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3
Mar

Happy World Wildlife Day!

WWDToday we’re celebrating the first-ever World Wildlife Day, a day to recognize the importance of wildlife in our societies and to organize to stop the illegal wildlife trade.  World Wildlife Day comes on the heels of significant progress, amidst a crisis that threatens some of the world’s iconic species.

Here in London, Her Majesty’s Government deserve kudos for hosting the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade last month, where world leaders issued a strong declaration recognizing the terrible environmental and societal impact of this illicit market and committing to ending it. You can read that here.

Back in Washington last month, President Obama released the National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking, a comprehensive response to the explosion in global wildlife trafficking that is decimating species and undermining societies. Check it out here.

One of the very concrete parts of this strategy is a new U.S. ban on commercial trade in elephant ivory, with limited exceptions. That ban comes just three months after the Department of the Interior destroyed the United States’ entire stock of confiscated contraband ivory — totalling nearly six tons, which John Kerry talks about here.

You can get involved, too. One way of engaging through social media is to join the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in a Thunderclap, by following this link and pre-scheduling updates to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumbler, creating a massive social media moment at 19:00 GMT.

Finally, check out this PSA from one of my one of my favourite wildlife activists, Jackie Chan:

-Aaron

19
Feb

New Heavy Truck Fuel Efficiency Standards

Standing in front of a fuel efficient “Super Truck” yesterday, President Obama made good on his State of Union promise to set new fuel economy standards for heavy trucks. That Super Truck is part of a Department of Energy competition to spur manufacturers to create more efficient heavy trucks, which haul 70% of U.S. freight and, despite representing only 4% of vehicles on the highway, are responsible for 20% of carbon pollution from vehicle emissions in the United States. President Obama announced that Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will lead the process of drafting new heavy truck fuel economy standards by March of 2015, with a final rule coming a year later.

The goal of a nationwide heavy truck fleet in the vein of the “Super Truck” — 75% more efficient than the current fleet average – would deliver significant emissions reductions and savings in oil use. As the President said, that is a “win-win-win,” for the planet and for the companies and consumers that will pay less in fuel costs and for the consumer goods shipped across America in heavy trucks.

President Obama pointed to the progress and partnerships already underway, such as the 23 heavy truck fleets that are part of the “National Clean Fleets Project,” including competitors like UPS and FedEx and PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. Safeway is a leader in pushing for greater heavy truck efficiency and hosted the President’s speech on the new standards at one of their distribution facilities in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. The U.S. government is also investing in research and partnering with industry to find next generation fuel economy gains and providing subsidies for clean fuel producers and distributors, President Obama said.

President Obama speaks at the Safeway Distribution Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland on February 18, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad)

President Obama speaks at the Safeway Distribution Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland on February 18, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad)

At the state and federal level, across administrations, the United States has long been a leader in fuel economy standards. It’ll be exciting to see heavy truck manufacturers and fleets respond to this new initiative, which holds the promise of cutting carbon emissions, reducing oil use, delivering consumer savings, and boosting innovation.

- Aaron

14
Feb

Global Health and Security Agenda

The Global Health and Security Agenda launched on Thursday in Washington, D.C. despite a foot of snow falling in the area. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco teamed up and wrote an OpEd for CNN on why global health security is a national priority.

“The United States has made addressing infectious disease threats a priority. On Thursday in Washington and Geneva, we are convening 26 countries to launch a Global Health Security Agenda that will accelerate progress on addressing a wide range of global health security threats.” Read the rest of the article here.

The three main goals of the Agenda are to prevent avoidable epidemics, detect early threats, and respond rapidly and effectively to biological threats of international concern.

Global Health Security Agenda

12
Feb

NASA Radar Maps Winter Pace of Iceland’s Glaciers

A high-precision radar instrument from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., left Southern California for Iceland Tuesday to create detailed maps of how glaciers move in the dead of winter. This will help scientists better understand some of the most basic processes involved in melting glaciers, which are major contributors to rising sea levels.

The JPL-developed instrument, which flies on a NASA research aircraft, departed from NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.  The experiment is led by Mark Simons, a professor of geophysics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and Brent Minchew, a Caltech graduate student.

Simons and Minchew used the same airborne instrument in June 2012 to map the summer flows of two Icelandic ice caps. The ice caps — large areas of permanent snow and ice cover — encompass multiple glaciers flowing in different directions and at different speeds.

