Study: Climate change will up storm surges

PRINCETON, N.J., Feb. 23 (UPI) — Changing climate could make flooding from hurricanes and tropical storms far more common in low-lying coastal areas, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers from Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said regions such as the New York City metropolitan area that have experienced a disastrous flood roughly every century could instead become submerged every one or two decades, a Princeton University release reported.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, they said projected increases in sea level and storm intensity brought on by climate change would make devastating storm surges — the destructive mass of water pushed inland by large storms — more frequent.

Citing New York City as an example, researchers said stronger storms and a 3-foot rise in sea level due to climate change would turn so-called “100-year floods” with depths 5.7 feet above tide level into events that could occur every 25 years.

“Coastal managers in cities like New York make daily decisions about costly infrastructure that would be affected by such storms,” Princeton geoscience professor Michael Oppenheimer said. “They need a reliable indicator of the risk.”

Knowing the frequency of storm surges may help planners design seawalls and other protective structures, researchers said.

“When you design your buildings or dams or structures on the coast, you have to know how high your seawall has to be,” lead study author Ning Lin at MIT said, noting Manhattan’s seawalls now stand a mere five feet high.

“You have to decide whether to build a seawall to prevent being flooded every 20 years.”

Future aircraft may taxi without engines

LINCOLN, England, Feb. 23 (UPI) — British engineers say they’re looking at ways to design aircraft that are able to generate electricity by harnessing energy from the landing gear.

Researchers from the University of Lincoln say future aircraft could use this electricity to power the plane as it taxis to and from airport gates, reducing the need to use the jet engines. This would save on aviation fuel, cut emissions and reduce noise pollution at airports, Britain’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council said Thursday in a release.

The energy produced by a plane’s braking system during landing, currently wasted as heat produced by friction in the brakes, would be captured and converted into electricity by motor-generators built into the landing gear, engineers said.

The electricity would be stored and then supplied to the in-hub motors in the wheels to provide “engine-less” taxiing, they said.

“Taxiing is a highly fuel-inefficient part of any trip by plane with emissions and noise pollution caused by jet engines being a huge issue for airports all over the world,” research leader Paul Stewart said.

“Currently, commercial aircraft spend a lot of time on the ground with their noisy jet engines running,” he said. “In the future this technology could significantly reduce the need to do that.”

Invasive plant saving Australian lizards

CHICAGO, Feb. 23 (UPI) — An Australian lizard may have been saved from extinction at the hands of invasive toxic toads by an invasive species of plant, researchers say.

Cane toads, introduced in Australia in the 1930s to control a beetle pest in sugar cane crops, quickly became an ecological disaster of their own because they produce toxins called bufadienolides, deadly to many native Australian species that feed on frogs and toads, an article in The American Naturalist reported.

Bluetongue lizards are one of the vulnerable species, but some bluetongue populations seem less vulnerable to the toxins, researchers said.

“Some lizard populations were vulnerable to bufotoxins whereas others were not — and the populations with high tolerance to bufotoxins included some that had never been exposed to toads,” researcher Richard Shine of the University of Sydney said.

The reason, Shine and his colleagues said, is likely an invasive plant species known as mother-of-millions, imported from Madagascar as an ornamental plant, that has become part of the diet of bluetongues in some regions and happens to produce a toxin that’s virtually identical to that of the cane toad.

The researchers suggest the plant drove strong selection for lizards that could tolerate bufotoxins — a remarkable example of evolution over a relatively short period of some 20 to 40 generations of lizards.

“Now it appears we have a population of eastern bluetongue lizards that are able to defend themselves well against cane toads — even though they’ve never actually met one — whereas the devastation of the cane toads on the northwestern lizard population continues,” Shine said. “Eating this plant has pre-adapted the eastern blueys against cane toad poisons.”

Group urges Pacific monument fishing ban

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) — U.S. conservationists say they want the federal government to prohibit commercial fishing in sensitive and pristine Pacific Island marine national monuments.

