How to turn a volcano into a power station – with a little help from satellites

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Erta Ale in eastern Ethiopia. mbrand85

Ethiopia tends to conjure images of sprawling dusty deserts, bustling streets in Addis Ababa or the precipitous cliffs of the Simien Mountains – possibly with a distance runner bounding along in the background. Yet the country is also one of the most volcanically active on Earth, thanks to Africa’s Great Rift Valley, which runs right through its heart.

Rifting is the geological process that rips tectonic plates apart, roughly at the speed your fingernails grow. In Ethiopia this has enabled magma to force its way to the surface, and there are over 60 known volcanoes. Many have undergone colossal eruptions in the past, leaving behind immense craters that pepper the rift floor. Some volcanoes are still active today. Visit them and you find bubbling mud ponds, hot springs and scores of steaming vents. Continue reading

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Energy Access

Dr Sam Williamson, Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering, Bristol University

We are energy consumers. Every day we devour energy, and most of the time we don’t even realise it. Before we wake up, our boiler has heated up our water for a hot shower, and at this time of year our homes are warmed. We unplug our mobile phones, switch on the bedroom lights, and boil a kettle to make our morning tea or coffee, before we travel into work, university or school, often by car or bus, consuming energy as we go. And that’s before we think about any of the embodied energy in everything we use. We have direct access to energy through the infrastructure made available to us.

A fire and tuki (kerosene lamp) in a kitchen, Terai, southern Nepal. Photo credit:
Sam Williamson

However this isn’t the same all over the world. The International Energy Agency report in their World Energy Outlook 2016 that 35% of the world’s population still cooks on traditional biomass, with 18% having no access to electricity, and with over 80% of these people living in rural areas. Those that are connected often suffer from frequent power cuts, and have to revert back to traditional methods for lighting and power. 4.3 million people each year die from illnesses attributed to indoor air pollution using traditional fuels for cooking, heating and lighting (World Health Organisation, 2016). Along with the health implications, exposed flames can cause fires in basic housing, and burning of fuel wood and charcoal leads to extensive deforestation causing soil erosion and land degradation. Continue reading

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What does Trump mean for the environment?

Ed Atkins, PhD student in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Ed Atkins, PhD student in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

Several weeks ago, I was walking along Avenida Paulista in São Paulo. Through the noise of the traffic, the familiar shout of one man’s name could be heard. ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ echoed across the street.  Somehow I had stumbled upon a ‘Brazilians for Trump’ rally. A group of 40 people stood on the pavement, clutching signs that read ‘Women for Trump’, ‘Jews for Trump’, ‘Gays for Trump’. This struck me; such demographics holding such signage represented for me a similar message to ‘trees for deforestation’.

Yet, the votes are in. The electoral tally has been made and one fact is obvious: Donald Trump’s popularity transcended demography. As, House Speaker, Paul Ryan has said, Trump “heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard. He connected in ways with people that no one else did. He turned politics on its head.”

By Map by Robert Simmon, based on data from Woods Hole Research Center. (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=76697) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2011 map of the United States above-ground woody biomass with 66 ecoregions delineated, showing tons of trees and their forests by hectare. Based on the map and palette created by NASA’s Earth Observatory employee Robert Simmon. Credit – Robert Simmon NASA/Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Key here is not only Trump’s victory, but also how the Republican Party has been able to ride his coattails to majorities across both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In doing so, the Grand Old Party (GOP), working with Trump, will likely have the freedom to pursue their political agenda. As a result, the Republican platform, published at the 2016 National Convention, provides a number of clues of what we can expect from this new administration. Continue reading

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