WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) — The U.S. government announced $180 million may be available in a six-year initiative aimed at developing the offshore wind energy sector.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said an initial $20 million was committed this year as part of a six-year strategy to support offshore wind energy installations.
“These investments are critical to ensuring that America remains competitive in this growing global industry that can drive new manufacturing, construction, installation and operation jobs across the country,” Chu said.
There is an estimated 4,000 gigawatts of potential energy available through offshore wind in the United States. Chu said the initiative would accelerate the development of “breakthrough wind power technologies” needed to diversify the U.S. energy sector.
“The new offshore wind energy initiative announced today will help to catalyze the development of offshore wind in America, supporting U.S. innovators as they seek to design and demonstrate next generation wind energy technologies,” he said.
There are no commercial-scale offshore wind farms in the United States. The funds announced by Chu are subject to congressional appropriations, the Energy Department said.
U.S. President Barack Obama in his 2011 State of the Union address laid out a clean-energy target of meeting 80 percent of U.S. energy needs with clean sources by 2035.
MOSCOW, March 2 (UPI) — Russian gas company Gazprom said it agreed to revise its gas supply contract with Italy’s Eni during bilateral discussions on the South Stream pipeline.
Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller met with Eni CEO Paolo Scaroni in Moscow. Gazprom, in a statement, said the companies agreed to adjust terms and conditions for Russian natural gas supplies to Italy.
“The agreement on the revision of the price of the gas supply contracts represents an important step in the 40-year-long strategic partnership between Gazprom and Eni,” the Italian company added. “Gazprom and Eni further consolidate their commercial relationship, contributing to the competiveness of Russian gas in the European market and helping to strengthen security of supply.”
Neither company offered specifics about the revised gas supply contract.
Construction on South Stream is scheduled to start in December. The pipeline would split with arteries headed to southern Europe after passing through Turkish waters of the Black Sea.
Gazprom meets about one-quarter of Europe’s natural gas needs, though 80 percent of that runs through Soviet-era transit networks in Ukraine.
Gazprom and Eni announced the initial aspects of South Stream in 2007.
VIENNA, March 2 (UPI) — The Nabucco pipeline company announced it was ready to start land acquisition studies in more than 20 provinces in Turkey.
“Nabucco Gas Pipeline International will commence activities pursuant to the ‘decision of public utilities’ concerning the pipeline route within the boundaries of Turkey,” the company said in a statement.
The company described this as “a very important step” in the project that is seen as a prerequisite to start land acquisition activities in Turkish territory.
Europe is looking for ways to break the Russian grip on the natural gas sector by pursuing a series of pipelines for the so-called Southern Corridor. Of those, Nabucco is the most ambitious though its $10 billion price tag and lack of firm supplier commitments is causing critics to emerge.
Turkish officials had said Nabucco was important because European demands for natural gas won’t be met even if all projects in the Southern Corridor eventually come on stream.
The pipeline would link the eastern Turkish border to Austria via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.
LONDON, March 2 (UPI) — London would be “crazy” not to encourage the interconnection of offshore wind and power linkages, the British minister of state for energy said.
The British government said it’s on the way to generating as much as 18 gigawatts of wind energy by 2020, compared with the 1.6 GW available now. In a report with energy regulator Ofgen, the British Department of Energy and Climate Change said interlinking the grid could cut as much as 15 percent from overall construction and operating costs.
“These cables could even be linked up to European projects, increasing opportunities for trading electricity,” said British Energy Minister Charles Hendry.
Hendry added this would add to efforts meant to reduce the cost per megawatt-hour and lower the cost of offshore connections as much as 15 percent.
“Linking up power cables between offshore wind farms could make some serious savings, so we would be crazy not to encourage it,” he said in a statement.
The United Kingdom is the world leader in offshore wind capacity. The country aims to generate 15 percent of its overall energy from renewable resources by 2020.
MOSCOW, March 2 (UPI) — With natural gas needs on the rise, the British government may consider joining the Nord Stream pipeline, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said.
