To complete the space news from yesterday – I linked to an interview with the founder of Ad Astra Rocket Company. I forgot to emphasize that the new ion engine that the company is developing is the most powerful in the world and that NASA as well as SpaceX is hoping to use it on future space vehicles. A more powerful ion engine could cut a future trip to Mars from 520 days to as little as 39 days. Wow! Read more about it here.
Now on to a story I have been following off-and-on since late lastyear when the EPA and State of California decided to turn off irrigation spigots to large swaths of the central valley of California. This led to the failure of many crops and I became worried that we would see some spikes in food prices and/or minor shortages during this upcoming winter – especially in fruits and vegetables (this summer’s tomato/potato blight, the impending trade war, and other weather related events could also contribute). I became slightly worried again during my recent grocery shopping expedition to WalMart on Sunday. It seemed the produce aisle and a few other spots were a “little light”. Now maybe this was because I was shopping near the end of the weekend and right before their next delivery cycle, but there was definitely less quantity and variety on the shelves. The Great Value brand tuna was completely sold out. Blueberries (unaffected by the EPA imposed crop loss in California as far as I am aware), were more expensive. A small frozen bag of bluberries has gone up by 10 cents.
I don’t want to sow fear and panic. There was certainly still a lot of food in the store and other grocery stores I have visited recently, and locally grown items still seem in plentiful supply, but the lower variety and volume did catch my eye. Has anyone else seen this with any particular products you usually buy? Or maybe the volume of food seems greater than ever where you shop. Let me know.
Another story that readers of the WAOW weather blog are up to speed on is that growing threat of pollution from other areas of the world. I can’t find my blog entry from last year, but it was reported that up to 15% of particulate air pollution along the West Coast of the U.S. was from China. It traveled through the air across the Pacific ocean. Now we find more research chronicalling this effect, including carbon monoxide pollution. What to do? A lot of people would say “what goes around comes around”. Americans buy a lot of products built in China (A LOT!), thus part of the problem is our consumption. Newer more automated factories and clean energy projects would help cut this down quite a bit. Even though China relies very heavily on coal for electricity (they are the world’s largest CO2 emitter), they do seem committed to switching over to cleaner alternatives. It is a good thing that they produce a significant fraction of the world’s silicon solar cells. They also have enough land and wind to meet most of their electricity needs using wind turbines, although Chinese land would become rather packed with wind turbines in such a scenario. Even if they don’t quickly adopt alternatives, at least they are working on the world’s most advanced coal-gasification power plant.
Just for fun:
I know how much people like to search out cool videos and pictures on the net, so here are a couple of interesting “time-wasters” (as I like to call them).
How about the world’s largest machines and gadgets? Check out the pictures and descriptions here.
Scientists have used infrared camera technology to enumerate the bats leaving the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Check out the cool video. The number of bats was about 4 million.
How dense is the network of McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S.? Someone actually created an image showing the density of McDonald’s using the distance to the nearest franchise as a metric.
Have a fine Tuesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on October 6, 2009