AmeriScan: February 5, 2003

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Wind Detectors Help Shuttle Accident Investigators

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - Wind profiling equipment, normally used to help forecast the weather, may help investigators searching for pieces of debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Data from a network of wind profilers operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is being used to help reconstruct how and when the space shuttle came apart, as well as where the debris landed.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Transportation Safety Board have requested data collected by the wind profilers located in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. These systems operate automatically and without human intervention.

The NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, which operates the radar, sent CD-ROMs packed with data to the NOAA National Weather Service southern region headquarters in Ft. Worth, Texas, which is acting as the focal point for gathering NOAA data.

According to Margot Ackley, profiler division chief, "the information will assist investigators as they try to figure out the causes of the accident."

"We are very proud that we can provide this key forensic data to NASA and help in the search for what really happened," Ackley said.

The unmanned profilers automatically acquire wind data continuously from near the ground up to 53,000 feet, enabling the times and horizontal and vertical positions of the falling fragments of Columbia to be captured in the data. The data are also expected to help in the recovery of pieces of the shuttle.

"Just as radar detect airplanes, NOAA radar can detect particles in the atmosphere and show their changing position as they descend through the atmosphere. The strength of the radar signals indicate the speed that the particles are falling as well as the size of the particles," Ackley explained. "In addition to being able to see debris, we measure speed and direction of the wind which will be another important data set for the analysis."

The Louisiana profiler data showed a large number of particles that floated down through the atmosphere almost five hours after the shuttle accident.

"The debris was falling at the speed of a snowflake," said NOAA meteorologist Douglas van de Kamp. "It was very lightweight, and that's why it took so long to fall through the atmosphere."

The wind profiler network has operated for 10 years, and costs about $4 million to operate each year.

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Invasive Species Impacting Texas Ecosystems

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - More than 122 non-native species are wreaking havoc on Texas's croplands, native plants and animals, and the state's resource based economy, according to a new summary report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The report, the first evaluation of the scope and impact of both terrestrial and aquatic invasive species in Texas, depended on the contributions and reviews of 21 experts from Texas A&M University, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Department of Agriculture, several federal agencies and other Texas institutions.

"Texas is blessed with abundant and unique resources," said Dr. Phyllis Windle, UCS Senior Scientist and director of the 1993 landmark congressional study on invasive species. "Biological invaders are imposing serious costs on the state's agriculture, fishing and tourism industries, and natural areas. Thankfully, damage can be minimized if state and federal agencies move more aggressively to corral invasive organisms early."

No statewide tally of invasive species in Texas has ever been conducted. The new 16 page report synthesizes the latest research and reveals the extensive impact of the invaders. At least 122 alien species are already causing harm, including 67 terrestrial plants, 12 aquatic plants, 10 mammals, four birds, seven fishes, 11 insects, and 11 mollusks and crustaceans.

The report identifies six species as particularly devastating:

"While Texas agencies have tackled some invasive species on a case by case basis, the state lacks a comprehensive approach to the problem," said Windle. "Those who value the state's natural resource based industries and ecological treasures, including President Bush and Texas' congressional delegation, can help by enacting the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act."

Invasive species cost Americans tens of billions of dollars every year. Congress will soon introduce the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act, which would protect all parts of the nation equally and require, for the first time, that some organisms be checked for invasiveness before import.

The legislation would also establish a program to detect new invasive species early, provide the means to respond quickly, and specify research to move technology and policy forward.

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Sea Floor Hot Springs Rich in Minerals, Microbes

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - Undersea hotsprings not only produce valuable mineral deposits - they also provide habitats for a variety of unique organisms which may prove valuable for medicines and commercial products, a Rutgers University professor says.

With only about five percent of the sea floor explored in detail, a picture is emerging of a vast system of natural undersea dynamos, fueled by hot springs. Marine geologist and geophysicist Peter Rona of the department of geological sciences and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers has published an overview of current work on undersea hotsprings in the January 31 issue of the journal "Science."

Rona, a sea floor mineral resources consultant to the United Nations, has spent more than 40 years exploring the oceans. One of Rona's discoveries is a metal rich mound the size and shape of the Houston Astrodome, located two and a half miles under the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

"At least 50,000 years in the making, the mound is composed largely of combinations of the metals copper, iron, zinc, gold and silver. It was produced by jets of hot, metal rich sea water," Rona said.

Rona said the oceans are no longer considered just containers for minerals washed off the continents.

"Before the discovery of plate tectonics the oceans were thought of as big bathtubs," he said. "Now we know that the earth's crust, most of it under the ocean, is cracked into plates that move and allow heat and materials from the earth's interior to escape. As result we know that most of the minerals on the sea floor probably come from sources under the sea floor."

In fact, Rona said, there is probably as much water circulating under the sea floor as there is in the oceans themselves.