The Marine Conservation Institute filed a formal petition to the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce asking them to enforce a ban President George W. Bush declared when he established the monuments over three years ago.

The monuments, covering 193,000 square miles, are the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument — a collection of isolated coral island possessions — the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa, and the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

“When President Bush designated these magnificent areas for preservation, he specifically directed that commercial fishing be prohibited in them immediately,” William Chandler, MCI vice president for government affairs, said Wednesday in a release.

“But now, over three years later, the fishing ban and associated penalties for illegal fishing within the monuments have yet to be put into place.”

Illegal fishing within the monuments threatens these pristine marine ecosystems and their populations of corals, rare reef fish, overfished tuna, sea turtles, whales and seabirds, the institute said.

“It is hard to believe a clear directive of the president has gone unimplemented for so long,” Chandler said.

“We’re just trying to get the Administration to do what the presidential designation documents say. There is simply no justification for delay.”

‘Faster than light’ experiment to be rerun

ROME, Feb. 23 (UPI) — A European experiment suggesting particles traveled faster than the speed of light will be rerun after experts found it may have been flawed, officials said.

Scientists reported two “anomalies” — including a problem possibly caused by a loose cable — in the instrumentation used to measure the speed of neutrino particles traveling from the CERN laboratory in Geneva to the Gran Sasso underground particle physics laboratory near Rome, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The anomalies do not necessarily invalidate the original findings, scientists said, which called into question Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity which says nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light.

Researchers said the experiment would be repeated with after the anomalies are corrected.

“New measurements with short-pulsed beams are scheduled for May,” CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, said in a statement.

Geology may have driven species extinction

WICHITA, Kan., Feb. 23 (UPI) — Biodiversity booms and busts every 60 million years could be tied to a geological cycle of periodic uplifting of the world’s continents, U.S. researchers say.

Study leader Adrian Melott at the University of Kansas says periodic increases in the amount of the isotope strontium-87 found in marine fossils corresponds to previously discovered low points in marine biodiversity in the fossil record roughly every 60 million years.

A periodic uplifting of the continents, Melott said, is the most likely explanation for the increase in the isotope in marine fossils, since it leads to erosion of landmasses that would release the isotope into the marine environment.

The massive continental uplifts suggested by the strontium data would reduce sea depth along the continental shelf where most sea animals live, researchers said.

That loss of habitat due to shallow water, Melott and collaborators report, could be the reason for the periodic mass extinctions and periodic decline in diversity found in the marine fossil record.

“What we’re seeing could be evidence of a ‘pulse of the earth’ phenomenon,” Melott said. “There are some theoretical works which suggest that convection of mantle plumes, rather like a lava lamp, should be coordinated in periodic waves.”

The result of this convection deep inside the earth, he said, could be a rhythmic throbbing that pushes the continents up and down.

The research is published in the March issue of The Journal of Geology.

Peru tests Green Skies fuel-saving project

LIMA, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Peru has tested new U.S. technology that saves aviation fuel, reduces pollution and ensures smooth navigation for civilian airliners.

The performance-based navigation technology was used on a LAN airliner that flew non-stop Thursday from Cusco, near Peru’s Machu Picchu tourist attraction, to Lima in a landmark demonstration of the gadgetry’s capacity to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

GE Aviation, which developed the technology, said the demonstration marked a major departure in an international effort to wean airspace management from outmoded infrastructures which, in some industry analysts’ view, no longer match the sophistication of modern aircraft.

The Green Skies of Peru project is a collaboration of LAN, GE Aviation, Peru’s air navigation service provider CORPAC and regulator DGAC.

The project is touted as a system that provides “a highly efficient, predictable flight path throughout the entire flight.”

This contrasts with older systems that depend on a single performance-based navigation path for arrival or departure. The system can also solve operational challenges at individual airports, saving time and cost.

