"We knew which species were being killed, but we didn't know how they were moving across the landscape, how many were out there, or what their genetic diversity was," said the study's co-author and Associate Professor David Nelson of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Appalachian Laboratory. "Our research is helping conservation managers to understand, 'Are these species that we need to be concerned about?'" Wind-energy sites along the forested ridgelines of the Appalachian Mountains have some of the highest bat mortality rates in the world. The hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) and eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) comprise the majority of the turbine-associated deaths in North America. Little is known about the migration pathways of bats in North America or how wind-energy development may affect them. The researchers combined using stable isotope and genetic analysis for the first time to assess the impacts of wind-energy development on the bats impacted in the Appalachian region. "Understanding the potential impacts of turbine-associated bat deaths is often complicated by a lack of data," said lead author Cortney Pylant. "Studies such as this can help to identify species and populations at particular risk." The researchers determined the summering grounds of the bats killed by the wind turbines using stable hydrogen isotopes, a type of chemical fingerprint that reveals where animals have been despite having traveled long distances. Different forms of hydrogen exist in water depending on where it falls. For example, rain from higher elevations or close to the coast has a different signature than rain from lower elevations or further inland. These differences work their way up the food chain and are recorded in the hair of each bat. Researchers can then analyze the hair and use its hydrogen isotope signature to determine where the bats spent their summer, a time when they molt and grow in new fur. The researchers also extracted DNA from the bats' wing tissue to examine their genes to help understand how capable the species may be to adapting to an increase of deaths to their population, including how many individuals of a species are in the breeding population to enable them to maintain their numbers. The study found that half of red bats killed in the area were not local residents and probably summered at locations far from the wind turbines, whereas nearly all of the hoary bats summered locally. The red bats represented a single, massive breeding population in the hundreds of thousands to millions of individuals. In contrast, the hoary bats represented a relatively small group with a breeding group in the thousands to tens of thousands of individuals. These results suggest that intensive wind-energy development may affect the bat species dissimilarly, with the large and more regional population of red bats potentially better able to absorb wind-turbine related deaths than the substantially smaller population of local hoary bats. As the primary predators of night-flying insects, bats limit the spread of insect-borne plant and animal pathogens and prevent billions of dollars of crop damage each year. The results of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science study provide much-needed baseline isotopic and genetic data for understanding the potential impact of wind-energy development on bat populations, which is a high priority for conservation and ecosystem services. "Geographic origins and population genetics of bats killed at wind-energy facilities," by Cortney Pylant, David Nelson, Matt Fitzpatrick, Ed Gates, and Stephen Keller of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Appalachian Laboratory, was published in Ecological Applications. Explore further: Why wind turbines can mean death for bats More information: Geographic origins and population genetics of bats killed at wind-energy facilities, DOI: 10.1890/15-0541 , http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1890/15-0541/full
According to the study, published today (Monday) in Conservation Physiology, by scientists from the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, there could be several reasons why birds are being negatively affected by man-made climate change. They suggest that contrary to expectations the birds' heat tolerance – or lack thereof—is not necessarily the main factor chasing species out of their preferred habitat. Other factors like changing fire and rainfall patterns, and new bird behaviour patterns could also be responsible for the decline, according to the study which includes some well-known species such as the Malachite Sunbird and the Familiar Chat. Lead researcher Susie Cunningham says a better understanding of how climate change affects bird species could help develop conservation strategies to increase chances of survival: "We know climate change is linked to changes in species' numbers and distributions, but we don't always know exactly how or why," Cunningham says. "We need to figure out the factors actually driving declines before we can develop proper conservation measures to halt them." "Fynbos birds are particularly important in this regard because they live in an area that has been extremely stable, climatologically speaking, for a very long time. So changes in climate are not something they are used to. Furthermore, six of the species we studied are endemic to the fynbos, so if we lose them from this biome, we lose them altogether," she explains. The new study profiles the well-being of twelve fynbos bird species based on a comparison of data contained in two Southern Africa Bird Atlas surveys conducted fifteen years apart. This data was matched with climate data for the comparative period, as well as with physiological data. A key aspect