Cleaning the Plastic From Oceans

Since the advent of man-made plastics in the mid 19th century, the world has seen the rise of plastic products in almost every industry. Everything from milk cartons to cars to the International Space Station include plastic on some level. Incredible advancements in medical technology are owed to the simple existence of this miracle material. People make use of it every day, particularly in ‘single-use’ applications like straws, plastic bags at grocery stores and packaging material.

But plastic doesn’t biodegrade in any feasible time frame. In a landfill, plastic can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. A plastic water bottle alone needs 450 years to break down. And with the ‘single-use’ plastic products so widely utilized today, we now face a major ecological issue.

Merchant ships, private boaters and even whole countries began dumping trash into the oceans beginning in the Industrial Revolution and continuing to today. In 1975 it was estimated that a whopping 14 billion pounds of trash were being dumped into the world’s oceans every day.

But plastic doesn’t break down and soon scientists began to see elevated levels of man-made plastics, even microscopic particles of it, particularly in the Pacific. Deemed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is made up of an undetermined area between California and China. Despite its scary name, the Patch is not visible in the traditional sense. It is merely a part of the Pacific Ocean where currents have caused the plastic and plastic macroparticles to gather into a somewhat cohesive mass.

In recent years, there have been many people who have attempted to come up with ways to clean the plastic from the world’s oceans. Among the inventions and ideas that have been presented is the SeaBin (designed by two surfers from Australia), a simple bucket and water pump system. This invention is employed in only a few marinas around the world and is still in its development stages, but plans are being made to build larger scale models that could tackle larger areas.

Let’s not forget to mention the Ocean Cleanup project, started by an determined teen in the US, which has raised more than $30 million dollars to develop a system to clean the Patch.This apparatus consists of V shaped floats that ‘sweep’ up debris floating on the surface as ocean currents push it along. This project was officially launched in September of 2018 off the coast of California and claims that it will clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in its first 5 years.

Amidst these wonderful new technologies to begin cleaning our precious world oceans, there are also new ways to keep plastic from entering the oceans to begin with. Turning plastic waste into useable products again is just one way to tackle the ecological disaster that we now face. Even movements like banning the use of plastic bags in some states in the US have gone a long way toward creating a cleaner environment for our marine life and the future inhabitants of Earth.

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Tesla and South Australia Collaborate – Constructing the World’s Largest Virtual Solar Power Plant

The government of Australia plans to increase the amount of energy the country gets from renewable sources. With the help of Elon Musk’s company, Tesla, they plan on building the largest virtual power plant in the world. It will be made up of 50,000 households that will be provided with power from Tesla batteries and solar panels. The project is currently underway with installation scheduled to take place over the next four years. The solar panel will generate energy to be stored in the batteries, with the excess being sent back to the centrally controlled grid to help power the rest of the state.

A statewide blackout in 2016, blamed on the failure of renewable energy to cover the usage during peak periods and severe weather which caused transmission towers to topple, initiated the start of the project. To create a solution to the country’s energy problems Tesla gave themselves a 100-day deadline, to build the world’s biggest battery. Alongside Tesla’s installations, the government has created their own mission which will subsidize AU$2500 of the initial costs for each system.

A trial has begun, with 1100 public housing properties expected to have a 5kW solar panel system and a 13.5kW Tesla Powerwall 2 battery installed. This will be followed by another 24,000 public houses receiving the same system. The expansion into supplying private homes will begin in 2019. The company expects the system to provide as much energy as a large coal power plant or gas turbine. Once power has been stored in the battery, it will be able to restore energy to homes in a fraction of a second following an outage.

The funding for the program will come from a grant of AU$2,000,000, plus a loan of AU$30,000,000 from a state technology fund. The project’s total cost is expected to be AU$800,000,000, with the remaining funding provided by investors. Interest in the program has already been expressed by 6500 investors, and its scale may be increased if this number grows. The government expects that the virtual power plant will provide 20% of the state’s average daily requirements, as well as cut the costs of power by 30%. The project’s success will also prove South Australia as a leader in the use of renewable energy and could encourage more countries to invest in the same layout.