Energy statistics for 2010, released last month by the British government, indicated a general decline in production levels. Putin suggested this meant London should consider a role on Nord Stream.
“The U.K. may join the Nord Stream project because it’s gradually becoming a gas importer,” he was quoted by Voice of Russia as saying.
The British Department of Energy and Climate Change said the country remained a net exporter of petroleum products in 2011 but domestic natural gas production was down 20 percent compared to 2010 levels.
Russia aims to diversify its European transit options through Nord Stream. The dual pipeline runs from the shores of the Gulf of Finland through the Baltic Sea to Germany.
Both lines, once fully operational this year, will transport around 1.9 trillion cubic feet of Russian gas each year to European consumers for at least 50 years.
Putin didn’t elaborate on the British role in Nord Stream other than to say negotiations have started.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., March 1 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say knowledge of the structure of a virus that causes a potentially fatal disease in children could bring antiviral drugs to treat the disease.
Purdue researchers have created three-dimensional reconstruction of enterovirus 71, which causes hand, foot and mouth disease common around the world but which can reportedly sometimes cause potentially fatal encephalitis.
Their study, along with one from Oxford University, shows a possible path to creating antiviral drugs to treat the infection, a Purdue release said Thursday.
“Taken together, the findings in both papers are useful when you are trying to stop the virus from infecting host cells,” Purdue biological science Professor Michael G. Rossmann said. “The common theme is that they both report for the first time on the structure of this virus, and this tells us how to design compounds to fight the infection.”
Both teams used a technique called X-ray crystallography to determine the virus’s precise structure, showing similarities to features on related enteroviruses including poliovirus.
The disease is found primarily in the Asia-Pacific region. Of the 427,278 cases of the disease recorded in mainland China between January and May 2010, 5,454 cases were classified as severe, with 260 deaths, the World Health Organization says.
“Right now, there isn’t much you can do for a child who contracts encephalitis,” Purdue researcher Richard J. Kuhn said.
CAMBRIDGE, England, March 1 (UPI) — A credit-card-sized low-cost computer designed to help teach children to code has gone on sale in Britain, its developers say.
The Raspberry Pi is a bare-bones computer created by volunteers mostly drawn from academia and the British tech industry hope the machines could help reverse a lack of programming skills in the country.
“It has been six years in the making; the number of things that had to go right for this to happen is enormous,” Eben Upton of the Raspberry Pi Foundation based in Cambridge told the BBC. “I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Sold uncased without keyboard or monitor, the $35 Pi has drawn interest from educators and enthusiasts.
The launch of the Pi comes as the Department for Education is considering changes to the teaching of computing in schools with the goal of greater emphasis on skills like programming.
“Initiatives like the Raspberry Pi scheme will give children the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of programming,” Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation says it has already produced thousands of the machines using a Chinese manufacturer.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn., March 1 (UPI) — A U.S. academic says he believes he can drive across the United States from coast to coast on 10 gallons of gasoline and will begin the attempt Saturday.
Agriscientist Cliff Ricketts of Middle Tennessee State University will set out to drive the approximately 2,532-mile distance from Savannah and Tybee Island, Ga., to Long Beach, Calif.
Ricketts will use two alternative-fuel vehicles in the first 916 miles of the journey from Savannah to Fort Smith, Ark., where his fuel sources will be the sun (solar) and hydrogen from water in a 2005 Toyota Prius and 1994 Toyota Tercel, a university release said.
Leaving those two vehicles in Fort Smith, Ricketts says the remaining 1,616 miles to Long Beach will be done with a plug-in hybrid 2007 Prius using E95 –95 percent ethanol and 5 percent gas — and electric in the form of two 10-kilowatt-hour battery packs.
The vehicle should get about “100 miles per gallon for about 200 miles until the batteries run down and then purely on ethanol only the rest of the way,” he says.
Ricketts says he expects to drive the cars at between 58 mph to 65 mph along an almost entirely Interstate route.
HONOLULU, March 1 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say studies of tiny grains of a comet brought to Earth in 2006 have revealed clues that help date the formation of the planet Jupiter.