of the study is a comparison of climate and bird population data with the heat response – or 'thermal tolerance' – of each bird species. In this way researchers assessed to what extent birds can cope with changing temperature, and whether this is the primary indicator of changes in bird abundance. To obtain bird physiological data researchers subjected birds to a range of temperature tests to determine their physiological response. Considerable variation in the relationship between physiological response to temperature and rate of species' decline prevented researchers confirming a direct link across the board between how species are faring under current climate change, and their thermal physiology. Despite this, the study shows 'striking similarity' between bird declines and increases in average temperature, most notably in two bird species occupying cooler rangelands – the Cape Rockjumper and the Protea Seed-eater. Reporting rates of these two species dropped by 31 percent and 32 percent respectively in the study area during the period under review. In addition the Cape Rockjumper is also the only species whose decline is clearly linked to a low physiological tolerance of heat, prompting the study authors to call for urgent conservation intervention: "Conservation action appears to be urgently needed for the Cape Rockjumper and Protea Seed-eater if their declines are to be properly understood and halted," the study says. "We need further research to determine the cause of decline of Protea Seed-eaters, and to assess how Cape Rockjumpers may best be assisted to cope in the face of continuing climate change." Cunningham says the overall findings suggest scientists should not jump to conclusions about bird physiology when assessing the effects of climate change: "The main findings are that physiology, though often considered the ultimate factor limiting species distributions, may not be the factor responsible for warming-related declines in most Fynbos birds," she explains. Explore further: Penguins use their personalities to prepare for climate change More information: "The role of thermal physiology in recent declines of birds in a biodiversity hotspot" Robyn Milne, Susan J. Cunningham, Alan T. K. Lee, and Ben Smit, Conservation Physiology, DOI: 10.1093/conphys/cov048
News Article | December 16, 2015
Getting ready to leave my hermetically sealed, climate-controlled space pod (AKA my bedroom) during the onset of a Canadian winter can feel a bit like preparing for an actual mission to Mars. Not only do I layer up with all the appropriate gear, but I fill a bag with extras: gloves, a hat, and maybe a scarf, just in case where I’m going is a bit chillier than expected. QTemp is an app that wants to eliminate the guesswork when it comes to venturing out into the world. A tiny dongle outfitted with temperature and UV sensors that you can wear anywhere on your person sends its data to a smartphone via Bluetooth or NFC. A companion app then sends this data to a map that lets you and other QTemp users zoom in to a particular location—a movie theatre or coffee shop, for example—to check out what the temperature there is like there. Out and about, and looking for a spot to cool down or warm up? QTemp would have your back. It’s sort of like a “wearable weather station,” the company claims. You can think of QTemp as being a bit like a more limited version of Weather Underground, in terms of what it measures—Weather Underground lets users crowdsource everything from temperature to precipitation, but relies in part on dedicated sensors that volunteers install on their property instead of phones—mixed with Waze, an app that uses user phone data to crowdsource traffic information. “If you wanted to go to a party, or a museum, or see a movie in a theatre, based on the history of data people share, you can see the temperature inside that building,” said Neda Ghazi, QTemp’s chief operating officer. QTemp can also tell you what the temperature is in your current location, and how long you can chill in the sun for before you get roasted by the rays. It even lets you select your skin type with a slider based on the Fitzpatrick Skin Type classification system used by dermatologists since the 70s. Neda said that the device, for Android users, will be powered via NFC by the phone itself, similar to how wireless charging stations work. For iPhone users, their QTemp dongle will need a battery, since NFC functionality on iPhones is currently limited to Apple Pay. QTemps for Android will cost $25, and $29 USD for the iPhone model. Though I've yet to actually try QTemp, I'm a bit skeptical of how useful it would be for me. I’d like to think that I’m already a decent judge of whether I feel cold or not, for example, so I’m not sure how valuable knowing the exact temperature in my current location would be. As for having a timer for when to get out of the sun, I’m more of a “sit in the dark” type of dude. But too much sun can give you cancer—which is bad—so an app that helps you maybe not get cancer… Well, that’s pretty good. Well, unless you’re a reckless summer cowboy, then this might just be an invitation to push your epidermal resilience to the limit. “People with different skin types have different sensitivities,” Neda said. “Some people have some natural protections in their skin, and they can tolerate more sun. Others, maybe 10 or 20 minutes is a lot.” QTemp is made by Comfable, a startup based at the University of Toronto, and it was founded by a group of PhDs in fields as disparate as computer science, sustainability, and architecture. QTemp is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, and should be ready to ship by the summer, Neda said—just in time to get a tan without burning up, and then find out where the nearest store with air conditioning is.
