Disaster

The Next Exxon Valdez? Remote Alaskan Waters, Experts Fear

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 24, 2014   View Article

A quarter-century after 10.8 million gallons of crude oil gushed from the Exxon Valdez and scarred Alaska’s Prince William Sound, oil spill responders fear that another disaster looms in more remote Alaskan waters where ship traffic is on the rise, due in part to the North American energy boom.

The largest concern centers on the Arctic, where oil exploration and development is progressing in fits and starts, and Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands, a choke point on a major shipping route between North America and Asia. Both regions are expected to see increased traffic as summer sea ice disappears and producers of North American crude oil and coal look to export fossil fuels to Asia.

Virtual robot masters win real ones to send into disasters

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 27, 2013   View Article

Seven teams of software gurus whose code deftly controlled a virtual, human-like robot through a virtual obstacle course were awarded a real humanoid to program for a real-world competition to develop disaster response robots, the Pentagon’s advanced research arm announced Thursday.

The teams competed in the virtual leg of a competition run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, to develop machines that can operate with limited human supervision to assist in response to future natural and human-caused disasters.

Recent summer heat waves unprecedented, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 10, 2013   View Article

The summer heat waves over the past decade that killed thousands of people Europe, scorched the Russian wheat crop, and sent Greenland’s glaciers galloping to the sea are without parallel since at least 1400, according to a new study.

The findings are based on a statistical analysis of summer seasonal temperatures inferred from tree rings, ice cores, lake sediments, and instrumental records. They are largely consistent with other global temperature reconstructions, but put a finer point on the unusualness of the recent warmth.

“Temperatures are without precedent warmer than what we’re seeing over at least a 600-year time span,” Martin Tingley, a climate scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., told NBC News.

End of the World in 2012? Maya “Doomsday” Calendar Explained

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: December 20, 2011   View Article

It’s remotely possible the world will end in December 2012. But don’t credit the ancient Maya calendar for predicting it, say experts on the Mesoamerican culture.

It’s true that the so-called long-count calendar—which spans roughly 5,125 years starting in 3114 B.C.—reaches the end of a cycle on December 21, 2012.

That day brings to a close the 13th Bak’tun, an almost 400-year period in the Maya long-count calendar.

But rather than moving to the next Bak’tun, the calendar will reset at the end of the 13th cycle, akin to the way a 1960s automobile would click over at mile 99,999.9 and reset to zero.

Plasmas sterilize water cheaply

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: November 18, 2011   View Article

Ionized plasmas like those in neon signs and plasma TVs can sterilize water and make it antimicrobial as well, according to researchers studying the potential to use inexpensive plasma-generating devices to create sterile water in developing countries, disasters areas, and battlefields.

Plasmas are the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid, and gas. They are formed when gases are energized, stripping atoms of their electrons to create a collection of free moving electrons and ions.

Robots to the rescue in Japan

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 15, 2011   View Article

As the search for survivors and grim recovery of bodies continues following the devastating one-two punch of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, researchers are weighing what types of robots could be most helpful.

There are ground-based robots, for example, designed to climb up and down piles of rubble and slither into otherwise inaccessible cracks to look for survivors. Other robots are designed to work underwater, looking for survivors in cars that fell off bridges and to check the integrity of infrastructure.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach