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Internet Television

Taking cues from Chromecast, Sharp turns TVs into art displays 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Taking cues from Chromecast, Sharp turns TVs into art displays
One of the features Sharp had on display at its CES booth looked vaguely familiar: Sharp’s 2015 TVs automatically display a series of works of art and great-looking photos when not in use, which the company is calling
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Online outlets showed Hebdo images but offline media didn’t. Why? 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Online outlets showed Hebdo images but offline media didn’t. Why?
As the world struggled to understand the violence in Paris, where 12 cartoonists and other staff at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were gunned down by Islamic extremists, media outlets were faced with a challenge: Should
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Neil Young: Pono won’t be a hardware company for long (video interview)
Neil Young’s high-definition audio startup Pono just started selling its Pono player, but the music legend told me during an interview at CES in Las Vegas Wednesday that he sees Pono getting out of the hardware business
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Tesco sells Blinkbox to TalkTalk and may offload Dunnhumby 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Tesco sells Blinkbox to TalkTalk and may offload Dunnhumby
The British supermarket giant Tesco is, to put it mildly, having financial difficulties. On Thursday it unveiled a range of measures that it hopes will help dig it out of its hole. These include the sale of Tesco Broadband and
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Deezer buys mobile-focused Muve Music from Cricket / AT&T 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Deezer buys mobile-focused Muve Music from Cricket / AT&T
Paris-based music streaming service Deezer has acquired Muve Music, the mobile-focused music service from Leap Wireless. Leap is a virtual mobile operator better known for its Cricket service, which was itself acquired by
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Earth News Reports

Adidas, Nau, REI, Timberland Commit to Responsible Down Standard
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: The North Face Creates Responsible Down Standard for Industry Use Adidas, Nau, REI, Timberland Commit to Responsible Down Standard by Jasmin Malik Chua , 01/22/15   filed under: Eco-Fashion Brands,
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Reality Show Sends Fashion Bloggers to Work in Cambodian Sweatshop
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Cambodian Garment Workers Are Working Themselves to Death Reality Show Sends Fashion Bloggers to Work in Cambodian Sweatshop by Jasmin Malik Chua , 01/23/15   filed under: Worker Rights
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Vivienne Westwood Likes Prince Charles’s Ancient, Moth-Eaten Jackets
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Vivienne Westwood’s Tips for Living Sustainably in Style Quotes Vivienne Westwood Likes Prince Charles’s Ancient, Moth-Eaten Jackets by Jasmin Malik Chua , 01/23/15   filed under: Green
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Nissan and NASA team up to build autonomous cars for use in space
Share on TumblrEmail Nissan and NASA have inked a new partnership to further research autonomous vehicles that could be used not only here on Earth, but also in space. The five-year research and development
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Solar Impulse unveils route for first round-the-world flight powered by the sun
Share on TumblrEmail Slated for take off in either late February or early March 2015, the Solar Impulse 2 flight is expected to span approximately 25 flight days
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This cleverly designed bamboo bike charges mobile devices 24 January 2015, 00.26 Transportation
This cleverly designed bamboo bike charges mobile devices
Share on TumblrEmail Bambootec, a consortium from Yucatán, Mexico, has created a bamboo bicycle that turns pedaling into electricity for charging mobile devices. The bike also has a navigation dashboard in
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10 most creative scarves for winter 24 January 2015, 00.26 Green Architecture
10 most creative scarves for winter
I hate to quote dead Game of Thrones characters, but upon finally seeing some snow this morning, I thought: “Winter is coming”. This post shares some cool, creative, cute, funny, or geeky scarves that you’ll
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15 websites that use white space the right way 24 January 2015, 00.26 Green Architecture
15 websites that use white space the right way
Whenever anyone says white space, then we literally visualize white blank/empty spaces in our mind (white space can be of any color though). Well, that is true and is applicable even while designing. White space is actually the
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Get Adagio Sans Family for only 24 January 2015, 00.26 Green Architecture
Get Adagio Sans Family for only $20
If you are looking for a great sans-serif font family but don’t have the budget for Helvetica or Futura, then you should definitly consider this deal for Adagio Sans. Adagio Sans is very versatile and can be used for
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Spectacular surreal self-portraits by Joel Robison 24 January 2015, 00.26 Green Architecture
Spectacular surreal self-portraits by Joel Robison
Joel Robison likes to take self-portraits, but he doesn’t do it the way selfies-takers do. Not only Robison is a good photographer, he is also an excellent user of Photoshop. More than portraits, his series is made of
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Future News Reports