Read the rest of the story by Carol Rasmussen here.

A small part of the Hofsjökull ice cap in Iceland, which encompasses several glaciers. The fan at upper left is part of a glacier called Múlajökull. Image Credit: Caltech

A small part of the Hofsjökull ice cap in Iceland, which encompasses several glaciers. The fan at upper left is part of a glacier called Múlajökull. Image Credit: Caltech

7
Feb

NASA Satellite Image of Sochi

With the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics starting today, we thought you might like this NASA image and article about this interesting location in Russia. Please note, as it states in the article below, “red indicates vegetation, white is snow, buildings appear in gray, and the ocean is dark blue.”

NASA Satellite Eyes Sochi Olympic Sites

ASTER satellite image of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

ASTER satellite image of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

It’s not often that the Winter Olympic Games come with an ocean view, but that’s what we are getting this year at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. Sochi is the warmest city ever to host the winter games, which officially run from Feb. 7 through Feb. 23.

Two images of the Sochi Olympic venues were acquired on Jan. 4, 2014, by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NASA’s Terra spacecraft. In one image, available at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia17970, the Olympic Park Coastal Cluster for indoor sports appears as a circular area on the shoreline in the bottom center of the image. There’s a separate arena for curling, alongside multiple arenas for hockey and skating. The actual city of Sochi, which has a population of about 400,000, is not visible in the picture.

A second image, at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia17971, centers on the Rosa Khutar ski resort in the mountains near Sochi. That’s where the alpine Olympic events will be held. The resort is in the valley at center, and the ski runs are visible on the shadowed slopes on the left-hand side of the valley. The runs may be rated double black diamond, but they’re not quite as steep as they appear in this image. Height is exaggerated 1.5 times to bring out topographic details.

The games feature 12 new events and one old favorite—the Jamaican bobsled team returns to the winter games for the first time since 2002. Jamaican teams have been crowd favorites since their first Olympic appearance in 1988, which inspired the movie “Cool Runnings.”

In these images, red indicates vegetation, white is snow, buildings appear in gray, and the ocean is dark blue.

31
Jan

World Wetlands Day 2014

Celebrate World Wetlands Day, February 2nd!  It marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar.

Did you know that the United Kingdom has the largest number of sites, such as the Thames Estuary and Marshes, designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands – 169 sites covering 1,276,852 hectares? Another exciting option for visitors is the London Wetland Centre in the Barnes area of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.

There are also polar wetlands in both the Arctic and Antarctica. These wetlands form for a few days to weeks in the summer season and are home to microorganisms such as blue-green algae that can withstand the harsh weather conditions.

If you’d like to get involved, you can participate in a video competition on Vine, share the reports of your World Wetlands Day activities and view other reports on an interactive map. You can also learn more about this year’s theme, “Wetlands and agriculture”.

To find a list of designated and proposed Ramsar sites in the UK and Overseas Territories & Crown Dependencies visit the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.

The Rain Garden in the London Wetland Centre (photo courtesy of LWC)

The Rain Garden in the London Wetland Centre (photo courtesy of LWC)

27
Jan

Skylon

The British Interplanetary Society — the world’s first space exploration advocacy group founded in 1933 — hosted Mark Hempsell of British aerospace company Reaction Engines to discuss the Skylon space plane project Wednesday night and your intrepid ESTH Officer was there.

A drawing of the Skylon

A drawing of the Skylon

The Skylon is a reusable, single-stage space plane. In layman’s terms, a plane that can leave the atmosphere powered by engines that are actually part of the plane, instead of the multi-stage rockets we’re familiar with, which are jettisoned by a satellite, capsule, or shuttle in stages. It’s an exciting prospect, because it brings us closer to routine space travel.

While the Skylon spaceship (I know it’s technically a space plane, but spaceship sounds better) looks great and fires the imagination, it’s the engine attached to it that is generating attention at the highest levels of the British government.   Last year, UK Science Minster David Willetts announced a £60 million investment in the SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine), which Reaction Engines is building to power the Skylon someday. The European Space Agency has also blessed the project, agreeing that the engine has the potential to work as its designers describe. And, those descriptions are really something, suggestion disruption to space and civil air travel, as well. SABRE cools air from 1000 degrees Celsius to -154 degrees Celsius in 1/100th of a second and mixes that air with liquid hydrogen in a process that could get an airplane or spaceship to Mach 5 PDQ. That’s New York to London in under an hour, about the same time as it takes me to get from my flat in Putney to the Embassy. The SABRE can then close its intakes and turn into a more traditional rocket, powered by on-board supplies of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. That is how the SABRE gets into space. Whoosh.