Researchers at the University of Hawaii said particles from comet 81P/Wild 2 returned to Earth by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft indicate Jupiter formed more than three million years after the formation of the first solids in our Solar System.
The findings suggest the formation of this giant planet affected how materials in the early solar system moved, collided, and coalesced during the complex planet-forming process, a university release reported.
Analyses of the Wild 2 samples showed comets are composed of both low-temperature and high-temperature materials that must have come from completely different environments.
Scientists said they wanted to know how high-temperature objects from the innermost regions near the Sun became the predominant dust components of an icy comet in the outer solar nebula and set out to determine when this grand, outward migration of materials occurred.
“We were surprised to find such a late-forming, high-temperature little rock in these cometary samples,” researcher Ryan Ogliore said.
“That we are able to test theories about the formation time of Jupiter and consequently, the origins of our Solar System is really a testament to the importance of sample-return missions like Stardust.”
BRUSSELS, March 1 (UPI) — Changes to Google’s privacy policies now in effect are in breach of European Union laws, the EU’s justice commissioner says.
The policy change, implemented Thursday, means private data collected by one Google service can be shared with its other platforms including YouTube, Gmail and Blogger.
European authorities found that “transparency rules have not been applied” in changing the policies, Commissioner Viviane Reding told the BBC.
Google responded by saying it believes the new policy complies with EU law.
Google went ahead with implementing the changes despite warnings from the EU earlier this week after data regulators in France had cast doubt on the legality of the move and launched a Europe-wide investigation.
France’s privacy watchdog CNIL had urged Google to take a “pause” in rolling out the revised policy.
“The CNIL and EU data authorities are deeply concerned about the combination of personal data across services,” the regulator wrote.
HOUGHTON, Mich., March 1 (UPI) — Slimy green algae that fouled beaches around the U.S. Great Lakes in the 1950s are back with a vengeance due to an invasive species of mussel, scientists say.
The green, bottom-dwelling alga called Cladophora glomerata first choked lake waters in the mid-20th century when humans discharged large amounts of phosphorus from agricultural runoff into the lakes.
Then the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement brought tough new regulations that limited phosphorus and Cladophora all but disappeared.
Now it’s back, researchers at Michigan Technological University report, thanks this time to billions of exotic zebra mussels that have created a perfect habitat.
The mussels, as filter feeders, have clarified the Great Lakes water, allowing more sunlight for Cladophora to grow in areas that were once too dark, the researchers said.
The mussels also excrete a type of phosphorus that Cladophora love to feed on, and the mussels’ hard shells covering the sandy lake bottoms provide solid real estate where the algae can grow.
Michigan Tech’s Robert Shuchman and his research team are helping resource managers survey the extent of the Cladophora problem.
Using remote-sensing data from satellites the can measure “radiance,” or reflective brightness, to distinguish Cladophora beds from areas where the lake bottom is clear.
“By doing this, we can map Cladophora in a straightforward way,” he Shuchman said.
Research on the structure of California’s San Andreas fault suggests a rupture might shake some places harder than current forecasts predict, seismologists say.
Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey found the southern section of the fault isn’t vertical in most places, as previously thought, but rather twists in opposite directions along its length, ScienceNews.org reported.
“We now have a picture of a propeller-shaped San Andreas,” USGS geophysicist Gary Fuis said.
This unexpected shape could make the San Andreas, which has been locked and building up strain in some parts as the Pacific and North American plates try to move past each other, even more hazardous, the researchers said.
“The dipping geometry may allow for significantly larger earthquakes,” Roland Burgmann, a geophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, said, explaining that tilted faults possess more surface area in a given depth, potentially releasing more energy when they break.
In its northern section the fault leans to the southwest, then as it snakes to the south it becomes vertical in the Mojave Desert.
Closer to Mexico, it dips to the northeast, cutting into Earth’s crust at an angle of 37 degrees near San Bernardino, Calif., the researchers said.
ALISO VIEJO, Calif., March 1 (UPI) — Windows XP, while losing ground to Windows 7, is still the world’s most used operating system, U.S. analysts say.
