WATERBORNE WINDMILL: Norway's StatoilHydro is investing $80 million in its 5,300-ton Hywind floating wind turbines, which can operate in seas at least 395 feet (120 meters) in depth while tied to three moorings (so they don't float away). Image: Courtesy of Solberg Production / StatoilHydro
Congress prompts Fish & Wildlife Service to revise endangered species delisting decisions
Congress's investigative arm this week accused the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) of playing politics with the nation's animals. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report charging that U.S. Department of Interior service apparently decided which animals to designate—and protect—as endangered species based on political rather than scientific criteria. Fish & Wildlife has been subject to a number of recent congressional probes. The GAO last year found that the FWS's former deputy assistant secretary Julie MacDonald had violated federal information disclosure rules by sharing internal agency documents with industry lobbyists such as the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Pacific Legal Foundation, and that she stood to gain financially from her agency's decision to delist the Sacramento splittail fish because she and her husband's farming business located near the fish's habitat would have been subject to restrictions. MacDonald resigned after a highly critical report by U.S. Department of the Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney in May 2007. In its newest report, the GAO says that the FWS is revising seven of eight decisions made during MacDonald's five-year tenure to strip species from the protective list. Among them: the arroyo toad, white-tailed prairie dog and Canada lynx. The decision to cut the southwestern willow flycatcher's habitat in half was upheld because scientific evidence supported the move. The GAO says it is continuing a review of the merits of some 20 decisions made during her administration to strip species of their protections under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Floating windmills take to the open seas in search of renewable energy
Some energy companies pursue renewable energy on land (in the form of wind turbines and solar panels), whereas others draw it from the sea (via tidal and wave turbines), but Norway oil and gas company StatoilHydro is targeting both by investing $80 million in its Hywind floating wind turbines, expected to be up and running by late next year. Each 5,300-ton waterborne windmill is expected to run a 2.3-megawatt turbine in seas at least 393.7 feet (120 meters) in depth while tied to three moorings (so they don't float away). Riding 213 feet (65 meters) above the ocean's surface, the Hywind's greatest advantage is its ability to operate in the open sea, where the wind is its strongest, unlike land-based wind turbines. The Hywind-prototype will be situated 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) off Norway's west coast for a two-year test and will be considered a success if it can help StatoilHydro develop a model cheap enough to compete with other power sources on the market. At least a dozen renewable energy companies worldwide are looking to capitalize on tidal forces and waves as more environmentally friendly sources of energy. One of the biggest hurdles has been developing technology that can survive harsh offshore environments such as those found in the North Sea. StatoilHydro is hoping that its experience building offshore oil and gas drilling rigs will give its Hywind staying power.
Sleepy brains prone to "power failures"
Scientists report this week in The Journal of Neuroscience that the brains of sleep-deprived people oscillate between normal activity and a state of so-called power failure, during which attention falters and visual centers goes awry. The researchers administered a test in which letters were flashed before subjects as their brains were scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines. The letters were either a large "H" or an "S," each made up of smaller constituent letters—so a large H could consist of a bunch of small Ss or a group of small Hs. Volunteers were asked to identify either the large letter or its constituents. Half of the study subjects were well-rested, and the other half had pulled all-nighters. At times during the tasks, the weary subjects answered more slowly and displayed markedly less activity in parts of their visual processing system (specifically in higher levels of the visual cortex). Forebrain and lateral regions (like the frontal and parietal cortices) that compensate for visual processing errors also appeared to be faulty. "The periods of apparently normal functioning could give a false sense of competency and security when, in fact, the brain's inconsistency could have dire consequences," study co-author Michael Chee of the National University of Singapore told the BBC. He said the team will now study possible ways—other than a jolt of java—to correct snooze-generated brain deficiencies.