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Journalist Travels Southwest U.S. Chronicling Local Climate Stories

Journalist Travels Southwest U.S. Chronicling Local Climate Stories

Ari Phillips -- a graduate student in journalism at the University of Texas -- has started a unique project documenting the story of climate change in the U.S. Southwest via Kick Starter.  Below he describes the project and I am hoping he will provide periodic guest posts at AoE over the coming months


--Guest post by Ari Phillips.

The U.S. Southwest is under water duress. More water is used in the region each year than the amount of rain and snowfall – a shortfall accounted for by diminishing groundwater reserves.

The Colorado River – the Southwest's only significant source of water – is already over-allocated and slight disruptions can endanger power generation and water supply in the region A recent study called “The Last Drop: Climate Change and the Southwest Water Crisis” found that climate change could add $1 trillion to the costs of water scarcity in the Southwest over the next century.

Water is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to climate change in the Southwest, where models predict a hotter, drier climate developing over the course of the century.

A Great Aridness,a recent book by William deBuys, explores what climate change could mean to the Southwest. In the book’s introduction, Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist who co-directs the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona, says, “climate change will produce winners and losers, and those in the Southwest will be losers. There’s no doubt.”

With my Kickstarter project Energy and Climate Change in the American Southwest I plan to traverse the Southwest this summer reporting on what’s happening with these issues right now – and to determine what impact the so-called losers can have on their fate.

I’ve identified nine critical stories – from the surging natural gas production of Midland, TX to the controversial solar parks of the Mojave Desert – that demand attention for the way they are reshaping the Southwest. In some cases literally, such as with forests devastated by wildfires and bark beetles – both growing in intensity due to climate change. It is unclear what will replace traditional piñon and ponderosa trees as the climate of the Southwest changes and flora and fauna migrate accordingly.

In other cases the reshaping is more socioeconomic rather than physical.

This spring the Navajo Nation signed a contract with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to study what technologies would be best for developing natural resources on the sprawling reservation. Unemployment hovers around 50 percent in the region and a main goal of the project is to improve economic conditions and prevent industry from taking advantage of the tribe, as has historically occurred with mining and oil leasing. Clean energy production also falls in-line with long held cultural beliefs of the Navajo relating to environmental stewardship and preservation.

Check out the project page for more information, to donate, or to just follow along.

Radical innovation: Unlocking the future of human invention

Ready to see the future? Nanotronics CEO Matthew Putman talks innovation and the solutions that are right under our noses.

Big Think LIVE

Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.

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Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

Image source: Ernst Haeckel
Surprising Science
  • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
  • Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
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Quantum particles timed as they tunnel through a solid

A clever new study definitively measures how long it takes for quantum particles to pass through a barrier.

Image source: carlos castilla/Shutterstock
  • Quantum particles can tunnel through seemingly impassable barriers, popping up on the other side.
  • Quantum tunneling is not a new discovery, but there's a lot that's unknown about it.
  • By super-cooling rubidium particles, researchers use their spinning as a magnetic timer.

When it comes to weird behavior, there's nothing quite like the quantum world. On top of that world-class head scratcher entanglement, there's also quantum tunneling — the mysterious process in which particles somehow find their way through what should be impenetrable barriers.

Exactly why or even how quantum tunneling happens is unknown: Do particles just pop over to the other side instantaneously in the same way entangled particles interact? Or do they progressively tunnel through? Previous research has been conflicting.

That quantum tunneling occurs has not been a matter of debate since it was discovered in the 1920s. When IBM famously wrote their name on a nickel substrate using 35 xenon atoms, they used a scanning tunneling microscope to see what they were doing. And tunnel diodes are fast-switching semiconductors that derive their negative resistance from quantum tunneling.

Nonetheless, "Quantum tunneling is one of the most puzzling of quantum phenomena," says Aephraim Steinberg of the Quantum Information Science Program at Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in Toronto to Live Science. Speaking with Scientific American he explains, "It's as though the particle dug a tunnel under the hill and appeared on the other."

Steinberg is a co-author of a study just published in the journal Nature that presents a series of clever experiments that allowed researchers to measure the amount of time it takes tunneling particles to find their way through a barrier. "And it is fantastic that we're now able to actually study it in this way."

Frozen rubidium atoms

Image source: Viktoriia Debopre/Shutterstock/Big Think

One of the difficulties in ascertaining the time it takes for tunneling to occur is knowing precisely when it's begun and when it's finished. The authors of the new study solved this by devising a system based on particles' precession.

Subatomic particles all have magnetic qualities, and they spin, or "precess," like a top when they encounter an external magnetic field. With this in mind, the authors of the study decided to construct a barrier with a magnetic field, causing any particles passing through it to precess as they did so. They wouldn't precess before entering the field or after, so by observing and timing the duration of the particles' precession, the researchers could definitively identify the length of time it took them to tunnel through the barrier.

To construct their barrier, the scientists cooled about 8,000 rubidium atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. In this state, they form a Bose-Einstein condensate, AKA the fifth-known form of matter. When in this state, atoms slow down and can be clumped together rather than flying around independently at high speeds. (We've written before about a Bose-Einstein experiment in space.)

Using a laser, the researchers pusehd about 2,000 rubidium atoms together in a barrier about 1.3 micrometers thick, endowing it with a pseudo-magnetic field. Compared to a single rubidium atom, this is a very thick wall, comparable to a half a mile deep if you yourself were a foot thick.

With the wall prepared, a second laser nudged individual rubidium atoms toward it. Most of the atoms simply bounced off the barrier, but about 3% of them went right through as hoped. Precise measurement of their precession produced the result: It took them 0.61 milliseconds to get through.

Reactions to the study

Scientists not involved in the research find its results compelling.

"This is a beautiful experiment," according to Igor Litvinyuk of Griffith University in Australia. "Just to do it is a heroic effort." Drew Alton of Augustana University, in South Dakota tells Live Science, "The experiment is a breathtaking technical achievement."

What makes the researchers' results so exceptional is their unambiguity. Says Chad Orzel at Union College in New York, "Their experiment is ingeniously constructed to make it difficult to interpret as anything other than what they say." He calls the research, "one of the best examples you'll see of a thought experiment made real." Litvinyuk agrees: "I see no holes in this."

As for the researchers themselves, enhancements to their experimental apparatus are underway to help them learn more. "We're working on a new measurement where we make the barrier thicker," Steinberg said. In addition, there's also the interesting question of whether or not that 0.61-millisecond trip occurs at a steady rate: "It will be very interesting to see if the atoms' speed is constant or not."

Self-driving cars to race for $1.5 million at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ​

So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.

Illustration of cockpit of a self-driving car

Indy Autonomous Challenge
Technology & Innovation
  • The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
  • The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
  • The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
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Mind & Brain

The dangers of the chemical imbalance theory of depression

A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.

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