"Cold, dense sea water seeps for miles downward through the crust," he explained. "When it reaches hot layers in the mantle, the water heats and rises with force, dissolving metals from surrounding rocks and blasting out of the sea floor at 650 degrees Fahrenheit. Often the jets are so dense with minerals we call them 'black smokers'."

When the hot jets reach the cold ocean water, the minerals condense and create structures on the sea floor, said Rona.

"Besides mineral deposits, the hot water and minerals provide habitats and energy for heat loving microbes at the bottom of a food chain of newly discovered deep ocean life forms," Rona explained. "These microbes contain enzymes and bioactive compounds that can be used in such applications as DNA finger printing, detergents, food preservation, oil drilling and pharmaceutical production."

Rona recently delivered a keynote address at a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides a sort of constitution for management of the oceans.

"When the Law of the Sea was negotiated, we had little realization of how far we had to go in terms of retrieving these materials commercially and no knowledge of the microbes or living systems present," Rona noted.

"Miles down, the ocean is an extremely hostile environment. Sea water is corrosive; the pressures are huge. It's analogous to exploring outer space in terms of a hostile and alien environment," he said. "We are only beginning to discover the immense richness and diversity of sea floor resources."

The public will have an opportunity to view Rona's undersea work in a giant screen film to be released later this year, entitled "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," produced by the Stephen Low Company and Rutgers University. Major funding for the film project is provided by the National Science Foundation with additional outreach funding provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration.

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Process Turns Wastewater Into Fuel Gases

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - Wastewater from food production companies can be used to create hydrogen gas, a valuable source of energy, according to Penn State environmental engineers.

In laboratory tests, the researchers have shown that wastewater from a Pennsylvania confectioner, apple processor, and potato chip maker can produce hydrogen gas worth $80,000 a year or more. Steven Van Ginkel, doctoral candidate, and Dr. Sang-Eun Oh, postdoctoral researcher in environmental engineering, conducted the tests.

"In addition to hydrogen, which can be used as a fuel and industrial feedstock, methane, the main component of natural gas, can be generated from the wastewaters," Van Ginkel said. "Over 10 billion BTUs of energy from methane could be produced every year at a single one of these food processing plants."

"By extracting hydrogen and methane from their wastewaters, these plants can also reap significant savings by not needing to aerate," Van Ginkel added. "Aeration makes up 20 to 80 percent of wastewater treatment costs."

The researchers presented the Penn State team's findings in a poster, "Turning Pennsylvania's Waste Into Energy," today at Penn State's Hydrogen Day, a special event for industry and government representatives. His co-authors are Dr. Oh and Dr. Bruce Logan, director of the Penn State Hydrogen Energy Center and the Kappe professor of environmental engineering.

In the tests, Van Ginkel and Oh added hydrogen producing bacteria to samples of wastewater from the Pennsylvania food processors. The bacteria were obtained from ordinary soil collected at Penn State and then heat treated to kill all bacteria except those that produce spores.

Spores are a dormant, heat resistant, bacterial form adapted to survive in unfavorable environments, but able to begin growing again in favorable conditions.

"The spores contain bacteria that can produce hydrogen and once they are introduced into the wastewater, they eat the food in the water and produce hydrogen in a normal fermentation process," Van Ginkel explained. Keeping the wastewater slightly acid helps to prevent any methane producing bacteria from growing and consuming hydrogen, he said.

After only a day of fermentation in oxygen free or anaerobic conditions, the hydrogen producing bacteria fill the headspace in the fermentation flasks with biogas containing 60 percent hydrogen and 40 percent carbon dioxide.

In the second stage of the process, the acidity in the wastewater is changed, and methane producing bacteria are added. The bacteria eat the leftovers, grow and generate methane.

The solid material or sludge left over from fermentation is only one-fourth to one-fifth the volume left by typical aerobic treatment processes.

"Using this continuous fermentation process, we can strip nearly all of the energy out of the wastewater in forms that people can use now," Van Ginkel said. "While this approach has high capital costs at the outset, our calculations show that it could pay off well both environmentally and financially for some food processors in the long run."

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation Biogeochemical Research Initiation Education grant.

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Sierra Club Endorses Grazing Buyout Proposal

MOAB, Utah, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - The Sierra Club has joined a growing number of organizations endorsing a plan to compensate public lands ranchers who voluntarily yield their federal grazing permits.

Supporters say the plan would benefit America's ranchers, taxpayers and public lands. Created by the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign (NPLGC), the proposal calls for Congress to pass a buyout program that would provide financial compensation to ranchers who choose to relinquish their federal grazing leases.

"Voluntary retirement of federal grazing permits is a great opportunity for ranchers and conservationists to work together," said Sierra Club president Jennifer Ferenstein. "This plan helps ranchers, saves taxpayer money, and diminishes decades of environmental degradation wrought by livestock grazing on America's public lands."