“GE and the Green Skies of Peru team have demonstrated that future air traffic management concepts are attainable today,” said Giovanni Spitale, general manager of GE Aviation’s PBN Services. “PBN programs like this take dedication and teamwork to ensure that benefits are achievable by all stakeholders.”

The company says GE-designed PBN departure, en route, arrival and approach procedures will save participating airlines on average 19 track miles, 6.3 minutes, 450 pounds of fuel and 1,420 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per flight.

The new flight paths enable increased capacity at Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport, a major regional hub, while helping reduce the carbon footprint at Cusco. LAN flies the route 11-17 times a day, depending on the season, using its Airbus fleet.

The highly accurate paths also provide capable-aircraft with precise lateral and vertical arrival and departure guidance and improve the air traffic management variance and flow for controllers, benefiting all airspace users in the region.

LAN Peru Chief Executive Officer Jorge Vilches said introduction of the new technology was “big news for our country and will be of great benefit to all our passengers.”

Since the demonstration flight, LAN is examining the system’s workability under various operating conditions before finalizing deployment.

In 2009, GE, in collaboration with IATA, designed and deployed Required Navigation Performance approach procedures for LAN at Cusco to improve access into the airport that is flanked by the Andes Mountains. Before the RNP paths, it was typical for one or more of LAN’s scheduled flights per day into Cusco to be delayed or diverted due to poor weather and low visibility.

Since the RNP paths have been in use at Cusco, LAN has reduced cancellations from 12 to five, flight delays by 45 percent and un-stabilized approaches by 94 percent per month on average.

During the first year of RNP use at Cusco, more than 30,000 of LAN Peru´s passengers avoided flight cancellations or delays, thanks to the technology. With the success of the Cusco paths, LAN selected GE Aviation in 2010 to develop an RNP program at five other airports it serves including Lima.

RNP, an advanced form of PBN technology, allows aircraft to fly precisely defined flight paths without relying on ground-based, radio-navigation signals. RNP paths can be designed to shorten the distance an aircraft has to fly en route and to reduce fuel burn, exhaust emissions and noise pollution.

Because of RNP’s precision and reliability, the technology can help air traffic controllers reduce flight delays and alleviate air traffic congestion.

GE has designed and deployed more than 345 RNP flight paths around the world since 2003.

Kuwait abandons nuclear power option

KUWAIT CITY, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Kuwait has decided to abandon civilian nuclear power production.

The decision was prompted by the March 11, 2011, nuclear disaster at the Daiichi nuclear power complex in Japan, which was devastated by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and then hit by a tsunami, causing widespread destruction at the six reactor complex.

Accordingly, Kuwait is scrapping plans formulated last July to build four nuclear reactors by 2022.

Officials at the Kuwaiti government at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research made the announcement, Kyodo news agency reported Wednesday.

Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research scientist Osama al-Sayegh and two colleagues said the Fukushima incident resulted in the public questioning the necessity of building nuclear power plants in oil-rich Kuwait.

There was also the question of where Kuwait would store the radioactive waste generated by the NPPs.

Kuwait’s interest in nuclear power began three years ago, when the country announced plans to invest in nuclear to preserve its oil reserves. Kuwaiti officials signed agreements with the United States, France and Russia, all leading nuclear power producers, to boost bilateral cooperation in developing an indigenous civilian atomic energy infrastructure.

The country’s interest in NPPs began in earnest in September 2010 when Kuwait’s National Nuclear Energy Committee told the media that it was considering options for four planned 1,000 megawatt NPP reactors and would release a national “road map” for developing civilian nuclear electrical power generation in January 2011.

The fallout from the Fukushima tragedy, however, saw Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah order that the National Nuclear Energy Committee be dissolved for months.

Fukushima’s travails haven’t deterred Kuwait’s Persian Gulf neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, from pressing forward with its plans to construct four NPPs in a remote area outside Abu Dhabi. The first plant there is scheduled to be online in 2017, representing the first Arab country to develop a NPP.

