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Idea first floated at the TEDxOilSpill conference by Francis Belland of the X Prize Foundation and David Gallo of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute becomes real.
Since the BP gusher started spewing millions of gallons of crude oil and methane into the Gulf of Mexico more that three months ago, there have other high profile spills, including one of China’s largest, near the city of Dalian, that created a 170 mile slick. Closer to my home in Chicago, a pipeline break released over 800,000 gallons into western Michigan’s Kalamazoo river, which flows into Lake Michigan.
Last year, Australia took a one-two punch, first with a tanker spill that fouled 40 miles of Queensland’s coast, then an oil rig blow-out eerily similar to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In Nigeria, oil spills have become such an every day nightmare – an estimated 7,000 between 1970 and 2000 – that the tally is measured in units of “Exxon Valdez” (over 50 and still counting).
Clearly, if you drill, it will spill. Although the X Prize Foundation’s Oil Clean-up Challenge was developed in response to the mess in the Gulf, its importance goes far beyond our local oily waters. “The oil industry has focused on,”How do you drill deeper, further, more efficiently. Little money has actually been spent so far on “How do you clean it up properly?’, ” notes Peter Diamandis, X Prize CEO.
With $1.4 million in incentive prizes provided by the Schmidt Family Foundation, the Challenge is designed to wrap up next summer, with demonstrations of the promising technologies at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility (OHMSETT) in Leonardo, New Jersey.
“Introducing the Oil Clean-up Challenge,” by Wendy Schmidt, Huffington Post
“TEDxOilSpill: Surface Slicks, Deep Water Despair, Galaxies of Oil Platforms and Why We Really, Truly, Don’t Need Oil” by J.A. Ginsburg, TrackerNews Editor’s Blog
Filed under: oil, TrackerBlog, Uncategorized | Tagged: BP, China, Deepwater Horizon, Gulf Oil Spill, Michigan, Nigeria, Peter Diamandis, Wendy Schmidt Oil Clean-up X Challenge, X Prize | Leave a comment »
What happens when the future comes early? When does record-breaking weather segue from unfortunate inconvenience to an inconvenient truth?
“Warmer than average global temperatures have become the new normal,” says Jay Lawrimore, chief of climate analysis at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, which tracks these numbers. “The global temperature has increased more than 1 degree Fahrenheit [0.7 degree C] since 1900 and the rate of warming since the late 1970s has been about three times greater than the century-scale trend.”…
…”Frankly, I was expecting that we’d see large temperature increases later this century with higher greenhouse gas levels and global warming,” Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, who headed up the research, said in a prepared statement. “I did not expect to see anything this large within the next three decades.”
Was last Spring’s Nashville flood, which took the region by surprise after 13 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, a local catastrophe or part of much larger trend? What about the 8 inch deluge than drowned Milwaukee last week? Or the second tornado ever to hit the Bronx?
If man-made greenhouse gases are behind the deadly weather, that’s good news: We can still do something about it. But as a new study of historic droughts in Asia shows, the ramifications of disturbed weather patterns can be devastating, no matter what the cause.
Scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory spent 15 years collecting samples from more than 300 sites across Asia to create an atlas of tree ring data for monsoon weather patterns. The correlations between major droughts and political unrest are striking, if not completely surprising. From the collapse of the Khmer civilization to the demise of the Ming Dynasty and the French Revolution, nothing topples a government faster than a desperate hungry mob.
Perhaps the worst drought, the scientists found, was the Victorian-era “Great Drought” of 1876-1878. The effects were felt across the tropics; by some estimates, resulting famines killed up to 30 million people. According to the tree-ring evidence, the effects were especially acute in India, but extended as far away as China and present-day Indonesia. Colonial-era policies left regional societies ill-equipped to deal with the drought’s consequences, as historian Mike Davis details in his book Late Victorian Holocausts. Famine and cholera outbreaks at this time in colonial Vietnam fueled a peasant revolt against the French.
The political opposition to the now crippled U.S. Climate Bill should be quaking in their boots. Given the staggering amount of scientific evidence linking human-generated greenhouse gas emissions to global warming and climate change, they will bear the blame for blocking action when it could have made a difference. (According to a new survey published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97% of scientists say climate change “very likely” has a man-made component.)
The cruelty of blight is uniquely insidious. Hopes, dreams and futures are destroyed along with crops. A blight is promise snatched away. In a matter of weeks, sometimes days, sometime hours, months of labor is laid to waste and investment is turned to debt.
It doesn’t take much: just a few invisible spores carried by the wind to a host plant. Once a botanical beach-head is established, blights – which thrive in the monocultures of modern agriculture – quickly become “community diseases,” spreading from plant to plant, field to field, region to region, painting once verdant fields black with the brush of death.
The first major victory in the The Green Revolution was genetic lab-tweak that made wheat impervious to a blight called stem rust, while also increasing yields – a rare and remarkable “two-fer” benefit. So significant was this breakthrough, plant biologist Norman Borlaug was award the Nobel Prize for it. The dream of eradicating hunger seemed within reach. Yet a little over a half-century later, the solution – crop protection provided by a single gene – has become part of the problem.
In 1999, a strain of rust was discovered in a wheat field in Uganda that had evolved past the genetic barrier. Dubbed “Ug99,” it has since splintered off into several strains or “races,” some of which are impervious to more recently developed multi-gene defenses. In a little over a decade, stem rust has traveled 5,000 miles and now threatens grain production in Africa and Asia, and indirectly threatens production everywhere else. From the pathogen’s perspective, all wheat has become more or less alike as diversity has been systematically bred away.
Wheat is the primary source of calories for millions of people worldwide, and accounts for around 30 percent of global grain production and 44 percent of cereals used as food. Globally, wheat provides nearly 55 percent of the carbohydrates and 20 percent of the food calories we consume every day.