Cyber Attacks – A Growing Threat to Technology

In a society where technology dominates, cybercrime is already a big problem, and growing continuously. Cyber-attacks are particularly dangerous because they can be done from anywhere in the world, and the perpetrators are rarely caught. Many of these take place against large companies, or financial institutions, that have detailed information about their clients. Once their data is accessed, individuals may have difficulty getting their lives back on track. Organizations are becoming aware of the need to keep their customers’ information as safe as possible, by putting as much cyber security in place as they can.

Cyber-attacks require extensive knowledge of an organization’s systems, and between 50 and 80% of them have access to insider information. A significant percentage of cybercrime is accomplished by phishing emails, of which the most successful are Spear Phishing. These emails are careful crafted to appear like they are coming from a legitimate source, such as known company executives, and may include detailed information about the person and their job. These sophisticated attacks often require multi-pronged responses. After a cyber-attack, major companies have suffered reputational damage which can be just as devastating. Companies are finding that as their technology increases, they also have to employee increasing cyber security measures which may offset profits.

Cyber-attacks may also extend further than personal information, compromising the national security of the country. Governments have also begun taking extensive measures to ensure that attacks do not get passed their security. Methods that were previously reserved for authoritarian regimes, such as a ‘national firewall,’ are being employed. Governments, large corporations and advanced academics are also combining forces to increase cyber security. In addition to businesses and governments, there are other potential cyberthreats, including evidence of hackers aiming attacks directly at the companies that provide critical internet infrastructure, putting the entire internet at risk if they are successful.

Most cybercrime takes place using malicious software that attacks computers, through various methods, which includes:

Viruses – This software is found in file downloads or email attachments and attaches itself to another file or program and reproduces. When the attachment is clicked, or the download started the file duplicates itself and is sent to all contacts.

Worms – This type of software is capable of being spread without the help of another file or program. It can also collect and send data to a specified location using information about the network it’s on. Worms are often the cause of cyber attacks on a large scale as they spread through the entire network.

Trojan Horses – An attack that normally looks perfectly legitimate, so many aren’t aware of the breach, until it goes into action.

Enchroma Glasses – Seeing Color through a Different Lens

Color blindness, which is also called color vision deficiency, affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women, worldwide. Although most cases are genetic, there are other reasons people may lose their color vision, such as diabetes, aging or medication. Most people suffering from color blindness can see objects clearly, but are unable to see red, green or blue light distinctly. Extreme cases, in which the person cannot see any color at all, are possible but extremely rare. Likewise, there are very mild cases, where the affected individual may be unaware that they are color blind. The majority of those affected can see certain colors but are often unable to tell similar colors apart.

In 2010, Andrew Schmeder and Don McPherson founded Enchroma Inc., to perfect technology which could be used to enhance color, for those previously unable to see it. They created lenses by combining optic technology with the latest discoveries in color perception neuroscience. Humans see when our eyes project light onto our retina, which use six million cone cells to transfer the image into neural signals. These signals are transmitted to the visual cortex, where we interpret them as images. Each cell is color specific and responds to light of a different frequency, which corresponds to the primary colors of light: red, green and blue.

Color blindness is caused when an individual’s retinal cone cells respond to light in an abnormal manner. There are three types of color blindness, which are determined by the cones that are affected: for red-light cells, it is protan-type; green-light cells, deutan-type and blue-light cells tritan-type. Most color blindness is caused by red and green sensitive retinal cones having an overlapping response to light. Enchroma lenses are designed to remove wavelengths of light, exactly where the overlap occurs, and are expected to be able to help 80% of people with color vision deficiencies. This can be determined by getting a personal assessment done, by a qualified Enchroma specialist.

The glasses are also available in chic, consumer grade designs, which reveal vibrant, true-to-life colors to many who have never had this experience. Not only is the world a brighter, more beautiful place when seeing in color, but in many ways this has become a necessity in modern society. The ability to read and interpret signs and colored lights can be the difference between life and death. As research continues, the company hopes to find a way to bring color vision to all those affected without it and bring the true range of color to the entire world.

Geoengineering – A Possible Solution to Global Warming

Global warming has been mainly a result of humans releasing various chemicals and gases into the atmosphere. Researchers have demonstrated that unless we drastically change the way we treat our planet, the temperature of our atmosphere will reach a ‘tipping point.’ This will result in extreme weather conditions, a disastrous rise in sea levels and massive droughts which will lead to widespread diseases and starvation. Geoengineering is a possible solution to global warming, and consists of altering the planet’s climate to ensure that we can continue to inhabit it safely.

