Category Archives: Agriculture

EC Awards 50 Million Euros to 11 Innovative Water Projects

Image: European Commission

Image: European Commission

In Brussels on Thursday, the European Commission unveiled 11 projects slated to receive €50 million to support their innovative responses to “water-related challenges” (to put a lot of different fish in one tank, so to speak).

The projects involve 179 partners representing research organizations and private companies across 19 European countries. There’s a lot of variety in the types of work, as well. Three examples: smarter management of water distribution networks; biotech treatment of heavy metal pollution in wastewater; and new “aquaponic” systems combining aquaculture and hydroponics in agricultural production.  You can see the project names and acronyms listed in the tags accompanying this post, and more description of each project can be found here.

The funds come from the 2013 “Environment call” for projects of the European Union’s s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7). This brings total FP7 funding for water-related projects, 2007 – 2013, to more than €1 billion. A new funding initiative rolled out this month, the Horizon 2020 program, is expected to bring another €165 million to water projects in its first round of calls.

Read more:

UPDATE: Event presentations now uploaded

European Commission press release

A summary of each of the 11 projects

European Union water policy overview

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Filed under Agriculture, Awards and Honors, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Industry, Pollution, Research, Sustainability, Technology, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Top 5 Non-Lethal Uses for Drones

Image: Flying Eye

Image: Flying Eye

Happiness is not a police state, and unmanned aerial vehicles aren’t just for the war machine anymore. Though many of us associate drones with bomb strikes and government surveillance, their civilian use is growing more widespread and attracting massive investment. It’s going to go far beyond recent headline grabbers (e.g., Domino’s pizza-delivery tests and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos saying on “60 Minutes” that deliveries by drone will be off the ground in 2015, depending on FAA approval). Essentially, anything that calls for a bird’s-eye view, aerial photgraphy, or lightweight deliveries can benefit from drone service. In no particular order, here are five favorites, already underway:

Monitoring and protecting wildlife.  Some early indicators suggest drones are better at spotting wildlife than people in planes and helicopters are, while also reducing costs and risks to human life. Researchers have found success deploying drones to survey dugongs, a vegetarian marine mammal related to the manatee, in Shark Bay, on the western Australia coast. The U.S. Geological Survey uses drones to count sandhill crane populations. The devices are also used to track endangered Sumatran orangutans.

Delivering medicine. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant to George Barbastathis and collaborators at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology in the U.S. They’re working on unmanned aerial vehicles that health care workers can deploy via cell phones to swiftly deliver vaccines and the like.

3-D mapping for everyone. Using a lightweight drone and powerful new software, almost anyone will soon be able to create precise 3-D maps for any number of uses, such as crop management, facilities monitoring and disaster relief operations.  Watch Pix4D co-founder Olivier Kung’s TEDx talk on the subject.

Search-and-rescue. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported what they believed to be the first use of a drone to rescue an accident victim. After a late-night car accident in remote Saskatchewan in May 2013, an injured and disoriented man called police but couldn’t report his location. Worse, he wandered far from the crash site.  A helicopter search failed to find the man, even with night-vision gear, but an unmanned drone with an infrared camera did the job. Without it, he would not have survived the night.

Hurricane tracking. Improvements in drone technology have increased the aircraft’s range and flying time, making them invaluable for gathering weather data. An airplane can’t safely stay inside a hurricane for 30 hours, as some drones can.  NASA and Northrop Grumman have teamed up on a $30 million project to monitor storms as they evolve. A University of Florida project is looking at doing similar work with swarms of tiny drones.

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Filed under Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, Industry, Natural Disasters, North America, Oceans, Research, Technology

To the Rescue in California? Solar-Powered Desalination

solar desal water fx

Image: WaterFX

When you hear about desalination, it’s usually about a large-scale effort to transform seawater to freshwater through the process of reverse osmosis. In other words, an industrial plant is built in a terribly dry place at considerable expense, and salt water is pumped in and forced through membranes to create much-less-salty water (to oversimplify). But there is another, completely different process that separates salt and other things from water using a “solar still.”

Solar desalination technology isn’t new, but a company called WaterFX* is trying to put it to a new use in water-challenged California, and, potentially, everywhere, according to an interesting article in Forbes (link below). The company’s effort is about selling its scalable Aqua 4 system to growers and water districts, who can use it to recapture, purify and reuse agricultural run-off (that is, the copious amount of water used for irrigation that picks up salts, fertilizer and other impurities that make it problematic to reuse without damaging crop yields). The company’s small-scale pilot project with California’s  Panoche Water District was able to produce nearly 500 gallons of clean water per hour, and the district plans to launch a larger project with the company, according to the article below.

Read more about how the sytem works in Peter Kelly-Detwiler’s* piece for Forbes.

Read more about WaterFX* at its website.

(*Note: Peter Kelly-Detwiler is a partner at NorthBridge Energy Partners, LLC. This post is not an endorsement of that organization or of WaterFX.)

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Filed under Agriculture, Conservation, Desalination, Industry, North America, Technology, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

Experts expect global warming to have a negative impact on crop yields, but shortages of water for irrigation could make for double the trouble, according to a study published yesterday.

As described in ScienceDaily, “given the present trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural models estimate that climate change will directly reduce food production from maize, soybeans, wheat and rice by as much as 43 percent by the end of the 21st century. But hydrological models looking at the effect of warming climate on freshwater supplies project further agricultural losses, due to the reversion of 20 to 60 million hectares of currently irrigated fields back to rain-fed crops.”

The study’s lead author, Joshua Elliot, said the analysis is the first of its kind to feature an in-depth comparison of agricultural and hydrological models, which resulted in dramatically different results from other research.

“It’s a huge effect, and an effect that’s basically on the same order of magnitude as the direct effect of climate change,” Elliott, a research scientist with the Computation Institute’s Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP), Argonne National Laboratory, is quoted as saying. “So the effect of limited irrigation availability in some regions could end up doubling the effect of climate change.”

The “good” news, if any, is that some areas will most likely see more precipitation, which could mitigate some of the effects of shortages, the study says.

The study, entitled “Constraints and potentials of future irrigation water availability on agricultural production under climate change” and conducted under the auspices of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project, as part of the Inter-Sectoral Impacts Model Intercomparison Project, was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate Change, Environment, Research

Water Crisis Facts from International Sources Now Available

In the past day, this blog saw its new Water Resources page come online, and now it’s joined by another informative page that will be updated on a regular basis: Water Facts. Like the resources page, it’s a quick-reference guide. It gives a sense of urgent issues related to water, such as the number of people worldwide whose lack of it could be life-threatening, as well as less-dire, yet nonetheless interesting, facts (wait, it takes how many gallons of water to produce one hamburger?!)

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Filed under Agriculture, Blog Changes and Updates, Environment, Human rights, Research, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Water, Water Everywhere: New Resources Updates

At the Waterline is still a new blog, with fresh information pages still being added. The Water Resources page doesn’t say “coming soon” anymore — it has actual resources! It’s a list, in alphabetical order, of agencies and media sources concerned with water issues. It’s a work in progress, so be sure to check on it from time to time.  Go there.

A Water Facts page is still, ahem, “coming soon.”

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Filed under Agriculture, Blog Changes and Updates, Climate Change, Environment, Groundwater, NGOs, Oceans, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, United Nations, Water Resources