American taxpayers spend about $500 million each year to administer cattle grazing on public lands. This legislation could save a large portion of that money, and at the same time, reduce pressure on natural landscapes harmed by grazing.

Struggling ranchers will also have a chance to get out of public lands grazing without serious economic consequences.

"The Sierra Club applauds this voluntary program for ranchers to give up public land grazing privileges for reasonable compensation," said Wayne Hoskisson, chair of the Sierra Club's national grazing committee. "Congress should act on this unique opportunity to create such balanced legislation."

The Sierra Club joined the Humane Society of the United States, Endangered Species Coalition, Earthsave International, The Fund for Animals, National Forest Protection Alliance and several Audubon chapters in endorsing the draft grazing permit buyout legislation.

Another 132 local and regional conservation organizations, sports groups, vegetarian societies, animal welfare organizations, churches and faith groups, businesses and grazing permittees also support a voluntary federal public lands grazing permit buyout program.

"This voluntary approach will do more to benefit struggling ranchers and America's natural resources than the recently announced plans of the Bush administration to weaken endangered species and other environmental protections to promote excessive commercial cattle grazing on public lands," said Hoskisson. "The administration's misguided plans will only harm the health of our nation's public lands in the long run."

For more information about the plan, visit: http://www.publiclandsranching.org

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Internet Database Locates Air Polluters in LA

LOS ANGELES, California, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - A new Internet based system will allow members of the public to learn whether specific facilities in the Los Angeles area have been cited for violating their air quality permits.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) has put information about compliance with clean air regulations online as part of its efforts to increase public involvement in air quality issues, particularly in low income and minority neighborhoods.

Air pollution continues to plague the Los Angeles Basin. As a result of inspections that enforce compliance with clean air rules, regulations and laws, AQMD staff may issue Notices of Violation (NOV) or Notices to Comply (NC).

AQMD issues an NOV when a person or business fails to meet one of AQMD's rules or regulations, or state air pollution mandates. The individual or business owner must correct these problems and, in addition, pay any fines and penalties that may apply.

AQMD issues an NC for non-health threatening, minor procedural or minimal emissions violations, or to obtain information about a facility and its operations. If the recipient of the NC fixes the problem, AQMD does not take additional action. If the problem is not fixed, AQMD may issue an NOV.

The new online inquiry system will allow visitors to search AQMD's online database for final, validated NOVs/NCs by zip code, city, street, company name, date, and other variables.

Visitors may enter dates for the time period they wish to search, and fill out any other applicable field, then click Search. If the search produces any notices, visitors can then click on a specific Notice Number link to get more detailed information.

Other links on these pages will lead to more information about the NOV/NC process.

The inclusion of this information on this web site is part of the AQMD Governing Board's Environmental Justice Program, aimed at providing the public with more information and tools about the agency's compliance programs.

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Wind Powers World Wildlife Fund Headquarters

WASHINGTON, DC, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - The World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Washington DC headquarters will soon derive 10 percent of its annual power needs from wind energy.

The environmental group's headquarters is in a 235,759 square foot facility with eight floors plus a two level parking garage, housing several businesses in addition to WWF's U.S. operations.

"Wind energy is an important part of the solution to global warming," said David Sandalow, executive vice president of WWF. "Like us, millions of Americans are eager to buy clean energy and be part of the solution."

The use of clean renewable energy resources helps reduce carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gas emissions that cause global warming and release other toxic pollutants. The WWF's commitment to renewable energy is in keeping with its efforts to combat global warming through its Climate Change Program.

The wind energy used by WWF will be produced by The Mountaineer Wind Energy Center, the largest wind power project east of the Mississippi River. The output from Mountaineer, located on Backbone Mountain in West Virginia, is marketed by Community Energy, Inc. and delivered in the DC metro area through Washington Gas Energy Services.

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Quilt Commemorates Mountain-Prairie Refuges

DENVER, Colorado, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - A commemorative quilt will help the Mountain-Prairie Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The one of a kind quilt will spend the next several years traveling throughout the eight state region.

"This is a great opportunity to illustrate the special characteristics of our region, including the rural traditions - like quilting - that many local communities still value," said Mountain-Prairie regional director Ralph Morgenweck. "The centennial provides a means to showcase the talents and variety of resources at our field stations and in local communities."

The Mountain-Prairie Region includes eight states - Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming - which house about 110 wildlife refuges and 20 wetland management districts. These offices collaborated to undertake this unique quilt project.

The quilt consists of squares, many created by local artists, from 50 USFWS field stations. The squares depict wildlife, nature and the educational benefits of the refuge system.

The centennial quilt was sewn together in Malta, Montana, but will be quilted and finished in Idaho Springs, Colorado during the month of February. After completion, the quilt will be unveiled in Denver to help celebrate the National Wildlife Refuge System Centennial on March 14, 2003.

The quilt will then travel to field stations in the Mountain-Prairie Region to allow the local quilters and communities to celebrate their hard work and appreciate the finished product.