Obama's War Against US Energy Independence:  Give Away Oil Rich Alaskan Islands to Russia!
  By Joe Miller The Obama administration, despite the nation’s economic woes, effectively killed the job-producing Keystone Pipeline last month. The Arab Spring is turning the oil production of Libya and other Arab
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OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials 08 April 2012, 02.33 Administrator Energy
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials Visit http://www.osbitpower.com for further information OSBIT Power (OP), Siemens Wind Power and Statoil have successfully completed offshore
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North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost 12 January 2012, 02.01 Administrator Energy
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost
        North America’s EV charging infrastructure may soon see significant improvements, thanks to a recent agreement between Eaton Corporation and Coulomb Technologies. Under the deal, Eaton’s Level II and
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Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source? 28 May 2011, 01.34 Administrator Energy
Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source?
      Have scientists already unknowingly discovered the source for all atomic energy reactions, and could the discovery of the gravitomagnetic field be the ultimate energy source?  What if our understandings on how
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Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation 25 September 2011, 16.27 Administrator Energy
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation
Physicists wary of junking light speed limit yet Physicist Antonio Ereditato poses before presenting the result of an experiment, which found a subatomic particle, the neutrino, seemed to move faster than the speed of
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STEORN ORBO  FREE ENERGY:  What's Next a Self Charging Unit for your Electric Car?
Steorn's Free Energy Orbo -- From Permanent Magnets to Solid State Systems   My associate, Hank Mills composed this for PESN, Saturday, February 12, 2011 6:17 Steorn is a small company based in Dublin, Ireland. For
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Cold Fusion, Releases Energy from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field 16 January 2011, 09.17 Administrator Energy
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy  from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field
Cold Fusion "In Bologna we did it" By Ilaria VENTURI, La Republica News, Bolona, Italy For the first time in Italy, in front of experts, the process was carried out using nickel and hydrogen. It 's the way to achieve
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Abu Dhabi Media Zone to generate renewable energy through its façade
Eco Factor: Sustainable development to generate renewable solar energy. Bernard Tschumi Architects have re-imagined their master plan for the new Abu Dhabi Media Zone, by incorporating several environmentally-friendly
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Dave Rosenbarger 1976-2015 PDF Print E-mail

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We are saddened today to give you the tragic news that Patagonia ski ambassador Dave Rosenbarger—“American Dave” as we knew him—died on Friday, January 23 when he was caught in an avalanche while skiing on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif. Dave has been a part of the Patagonia family since 2010. Our hearts go out to Dave’s family and friends. He was an inspiration to many and his loss will be felt around the world.

Josh Nielsen, Patagonia Global Marketing Director, Outdoor, shares this remembrance:   

“He was the epitome of a pure passion skier—someone who didn’t do it for the cameras or for the limelight—and was deeply committed to the sport for all of the right reasons. Dave was a calculated risk taker and a talented athlete who dedicated his life to climbing and skiing some of the most challenging lines in the world, especially in Chamonix, his winter home. Dave was known for having an effortless style while skiing in steep and precarious places but also for his infectious glowing personality. He contributed to our Patagonia family in so many ways. He had a natural eye for product design and became one of our most articulate and valued product testers. He was beloved by fellow ambassadors, a friend to all and the catalyst for many powder-laden Chamonix adventures. Dave was one of a kind and will be deeply missed.”

Above: David Rosenbarger stands below the North Face of Mont Blanc and looks across to the Chamonix Valley. Chamonix, France. Photo: Christian Pondella

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Chamonix. Photo: Christian Pondella

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Chamonix. Photo: Christian Pondella


Patagonia video showcasing Dave’s skiing with fellow ambassador Kye Petersen.

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Powder Magazine’s digital feature "Untracked" about Dave’s life in Chamonix.

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“One More Shot” a field report written by Dave for the Fall 2013 Patagonia catalog about skiing a dream line with Arne Backstrom (both pictured here) in 2010. Photo: Christian Pondella 

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Photo: Josh Nielsen

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Freediving the Wreckage of Lelu Harbor PDF Print E-mail

By Matt Rott, photos by Matt Shepherd

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It’s funny how easily we miss out on opportunities lying just under our noses—especially when we’re trapped in the narrow-minded, one-dimensional pursuit of something as fleeting as a wave. I’d been chasing the left-hander breaking into Lelu Harbor for nearly fifteen years, enduring lengthy flat spells and months of inclement weather conditions in hopes of scoring extra large northeast swells and rare west winds. Yet, after a decade-and-a-half’s worth of trips, waiting impatiently for waves that never seemed to arrive on time, I remained completely ignorant of the adventure awaiting 80 feet beneath the surface and a few hundred yards to the south.

At the end of World War II, as peace treaties were being negotiated and islands exchanged hands, a small group of diplomats flew from the U.S. military base on Kwajalein to the island of Kosrae to officially accept the surrender of the Japanese forces based there. After signing papers and engaging in various other formalities, the group reboarded their PBM-5 floatplane and began taxiing for departure. But just before takeoff, one of the plane’s pontoons struck the reef, terminating the fight and rendering the plane useless. After stripping the “flying boat” of her radio equipment, weaponry and anything else of value, the crew scuttled her and hitched a ride home on the next departing flight, leaving their plane to sink into the murky sediment at the bottom of Lelu Harbor.

