Design Solutions For The Heat Crisis In Cities Around The World

It was 1999 when Smash Mouth dropped the smash hit All Star, stating “The ice we skate is getting pretty thin, the water’s getting warm so you might as well swim.” Since then, global temperatures have continued to rise, with no end in sight. Political will has been unable to make any grand changes, and the world remains on track to blow through the suggested hard limits set by scientists.

As a result, heatwaves have become more frequent, and of greater intensity, putting many vulnerable people at risk and causing thousands of deaths each year. This problem is worse in cities, where buildings and roads absorb more heat from the sun than natural landscapes do. This is referred to as the heat island effect, with cities often being several degrees warmer than surrounding natural areas. It’s significant enough that experts are worried some cities could become uninhabitable within decades. Obviously, that’s highly inconvenient for those currently living in said cities. How bad is the problem, and what can be done?

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Purdue’s Powerful Paint Could Cancel Climate Change

What if a building could stay cool simply because of its paint job? We’re not talking about putting flames on the sides. Purdue engineers have come up with a formulation of white paint that reflects the heat from sunlight and keeps surfaces cooler than their surroundings. Depending on the location, a building with this paint on the roof may not need air conditioning.

Radiative cooling paint is not a completely new animal, but the formulation developed at Purdue is quite impressive compared to commercially-available paints that only reflect 80-90% of sunlight.

Purdue’s paint reflects 95.5% of sunlight. It can keep surfaces up to 18°F cooler than their surroundings, even in direct sunlight. Where does the heat go? The paint radiates infrared heat, so it escapes the atmosphere and goes into deep space.

How does it do this? With abundantly available calcium carbonate fillers — the chalky stuff that antacids are made of. The paint absorbs next to no UV rays because of the wide band gaps in the atomic structure of calcium carbonate. Take a brief tour of this amazing paint after the break.

We wonder how many rooftops and roadways we’d have to paint with this stuff to have a chance at reversing climate change. It’s not terribly expensive to make, so the problem shifts to widespread education and adoption. What do you think?

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MOSAiC Project Freezes A Boat In The Arctic Ice Pack For Science

Just over a fortnight ago, RV Polarstern, a German research vessel, sailed back into port, heralding the end of the largest Arctic research project ever undertaken. The MOSAiC expedition, short for Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate, spent a full year running experiments to measure conditions at the North Pole, and research how the unique Arctic climate is being affected by human activity.

Unprecedented In Size And Scope

The operation was regularly resupplied by visits from other icebreakers, bringing equipment, food, and fresh personnel. Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Jan Rohde (CC-BY 4.0)

With a budget exceeding €140 million, and with over 300 scientists attached to the project, the expedition aimed to study a full year-long ice cycle in the Arctic region. To achieve this, the research vessel of the project, RV Polarstern, was navigated into an ice floe, and allowed to freeze in and drift with the ice pack. As the seasons progressed, the vessel drifted with the sea ice across the polar region. Along the way, a series of rotating research teams set up equipment on the ice and took regular measurements, investigating several scientific focus areas. Different groups observed atmospheric conditions and the sea ice itself, with researchers also focusing on biogeochemistry, the ocean, and the ecosystems in the area.

Icebreakers were used to transport goods and personnel to the RV Polarstern over the duration of the mission. The project faced issues in spring, as a pre-planned changeover executed by aircraft had to be abandoned due to restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, this was also executed by ship, with the Polarstern temporarily leaving the ice to rendezvous with RV Sonne and RV Maria S. Merian for the changeover of approximately 100 crew and to pick up provisions. The detour took three weeks, but didn’t have any major negative impacts on the mission. Continue reading “MOSAiC Project Freezes A Boat In The Arctic Ice Pack For Science”

What’s The Deal With Rolling Blackouts In California’s Power Grid?

A heat wave spreading across a large portion of the west coast of the United States is not surprising for this time of year, but the frequency and severity of these heat waves have been getting worse in recent years as the side effects from climate change become more obvious. In response to this, the grid operators in California have instituted limited rolling blackouts as electricity demand ramps up.

This isn’t California’s first run-in with elective blackouts, either. The electrical grid in California is particularly prone to issues like this, both from engineering issues and from other less obvious problems as well.

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COVID-19 And The State Of The Climate

The novel coronavirus sweeping the globe has led governments to institute widespread quarantines to stem the spread. Many industries have slowed production or shutdown entirely, and economic activity has slowed to a crawl. This has naturally led to a sudden reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But how great will the effect be, and will it buy us any real time?

On The Ground

Nitrogen dioxide levels in China have dropped sharply with the reduction in industrial activity due to COVID-19. Image source: NASA

In the wake of COVID-19, good news stories have sprung up as people look for a silver lining. Unfortunately, these stories aren’t always true. There aren’t dolphins in the waters of Venice, though the water has cleared due to reduced boat activity. And drunken elephants did not begin roaming the mountains of China.

Despite this, there have been notable reductions in emissions in several areas due to government-mandated lockdowns. Northern Italy is seeing a much lower concentration of nitrogen dioxide, likely due to reduced industrial and vehicular activity. Carbon monoxide levels have similarly dropped in New York, while China has seen its carbon emissions temporarily drop by a full 25%.

On the surface of it, these are all promising numbers. Many are cautiously optimistic that this could be a major development to help stave off the worst of climate change for a little longer. Nonetheless, it’s early days yet, and what happens after the crisis passes is just as important as what’s happening now.

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The Legacy Of One Of Science’s Brightest Stars: Freeman Dyson

Of the many well-known names in science, few have been as reluctant to stick to one particular field as Freeman John Dyson. Born in the UK in 1923, he showed a great interest in mathematics and related fields even as a child. By the time he was 15 he had won a scholarship at Trinity College, in Cambridge, where he studied mathematics. Though the war forced him to work at the Air Force’s Operational Research Section (ORS), afterwards he would return to Trinity to get his BA in mathematics.

His subsequent career saw him teaching at universities in the UK and US, before eventually ending up at Cornell University, where he joined the Institute for Advanced Study at the invitation of its head, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Here he would meet up with such people as Richard Feynman with whom he would work on quantum electrodynamics.

Beyond mathematics and physics, Dyson would also express great interest in space exploration — with Dyson spheres being well-known — and genetics, both in the context of the first formation of life and in genetic manipulation to improve plants to deal with issues today. He also worked on the famous Project Orion, which used nuclear bombs for propulsion.

In this article we’ll take a look at these and other parts of Mr. Dyson’s legacy, as well as the influence of his works today.

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Tipping Points In The Climate System: The Worst Kind Of Positive Feedback

With global temperatures continuing to break records in recent years, it’s important to cast an eye towards the future. While efforts to reduce emissions remain in a political quagmire, time is running out to arrest the slide into catastrophe.

Further compounding the issue are a variety of positive feedback loops that promise to further compound the problem. In these cases, initial warming has flow-on effects that then serve to further increase global temperatures. Avoiding these feedback mechanisms is crucial if the Earth is to remain comfortably livable out to the end of the century.

A Multitude of Causes

The issue of climate change often appears as a simple one, with the goal being to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent negative consequences for human civilization. Despite this, the effects of climate change are often diffuse and intermingled. The various climate systems of the Earth interact in incredibly complex ways, and there are many mechanisms at play in these feedback effects that could tip things over the edge.

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