Category Archives: Environmental

Into the Wildfire

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Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratories and elsewhere are investigating other aspects of fire propagation, like how big fires create their own weather — a process that has contributed to some of the most devastating fires in recent years.

The setup in the photo above is known as a “fire-whirl generator” and is used to better understand the physics of a flame.

Read more about fire science here

Using weather to shape architecture

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When Hirsuta, a small architecture firm run by UCLA Professor Jason Payne, took the task of renovating an old Utah schoolhouse, they noticed that the south side had been nearly weathered away from exposure to the elements while the north side remained untouched.  Payne thought they could use this to their advantage:

“We’re looking at the way the weather is curling the paneling and we thought we should do that, but more and with more intent and control.  The thought is if it took 100 years to get to there, we know it will happen and so we could substitute a building material that could get it to that state in 20 years.”

The structure above is a replica of the schoolhouse and was on display in a recent exhibition at Southern California Institute of Architecture.

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Saving California’s olive industry

mechanicalChances are the olives in your kitchen come from California. Watch how researchers are finding new ways to harvest this tasty crop.

“The United States is the world’s largest table olive and olive oil market. Traditionally olives have been harvested by pickers wearing gloves and they stripped down the branch into a twenty-pound bucket they wear around their waist.  Unfortunately the cost is becoming prohibitive and labor availability is decreasing sharply.  What we’re really hoping is the mechanical harvesting will be cheaper, be more reliable than trying to find an uneven labor force and it will allow us to sustain an industry that has a nice long history in California.”  – Louise Ferguson, UC Davis Extension Specialist

Urban heat islands – why is it warmer in the city?

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Summer in the city can be especially hot and sticky, because urban heat islands exacerbate the warm weather. Researchers at Berkeley Lab are testing materials that battle that effect, making pavements cooler and safer.

Causes

The properties of urban roofs and pavements, as well as human activity, contribute to the formation of summer urban heat islands:

  • Urban surface properties. Roofs and pavements can constitute about 60% of the surface area of a U.S. city. These surfaces are typically dark in color and thus absorb at least 80% of sunlight, causing them to get warmer than lighter colored surfaces.1 These warm roofs and pavements then emit heat and make the outside air warmer.
  • Human activity. Air conditioning, manufacturing, transportation, and other human activities discharge heat into our urban environments.

Consequences

Urban heat islands can negatively affect the urban community and the environment.

  • Increased energy use. Warm temperatures in cities increase the need for air conditioning (A/C) to cool buildings. This elevated demand can strain the electrical grid on a hot summer afternoon, making it more susceptible to brown-outs and black-outs.
  • Impaired air quality. Warmer air accelerates the formation of smog (ozone) from airborne pollutants like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Elevated demand for cooling energy in the form of A/C use can also increase the emission of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel power plants.
  • Illness. Higher air temperatures and lower air quality can aggravate heat-related and respiratory illnesses, and also reduce productivity.

Learn more

(Source: heatisland.lbl.gov)