It sounds like the pipe dream of a life-long birder: fly me somewhere I can see a representative of every major family of birds alive today in the same place at the same time. And since I’m wishing, I might as well add that I want to see their ancestors, too, lined up in a parade of ghosts. Ridiculous, right? The funny thing is, such a place exists — in upstate New York. That’s because at the visitor’s center at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the paint is barely dry on a mural of epic proportions. Close in size to the footprint of a 3000-square-foot house, it depicts a true-to-size representative of every major family of birds on an enormous world map. Not only that, but beneath the riotous colorful birds is a parade of ghostly ancestors representing 375 million years of evolution, starting with the first plucky vertebrate that made its way onto land: my old pal, Tiktaalik. With digital technology as ubiquitous as it is, how does a hand-painted mural like this come to be? I spoke with Dr. John Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the lab and a key figure in making it a reality, and the principal artist, Jane Kim of Ink Dwell Studios, to get the scoop. When Kim, fresh out of the certificate program for scientific illustration at Monterey Bay, came to intern at Cornell’s 4-month Bartels Illustration program, she was surrounded by giants. The Cornell Lab has long celebrated the connection between ornithology and art; the halls of the research center are adorned with the artwork of Audubon, Catesby, and Fuertes. More recently, the lab has brought in contemporary artists as well - Maya Lin, Andy Goldsworthy, and James Prosek - to leave their marks with large science art installations of their own. The thought that Kim's work might in short order be displayed alongside these giants was the farthest thing from her mind at the time. Instead, Kim did what other interns before her had done: help ornithologists at the lab illustrate their research projects. But she was already thinking big; during her internship she entered and won the Viewer’s Choice Award in a National Geographic competition for conservation murals. When her supervisor, Dr. Fitzpatrick, learned of this, he pulled her from her desk and took her outside for a chat. Fitzpatrick, a painter himself, had long dreamed of a mural celebrating the evolution of birds since the department moved into its new building in 2003. He even knew where the mural should go - an enormous 70’ x 40’ wall inside the visitor’s center that stared blankly at him every day. In fact, he had approached several artists about it but they declined, citing the enormous commitment it would take. So Fitzpatrick shelved his ambitious idea. That is, until Kim came along and revealed her penchant for thinking big. When he approached her, she didn’t hesitate. The next day she produced a proposal for the 400-million-year evolution of birds and the project was underway. Well, almost. Of course it wasn’t that easy. It took years to hammer out the details of the project including - no surprise - how to pay for it. But, a funny thing about birds - they enjoy a passionate following and the lab was able to raise enough money for Kim to dedicate herself to the project full-time for close to two years. Three years after Kim and Fitzpatrick had the initial conversation about the possibility of a mural, Kim dove in. She spent a year off-site compiling reference photos (at least 50 per bird), researching, sketching, and refining the narrative as a whole while the researchers involved argued about which species to include (!). In August of 2014 she moved back to Ithaca to begin 16 months of on-site painting. Painting an average of a bird a day, and with the help of seven interns, she finished the project at the end of 2015. If you’re sitting in one of the other 19,340-something incorporated towns or cities in America that doesn't happen to be within an hour's drive of Ithaca, NY, you may be thinking, “Who on earth will get to see this?” Well, I have some good news. Their already excellent website has a smattering of tantalizing images from the project and by the end of 2016 there should be an online an interactive of the entire wall. That means you, your granny, and your cat will soon be able to explore the wall for a wealth of information on the birds it depicts. If the website delivers as promised, it will be an impressive online education tool for the general public for decades to come. Later this week, I'll be sharing some behind the scenes images of the project in progress, so stay tuned. Now someone fly me to Ithaca, please! Links: Wall of Birds website Ink Dwell studio More about The Cornell Lab Visitor’s Center art installations by contemporary artists Andy Goldsworthy, James Prosek, Maya Lin and now Jane Kim
News Article | January 18, 2016
The big news is that two Chinese state owned nuclear firms have announced plans to build floating nuclear power plants in the 100-300 MW range. (WNA) A demonstration floating nuclear power plant based on China National Nuclear Corporation’s (CNNC’s) ACP100S small reactor will be built by 2019. The move comes just days after China General Nuclear (CGN) said it will build a prototype offshore plant by 2020. CGN announced (next story) on 12 January that development of its ACPR50S reactor design had recently been approved by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) as part of the 13th Five-Year Plan for innovative energy technologies. CNNC said that its ACP100S reactor – a marine version of its ACP100 small modular reactor (SMR) design – had also been approved by the NDRC as part of the same plan. CNNC said its Nuclear Power Institute of China subsidiary had completed a preliminary design for a floating nuclear power plant featuring the ACP100S reactor as well as “all the scientific research work.” Construction of a demonstration unit is to start by the end of this year, with completion set for 2019. (WNA) China General Nuclear (CGN) expects to complete construction of a demonstration small modular offshore multi-purpose reactor by 2020. CGN said development of its ACPR50S reactor design had recently been approved by China’s National Development and Reform Commission as part of the 13th Five-Year Plan for innovative energy technologies. The company said it is currently carrying out preliminary design work for a demonstration ACPR50S project. Construction of the first floating reactor is expected to start next year with electricity generation to begin in 2020. The 60 MWe reactor has been developed for the supply of electricity, heat and desalination and could be