accepted that the cold winter months will whittle down the number of honeybees in a colony. But for Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobald, like many beekeepers across the country, the past several winters have brought losses that eclipse the regular die-offs. “I’m expecting my worst losses this winter,” said Theobald on a mild February morning at one of his bee yards in Niwot, a sleepy town in Boulder County on Colorado’s Front Range. He was standing amidst a collection of silent white bee boxes, located on a corner of a friend’s property. Some were stacked two levels high, reaching about waist-height. Each had a brick on the lid. “I started with 24 colonies here. By the end of winter I’ll be lucky to have six left,” he said.

Read More »