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China Is Now Home to a Panda-Shaped Solar Farm

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China is famous for its pandas, and infamous for its pollution. To celebrate the country’s national animal while also combating greenhouse gas emissions, Business Insider reports that a solar power plant investor and operator has unveiled a brand-new panda-shaped plant in Datong, China.

A panda-shaped solar farm in China, built by company Panda Green Energy
Panda Green Energy

China Merchants New Energy Group (CMNE) teamed up with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to plan the 248-acre farm, which was built by Panda Green Energy Group, a global eco-development solutions provider that’s partly owned by CMNE. Their solar-panel bear is enormous, but it's only the first stage of construction for the new Panda Power Plant.

The plant currently contains one 50-megawatt plant. Later in 2017, CMNE plans to construct a second solar panda. When fully connected, the Panda Power Plant will measure 1500 acres and have a capacity of 100 megawatts. In the next 25 years, CMNE claims, the Panda Power Plant will produce 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of solar energy, thus reducing China’s dependence on coal and carbon emissions by 2.74 million tons.

A panda-shaped solar farm in China, built by company Panda Green Energy
Panda Green Energy

As for the pandas themselves, Mashable reports that their black-and-white features are rendered using two types of solar panels: white thin film photovoltaic (PV) cells and black monocrystalline silicon PV cells. The whimsical designs are intended to promote awareness about clean energy among young people.

“Designing the plant in the shape of a panda could inspire young people and get them interest in the applications of solar power,” Panda Green Energy’s CEO, Li Yuan, said in May 2016.

Chinese youth will be recruited to attend summer camps at the Panda Power Plant to learn more about green energy production. Panda Green Energy also plans to construct panda-themed power stations in Fiji and the Philippines, with the goal of constructing 100 panda plants around the world over the next five years.

"I believe that the panda solar power plants will become a tourist hotspot, and in future we'll export these panda power plants to other parts of the world," Yuan said.

[h/t Business Insider]

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The Roomba's Creator Invented an Underwater Vacuum That Sucks Up Invasive Lionfish
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Invasive fish can be a major issue for waterways, since they can devastate native species and take a toll on environmental diversity. The red shiner, for instance, is a hardy fish that can survive basically anywhere, and in the process, outcompete and kill native fish species. Invasive species can travel far and wide, hopping across continents with human help (whether on purpose or by accident).

Colin Angle, who co-founded iRobot, the company that invented the Roomba, has an answer. It’s kind of like a robot vacuum, but for invasive fish, according to Fast Company. The Guardian, developed by Angle’s nonprofit Robots in Service of the Environment, is an underwater robot designed to stun lionfish, suck them up, and bring them to the surface.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are considered an invasive species in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, where they have few predators and huge appetites for both crustaceans and other fish. The fish can eat up to 20 other fish in half an hour, lay up to 40,000 eggs every few days, and live up to 30 years, making them a formidable foe for environmentalists. They may have been introduced in the mid-1980s by personal aquarium owners in Florida releasing pets that got too big for their tanks.

As part of the effort to rid Atlantic waterways of lionfish, the U.S. government has tried to encourage people to catch and eat them. If other species can be overfished, couldn’t lionfish?

The Guardian isn’t the only robot with a mission to eradicate invasive fish. Queensland University of Technology’s COTSbot is designed to kill crown of thorns starfish in the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike COTSbot, though, The Guardian isn’t autonomous. Someone above the water has to control it remotely, directing it toward fish to suck up using a camera feed.

That’s by design, though. The idea is that like the Roomba, the Guardian will be affordable enough for fishermen to use so they can hunt the fish and sell them in restaurants. (One unit currently costs about $1000.) The Guardian's ability to reach depths of up to 400 feet will aid fishermen in waters and reefs that can't be easily accessed.

Each Guardian can bring up about 10 live lionfish at a time. And while one robot cannot eradicate lionfish from the ocean alone, a huge number of them could make a dent.

The Guardian is currently in testing in Bermuda.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Climate Change Could Resurrect the Dust Bowl
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The billowing dust storms we know from black-and-white photos of the Great Depression could become a reality for future generations, scientists warn. As Gizmodo reports, climate change is grooming the southwest and central Great Plains for a new version of the Dust Bowl that plagued the region in the 1930s.

After gathering 12 years of satellite data (2003–2015), researchers at Princeton University and NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory predict that dust clouds will increase in parts of the U.S. in the latter half of this century. As they lay out in their study in Scientific Reports, prolonged drought and barren landscapes caused by deforestation are set to create the perfect conditions for the same type of storms that drove people from the Great Plains nine decades ago. At its worst, this phenomenon could be deadly; when they're not breathing in dust, residents in the affected areas could be exposed to dangerous pathogens and chemicals carried by air currents.

Dust storms occur when winds stir up dirt particles into dark, massive clouds. During the so-called Dirty Thirties, soil loosened by over-tilling was a major contributor to the dust that enveloped land. Even with more sustainable farming practices, dry summers could create the same arid, dusty landscapes required for a repeat of the Dust Bowl.

While there's still much research to be done on the subject, the study authors hope their findings will get people thinking about how to prepare for the consequences. "Our specific projections may provide an early warning on erosion control, and help improve risk management and resource planning," co-author Bing Pu said in a Princeton University press statement.

That seems like an improvement over ideas for fighting the Dust Bowl that were proposed in the 1930s, which included paving over the Great Plains and bombing the sky. Fortunately, we still have a few decades to come up with better strategies this time around.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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