Here are some noteworthy science and environmental links folks are Digging
— President Obama pleased Sen. Harry Reid, Nevadans and many environmentalists around the country when he fulfilled a campaign promise earlier this month to shutter Yucca Mountain
as a nuclear-waste repository. The isolated ridge of volcanic rock, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, had been the planned storage site for America's radioactive waste since 1987, but that idea's popularity faded much more quickly than the waste's radioactivity, which will persist for thousands of years. While Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu mull over alternatives — shooting it into space, reprocessing it, burying it below the sea — nuclear waste keeps piling up at more than a hundred sites around the country, one of which, the Chicago Tribune
notes, sits unnervingly near the shores of Lake Michigan. For more on Yucca Mountain, see Peter Dykstra's recent column
; for a primer on nuclear power in the United States, see Translating Uncle Sam
— What housing crisis? Why not all just live in futuristic Star Trek
-style apartments in the desert? It may be less crazy than it sounds. Carefully clustered supercities — aka "arcologies
," a la SimCity 2000
— could potentially solve more than our credit crunch; by freeing up more land for crops, livestock and various other natural resources, they could become a sustainable workaround for overpopulation. This glass pyramid, which would house up to a million people, could be such a panacea. It would derive all its power from renewable sources, fit all its residents into a space less than one square mile, and use no cars, instead transporting folks around town via horizontal and vertical monorails. Named "the Ziggurat" after an ancient style of terraced Mesopotamian pyramids, it would reportedly be self-sufficient, at least in terms of energy, and carbon-neutral. But it's not without its flaws — many commenters on this story are skeptical about the comfort level of living so densely packed together.
— It's one thing to tranquilize a wolf, bear or even elephant in the wild. But throughout world history, no one had ever successfully sedated a free-swimming large whale in the wild until this month, when authorities rescued a right whale that had become entangled in hundreds of feet of commercial fishing lines off the U.S. East Coast. Right whales
, with about 400 individuals remaining, are one of the world's most endangered species, and scientists say their newfound ability to sedate them in the wild will make studying them safer for both people and the whales themselves.
— It's a lesson engineers can't afford to ignore: Whatever brilliant ideas they come up with to solve a problem, Mother Nature has often already figured out a simpler way. From aerodynamic cars based on locusts
to robots based on octopuses
, humans are increasingly figuring out that evolution has already done much of their work for them. When it comes to energy, though, we've long had our heads stuck down oil wells and coal mines — while brainless plants cleverly tap into the bountiful energy the sun beams down every day. But as easy as plants make it look, photosynthesis has proven a tough nut to crack. Scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
, however, have just cleared a major hurdle: using cobalt oxide nanocrystals to efficiently split water molecules, one of the key steps in producing food from scratch. Even better, this process could potentially combat global warming even more directly than displacing our dependence on fossil fuels, since photosynthesis also requires intake of carbon dioxide.
— I'm impressed and frightened. This giant stingray looks more like an oversized, armless facehugger
from the Alien
movies than a freshwater fish. It was caught, tagged and released in central Thailand last year as part of a National Geographic expedition
, but EcoWorldly has republished the findings this week. It wasn't officially weighed, but biologists on hand for its capture estimated its weight at somewhere between 550 and 770 pounds; the current world record for biggest freshwater fish belongs to a 646-pound Mekong catfish
, also caught in Thailand. Remind me never to go swimming in Thailand.