Analysts at NetApplications say XP’s share of the global market dropped from 47 percent in January, while Windows 7 garnered 38 percent of all users, up from 36 percent the prior month.
Windows 7 has been winning a percentage point or two most months in the last year and has risen steadily since its debut more than two years ago, CNET.com reported.
In February 2011, XP sat at 57 percent of market share, while Windows 7 had just a 24 percent share.
Windows Vista, on the other hand, is still losing users and now sits at just 8 percent of market share, NetApplications said.
Microsoft I heavily involved in trying to convince people to move away from XP toward Windows 7, reminding consumers and companies support for XP runs out in April 2014.
At that time security patches, bug fixes or other updates will no longer be available.
SAN DIEGO, March 1 (UPI) — The U.S. Office of Naval Research has chosen Dakota Creek Industries Inc. to build a new research vessel for ocean science exploration, officials said.
Dakota Creek Industries, of Anacortes, Wash., will build AGOR 28, a new “Ocean Class” research vessel that will advance environmental and scientific research in the world’s seas, they said.
The new research vessel will be owned by ONR for the Department of the Navy and operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.
AGOR 28, set for launch in 2015, is designed as a seagoing laboratory to support ocean science for the next 30 years, a UCSD release said Wednesday.
The vessel will utilize research instrumentation to conduct scientific exploration, including mapping systems, sensors and profilers that will investigate features from the seafloor to the atmosphere, Scripps officials said.
“Scripps Oceanography awaits with excitement the launch of AGOR 28 and especially its ability to take Scripps further into its second century of ocean exploration,” Scripps Director Tony Hayment said.
AGOR 28 will be the fifth ship in the Scripps fleet, the largest among U.S. research institutions.
“Scripps was successful in a fierce competition among U.S. oceanographic institutions to operate AGOR 28, and we’re excited about the ship’s role in the future of the Scripps fleet,” said Bruce Appelgate, Scripps associate director for Ship Operations and Marine Technical Support.
The ship will be based at the Scripps Nimitz Marine Facility in San Diego’s Point Loma community.
NEW YORK, March 1 (UPI) — Earth’s oceans may be turning acidic faster from human carbon emissions than during four major extinctions in the last 300 million years, U.S. researchers say.
A study by scientists at Columbia University is the first to survey the geologic record for evidence of ocean acidification and life extinctions over such a vast time period, a Columbia release reported Thursday.
It compared human-caused emissions to natural pulses of carbon that have sent global temperatures soaring in Earth’s past.
“What we’re doing today really stands out,” Barbel Honisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said.
“We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out — new species evolved to replace those that died off. But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about — coral reefs, oysters, salmon.”
Oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide from the air that reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid, but if CO2 goes into the oceans too quickly, it can deplete carbonate ions that corals, mollusks and some plankton need for reef and shell-building, the researchers said.
It may take decades before ocean acidification’s effect on marine life shows itself, but the study highlights the extreme effect human activity has had on marine chemistry, experts said.
“These studies give you a sense of the timing involved in past ocean acidification events — they did not happen quickly,” Richard Feely, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was not involved in the study, said.
“The decisions we make over the next few decades could have significant implications on a geologic timescale.”
MOGADISHU, Somalia, March 1 (UPI) — After two decades of incessant clan warfare, lawless, divided and poverty-stricken Somalia appears to be on the cusp of becoming an oil state, a transition that many fear could plunge the world’s most failed state into new paroxysms of violence.
Britain is leading the charge to stake its claim on the energy riches oilmen say lies beneath the sands of the Horn of Africa country.
Some analysts warn that exploiting oil in the autonomous northwestern enclave of Puntland, and believed to extend across the ravaged country, will intensify the conflict rather than act as a catalyst for peace.
Somalia has been without a central government since clan warlords overthrew dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.
In the chaos that ensued, the country was split between constantly changing clan rivalries. A seemingly endless war and a series of famines killed hundreds of thousands of people.
After a disastrous U.N. intervention in the early 1990s, the world largely ignored the savagery tearing resource-poor Somalia.
But in the last few years, major oil and natural gas discoveries have been made across the entire East Africa region, from the Horn of Africa in the northeast, down to Tanzania and Mozambique in the south, and inland in Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo around Lake Albert.
Estimates of Somalia’s reserves, onshore and offshore, go as high as 110 billion barrels of oil.
There’s also likely to be vast natural gas reserves in Somali waters in the Indian Ocean. Fields containing an estimated 100 trillion cubic feet of gas have been found off Mozambique and Tanzania.
British Prime Minister David Cameron convened an international conference on Somalia in London last week as all this unfolded. That came soon after a surprise visit to the country by Foreign Secretary William Hague, the first British official of that rank to do so since 1992.
Hague talked of “the beginning of an opportunity” to rebuild the war-shattered country.
While in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, he named a new British ambassador to Somalia, who’ll be based in Kenyan until the Somali security situation improves.
The London conference pledged greater economic and financial aid for Somalia and intensified efforts to restore security, primarily by crushing al-Shabaab, an Islamist movement battling the Federal Transitional Government, an inept, corruption-plagued administration backed by the West.
The Western effort followed an announcement by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahari that al-Shabaab had formally joined the global jihadist network.
That came as al-Shabaab, recently driven out of Mogadishu by an African Union force funded by the United States, was being increasingly squeezed on all sides by the 10,000-strong AU peacekeeping force and invading Kenyan and Ethiopian forces, discreetly supported by the Americans, who sought to aid the TFG.
This renewed commitment to restoring stability in Somalia hasn’t officially been linked to the discovery of oil there.
But London’s Observer newspaper reported Sunday, “Britain is involved in a secret high-stakes dash for oil in Somalia, with the government offering humanitarian aid and security assistance in the hope of a stake in the beleaguered country’s future energy industry …
“Talks are going on between British officials and Somali counterparts over exploiting oil reserves in the northeastern region.”
Puntland Minister for International Cooperation Abdulkadir Abdi Hashi said his government had approached BP as a partner.
Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said Puntland had little choice but to lure Western oil companies by offering them access to the country’s natural resources, which also include uranium.
But analysts fear the London conference is on dangerous ground.
“By raising expectations and setting a timetable and target for political reform, security assistance and regional collaboration that are unlikely to be met, Britain and its partners risk making a bad situation worse,” observed British international affairs expert Simon Tisdall.
“Without determined follow-through, these good intentions could open the way to greater human suffering, increased foreign military intervention and, ultimately, partition — presaging the definitive disintegration of Somalia as a sovereign state.”
In January, the Canadian wildcatter Africa Oil began the first drilling in Somalia in 21 years and made strikes in Puntland.
It estimates there could be reserves of up to 4 billion barrels, worth about $500 billion at today’s prices, in its two drilling blocks alone.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., March 1 (UPI) — Internet users waiting for a Web page to load find a delay of even just milliseconds too long, engineers at U.S. search giant Google say.
A delay of 400 milliseconds, about the blink of an eye, causes people to search less, they said.
“Subconsciously, you don’t like to wait,” Arvind Jain, Google’s resident speed guru, told The New York Times. “Every millisecond matters.”
Internet users will visit a commercial or news Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds, experts said.
And the quest for speed is becoming more important as data-hungry smartphones and tablets create digital traffic jams as people download maps, videos, news updates and other content, analysts said.
“Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,” Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft, said.
REDDING, Calif., March 1 (UPI) — Wildfires in California have grown in size over time but haven’t necessarily grown in severity or in negative impacts on the ecosystem, scientists say.
Researchers from the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California, Davis, assessed the size, severity and frequency of wildfires in four national forests — Klamath, Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers — in northwestern California from 1910 to 2008 and their effects on the ecosystem.
Fire severity is measured by its impact on resources such as watersheds, wildlife habitat, soils, vegetation and forest products, they said.
“High” severity patches within fires are areas where greater than 95 percent of the forest canopy has been killed.
The study found despite an increase in total acres burned there was no corresponding trend in the proportion of fires burning at high severity, a USFS release said Thursday.