Geoengineering methods are currently being researched, with the biggest obstacle being the inclusion of all nations. There are also questions about the safety of changing the planet’s atmosphere. Scientists are currently divided over whether geoengineering might be a solution to our problem, or may become a bigger one in itself. The high levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere show where the planet may continue to heat up, despite drastic changes being implemented to reduce emissions. In this event, geoengineering is currently the only proposed solution.

Different methods of accomplishing geoengineering have been proposed, which would also require reducing the amount of greenhouses gases being emitted. These include: 

Iron fertilization – A layer of iron sulphate crystals would be placed on a large part of the Earth’s oceans, to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton. These plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which could help cool down the planet. The low cost of the materials and availability of the technology, makes this idea appealing to many researchers. On the other hand, this method has been opposed because of the bacteria that phytoplankton attract when they die. These bacteria would use up the oxygen in the surrounding area creating an oceanic ‘death zone,’ preventing any animal venturing nearby without getting sick or dying. In addition, models of iron fertilization show that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would not decrease enough to make any difference to global warming.

Reflecting or Blocking Sunlight – In 2006, NASA funded a research effort which demonstrated that reducing the amount of sun entering the atmosphere by just 2% would cool the Earth significantly. This led to the proposition of positioning massive mirrors, or ‘parasols,’ in outer space in a ring around the planet to deflect the sun’s rays. In addition to the exorbitant costs associated with setting up these mirrors, scientists believe that side effects could include: altered weather patterns, a shift in the ice coverage at the poles and a change in the ocean currents.

Stratospheric Aerosol Injection – This theory would involve releasing particles into the upper atmosphere, which would reflect sunlight upon its entry. This effect has previously been observed after volcanic eruptions, which have resulted in the planet cooling down. Scientists have predicted that this method could cause severe climate changes, depending on where the particles are released. The particles would also have to be replenished at regular intervals.

Rising Sea Levels – The Need for a Global Solution

Scientists have been monitoring the world’s sea levels for several decades, and have realized that the rate at which they are rising has significantly increased. The analysis of 25 years of satellite data shows that the height of most oceans will continue to rise by at least 4 inches each decade, if global changes aren’t implemented. This means that by the end of the century the sea levels will be over two feet above measurements taken in 2005. The 25 years of evidence was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and demonstrated in 3D.

Although these figures don’t seem that devastating at first glance, even a small increase in sea levels causes great destruction in coastal areas. As water comes further inland, it causes erosion, loss of habitat for aquatic and coastal animals and plants, flooding and soil contamination. Higher sea levels also mean that storms will cause more damage. Flooding is currently the leading cause of death by natural disaster. Hundreds of millions of people are now living in areas that are becoming increasing susceptible to flooding. As the sea levels continue to rise many of them will be forced to relocate, and low-lying islands may be completely submerged.

There are three primary factors, all resulting from global warming, which are contributing to the rising levels of the world’s major water bodies.

Thermal Expansion – As the Earth’s atmosphere gets hotter, the oceans’ water also increases in temperature and begins to expand. This causes the sea levels to rise as the water can only expand upwards.

Ice Loss from Greenland and West Antarctica – Increased heat on the planet is also causing the ice sheets that cover these regions to melt at a faster pace. Research has shown where meltwater from above, and seawater from below, is seeping in between the sheets, causing the ice streams to move more quickly into the sea. Higher sea temperatures also result in the ice shelves, extending from Antarctica, to melt.

Melting Glaciers and Polar Ice Caps – Each summer, large ice formations melt, and are normally replaced in winter by snow. This natural balance worked to maintain sea levels for centuries. The higher temperatures, caused by global warming, means that more ice has begun to melt each summer. In addition, winter is coming later each year, and spring starts earlier, meaning that there is significantly less snowfall to replace the amount lost each summer.

The rising sea levels are already affecting countries all over the world, including the United States. The US Geological Survey recently conducted a study which shows that without human intervention, a large percentage of Southern California beaches will become completely eroded. This will both threaten one of the state’s main sources of income, and make inland communities more susceptible to flooding. The overall study shows where a global effort needs to be made to control the rising sea levels, as soon as we possibly can.