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Spy agencies fund climate research in hunt for weather weapon, scientist fears: US expert Alan Robock raises concern over who would control climate-altering technologies if research is paid for by intelligence agencies A senior US scientist has expressed concern that the intelligence services are funding climate change research to learn if new technologies could be used as potential weapons.
Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has called on secretive government agencies to be open about their interest in radical work that explores how to alter the world’s climate.
Robock, who has contributed to reports for the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), uses computer models to study how stratospheric aerosols could cool the planet in the way massive volcanic eruptions do.
But he was worried about who would control such climate-altering technologies should they prove effective, he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose.
Last week, the National Academy of Sciences published a two-volume report on different approaches to tackling climate change. One focused on means to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the other on ways to change clouds or the Earth’s surface to make them reflect more sunlight out to space.
Is geoengineering a bad idea?
The report concluded that while small-scale research projects were needed, the technologies were so far from being ready that reducing carbon emissions remained the most viable approach to curbing the worst extremes of climate change. A report by the Royal Society in 2009 made similar recommendations. (London Guardian)
Newly Released Drone Records Reveal Extensive Military Flights in US Today EFF posted several thousand pages of new drone license records and a new map that tracks the location of drone flights across the United States.
These records, received as a result of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), come from state and local law enforcement agencies, universities and—for the first time—three branches of the U.S. military: the Air Force, Marine Corps, and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
Military Drone Flights in the United States
A160 Hummingbird DroneWhile the U.S. military doesn’t need an FAA license to fly drones over its own military bases (these are considered “restricted airspace”), it does need a license to fly in the national airspace (which is almost everywhere else in the US). And, as we’ve learned from these records, the Air Force and Marine Corps regularly fly both large and small drones in the national airspace all around the country. This is problematic, given a recent New York Times report that the Air Force’s drone operators sometimes practice surveillance missions by tracking civilian cars along the highway adjacent to the base. (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong The threat of climate change is an increasingly important environmental issue for the globe. Because the economic questions involved have received relatively little attention, I have been writing a nontechnical book for people who would like to see how market-based approaches could be used to formulate policy on climate change. When I showed an early draft to colleagues, their response was that I had left out the arguments of skeptics about climate change, and I accordingly addressed this at length.
But one of the difficulties I found in examining the views of climate skeptics is that they are scattered widely in blogs, talks, and pamphlets. Then, I saw an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal of January 27, 2012, by a group of sixteen scientists, entitled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” This is useful because it contains many of the standard criticisms in a succinct statement. The basic message of the article is that the globe is not warming, that dissident voices are being suppressed, and that delaying policies to slow climate change for fifty years will have no serious economic or environment consequences.
My response is primarily designed to correct their misleading description of my own research; but it also is directed more broadly at their attempt to discredit scientists and scientific research on climate change.1 I have identified six key issues that are raised in the article, and I provide commentary about their substance and accuracy. They are:
• Is the planet in fact warming?
• Are human influences an important contributor to warming?
• Is carbon dioxide a pollutant?
• Are we seeing a regime of fear for skeptical climate scientists?
• Are the views of mainstream climate scientists driven primarily by the desire for financial gain?
• Is it true that more carbon dioxide and additional warming will be beneficial?
As I will indicate below, on each of these questions, the sixteen scientists provide incorrect or misleading answers. At a time when we need to clarify public confusions about the science and economics of climate change, they have muddied the waters. I will describe their mistakes and explain the findings of current climate science and economics. (The New York Review of Books)
The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say) The spring air in the small, sand-dusted town has a soft haze to it, and clumps of green-gray sagebrush rustle in the breeze. Bluffdale sits in a bowl-shaped valley in the shadow of Utah’s Wasatch Range to the east and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west. It’s the heart of Mormon country, where religious pioneers first arrived more than 160 years ago. They came to escape the rest of the world, to understand the mysterious words sent down from their god as revealed on buried golden plates, and to practice what has become known as “the principle,” marriage to multiple wives.
Today Bluffdale is home to one of the nation’s largest sects of polygamists, the Apostolic United Brethren, with upwards of 9,000 members. The brethren’s complex includes a chapel, a school, a sports field, and an archive. Membership has doubled since 1978—and the number of plural marriages has tripled—so the sect has recently been looking for ways to purchase more land and expand throughout the town.
But new pioneers have quietly begun moving into the area, secretive outsiders who say little and keep to themselves. Like the pious polygamists, they are focused on deciphering cryptic messages that only they have the power to understand. Just off Beef Hollow Road, less than a mile from brethren headquarters, thousands of hard-hatted construction workers in sweat-soaked T-shirts are laying the groundwork for the newcomers’ own temple and archive, a massive complex so large that it necessitated expanding the town’s boundaries. Once built, it will be more than five times the size of the US Capitol.
Rather than Bibles, prophets, and worshippers, this temple will be filled with servers, computer intelligence experts, and armed guards. And instead of listening for words flowing down from heaven, these newcomers will be secretly capturing, storing, and analyzing vast quantities of words and images hurtling through the world’s telecommunications networks. In the little town of Bluffdale, Big Love and Big Brother have become uneasy neighbors.
The NSA has become the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever. (Wired)
Japan Reactor-Core Damage Is Worse Than Expected, Delaying Tepco’s Cleanup Tokyo Electric Power Co. said one of the reactor cores at its stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant is more seriously damaged than previously thought, setting back the utility’s plan to resolve the crisis.
Fuel rods in the core of the No. 1 reactor are fully exposed, with the water level 1 meter (3.3 feet) below the base of the fuel assembly, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility known as Tepco, told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo. Melted fuel has dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel and is still being cooled, Matsumoto said.
Japan is trying to contain the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after a quake and tsunami two months ago knocked out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima station. While authorities have previously suspected a partial meltdown at unit 1, high radiation levels had prevented workers from entering the building to check the damage until last week.
“What this means is this is probably going to be a much more difficult cleanup than they originally planned for,” said Paul Padley, a particle physicist at Rice University in Houston. The government and Tepco “have consistently appeared to be underestimating the severity of the situation.” (Bloomberg)
Nuclear Agency Is Criticized as Too Close to Its Industry In the fall of 2007, workers at the Byron nuclear power plant in Illinois were using a wire brush to clean a badly corroded steel pipe — one in a series that circulate cooling water to essential emergency equipment — when something unexpected happened: the brush poked through.
The resulting leak caused a 12-day shutdown of the two reactors for repairs.
The plant’s owner, the Exelon Corporation, had long known that corrosion was thinning most of these pipes. But rather than fix them, it repeatedly lowered the minimum thickness it deemed safe. By the time the pipe broke, Exelon had declared that pipe walls just three-hundredths of an inch thick — less than one-tenth the original minimum thickness — would be good enough.
Though no radioactive material was released, safety experts say that if enough pipes had ruptured during a reactor accident, the result could easily have been a nuclear catastrophe at a plant just 100 miles west of Chicago.
Exelon’s risky decisions occurred under the noses of on-site inspectors from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. No documented inspection of the pipes was made by anyone from the N.R.C. for at least the eight years preceding the leak, and the agency also failed to notice that Exelon kept lowering the acceptable standard, according to a subsequent investigation by the commission’s inspector general. (New York Times)
Scientists: Japan Fallout Won't Rival Chernobyl's Even if the Japanese nuclear plant damaged in the earthquake goes into full meltdown, it is unlikely to cause environmental fallout anything on the scale seen after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, scientists said.
"As long as there's no meltdown of the fuel rods, you're in good shape," said Kirby Kemper, a nuclear physicist at Florida State University. But if pressure from gases in the nuclear core builds up, "a crack could appear in the containment vessel and release radiation," he said.
Thousands of evacuees from areas around Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant were scanned for radiation exposure, though the Japanese government insists radiation levels are low. Video courtesy of Reuters
Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (9501.TO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, situated about 150 miles north of Tokyo, was shaken by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake Friday. A tsunami and aftershocks also hit the area. (Wall Street Journal)
What is a 'Presidential Alert'? "This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. This is only a test..."
You've heard that warning before, but it may soon come directly from the White House.
The Federal Communications Commission has approved plans to hold the first test of a "Presidential Alert," or a broadcast warning that might be issued in the event of a serious natural disaster or terrorism threat.
It may seem like a scene out of George Orwell's "1984" or some other apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster, but government officials have wanted for years to establish a way for the White House to quickly, directly alert Americans of impending danger.
Commissioners voted last week to require television and radio stations, cable systems and satellite TV providers to participate in a test that would have them receive and transmit a live code that includes an alert message issued by the president. No date has been set for the test. (Washington Post)
Background of the HAARP Project Military interest in space became intense during and after World War II because of the introduction of rocket science, the companion to nuclear technology. The early versions include the buzz bomb and guided missiles. They were thought of as potential carriers of both nuclear and conventional bombs.
Rocket technology and nuclear weapon technology developed simultaneously between 1945 and 1963. During this time of intensive atmospheric nuclear testing, explosions at various levels above and below the surface of the earth were attempted. Some of the now familiar descriptions of the earth's protective atmosphere, such as the existence of the Van Allen belts, were based on information gained through stratospheric and ionospheric experimentation.
The earth's atmosphere consists of the troposphere, from sea level to about 16 km above the earth's surface; the stratosphere (which contains the ozone level) which extends from about the 16 to 48 km above the earth; and the ionosphere which extends from 48 km to over 50,000 km above the surface of the earth.
The earth's protective atmosphere or "skin" extends beyond 3,200 km above sea level to the large magnetic fields, called the Van Allen Belts, which can capture the charged particles sprayed through the cosmos by the solar and galactic winds. These belts were discovered in 1958 during the first weeks of the operation of America's first satellite, Explorer I. They appear to contain charged particles trapped in the earth's gravity and magnetic fields. Primary galactic cosmic rays enter the solar system from interstellar space, and are made up of protons with energies above 100 MeV, extending up to astronomically high energies. They make up about 100 percent of the high energy rays. Solar rays are generally of lower energy, below 20 MeV (which is still high energy in earth terms). These high energy particles are affected by the earth's magnetic field and by geomagnetic latitude (distance above or below the geomagnetic equator). The flux density of low energy protons at the top of the atmosphere is normally greater at the poles than at the equator. The density also varies with solar activity, being at a minimum when solar flares are at a minimum. (EarthPulse.com)
Security experts: Computer attacks linked to wealthy group or nation A powerful computer code attacking industrial facilities around the world, but mainly in Iran, probably was created by experts working for a country or a well-funded private group, according to an analysis by a leading computer security company.
The malicious code, called Stuxnet, was designed to go after several "high-value targets," said Liam O Murchu, manager of security response operations at Symantec Corp. But both O Murchu and U.S. government experts say there's no proof it was developed to target nuclear plants in Iran, despite recent speculation from some researchers.
- US officials said last month that the Stuxnet was the first malicious computer code specifically created to take over systems that control the inner workings of industrial plants. A number of governments with sophisticated computer skills would have the ability to create such a code. They include China, Russia, Israel, Britain, Germany and the United States. But O Murchu said no clues have been found within the code to point to a country of origin. - Symantec's analysis of the code, O Murchu said, shows that nearly 60 percent of the computers infected with Stuxnet are in Iran. An additional 18 percent are in Indonesia. Less than 2 percent are in the U.S.
The malware has infected as many as 45,000 computer systems around the world. Siemens AG, the company that designed the system targeted by the worm, said it has infected 15 of the industrial control plants it was apparently intended to infiltrate. It's not clear what sites were infected, but they could include water filtration, oil delivery, electrical and nuclear plants. None of those infections has adversely affected the industrial systems, according to Siemens. (Associated Press)
Mitsui Says Oil Tanker Possibly Attacked Near Hormuz Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., operator of the world’s second-largest oil-tanker fleet, said one of its ships may have been attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, deemed by the U.S. to be the most important chokepoint for oil supply.
An explosion, which “may have been caused by an external attack,” occurred at 5:30 a.m. Tokyo time, injuring one of the crew, Mitsui said in a statement. The vessel, M. Star, was on its way to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates to assess the damage and no oil is leaking, Mitsui said. The tanker was damaged by rough seas, the official U.A.E. news agency WAM reported, citing Musa Murad, director of the Port of Fujairah. (Bloomberg)
Tropical Storm Bonnie Forms, Heading for Florida and BP's Gulf Oil Spill Tropical Storm Bonnie has formed south of the Bahamas and is on a track to move across the southern tip of Florida and into the oil-fouled waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The storm has maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers), and is expected to build strength as it bears down on the Florida Keys tomorrow, according to a special hurricane center advisory issued at 6:15 p.m. Miami time. (Bloomberg)
Scientists Warn Oil Spill Could Threaten Florida Scientists warned Monday that oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico was moving rapidly toward a current that could carry it into the Florida Keys and the Atlantic Ocean, threatening coral reefs and hundreds of miles of additional shoreline.
Government officials insisted that the oil had not yet entered the gulf’s so-called loop current, and that they were continuing to monitor the movement of the spill closely. But two independent scientists, analyzing ocean current and satellite data, said the oil was in an eddy that was quickly being drawn into the current, portending a much wider spread of the hazardous slick.
The White House, meanwhile, said late Monday that President Obama would soon name an independent commission to investigate the cause of the spill and the response to it, largely supplanting the inquiry now being conducted by the United States Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service, the Interior Department agency responsible for overseeing offshore oil operations. The role of both agencies in approving the drilling, preparing for an accident and supervising the cleanup are part of any overall inquiry and have raised questions about the independence of their work. (New York Times)
Oil spill: BP had wrong diagram to close blowout preventer Frank Patton, a drilling engineer for the government's Mineral Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, told a separate inquiry in Kenner, La., that drilling mud "is the most important thing in safety for your well." He said that any alteration to the blowout preventer would have required both BP and MMS approval. (McClatchy Newspapers)
Mind-reading systems could change air security in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing attempt over Detroit, President Barack Obama called on Homeland Security and the Energy Department to develop better screening technology, warning: "In the never-ending race to protect our country, we have to stay one step ahead of a nimble adversary." (Associated Press)
Uranium Is So Last Century -- Enter Thorium, the New Green Nuke The thick hardbound volume was sitting on a shelf in a colleague’s office when Kirk Sorensen spotted it. A rookie NASA engineer at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Sorensen was researching nuclear-powered propulsion, and the book’s title — Fluid Fuel Reactors — jumped out at him. He picked it up and thumbed through it. Hours later, he was still reading, enchanted by the ideas but struggling with the arcane writing. “I took it home that night, but I didn’t understand all the nuclear terminology,” Sorensen says. He pored over it in the coming months, ultimately deciding that he held in his hands the key to the world’s energy future.
Published in 1958 under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission as part of its Atoms for Peace program, Fluid Fuel Reactors is a book only an engineer could love: a dense, 978-page account of research conducted at Oak Ridge National Lab, most of it under former director Alvin Weinberg. What caught Sorensen’s eye was the description of Weinberg’s experiments producing nuclear power with an element called thorium.
At the time, in 2000, Sorensen was just 25, engaged to be married and thrilled to be employed at his first serious job as a real aerospace engineer. A devout Mormon with a linebacker’s build and a marine’s crew cut, Sorensen made an unlikely iconoclast. But the book inspired him to pursue an intense study of nuclear energy over the next few years, during which he became convinced that thorium could solve the nuclear power industry’s most intractable problems. After it has been used as fuel for power plants, the element leaves behind minuscule amounts of waste. And that waste needs to be stored for only a few hundred years, not a few hundred thousand like other nuclear byproducts. Because it’s so plentiful in nature, it’s virtually inexhaustible. It’s also one of only a few substances that acts as a thermal breeder, in theory creating enough new fuel as it breaks down to sustain a high-temperature chain reaction indefinitely. And it would be virtually impossible for the byproducts of a thorium reactor to be used by terrorists or anyone else to make nuclear weapons. (Wired)
It’s official-the era of cheap oil is over The global energy equation is changing rapidly, and with it is likely to come great power competition, economic peril, rising starvation, growing unrest, environmental disaster, and shrinking energy supplies, no matter what steps are taken (Grist)
Obama’s involvement in Chicago Climate Exchange--the rest of the story The charity was the Joyce Foundation on whose board of directors Obama served and which gave nearly $1.1 million in two separate grants that were "instrumental in developing and launching the privately-owned Chicago Climate Exchange, which now calls itself "North America's only cap and trade system for all six greenhouse gases, with global affiliates and projects worldwide." (Canadian Free Press)
Atmospheric Science Program The Department of Energy's Atmospheric Science Program has as its long-term goal developing comprehensive understanding of the atmospheric processes that control the transport, transformation, and fate of energy related trace chemicals and particulate matter (Atmospheric Science Program)
Princeton Physicist Tells Congress Earth in 'CO2 Famine' -- Increase 'Will Be Good for Mankind' Dr. Will Happer, once fired by Al Gore, challenges former vice president's much-published claim that warming debate over - “Many people don’t realize that over geological time, we’re really in a CO2 famine now. Almost never has CO2 levels been as low as it has been in the Holocene [geologic epoch] – 280 [parts per million (ppm)] – that’s unheard of,” Happer said. “Most of the time, it’s at least 1,000 [ppm] and it’s been quite higher than that.”
Happer said that when CO2 levels were higher – much higher than they are now, the laws of nature still managed to function as we understand them today. - “Like the Temperance Movement a hundred years ago, the climate catastrophe movement has enlisted the mass media, leadership of scientific societies, trustees of charitable foundations, many other influential people to their cause,” Happer said. “Even elementary school teachers and writers of children’s books terrify our children with the idea of impending climate doom. Children should not be force-fed propaganda masquerading as science.” (Business and Media Institute)
DOE Testing Idea to Shoot Particles into Sky to Fight 'Global Warming' Government scientists are studying the feasibility of sending nearly microscopic particles of specially made glass into the Earth's upper atmosphere to try to dampen the effects of "global warming." - The Department of Energy did not speak with Cybercast News Service about the project, but scientists familiar with the line of research say it grows out of a proposal first articulated by Paul Crutzen, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize for his work discovering that there is a hole in the ozone over the Antarctic. (CNS News)
Gas prices may last six months The nation's energy chief says it will take six months for U.S. energy production and prices to return to pre-hurricane levels, and he hints at energy shortages in the interim (USA Today)
Oil Fields Are Refilling... Naturally -- Sometimes Rapidly There Are More Oil Seeps Than All The Tankers On Earth - Deep underwater, and deeper underground, scientists see surprising hints that gas and oil deposits can be replenished, filling up again, sometimes rapidly. Although it sounds too good to be true, increasing evidence from the Gulf of Mexico suggests that some old oil fields are being refilled by petroleum surging up from deep below, scientists report. That may mean that current estimates of oil and gas abundance are far too low. Recent measurements in a major oil field show "that the fluids were changing over time; that very light oil and gas were being injected from below, even as the producing [oil pumping] was going on," said chemical oceanographer Mahlon "Chuck" Kennicutt. "They are refilling as we speak. But whether this is a worldwide phenomenon, we don't know." - "For example, Ian MacDonald at Texas A&M has published some remarkable satellite photographs of oil slicks which go for miles in the Gulf of Mexico in areas where no oil production is occurring." Before this research in oil basins began, she added, "changes in reservoired oils were not suspected, so no reliable data exists on how widespread the phenomenon might be in the Gulf Coast or elsewhere." (Newsday)
Ashcroft Flying High Cabinet Members Normally Fly Commercial Airlines - "There was a threat assessment and there are guidelines. He is acting under the guidelines," an FBI spokesman said. Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department, however, would identify what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it. (CBS, Associated Press)
Geochemist Says Oil FieldsMay Be Refilled Naturally COULD it be that many of the world's oil fields are refilling themselves at nearly the same rate they are being drained by an energy-hungry world? - "It could be," Dr. Whelan said, "that at some sites, particularly where there is a lot of faulting in the rock, a reservoir from which oil is being pumped might be a steady-state system -- one that is replenished by deeper reserves as fast as oil is pumped out." Extensive fault systems like those along the California coast might offer such a geological environment, she said. - "Hubbard was pretty much correct about the trend of United States production, which has been declining during the last two decades," Dr. Ahlbrandt said, "but he extended that forecast to the world, and that was wrong. World production has not yet peaked, although many experts believe it will start declining in about 2015 or 2020." (New York Times)
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