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Know your NEM: Canberra fiddling while Rome burns on energy prices

RenewEconomy - Mon, 2017-08-28 14:16
Federal Government turns attention back to electricity prices, but while their interest is welcome, it is in a sense just fiddling while Rome burns.
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WA mulls three gigawatt-scale PV plants to export solar to Asia

RenewEconomy - Mon, 2017-08-28 14:11
Plans to build three gigawatt-scale solar farms in Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions and sell their output to Indonesia via submarine cables, could soon be commercially viable.
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James Hansen’s Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies

RenewEconomy - Mon, 2017-08-28 13:37
Climate scientist James Hansen's claims about Generation IV nuclear concepts simply don't stack up, argues Jim Green.
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Victoria proposes “hybrid” contracts for new wind and solar farms

RenewEconomy - Mon, 2017-08-28 13:22
Victoria "hybrid" contract for its 650MW large scale renewable energy action, combining fixed payment with "contract for difference" that will cap its exposure.
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NSW on renewables: All talk, not much action

RenewEconomy - Mon, 2017-08-28 12:33
NSW talks a good talk on renewable energy but offers few actions. Its share of new renewables is far smaller than its share of electricity consumption and this is particularly marked in PV, yet Transgrid sees huge opportunities.
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S.A. calls tender for “next generation” renewables and storage

RenewEconomy - Mon, 2017-08-28 12:25
South Australia seeks bids for "next generation" of renewable energy technologies, including "firming" capacity for wind and solar projects, bulk energy storage, and bio-energy.
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Citizen scientists look for new species and tractor trekking in the outback

ABC Environment - Mon, 2017-08-28 11:30
Citizen scientists looks for new species; find out what it's like to be a rodeo clown; we make fruit and vegetable bouquets; and go tractor trekking in the footsteps of Burke and Wills.
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Shell wins approval for 250MW solar plant in Queensland coal country

RenewEconomy - Mon, 2017-08-28 10:29
Shell wins planning approval for 250MW solar plant in heart of Queensland's coal country, in what appears to be its first big move into large scale solar in Australia.
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WA bathes in sunshine, but poorest households lack solar panels

RenewEconomy - Mon, 2017-08-28 10:19
Solar panels are still a rarity in WA’s lower-income areas.
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Poisonous progress

BBC - Mon, 2017-08-28 09:16
The arguments nearly a century ago over the use of leaded petrol.
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The scent of privet: Country diary 100 years ago

The Guardian - Mon, 2017-08-28 07:30

Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 31 August 1917

When the heavy showers had passed, the sun burst out from behind drifting clouds, and studded the dripping hedges with diamonds. For ten yards or more privet, in full flower broke the monotony of thorn and bramble, and here fifteen or twenty red admiral butterflies fanned their gorgeous wings as they sipped the sweets. The air was heavy with the scent of privet. Golden–rod, a blaze beneath the hedge, attracted other red admirals, and amongst them were small tortoiseshells and a few peacocks. True to its name, the wall butterfly was more plentiful where rugged stone walls replaced the hedgerows, but it abounded alike in all the lanes and on the rocky outcrops, covered with ragwort, scabious, and eyebright, which are so noticeable a feature of North Wales.

Privet, by the way, is troubling one of my correspondents. He finds his hedge attacked by small white grubs, which shelter in the curled and shrivelled leaves. I do not find my privets badly damaged, though a few shoots have been attacked. It is the caterpillar of one of the small leaf-mining moths, for the grubs in their earlier stages, at any rate, feed within the two layers of leaf-skin. I can only advise that he cuts off the damaged shoots and burns them so as to diminish the numbers of the moths.

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I have always wondered: when do baby birds begin to breathe?

The Conversation - Mon, 2017-08-28 06:08
A quail chick hatching. Shutterstock

This is an article from I Have Always Wondered, a new series where readers send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. Send your question to alwayswondered@theconversation.edu.au

This question dates back to when I was a kid and no one has ever been able to answer it in a convincing way. I have always wondered: when do birds (and other egg-born creatures) take their first breath? And how do they take in oxygen before their lungs are working? Obviously since eggs squeak before they hatch, lungs are functional prior to the hatching… but when is that magical inflation-of-the-lungs moment? And how does it happen? – Gabrielle Deakin, Barcelona.

As placental mammals, our first breath of air comes after birth. But egg-born creatures like birds and reptiles don’t have an umbilical cord to feed them oxygen, so how do they breathe? And how can a chick inflate its lungs inside the egg?

First, let’s talk about the eggs themselves.

Eggs laid by birds have shells that are bumpy (at least under the microscope), made almost entirely of calcium carbonate, and have as many as 17,000 tiny pores. Because of these pores, oxygen can travel from the outside world to the embryo inside and carbon dioxide and water move out of the egg in the same way.

Lying between the eggshell and the albumen, or egg white, are two transparent membranes that prevent bacterial invasion, and also develop into a network of blood vessels. These membranes are the chorion and the allantois.

Membranes inside the egg move oxygen inside for the embryo, and pass carbon dioxide out. Pixabay, CC BY

Reptile eggs can either be hard and almost identical to bird’s eggs, as thin shelled as parchment, or soft and leathery. Most reptile eggs are porous to air and water, and tend to absorb more water from the outside world than bird eggs. Finally, the membranes of reptiles’ eggs are very similar to birds’, but don’t always entirely surround the embryo.

Regardless of these differences, the chorion and allantois have a network of blood vessels which act as a respiratory organ and is the first stage of “breathing” for bird or reptile embryos.

Birds actually go through three stages of breathing in the egg. Reptiles have a similar path, but they skip straight from step one to three.

Stage 1: embryonic

Before chicks or reptiles develop lungs, they still need to get oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. In placental mammals like humans (and some marsupials), all of this is accomplished by the mother through the umbilical cord and the placenta.

Some reptiles have leathery shells. Brad Chambers, Author provided

In birds, this gas exchange is done by diffusion (the movement of air from the outside to the inside of the egg) through the eggshell and a complex fusion of the chorion and the allantois called the chorioallantoic membrane. Reptiles also have a chorioallantoic area which functions as a respiratory organ.

In birds, the chorioallantoic membrane develops about three days after incubation begins and takes about two weeks to develop fully. It is highly vascularised (has lots of blood vessels), which allows for the free exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

This membrane also plays a central role in the development of the embryo’s bones, because it transports calcium from the eggshell to the developing chick or embryonic reptile (excluding some reptiles which get some of their calcium from the egg yolk).

Stage 2: pre-hatching A bird hatching from the egg. Maggie J Watson, Author provided

The embryo doesn’t actually breathe via lungs for almost all of its time in the egg. When the embryo is getting close to hatching, a few differences between reptiles and birds emerge. In birds, a few days before hatching, the chick, which is now curled up tightly with its head stuck under one wing and its beak pointed towards the top of the egg, penetrates an air pocket or air cell at the top of the egg.

This air pocket began to form when the egg was laid. A freshly laid egg is the temperature of its mother’s body, but it soon begins to cool. As it cools, the inner shell membranes begin to shrink and separate from the outer shell membrane to form a pocket, which slowly fills with air and gets larger as the egg is incubated.

As soon as the chick breaks into this air pocket, it takes its first breath and the lungs begin to function. The air cell continues to be refilled with air through diffusion. Diffusion through the chorio-allantoic membrane is also still used, but is slowly replaced by lung activity as hatching nears. At the very end of this period, if you put your ear to the egg, you might hear some peeping sounds.

A chick peeps in the egg. Also visible is a distinctive ‘pipping’ pattern, as the chick hammers the inside of the egg.

In birds, this sound is made through a structure called a syrinx as birds don’t have vocal chords. But most reptile species don’t have an egg air pocket, so they go straight to stage three.

Stage 3: post-hatching

Many egg-born creatures develop a small, sharp protuberance called an “egg tooth” (technically called a caruncle) on their beak or snout. It can be made of hard skin (like in crocodiles and birds) or be an actual extra tooth (like in some lizards and snakes), but regardless, it’s used to break through the egg and falls off or is reabsorbed soon after hatching.

A baby turtle cracks through its egg. Brad Chambers, Author provided

The chick, guided by its wing placement, uses its egg tooth to hammer the inside of the egg. First the egg “stars” (when the beak begins to crack the shell), and then it “pips” (when the beak breaks through the shell). The chick uses its feet to move around in a circle and pierce the egg. The chorioallantoic membrane begins to lose function as it dries out, and the chick then relies solely on its lungs. The chick continues to peep, which tells the parent that hatching is imminent and ensures its clutch mates hatch synchronously.

Reptiles slice through their weakened eggshells (weak now because they’ve extracted most of the calcium) with an egg-tooth on their snouts and start to breath. Some reptiles (crocodiles) also produce sounds, but unlike birds they use a larynx and vocal cords, very similar to humans.

When you get right down to it, birds and reptiles do pretty much the same thing in the egg. It’s not that surprising, as birds and some reptiles are quite closely related. They’ve all evolved specific eggs to both protect growing embryos and provide them with what they need – including air.


* Email your question to alwayswondered@theconversation.edu.au
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The Conversation

James Van Dyke has received funding from the National Science Foundation.

Maggie J. Watson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Categories: Around The Web

Renewable energy generates enough power to run 70% of Australian homes

The Guardian - Mon, 2017-08-28 04:09

Renewable Energy Index shows sector will generate power to run 90% of homes once wind and solar projects being built in 2016-17 are completed

Australia’s renewable energy sector is within striking distance of matching national household power consumption, cranking out enough electricity to run 70% of homes last financial year, new figures show.

The first Australian Renewable Energy Index, produced by Green Energy Markets, finds the sector will generate enough power to run 90% of homes once wind and solar projects under construction in 2016-17 are completed.

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Houston faces ‘historic’ flooding from Hurricane Harvey – video

The Guardian - Mon, 2017-08-28 02:06

Houston, Texas, is facing rising floodwaters after intense rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. More than 60cm (2ft) of rain has fallen on the city in 24 hours and the already ‘catastrophic’ flooding is expected to worsen as the bad weather lingers for several days. People in some communities have been advised to climb to their roofs to escape the rising waters

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Snow-go: why Ben Nevis is frost-free for the first time in 11 years

The Guardian - Mon, 2017-08-28 01:00
The highest mountain in the British Isles is currently without snow – and researchers believe permanent white mountain tops could soon be a thing of the past

Ain’t no mountain dry enough? Ben Nevis may well have grown by a metre last year but now it is also nude from basecamp up for the first time in 11 years.

You would expect snow under foot atop the summit’s stone cairn at the lofty height of 1,345m, not a blunt, barren crown. So what on earth happened to the formerly covered peak?

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How to offset Trump's climate science ignorance – plant 10bn trees

The Guardian - Mon, 2017-08-28 00:00

An ambitious tree-planting campaign aims to counteract the CO2 released by Donald Trump’s climate policies

A campaign to plant enough trees to offset Donald Trump’s climate policies is under way. Organisers hope to plant 10bn trees by 24 December 2017, with the last one being a Christmas tree planted in front of the White House.

The organisers of Trump Forest are asking people to donate trees to make up for the 650m tonnes of CO2 that will be released into the atmosphere by 2025 if the president’s plans to backtrack on US climate commitments go ahead.

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How Slovenia is helping its ‘baby dragons’

The Guardian - Sun, 2017-08-27 19:30
The eyeless subterranean salamanders that live in the watery depths of Postojna Cave are under threat – but there’s hope in sight

Postojna Cave in Slovenia is one of Europe’s longest cave networks and one of the world’s most spectacular subterranean tourist sites. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come here every year to gaze at its wonders: its huge stalactites and stalagmites, its curtains of coloured rock and bridges that have been carved out of the local limestone by the river Pivka over millions of years.

Given such glories, it is not surprising that few tourists take note of the two concrete huts draped with black polythene that have been erected in a shadowy alcove in one obscure part of the 24km-long labyrinth. But the huts contain wonders of their own. In racks of trays of water, scientists have placed specimens of one of the world’s strangest creatures: the blind aquatic salamander Proteus anguinus – or olm, as it is known locally. It constitutes a project that could have profound implications for the future of these remarkable creatures.

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The eco guide to zero wasters

The Guardian - Sun, 2017-08-27 15:00

The zero-waste revolution has been postponed, except on Instagram. But there are some constructive steps to be taken

I’ve been hearing about a “zero waste” world for half my life. What would it look like? It would be rubbish-free for starters, no more single-use plastic being shovelled into landfill. Shelves would be full of intelligent products designed to have a second useful life. Materials that couldn’t be reused would gently turn into compost, nourishing the earth as they broke down.

The high priestess of waste-free living is Californian Bea Johnson, whose home produces remarkably little waste

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Bee inspired: why Oslo has put cological riches at the heart of the city

The Guardian - Sun, 2017-08-27 09:05

Norway wants urban gardeners to cultivate wildflowers and keep hives to reverse a decline in biodiversity

On a sloping meadow near the centre of Oslo, red-tailed bumblebees gather pollen from hairy violets, spiders spin webs between maiden’s tears while hoverflies buzz between yellow daisies and white yarrow.

Such a bucolic scene might normally be associated more with a rural past than an urban future, but it is part of a thoroughly modern attempt to reverse the decline of bee populations and put biodiversity at the heart of city planning in Norway’s capital.

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The Wild

ABC Environment - Sat, 2017-08-26 22:05
Put aside your urban comforts, feel the soil beneath your feet, and push out into the wild.
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