A drawing of the SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine)

A drawing of the SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine)

The UK Civil Aviation Authority is working a certification process for commercial space travel, a somewhat different approach from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s licensing procedure. We’ll leave that policy wonkery for another day. In the meantime, it’s important to remember that

Reaction Engines isn’t the only company working to change space travel. Back home, Boeing’s X-51A has already set records for hypersonic travel using scramjet technology. Of course, SpaceX in California owns plenty of firsts in commercial space travel.

Still, the story of “The Three Rocketeers” — you can watch the BBC documentary of the same name below — behind Reaction Engines is a pretty classic underdog story and it’s hard not to root for them. It’s also a reminder that innovation in science and technology is a shared, trans-Atlantic value. Here’s to the next discoveries, in the United States and the United Kingdom, and their potential to carry us further and faster into space than ever before — perhaps even to Mars.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ_a21fPkYM

- Aaron

23
Jan

Visiting Mars Scientist

Dr. Richard Zurek, NASA’s Chief Scientist for the Mars Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, stopped by Embassy London on January 17 at the end of a week-long conference at Oxford University on Mars atmospheric research.  Dr. Zurek provided an overview of Mars research past, present, and future to an audience of embassy staff, their families, and guests from other missions. You can watch that entertaining presentation here and learn how cutting edge science is unlocking mysteries about the planet most similar to our own.

After the presentation at the Embassy and spirited Q&A, Dr. Zurek headed to Imperial University, where he met with Professor W. Thomas Pike, whose work in micro engineering contributed to the Phoenix Mars Lander mission. In a reminder of the trans-Atlantic nature of space research, Prof. Pike previously worked with Dr. Zurek at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is currently working with an American technology company on elements of the InSight mission to explore the interior of Mars, scheduled for 2016.

Dr. Zurek (right) and Prof. Pike (left) inspecting a piece of technical equipment from the Phoenix program

Dr. Zurek (right) and Prof. Pike (left) inspecting a piece of technical equipment from the Phoenix program

Research from the Phoenix program has already led to the development of new earth-focused technology, with commercial applications, including a tool for extremely sensitive surface measurements (seen below) used to analyse contact lenses and other products.

A commercially available measurement tool developed out of the Mars Phoenix program

A commercially available measurement tool developed out of the Mars Phoenix program

Dr. Zurek also spoke with a group of students at Imperial College, just before he left for the airport to head back to his work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.  We’re very grateful to him for taking the time to share his cutting-edge space science work with us, as well as for his ongoing commitment to strengthening science and technology connections between the United States and UK.  Thanks also to Prof. Pike and Imperial College for the great visit.

Dr. Zurek (left) and Prof. Pike (right) speaking with a group of Imperial College students

Dr. Zurek (left) and Prof. Pike (right) speaking with a group of Imperial College students

Note: This is my first post to the Embassy London ESTH blog. I just started as the new ESTH Officer, taking over for Sandra. I look forward to sharing more with you soon.

-Aaron

13
Jan

Another 10 Years for the International Space Station!

“As more than 30 heads of space agencies from around the world prepare to gather in Washington January 9-10 for an unprecedented summit on the future of space exploration, we are pleased to announce that the Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2024.  We are hopeful and optimistic that our ISS partners will join this extension effort and thus enable continuation of the groundbreaking research being conducted in this unique orbiting laboratory for at least another decade.”

For the full article titled “Obama Administration Extends International Space Station until at Least 2024“, please click on the link or go to the White House Science & Technology page.

You can also read NASA Administrator Bolden’s speech given at the International Space Exploration Forum here.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at International Space Exploration Forum. (photo courtesy of NASA)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at International Space Exploration Forum. (photo courtesy of NASA)

9
Jan

What’s a Polar Vortex?

Want to know more about the frigid blast of air that’s been sweeping the country this week? Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has got answers for you. He also discusses how the likelihood of a pattern of these types of events is increased through climate change.