With so much at stake, an international collaborative effort, spearheaded by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, is playing a frantic game of defense, developing resistant strains to deploy strategically as barriers to slow the blight’s spread. But the work requires the cooperation of countries otherwise at odds, such as India and Pakistan. And it takes money: steady, dependable funding and lots of it.
Stem rust isn’t the only globetrotting super-pathogen:
A warming world favors pathogens’ survival over winter, while shifting weather patterns can blow them into new territories. Human-mediated transport (trade and travel) clearly play a large role as well.
Whatever the drivers, these colliding trends of record-breaking weather / climate change and emerging plant diseases spell big trouble for global food security. In just the past month, wheat prices spiked 30%, due mostly to the Russian drought. Russia will still have enough for domestic needs, but higher prices are expected to drive up inflation, and there will be that much less for export. Stem rust primarily affects small farmers gowing for local consumption in the developing countries. Higher global commodity prices also translates into higher food aid costs.
According to the scientists at NOAA, the extreme weather of 2010 may very well be the “new normal.” Hotter, colder, wetter, drier. And way beyond inconvenient.
Filed under: agriculture, climate change, disease surveillance, drought, epidemiology, famine, floods, food, TrackerBlog, Uncategorized, water | Tagged: An Inconvenient Truth, blights, cassava virus, China floods, climate change, extreme weather, famine, Green Revolution, heat waves, hunger, late blight, Norman Borlaug, Russia drought, tree ring data, Ug99, wheat stem rust | 2 Comments »
At TrackerNews, our approach is a little different from most aggregators. While they focus either on the latest or most popular stories, we focus on context. Stories cycle through the site in groups to deliver a more faceted experience: breaking news is paired with archived stories, research papers, blog posts, websites, book reviews, e-books – print, audio, video. Every link is researched, reviewed, summarized, curated. Stephen Baker, former BusinessWeek journalist and author of the The Numerati, summed up it best: “TrackerNews puts the human algorithm back in the equation.”
We are not opposed to automated news feeds. Indeed, we scour them all the time. But they tend to skew to the new and the popular. Likewise, search engines often have hidden skews, affecting the order in which links appear (sponsored links, deals with news organizations, SEO tricks, etc.). Thousands of links make come up in a Google search, but who ever goes beyond the second page? As Mies van der Rohe pithily noted, “Less is more.”
Over the last year, TrackerNews has covered everything from malaria, mapping and microfinance, to chemical spills, earthquakes, political protests, human trafficking, energy, lighting, mobile tech, logistics, floods, famines, urban farming, the bushmeat trade, rapid diagnostics, mental illness and global warming. Our searchable database, which also includes an extensive collections of resources, has swelled to 3,000+ links and is just beginning to get interesting. (see slide show)
THE POPTECH TRACKER: A BETA DEMO Continue reading
Last week, the World Health Organization ratcheted up its pandemic rating for swine flu (aka H1N1) all the way to an unprecedented “pandemic imminent” level 5, with a top-of-the-chart 6 considered inevitable. Was it time to wear masks? Stock up on Tamiflu and canned goods? Update wills? Pull out old high school lit-class copies of The Decameron?
Well, no. At least not yet. Plenty of people got sick, but is was mostly run-of-the-mill seasonal flu-style misery. Fevers, aches, pains, head-aches, gastrointestinal woes. In the jargon of the public health set: “mild.” Yet swine flu remains an imminent pandemic and will likely be once all the cases are tallied up.
What’s wrong with this scale? Continue reading
Filed under: disease surveillance, epidemiology, swine flu, TrackerNews, Uncategorized | Tagged: 28 Days Later, CDC, Center for Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Decameron, epidemiology, global public health, GreeneChips and High Through-put Sequencing, H1N1, Ian Lipkin, influenza, Mass Tag PCR, Pop!Tech, rabies, swine flu, WHO, WHO phase of pademic alert, World Health Organization | Leave a comment »
The search for good links for TrackerNews has been an adventure. Why should “bots” have all the fun crawling the web for tasty content? Those over-achiever algorythmic bits of code will catch on to what I’ve been doing soon enough. For now, there is room for all in the cyber-universe.
TrackerNews could be described as a sort of artisanal aggregator. Content isn’t driven by datelines, but contextual relevance (a nod to Alta Haggarty for that wonderful phrase). It is about creating an interesting mix and match, grouping stories (breaking news, research, blog posts, websites, book reviews, e-books, in print, audio, video) to deepen understanding and/or make it easier to see connections.
TrackerNews is also not limited by RSS feeds. No matter how many feeds one gathers, there is always much more to be mined from the web. Also, most feeds skew toward breaking news, or what’s popular. Tracker mixes it up a bit more, often featuring lesser-known stories (research abstracts, for example, or a flashback to an older article). This isn’t to say that I don’t scan RSS feeds early and often – they’re darn useful. But Tracker is trying to do something a little different.
With such an omnivorous charge and broad beat – one health, humanitarian work and technology that supports both – I am always on the look-out for for sources, particularly blogs, that offer the kind of insider’s depth and insight that can add a real richness to the mix on TrackerNews.
Many are linked on the TrackerNews’ Resources section – a work in in progress (The Resources section is not intended to be a definitive list, but a good place to begin research. We gratefully link to other aggregators that do a better job covering particular fields).
Still, there is no way to acknowledge leads for story links sourced from blogs. After mulling what to do about this unintentionally rude state of affairs, I thought it might be an idea to try occasional shout-outs of thanks from the Editor’s blog.
For those who aren’t already familiar with the following, have I got some good links for you!
Today’s list focuses on humanitarian blogs: