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Report outlines algae biofuel sustainability issues

A raceway pond used for the cultivation of microalgae. The water is kept in constant motion with a powered paddle wheel. Photo courtesy the Wikimedia Commons.

Water availability, nutrient use seen as key challenges

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Algae-based biofuels have been touted as the next big thing in renewable energy. But based on existing technologies, production on a significant scale — for example enough to supply 5 percent of U.S. transportation fuel needs — would put unsustainable demands on energy, water, and nutrients, according to a new report from the National Research Council.

But those concerns are not a definitive barrier for future production, the report concluded, emphasizing that technical innovations could change the equation.

Biofuels derived from algae and cyanobacteria could help the U.S. meet its energy security needs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Potential advantages over biofuels made from land plants, including algae’s ability to grow on non-croplands in cultivation ponds of freshwater, salt water, or wastewater. Continue reading

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Global warming: Tracking Himalayan glaciers

Scientists are trying to pinpoint the impacts of global warming on Himalayan glaciers and regional water supplies. Photo courtesy Nasa Earth Observatory.

New report outlines potential impacts of climate change to regional water supplies

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Many of the world’s glaciers and ice sheets are retreating in the face of global warming, but a few are stable or growing — including glaciers in the western Himalaya Mountains, according to a new report from the National Research Council.

The report was aimed at determining how changes to glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, which covers eight countries across Asia, could affect the area’s river systems, water supplies, and the South Asian population.

The mountains in the region form the headwaters of several major river systems — including the Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers — which serve as sources of drinking water and irrigation supplies for about 1.5 billion people. The eastern Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau are warming, and the trend is more pronounced at higher elevations. Models suggest that desert dust and black carbon, a component of soot, could contribute to the rapid atmospheric warming, accelerated snowpack melting, and glacier retreat. Continue reading

Study: High school science teachers weak on evolution

More refreshers courses needed, Penn State researchers say

Many high school science teachers failing when it comes to teaching evolutionary science.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — High school biology teachers are only lukewarm when it comes to teaching evolutionary biology, despite 40 years of court rulings that teaching creationism or intelligent design violates the Constitution, according to Penn State political scientists. A mandatory undergraduate course in evolutionary biology for prospective teachers, and frequent refresher courses for current teachers, may be part of the solution, they say.

“Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America’s classrooms,” said Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, professors of political science at Penn State, in today’s (Jan. 28) issue of Science. Continue reading

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