Today, Kosrae’s PBM-5 Mariner is the only diveable plane of its type in existence. Resting in 80 feet of water with limited visibility, it is visited by less than a dozen scuba divers per year—and until I heard of it, had never been freedived. After learning of the plane’s existence—and in the midst of an extended flat spell—I decided to find and explore the wreckage. Loading a sea kayak with fins and mask, I paddled with a buddy out to a buoy moored in the vicinity of the wreck, relaxed into my breathe-up, and then swam blindly for the bottom, hoping to get lucky on my first dive.

Sixty seconds later, enveloped in the darkness of the harbor’s still waters and dwarfed by the size and antiquity of an airplane that had weathered more than fifty years of swells, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t surfed in a week—and for once I didn’t seem to mind.

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Matt Rott has spent the past 15 years traveling the world in search of clean water, diverse cultures and a lifetime’s worth of stories. He contributes to dozens of lifestyle/adventure publications, emphasizing responsible travel, sustainable ecotourism and environmental consciousness.

Photographer Matt Shepherd sees the world more clearly underwater. His backyard is the east coast of Australia, but looking through his images one can travel alongside Matt to Japan, Indonesia, Micronesia, America and Peru.

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Watch Tommy Caldwell Climb Pitch 15 (5.14c) on The Dawn Wall PDF Print E-mail

On January 14, 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made the first free ascent of The Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan. Today we’re happy to share this exclusive video of Tommy climbing pitch 15, rated 5.14c—the first footage released by the film crew on the wall. 

“The crux holds of pitch 15 are some of the smallest and sharpest holds I have ever attempted to hold onto,” Tommy wrote on his Facebook page. Four unique camera angles reveal those minuscule holds and the 1,300 feet of exposure under Tommy’s precarious foot placements. While multiple pitches of extremely difficult climbing remained above, the completion of pitch 15 was considered the last major hurdle to the eventual success of this seven-year dream project.

Note: Pitch 15 was originally rated 5.14d, but was downgraded slightly after the completion of the route.

With thanks to Big Up Productions and Sender Films.

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Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson Make First Free Ascent of Yosemite’s Dawn Wall! PDF Print E-mail

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We’ve been watching the updates with bated breath and now all of us at Patagonia are thrilled to congratulate Tommy Caldwell and his partner Kevin Jorgeson on the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite Valley. Tommy first conceived the idea of the climb in 2007 and, seven years later, summited the route on the afternoon of January 14, 2015 after spending 19 days on the wall—and with much of the climbing world viewing the last pitches via live video stream. Longtime readers will be familiar with our coverage of the Dawn Wall dating back to 2010. It’s been a long haul and we couldn’t be happier for Tommy.

From Yvon: “When we first climbed the North American Wall on El Cap in 1964, we thought, ‘Well, that proves that any big wall in the world can be climbed.’ We never dreamed they could be climbed all free! Sending the Dawn Wall leaves Pope Francis with no choice but to admit our closest relative is the chimpanzee.’”

Above: Seven years of relief. An elated Tommy Caldwell at the top of the Dawn Wall. Photo: Chris Burkard

Most of you are familiar with Tommy’s story. He climbed his first route in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park at the age of 3—his son Fitz just happens to be a chip off the old block. Today, Tommy is recognized as one of the best all-around climbers of his time and is currently one of National Geographic’s 2015 Adventurers of the Year. In February 2014, with partner Alex Honnold, Caldwell also completed the first ascent of the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia’s Fitz Roy massif—an iconic alpine objective encompassing seven major summits in one five-day push.

“We’re proud to count Tommy as part of the Patagonia family. This is a riveting story that has captured the world’s attention, due to both the sheer challenge of the climb and Tommy’s and Kevin’s persistence,” notes Jimmy Hopper, Patagonia’s global alpine marketing manager. “Tommy is ambitious but modest and he approaches climbing in the cleanest style without shortcuts.”

“I would love for this to open people’s minds to what an amazing sport this is. I think the larger audience’s conception is that we’re thrill seekers, out there for an adrenaline rush. We really aren’t at all. It’s about spending our lives in these beautiful places and forming these incredible bonds with friends and family. It’s really a lifestyle. It’s superhealthy, and the climbing world is some of the most psyched, great people around. And if that love can spread, that’s really a great thing.” —Tommy Caldwell, via The New York Times 

 

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Much of the climbing on the Dawn Wall was done at night for better friction. Here's Tommy cranking hard on the night before summit day. Photo: James Lucas

 

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It's finished. Tommy at the summit with Half Dome standing proud in the background. Photo: Chris Burkard

 

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As soon as Kevin cleaned the final pitch and joined Tommy on the summit, the celebration began. Photo: Bligh Gillies (Corey Rich Productions)
 

 

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Tommy and Becca Caldwell (left) celebrate with Kevin Jorgeson and his girlfriend Jacqui Becker (right) moments after topping out on the Dawn Wall. Photo: Chris Burkard

 

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A very special moment for the Caldwells just after Tommy summited his dream project. Photo: Chris Burkard

 

 

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The Dawn Wall (5.14d, 3,000'). Photo: Nate Ptacek

 

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So stoked for these guys! Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson. Photo: Chris Burkard
 

We will update this post as photos and information flow in from the Valley. SHIFT-refresh to see the latest images if you've already visited the page. And stay tuned for more stories about this historic climb right here on The Cleanest Line. Woot!

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You Know What They Say About the Weather PDF Print E-mail

By Beau Fredlund

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I'm sitting in a bar with Doug Chabot, director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center. The man has more enthusiasm for snow science, alpine climbing and general life than about anyone I know. And the best part: it's infectious.

We are both a couple beers deep before our pizza arrives. The conversation floats, with laughter and zest. We talk of the day, the avalanche activity we investigated and the landscape surrounding the tiny mountain town where I live and work as a ski guide. “It’s a special place, no doubt,” Doug says with authenticity. I nod my head and gesture with deep agreement. Nowhere else quite like it I figure, as far as quality mountain towns go. Obviously, the topography is an integral aspect, but it’s the weather and snowfall that sets the place apart.

Above: Avalanche forecaster Doug Chabot, approaching the crown of a slab avalanche, just north of Cooke City, Montana. Photo: Beau Fredlund

“I figure there are quite a few of these incredible mountain microclimates, scattered amongst the Rockies,” Doug says. “Out in remote corners of Colorado... high valleys that receive 600 inches of snow a year. The thing is, they are in the middle of nowhere, so no one knows about them!” he laughs.

I shrug and counter that you'd be hard pressed to find another place quite like the one where we currently are. Probably up in Canada, or maybe over in Europe, or Asia, I concede. The idea helped fuel my interest in an exploratory trip to Kyrgyzstan a few years back. See there’s this giant salt lake, Lake Issyk-Kul, with 5000-meter peaks to the west of it. And having experienced and studied the snow in the central Wasatch of Utah, I knew what a cold northwest flow over a desert salt lake and some quality orographic lift can do for snowfall and density. Just ask the folks up at Alta. Turned out however, that the utopian combo of microclimate and mountain range remained elusive (at least for this foreigner). Access challenges perhaps. Though I guarantee I haven’t been the only one to rationalize such logic while looking wild eyed at a map of eastern Kyrgyzstan and the Tien Shan mountains.

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By investigating recent avalanches, and studying the snow structure nearby, Doug learns details that help him forecast for future slides. With constantly changing weather, and increasing numbers of people traveling in the backcountry, Doug definitely has his work cut out for him. Photo: Beau Fredlund

Soon the story telling swings over to Doug. Chabot has been passionately getting after it for decades, and you know that can only mean buckets of genuinely real and exciting stories. It wasn’t until the next morning that I woke up scratching my head. Did he make that up? Sure, the beers were flowing, but a crystal ball, in remote Tajikistan? Had to have been a dream.

Nope. I talked to Doug a couple days later, “Am I making that up? What’s with this high mountain crystal ball? A weather shaman?!” Sure enough, the story unfolds with Doug on a recent alpine climbing trip into the Pamirs of eastern Tajikistan. He ended up meeting a man named Sharaf, in a remote village at 3737 meters. Sharaf’s job, and one he took to with the utmost diligence, was recording the weather, manually, eight times a day, for the last 30 years! He is employed by the Russian federation, and now calls in his weather observations daily, a change from previously sending in his ledgers monthly. Furthermore, he usually does all the measurements himself, which means his sleep comes in increments of less than three hours every day, year after year! To make matters even more interesting, he works with a version of the Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder, and an abacus for calculations. The dude is legit.

The first thing that caught my memory the next day was this crystal ball, this sunshine recorder. Apparently, it burns a mark into a piece of paper to document the time and duration of sunshine each day. Perched in a high desert at 3737 meters, I get the feeling this weather instrument is akin to something you’d see in a James Bond or Lord of the Rings film—part secret weapon, part prophetic talisman. But what really sticks with me is how Doug describes Sharaf’s appreciation for his job. Through war and political turmoil, he’s had a job the WHOLE TIME. That means food, and security, and peace of mind—more or less, everything.

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A crystal ball?! Science fiction? Nope, that's a Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder, a device that documents the hours of sunshine during the day. This one here is at a remote weather station in eastern Tajikistan. Photo: Doug Chabot

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The abacus, a mathematical tool developed thousands of years ago, yet still being used today. Got to love a simple design that stands the test of time. Photo: Doug Chabot

For those of us that keenly study the weather on a daily basis—for avalanche forecasting or mountain guiding—the idea of this guy doing his thing over in the Pamirs, every three hours for the last 30 years, is absolutely wonderful. Talk about discipline and Zen simplicity. Add in the primitive tools and the fundamental nuances of mountain weather, while factoring in conceptions of Central Asian culture and geopolitics, and Sharaf’s gig really resonates.

What I dig about the weather is that it’s what we all have in common. Obviously, the sky is going to look different above each mountain town, the snowpack different at each weather station, but it is always there. The wind, the temperature, the precip: always changing. Maybe the Earth will trend toward more severe weather—increasing occurrence of droughts, more hurricanes, more avalanche activity, perhaps. But the weather will remain a common denominator for conversation. “How’s the weather over there?” It’s the basis for small talk amongst friends and strangers alike.

It’s also a small world, and I feel a great connection to anyone who appreciates or simply observes the weather. Folks who live with urban tunnel vision, hardly aware of the air, they have my sympathy. It’s the farmers, the ski patrolmen and the fisherman studying the ocean. It’s guys like Doug Chabot, with his nose in the snow and his eyes scanning the horizon in a vacuum of curiosity. It’s that awareness that glues us together as people under the same sheltering sky. Hopefully, as our climate changes, that tide will continue to connect us. For you know what they say about the weather: If you don’t like it, just wait five minutes.

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Beau Fredlund is a backcountry ski guide and photographer who lives in Cooke City, Montana. He loves ski mountaineering and has been fortunate to experience wonderful places like Norway, New Zealand, Alaska, Canada, Kyrgyzstan and Kamchatka. He is most passionate, however, about studying and exploring the landscapes of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Check out some of his day-to-day on the Cooke City Chronicle or on Instagram at @bfredlund.

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New York bans Polystyrene foam containers PDF Print E-mail

15 January 2015 | Environment

Polystyrene foam: banned from New York | Photo: Creative Commons

It's over. New York will be the largest US city to ban plastic foam, in all its forms and shapes. Mayor Bill de Blasio believes the new rule will remove 30,000 tons of foam from waterways, streets and landfills.

"These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City. We have better options, better alternatives, and if more cities across the country follow our lead and institute similar bans, those alternatives will soon become more plentiful and will cost less," underlined de Blasio.

Restaurants, street carts, and city school cafeterias must remove these containers from their daily operations on July 1st. Fines will be charged after the initial six-month grace period.

"While much of the waste we produce can be recycled or reused, polystyrene foam is not one of those materials. Removing polystyrene from our waste stream is not only good for a greener, more sustainable New York, but also for the communities who are home to landfills receiving the City’s trash," added Kathryn Garcia, Sanitation Commissioner.

New York joins a list of 70 US cities that have already banned plastic foam.

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British Geologist Wins Vetlesen Prize for Volcano Work PDF Print E-mail

20 January 2015 Last updated at 08:00 ET

A British geologist whose work has improved the ability to forecast deadly volcanic eruptions is to receive the 2015 Vetlesen Prize.

The award being given to Prof Stephen Sparks, of the University of Bristol, is considered the "Nobel Prize of the earth sciences".

Prof Sparks headed monitoring efforts when Montserrat's Soufrière Hills volcano came to life in the 1990s.

He will be awarded a medal and $250,000 at a ceremony in New York in June.

Elected to the Royal Society at the age of 38, Prof Sparks is among the world's mostly highly-cited geologists.

Evacuations and rebuilding

He is credited with being one of the first to apply maths and physics to the interpretation of volcanic processes and deposits in the field, bringing volcanology into the modern era.

He pioneered methods for assessing the danger posed by active volcanic eruptions, helping governments to improve decisions about evacuations and rebuilding.

Prof Sparks, who was born in London and raised in Chester, is a father-of two who now lives in Bristol with his wife Ann.

Barry Voight, a volcanologist at Pennsylvania State University, said: "Everyone has an egotism that drives their research, but Steve never lets it get in the way of working with others.

"You know he's not going to pick your brain and run off with your ideas. Instead, he will often improve on them."

The Vetlesen Prize is supported by the G Unger Vetlesen Foundation and administered by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

Prof Stephen Sparks' career

  • In a 1977 study in Nature, he showed how magma deep within the earth could mix with material closer to the surface to trigger an explosive eruption
  • In Icelandic volcanoes, he showed that the sideways flow of magma could cause the collapse of a caldera [crater at the top of a volcano] up to 40 miles away
  • Off the coast of Greece, his analysis of deep-sea volcanic rocks added support for the idea that the Thera eruption around 1500 BC may have influenced the fall of the ancient Minoans on the island of Crete
  • In 1978, Prof Sparks moved to the University of Cambridge where he published a series of influential papers with mathematician Herbert Huppert on the physics of magma chambers beneath volcanoes
  • In 1989, he and geochemist Bernie Wood were tapped to lead the University of Bristol's geology department
  • He helped show how small pressure variations in a volcano's magma chamber, or in the stickiness of its magma, can turn a gently oozing eruption into something explosive
  • In a 2006 study in the Journal of Petrology, he helped model the evolution of Earth's crust in deep "hot zones" where chemically altered magmas drive volcanism


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How Governmental Sustainability Policy Can Speed the Transition to a Cleaner Economy PDF Print E-mail

In the next several days, Jossey-Bass will publish a new book I have co-authored with my Columbia University colleagues Bill Eimicke and Alison Miller. It is entitled: Sustainability Policy: Hastening the Transition to a Cleaner Economy. The book is an effort to describe what government is already doing and what the U.S. government should be doing to partner with the private sector to build a sustainable economy--the role that government should play in moving us from an economy that is destroying our ecosystems to one that will work to sustain them. In my 2011 book, Sustainability Management, I tried to define the sustainability problem as an issue of organizational management. Sustainability management remains a critical part of the equation.

Sustainability management is simply the latest step in the evolution of the field of organizational management. Twentieth century managers were concerned with finances, human resources, information, production, performance, marketing, strategy and globalization. Today's managers must also pay attention to the use and cost of natural resources, the cost of waste production and disposal, and the environmental impact of organizational outputs and waste. These physical dimensions of sustainability can no longer be ignored. They are an increasing percentage of an organization's cost structure.

But organizational management is not enough. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Some of the work needed to make the transition to a sustainable economy requires governmental action and public policy. We need to invest public resources in earth observation, technology, organizational capacity and public policy to build our capacity to produce enough to support human civilization while maintaining a healthy, productive planet.

In our new book, we make the case that we do not know precisely how to develop a sustainable economy, but we are on the road to figuring it out. No single policy can achieve sustainability. It is not simply a problem of climate change. Sustainability requires attention to water, waste management, toxics, energy, ecosystems maintenance, endangered species, peace and security, along with a host of other issues. Government needs to act aggressively to bring about change through the tools at its disposal. Here in the United States, there are a variety of sustainability policy options available at the national, state and local level.

At the federal level, we need funding for the technologies that will transform the economy. We need to work on renewable energy, agriculture, water treatment, waste management, more efficient transportation systems and a more sustainable built environment. We also need to fund the basic earth science needed to better observe and analyze the earth's conditions. We need to know more in order to understand what we can do to use the planet productively and what practices need to be avoided. We also need to redesign the tax code to promote sustainability in large organizations, small businesses, localities and households. Finally, we need investment in infrastructure: smart grids, mass transit, water and waste management. (And no, I am not expecting any of this out of the next Congress...)

Fortunately, we have a federal system where American states can act without the federal government. States have at their disposal many of the same tools and mechanisms that the federal government has, and lately some states have been willing to deploy them. For example, although Congress hasn't adopted comprehensive climate change legislation, the nation is still on its way to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Many states have been actively encouraging renewable energy and energy efficiency. Regional cap-and-trade systems, such as the northeast states' Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) are well underway. So are requirements that power utilities meet Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that force them to add renewable energy to their power mix. New York State and California have dedicated funds for energy efficiency projects. Several states have developed "green banks" to help businesses generate the capital needed to invest in sustainable operations. Others are using the state tax code to encourage clean investment. Over 30 states have developed climate action plans to help mitigate and adapt to climate change. States like New York, where we live, are investing in more resilient infrastructure built to withstand extreme weather events. Our book provides a number of case studies of innovative state level policies now underway.

We also focus attention on local government, especially mid-to-large size cities. Cities are important agents for sustainability due to their population size, environmental impact and direct service delivery role. Most of the actual work of government is done at the local level. Local governments are responsible for schools, police, fire fighting, transportation, land use, water and waste management--not to mention parades and fireworks. The federal and state governments make policy and collect and distribute revenue, but for the most part, the real work of government is local. There are of course exceptions. At the federal level we have the military, foreign diplomacy, immigration, national parks and prisons. At the state level we have some universities, state highways, state troopers and (once again) prisons.

City-level sustainability initiatives, such as PlaNYC 2030, tend to be integrated into local economic development efforts and often enjoy a high level of non-partisan support. Many local leaders have come to understand that sustainability drives economic growth. Green initiatives attract business, tourists, and new residents. People can see and experience local level sustainability initiatives because they have an immediacy not typically seen at other levels of government. In New York City you can see the bike-sharing stations, the new bike lanes and the three types of trash and recycling baskets out on the street. Efforts at energy efficiency can be seen in lower utility bills. Federal or state governments fund some sustainability initiatives, but local governments typically implement them.

After identifying examples of local-level sustainability initiatives, our book discusses sustainability metrics and the process of transitioning from the current throw-away economy to a renewable one. In our view, it is important is to stop discussing sustainability like it is a grim, unpleasant lifestyle: that sustainability requires denial and reduced consumption. Economic consumption will change, but so will our preferences, like the re-urbanizing young folks that choose to live in the city and rely on mass transport, renting cars only when they need them. They don't miss sitting in an SUV stuck on the freeway--or being stopped for drinking while under the influence after dinner at a suburban restaurant.

The key question is, how do we get from here to there? How do we make the transition to a renewable, sustainable economy? Trying to make people feel guilty for their consumption is a losing strategy. A positive vision of a sustainable lifestyle includes entertainment, physical fitness, education, creativity, exciting ideas, social interactions, healthy and flavorful food and drink, exploration, travel and fun.

But this transition will not take place through market forces alone. Government intervention in the economy is as American as apple pie. Remember, we needed:
  • Federal tax policy and mortgage insurance to stimulate home ownership;
  • Land-grant colleges to develop farm technology and agricultural extensions to teach farmers how to use these new methods of farming; and
  • Federally funded research to develop the Internet, GPS and cell phones.

The list could go on. I know it is not politically popular to acknowledge that we need a public-private partnership to make the transition from the current economy to a sustainable one--but we do.

The transition to sustainability will require technologies for renewable production. To reiterate: We need a government to formulate and implement the policies that will provide incentives to develop and use that technology. We need government to fund the science that enables us to increase our understanding of human impact on ecosystems. And we will need government rules to ensure that new technology protects, rather than destroys, natural systems.

In my view, the transition to a renewable economy has begun. We are starting to see a slow change in culture, norms and values about consumption and lifestyle. Our demand for a clean economy and for breathable air, healthy food and drinkable water is stimulating the development of new technologies. These technological changes result in economic change that, in turn, causes social change; social change then creates the context for political change. This cycle may not be inevitable, but it has begun. Our new book discusses the role of government and public policy in hastening the transition to a renewable economy.



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The Southwest's Most Important Number PDF Print E-mail

January 19, 2015 — Junipers are hard to kill. Native to both warm, flooded tropics and the frigidly dry Arctic, it’s no surprise they come highly recommended for beginning landscapers. But in the dry summer heat of 2013, vast stands of northern New Mexico’s junipers were dying. And no one really knew why.

Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, might have an answer. For Williams, the likely explanation was drought. But not the sort of drought that experts usually measure, meaning a persistent lack of rain. Rather, this die-off may have been the result of a more subtle killer combo: too little moisture accompanied by too much heat.

Scientists are beginning to realize that this special kind of drought — and the number used to describe it — might hold the key to understanding, anticipating and potentially reducing the adverse impacts of drought in warm and arid places like the southwestern U.S. To Williams the number, known as vapor pressure deficit, is so important that he calls it the “unsung dictator of forests.”

“I talk to so many scientists who don’t think about the vapor pressure deficit, or don’t understand what it is,” he says. “But when we think about temperature influencing forests by increasing drought conditions, what we’re really thinking about is VPD.”

Using VPD as a predictor of drought could have many practical applications. For example, forest managers could know ahead of time that it may not be safe to carry out a prescribed burn. And the implications of the number go beyond forests. Advanced warning could give farmers a chance to intensify irrigation, or municipal water managers the foresight to curb water use before a drought hits. That information could provide a much-needed advantage in the uncertain climate of the future.

Look to the Sky

Traditional methods of tracking drought tend to focus on how much precipitation falls on land over time. VPD, however, looks to the sky.

“VPD is really easy,” Williams says. “All you need to know is the temperature and the humidity. And these are recorded at every weather station.”

By combining these two elements, VPD plots the unstable situation created when air holds less water vapor — or has a lower humidity — than is possible at a certain temperature. Warmer air wants to hold more water, whether it’s around to hold or not.

VPD can provide an idea of how much stress plants are under — which in turn provides an opportunity to anticipate and potentially mitigate the consequences.That relationship turns out to be rather important for plants. Like straws in a glass, plants can’t pipe up water on their own. A modest VPD acts like a giant thirsty mouth, sucking water vapor from the leaves. That suction in turn draws water into the roots and upward. The warmer the air — and the less moisture in it — the stronger that air will suck. If this negative pressure is extremely high, as it was over northern New Mexico for several days during the summer of 2013, plants can be forced to pipe water too quickly. Even for a tough species like a juniper, known for its strong water-transporting system, cells can collapse, damaging or killing the tree.

By putting a number to this sucking force, VPD can provide an idea of how much stress plants are under — which in turn provides an opportunity to anticipate and potentially mitigate the consequences.

