During the last week or so I have been updating the blog with news about the attempt to drill into Lake Vostok in Antarctica. It is a story I have followed for a few years because it could turn out to be a significant scientific discovery. The lake has been isolated from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years and more likely millions of years. Life that was once in the lake when it was not covered with 2 miles of ice, might have evolved into strange new forms. Or the lake might be sterile due to the presence of too much oxygen. In that case it would be interesting as well be cause it would be the only place on earth where there is a body of water but no life.
So what has brought this lake into focus again? A Russian drilling program has now reached the surface of the lake - or so they think. They are very close but cannot say for certain if they have reached liquid water that is part of the lake or just some liquid water in the sheet of ice. In any case you will have to hold your enthusiasm for a few months because they have shut down the drilling operation for the season. They have sent most of the engineers and scientists home until late next fall when Summer sunlight and warmer temps return. Only two people will remain to keep an eye on the bore hole. And that is the most interesting part of the story right now. Could you imagine spending a few months near the south pole, a thousand miles from the nearest human, thousands of miles away from any significant civilization, with hardly any daylight? The only thing stirring within hundreds of miles would be you and your comrade. I suppose there is a good communication link (satellite) nowadays that would allow for voice and maybe video communication. That would make it better, but it would still be a tough stint. Having seen The Thing, I would probably be a bit freaked-out for such a mission.
From bitter cold Antarctica to a very mild contiguous United States. If you thought that this Winter was a bit milder than normal, you are not mistaken. The NCDC has released state-by-state statistics for the month of January (2012) and it turns out that almost every state had above normal temperatures. In Wisconsin it was the 10th warmest out of the last 118 years. The only states that experienced normal temps were Washington and Florida. Alaska was the only state with below normal temps. In fact, it was the record coldest January in many parts of Alaska. Not only have they experienced record cold but very heavy near record snow in some parts as well.
For anyone who follows the weather you are probably aware of the inverse correlation between weather in Alaska and the contiguous U.S. When it is warmer than normal in the lower 48, it is almost always colder in Alaska. When it is mild in Alaska, the bitter cold tends to move down into the lower 48. If you want to dig into past temperature data from around the U.S. take a look at this interactive web page at the NCDC.
Now another blast of good news from the solar power industry. Early this week I profiled Semprius, a company that has claimed the record for the highest efficiency using concentrated solar panels. Another company recently broke a record as well, but this time for regular (non light concentrating) solar panels. Alta Devices’ commercial solar panel has reached an efficiency of 23.5%. I detailed their devices in a past blog post as well. What is even more impressive is that their goal is to be cost competitive with fossil fuel generated electricity WITHOUT government subsidies. Hooray for Alta Devices!
In more speculative solar energy research, at the University of Cambrige scientists have come up with a design that might squeeze 25% more effciency out of today’s solar panels. They are combining inorganic and organic layers within one solar cell in order to capture more energy from the blue light of the visible spectrum.
Have a nice Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on February 9, 2012