used on islands or in coastal areas, or for offshore oil and gas exploration, according to CGN. The Chinese company said it is also working on the ACPR100 small reactor for use on land. This reactor will have an output of some 450 MWt (140 MWe) and would be suitable for providing power to large-scale industrial parks or to remote mountainous areas. CGN said the development of small-scale offshore and onshore nuclear power reactors will complement its large-scale plants and provide more diverse energy options. (WNA) A US House of Representatives committee has approved a bipartisan bill to support federal research and development (R&D) and stimulate private investment in advanced nuclear reactor technologies. The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology approved the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act. The bill was introduced by energy subcommittee chairman Randy Weber (R-Texas), along with full committee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). The legislation directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to set priorities for federal R&D infrastructure that will enable the private sector to invest in advanced reactor technologies and provide a clear path forward to attract private investment for prototype development at DOE laboratories. It enables the private sector to partner with national laboratories for the purpose of developing novel reactor concepts, leverages DOE’s supercomputing infrastructure to accelerate nuclear energy R&D, and provides statutory direction for a DOE reactor-based fast neutron source that will operate as an open-access user facility. It also authorizes DOE to enable the private sector to construct and operate privately-funded reactor prototypes at DOE sites. In addition, the bill requires DOE to present a transparent, strategic, ten-year plan for prioritizing nuclear R&D programs. (NucNet) The global nuclear security system still has “major gaps” that prevent it from being truly comprehensive and effective, the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative says in its 2016 Index. The index, which assesses nuclear materials security conditions in 24 countries with one kilogramme or more of weapons-usable nuclear materials, says there is no common set of international standards and best practices, there is no mechanism for holding states with lax security accountable, and the legal foundation for securing nuclear materials is neither complete nor universally observed. In addition to assessing the risks posed by vulnerable nuclear materials and insufficient security policies in states that don’t have materials, the index assesses for the first time the potential risks to nuclear facilities posed by sabotage and cyberattack. It says cyberattacks are increasing and a growing number of states are exploring nuclear energy even though they lack the legal, regulatory, and security frameworks to ensure that their facilities are secure as well as safe. (NucNet) Westinghouse Electric Company’s Springfields facility in the UK has reached the requirements necessary to manufacture Westinghouse small modular reactor (SMR) fuel, Westinghouse said. This milestone is “a key first” for the UK’s SMR programme and an important part of Westinghouse’s proposed partnership with the UK government to deploy SMR technology. Westinghouse Springfields achieved the milestone following a readiness assessment based upon fabrication data for two proprietary SMR fuel assemblies manufactured at the company’s Columbia fuel fabrication facility in the US state of South Carolina. Mick Gornall, managing director of Westinghouse Springfields, said manufacturing Westinghouse SMR fuel at Springfields will “secure the future of a strategic national asset” of nuclear fuel manufacturing capability. (WNA) The first of four reactor coolant pumps for the initial AP1000 unit at the Haiyang site in China’s Shandong province has been transported by road from Curtiss-Wright’s manufacturing facility in Cheswick, Pennsylvania, to the port of Philadelphia ahead of shipment to China, State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation announced yesterday. The first two such pumps for Sanmen 1 in Zhejiang province – expected in September to be the first AP1000 to start up – arrived on the site on 30 December. (NucNet) Testing of the instrumentation and control (I&C) systems has begun at Teollisuuden Voima’s (TVO) Olkiluoto-3 nuclear plant with an application for an operating licence likely to be submitted in April, TVO said. The I&C systems will be used for operating, monitoring and controlling the 1,600-MW EPR unit. In December 2015 TVO said system commissioning of the plant is expected to begin in the spring of 2016 with regular electricity generation beginning in “more than three years. TVO said the estimated schedule came from plant supplier Areva-Siemens. Commissioning of the plant is about nine years behind schedule and costs are almost three times over budget. Market Reform Essential For Nuclear In US, Says NEI (NucNet) Market reform is essential to ensure that the reliability, environmental and economic benefits of nuclear power are not taken for granted, and that reactor operators are compensated for these attributes in the same way as other low-carbon sources, Alex Flint, the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice-president for governmental affairs, said in an interview published on the NEI’s website. Mr Flint said there has been “movement to address the issue”. He said at the national level, the NEI is working with the Edison Electric Institute and the Electric Power Supply Association to make officials at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the US Department of Energy and the US Environmental Protection Agency aware of the potential challenges to grid reliability and the administration’s clean air goals. In 2015, FERC and a number of regional transmission organizations took significant steps to address flaws in electricity markets that fail to provide the price signals needed to support investment in new or existing nuclear power plants. Mr Flint said, “Urged on by the NEI and a number of energy associations, FERC has begun a rulemaking to address price suppression and promises to address other issues in future. In an encouraging sign, Exelon Corporation cited positive regional reforms in deferring decisions on the potential closing of its Clinton nuclear station in Illinois and the Ginna nuclear station in New York.” Late last year Entergy Corporation said it would close its Pilgrim-1 and Fitzpatrick reactors because of poor economic conditions for nuclear.