Kuwait’s reluctance to abandon nuclear power has not surprised local analysts.

“A couple of months ago there was an announcement that Kuwait was rethinking its nuclear plans,” Robin Mills, an energy researcher in Dubai, told the Financial Times. “But I wouldn’t draw wider implications into the (Persian) Gulf’s nuclear policy.

“The (United Arab Emirates) program is going ahead and seems to be on schedule, construction has started.

“Then you’ve got Saudi and Jordan, which are some way behind, but also made quite a lot of commitment to their nuclear programs. If anything, the Saudi push on nuclear has been increasing.”

India to push ahead with nuclear power

NEW DELHI, Feb. 23 (UPI) — India needs nuclear energy to sustain its economic growth, a government official said.

Speaking in New Delhi Wednesday at the International Nuclear Symposium, Indian Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Srikumar Banerjee said, “Without nuclear energy, the economic growth of the country would be slowed down.”

While acknowledging concerns regarding the safety of nuclear power in the wake of Japan’s magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami last March 11 that led to a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Banerjee said India can’t renounce nuclear power.

“There is no point in avoiding the questions that have come up in people’s minds — we need to address them head-on,” Banerjee said. “It is important for the public to understand India cannot renounce nuclear power,” he said.

“There is a fear that accidents will have extensive consequences on human population and the environment. It is important to drive home the point that technology will not allow that to happen.”

Banerjee has insisted that India’s existing nuclear power facilities are safe.

Speaking Monday in advance of the symposium, he said: “All atomic energy plants in the country are totally secured as per the international standards and are also capable of dealing with natural calamities like (a) tsunami or earthquake.”

Meanwhile, anti-nuclear protesters this week announced a 72-hour hunger strike against the commissioning of two reactors at the Kudankulam nuclear power project site in Tamil Nadu.

India’s energy consumption — fueled mostly by coal — continues to grow about 6 percent annually, yet nearly 40 percent of households have no access to electricity.

Banerjee cited a study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay that says India’s renewable energy sources would yield less than half the anticipated electricity demand by 2070, when sources of fossil fuels become scarce.

Also speaking Wednesday at the symposium, organized by the World Nuclear Association, Indian Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said India aims to have 63,000 megawatts of installed nuclear capacity by 2032.

India has 20 nuclear power plants in operation with an installed capacity of 4,780 megawatts, and another seven reactors under construction.

The increase in nuclear power generation, Shinde said, would come from both domestic technology and imported reactors.

“Nuclear technology has several distinct advantages — it is compact and highly manageable in terms of handling, transportation and storage of the fuel,” he said, adding that it is greener than all other power generation technologies.

API: Counter prices with regional reserves

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Rising gasoline prices in the United States could be offset by more domestic oil and natural gas production, the American Petroleum Institute said.

Gasoline prices in the United States have escalated in recent weeks in part because of tensions with oil-rich Iran.

API Chief Economist John Felmy said the United States should look at regional oil and natural gas resources to shield domestic markets from foreign turmoil.

“The industry must be allowed to develop at home more of its ample crude oil and natural gas resources,” he said in a statement. “More U.S. barrels on crude markets would help drive down crude costs and reduce gasoline prices.”

Iran said it was cutting crude oil shipments to France and the United Kingdom, a largely symbolic move meant as retaliation for Western sanctions on Tehran. Iranian oil executives said, however, that European countries could secure crude oil shipments if they signed contracts with the government.

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said tapping into the strategic petroleum reserve could offset market concerns about Iran.

“It is essential that the United States have an aggressive strategy for releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat the speculators capitalizing on the fear in oil markets and to send a message to Iran that we are ready, willing, and able to deploy our oil reserves,” he wrote in a letter to the White House.

An executive from French supermajor Total told the Platts news service this week that talk of high oil prices was to blame for high oil prices.