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Why Pickle Brine On Icy Roads Could Be Smarter Than Salt
Rock salt is great at keeping roads free of ice, but using it over the long term poses serious dangers.
Rock salt is one of the most effective substances for deicing roads when winter weather strikes. But while it makes roads safer, tons of salt end up in lakes, rivers and marshes where it poses dangers to aquatic life and the potability of water sources. In some cases, it’s been building up, layer by layer, since the 1930s. Currently, the U.S. dumps about 15 million tons each year.
It doesn't take much salt to fundamentally change a body of water. According to a 2017 study, just 1 percent of land within 500 meters of a lake needs to be paved for there to be an increased risk of the lake becoming saltier over time. That's alarming once you consider that about a quarter of U.S. lakes are surrounded by at least 1 percent of developed land.
The 2014 U.S. Geological Survey found that 84 percent of northern U.S. streams have toxic levels of chloride (road salt is sodium chloride), which peaks in the winter when salt is liberally spread for road safety.
“Like most chemicals, too much salt is toxic,” write William Schlesinger and Stuart Findlay of the nonprofit Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. “And humans are inadvertently increasing the salinity of freshwater resources through routine road-salt application. If salt continues to accumulate at its present rate, in our region many surface and well waters will be unhealthy for humans and wildlife by the end of this century.”
Still, rock salt is a cheap and effective way to lower the freezing point of snow and ice. It works something like this:
1. Salt attracts ice and snow molecules.
2. The salt break the bonds that hold together the ice and snow molecules.
3. This melts the snow, creating a brine consisting of salt and water.
4. The brine spreads, repeating the process as it moves over the road.
However, the environmental dangers of salt have led some to propose and experiment with alternative deicing solutions, most of which work by the same process described above.
The leftover water from beet processing contains sugars that lower the melting temperature of ice, and using the solution as a deicer would greatly reduce the amount of salt that ends up in waterways. But there are downsides. The most obvious is the smell, which residents of communities that experimented with beet wastewater said smelled like soy sauce or stale coffee.
Beet wastewater is less corrosive to cars, guard rails and pavement than rock salt. Still, some fear that the sugar it contains could encourage the growth of bacteria in water sources.
In Polk County, Wisconsin, trucks apply cheese brine to roads when snow is in the forecast. Cheese brine, mixed with additives, is remarkably effective at preventing snow from freezing to roads.
"The dairy gives us that for free, and we will go through 30,000 to 65,000 gallons a year," said Moe Norby, technical support director for Polk County's highway department, to Wired.
Of course, cheese brine is particularly cost-effective for Polk County because it's one of the county's main exports.
"Really when you start getting into how you treat road surfaces, the major cost is transportation. Getting whatever you are going to use to you," said Bret Hodne, public works director for West Des Moines, Iowa.
Perhaps the strangest alternative to rock salt is pickle brine, which Bergen County in New Jersey used in large amounts during the winter of 2014. Brine is as effective as rock salt, and can melt ice at temperatures as low as -6°F or -21°C. It might not smell great, but it's cheaper and deposits less chloride into the environment than rock salt, and there's plenty of it being discarded in homes and factories.
New Jersey was pushed to use pickle brine in 2014 because its 40,000-ton shipment of rock salt was held up at a port in Maine, where it was denied further transport because the vessel wasn't flying a U.S. flag—this is a violation of the 1920 federal Maritime Act (also known as The Jones Act), which mandates that ships carrying goods between two U.S. ports must fly the American flag. This bureaucratic tangle forced New Jersey to get creative with spare brine that turned out to be waste and cost effective.
Similarly, Alaska has applied leftover barley residue from vodka distilleries to melt ice on its roads. Russia, Hungary, and Tennessee have used waste from their distilleries to deice roads. It seems many regions may have alternative chemicals on hand that can be inventively used to cut costs, eliminate waste, and protect wildlife and water and humans from the harm that is accumulating.
Sometimes the most creative solutions are actually highly logical, as neuroscientist Beau Lotto explains:
Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.
- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
The value of forecasting<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTA0Njk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzM2NDQzOH0.rid9regiDaKczCCKBsu7wrHkNQ64Vz_XcOEZIzAhzgM/img.jpg?width=980" id="2bb93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31345afbdf2bd408fd3e9f31520c445a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1546" data-height="1056" />
Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:</p><ul><li>Making space for an influx of patients</li><li>Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed</li><li>Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge</li><li>Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients</li></ul><p>The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop <a href="https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2020/06/09/dc19-1870" target="_blank">personalized care plans for diabetes patients</a>, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at <a href="https://healthitanalytics.com/news/ehr-data-fuels-accurate-predictive-analytics-for-suicide-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevated risk of suicide</a>, to name a few applications.</p><p>Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315944/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">machine learning can help battle the pandemic</a>, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.</p><p>Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.</p><p>"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."</p>
Making machine-learning tools openly accessible<p>Northwell Health has made its predictive tool <a href="https://github.com/northwell-health/covid-web-data-predictor" target="_blank">available for free</a> to any health system that wishes to utilize it.</p><p>"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."</p><p>Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.</p><p>"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."</p><p>In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.</p><p>"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."</p>
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.
- Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
- The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
- The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9734e306f0914bfdcbe79a1e317a7f0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b-wAYtBxn7E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.