The findings suggest fires burning at less than high severity could be useful in attaining ecological and management goals, researchers said.
“This study has some very important implications for fire and forest management policies,” USFS geographer Carl Skinner said. “Our results support the idea that wildfires could be managed for ecological benefit in this bioregion.”
BINGHAMTON, N.Y., March 1 (UPI) — The floor of the world’s oldest forest, dating from 385 million years ago, has been discovered in a New York county, researchers say.
The finding in Schoharie County could shed new light on the role of modern-day forests and their impact on climate change, they said.
“It was like discovering the botanical equivalent of dinosaur footprints,” researcher William Stein, professor of biological sciences at Binghamton University, said.
“But the most exciting part was finding out just how many different types of footprints there were. The newly uncovered area was preserved in such a way that we were literally able to walk among the trees, noting what kind they were, where they had stood and how big they had grown.”
The prehistoric trees resembled modern-day cycads or tree ferns, but questions had remained about what the surrounding area looked like, whether other plant life co-existed with these trees and how, the researchers wrote in the journal Nature.
In 2010, researchers found a large, substantially intact portion of the ancient forest horizon, complete with root systems, which suggested the area probably enjoyed a wetland environment in a tropical climate.
“The complexity of the … site can teach us a lot about the original assembly of our modern day ecosystems,” Stein said.
“As we continue to understand the role of forests in modern global systems, and face potential climate change and deforestation on a global scale, these clues from the past may offer valuable lessons for managing our planet’s future.”
LONDON, March 1 (UPI) — A study of 200 years of evolution of road networks in Italy has begun to unlock the factors driving the growing phenomenon of urbanization, researchers say.
An international team of mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists and urbanists, including researchers from Queen Mary, University of London, used quantitative tools of network theory to examine the evolution of road networks, a long lasting element of urban forms considered a fundamental driver in urban development.
“Urbanization is a complex phenomenon that affects our society and shapes the environment where we live,” researcher Vito Latora from Queen Mary’s School of Mathematical Sciences said in a university release Thursday.
“However, a quantitative assessment of urbanization processes has been lacking.”
The researchers’ study of road networks around an area north of Milan called Groane suggests the evolution of such networks is driven by two key elements: exploration, when new roads trigger spatial evolution beyond the outskirts of a town, and densification, or the increase in local road density around existing urban centers.
“Exploration is more common during earlier historical periods, whereas densification predominates in later years,” Latora said.
“Our study of Groane shows that over time, cells of land demarcated by roads have become more evenly distributed and square shaped.
“We found a general trend towards a greater number of four-way road junctions, compared with the earlier structure where dead ends and three-way junctions were more common,” he said.
The most central streets in the network in 2007 tend to coincide with the oldest ones, showing the importance of central roads as a robust spatial backbone that remains stable over time and drives urbanization, he said.
SOLOMONS, Md., March 1 (UPI) — A study of leatherback turtles has found potential danger zones in the Pacific Ocean where fishing activities could threaten the animals, U.S. researchers say.
The largest sea turtle in the world, leatherbacks can grow to more than 6 feet in length, but they are also one of the most threatened turtle species, researchers said.
The new study identifying high-use areas in the Pacific could help inform decisions about fishing practices to help reduce the threat to the species, they said.
“The study shows that leatherbacks can be found throughout the Pacific Ocean and identifies high-use areas that are of particular importance to their survival,” said lead author Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
“This information on their movements is essential for identifying hot spots and assessing where limiting fishing at particular times of year may be effective for protecting leatherbacks.”
Leatherbacks, the widest-ranging marine turtle species known to migrate across entire ocean basins, are at risk of passing through high-use fishing areas on these long journeys and becoming entangled in fishing gear, researchers said.
“Leatherback turtles are long-lived animals that take a long time to reach maturity, so when they are killed in fishing gear it has a huge impact on the population,” study coordinator James Spotila of Drexel University said. “Their numbers are declining so rapidly it is critical that measures are taken quickly to ensure these animals don’t go extinct.”