Wildfire, pests and forest health

Williams set up shop at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico in 2011. That summer, he says, unusually warm and dry air drove VPD about 20 percent higher than the historical average. The result was tremendous stress on forests as trees already troubled by insects and disease struggled to hold water. By year’s end, thousands of acres of forest had succumbed with no sign of relief. Wildfires quickly engulfed millions of acres of VPD-stressed trees across the vulnerable Southwest, breaking records for the largest or most devastating fires ever recorded in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, and causing over a billion dollars in damage.

Whitewater-Baldy Complex forest fire

By providing an indicator of plant stress, VPD can help alert land managers to high-fire-risk conditions. Photo by Kari Greer/USFS Gila National Forest (Flickr/Creative Commons).

By describing the relationships among heat, air moisture and plant stress, VPD underscores that even a small amount of warming in a dry atmosphere can catalyze a cascade of environmental effects, such as these wildfires. That points to a troubling future for forests in the Southwest, where scientists have “high confidence” that global warming will continue heating the region, according to the 2013 National Climate Assessment. And that’s just the beginning.

In a 2012 study, Williams and his colleagues looked at past tree ring samples from the Southwest in the context of both past droughts and climate model projections of VPD. What they found wasn’t pretty. It suggests that as warming temperatures drive up VPD, pests and wildfires will weigh more and more on the health of forests. Devastating droughts that were once blessedly rare may become commonplace by mid-century.

But a future of high VPD isn’t limited to the Southwest. Because VPD rises exponentially with warming temperatures, anywhere hot and dry will feel a greater impact.

“Places like the U.S. Southwest — or the Mediterranean, or the mountains of Mexico — that are fairly arid and already warm, if you increase temperature in any of these places, then you really change the atmospheric conditions in a major way,” Williams says.

Climate models estimate that around the world, average VPD in warm seasons could rise as much as 3.6 percent each decade, according to the study. Williams says that the Southwest could see an increase of 40 percent by 2100, twice as much as the devastating jump in New Mexico’s fiery 2011.

“By the end of the century,” Williams says, “Forests will be living in an entirely different world.”

A New Forecasting Tool

The stark projections have inspired scientists to harness the power of VPD to not only map current droughts, but also to improve understanding and ability to predict how drought develops in hopes of building resiliency to this slow and subtle disaster.

Because VPD taps atmospheric components, which are poorly studied, Granger says the measure shows promise as a tool for unraveling how drought begins.Deep in the driest part of Southern California, just north of Los Angeles, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are tracking VPD across the West for the first time. In a recent study, JPL scientist Stephanie Granger and fellow researchers mined over 100 years of temperature and moisture data recorded at weather stations, including the devastatingly dry 2011 and 2012. Their research, presented at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society this January, tests how including variables like VPD could improve drought monitoring.

Because VPD taps atmospheric components, which are poorly studied, Granger says the measure shows promise as a tool for unraveling how drought begins. Plus, she says, her team’s research suggests that tracking VPD can give decision-makers valuable advance warning of droughts.

“For instance, in the 2012 drought in the Central Plains we see that the atmospheric components [of VPD] seemed to show that drought was coming before, say, the U.S. Drought Monitor picked it up,” she says.

In the fall of 2014, Granger also advised a student project that used VPD to answer some of the same questions. But rather than mining weather station data, which can take months to process, the students calculated and mapped VPD from satellite data delivered almost in real time.

Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, is encouraged by the prospects of this new capability. As an author of the U.S. Drought Monitor, which produces weekly drought information for everyone from farmers and ranchers to federal government workers, Fuchs points out that timely observations can help the U.S. Drought Monitor provide better information about current conditions.

“As our climate starts to change over time, it may be that temperature will play a bigger role in future droughts.” — Stephanie GrangerWhile VPD isn’t one of the dozens of indicators it employs to monitor those conditions, the U.S. Drought Monitor and other organizations could add VPD to their toolbox. That would strengthen their understanding of plant stress, and even provide direct observations for more robust near-future outlooks. The latter is currently the responsibility of the Climate Prediction Center, Fuchs says, which relies on imperfect models and past data — not real-time observations — to forecast drought conditions.

If satellites spot several days of exceptionally high VPD over a region, Granger’s colleague Ali Behrangi explains, forecasters know the atmosphere is sucking lots of water from plants. So even if precipitation, soil moisture and reservoir levels appear normal, decision-makers can prepare for drought.

“As our climate starts to change over time, it may be that temperature will play a bigger role in future droughts,” Granger says.

With VPD in the toolbox, however, scientists and policy-makers alike will be better equipped to anticipate and respond to those droughts. That could help minimize the devastation of wildfire, impacts on food and water security, and more. In fact, when it comes to the promise of the Southwest’s most important number, researchers are just warming up. View Ensia homepage



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