Monthly Archives: September 2014

Weather Modification in India

weather

State governments, tea estate owners, politicians and even some insurance companies are exploring cloud-seeding options. The process involves seeding clouds with chemicals that will lead them to promote precipitation or rain. (The process is also used to boost snowfall and curb hailstones and fog.)  [Indian] companies involved in cloud seeding such as Myavani, Kyathi Climate Modification Consultants [affiliated  with US based Weather Modification Inc.]and Agni Aero Sports expect business to grow as much as a fourth this year over 2012, when the country last saw weak rains.

Bangalore-based Agni Aero Academy, which has been involved in cloud seeding in India since 2003 and undertook cloud-seeding projects for MCGM [Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai]  in 2009 and the Karnataka government in 2012, expects a pickup in business.

Girish Odugoudar, 33, of Myavani, which has jointly bid for the Mumbai project along with US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, is aiming to establish his business. “We have the infrastructure and capability and success in one project should open many doors,” he said.

Excerpts, Madhvi Sally, Artificial rainfall: Cloud seeding companies may play rainmakers
Madhvi Sally, the Economic Times of India, July 23, 2014,

On-Demand Germs: Bio-engineering for defense or offense

Parallel telomere quadruple

From the DARPA website

The development of increasingly sophisticated techniques and tools to sequence, synthesize and manipulate genetic material has led to the rapidly maturing discipline of synthetic biology. …[But] The costs of maintaining required environmental controls and detecting and compensating for genetic alterations are substantial and severely limit the widespread application of synthetic biology to U.S. national security missions.

To help address these challenges, DARPA has created the Biological Robustness in Complex Settings (BRICS)  BRICS seeks to develop the fundamental understanding and component technologies needed to increase the biological robustness and stability of engineered organisms while maintaining or enhancing the safe application of those organisms in complex biological environments. The goal is to create the technical foundation for future engineered biological systems to achieve greater biomedical, industrial and strategic potential.

“By making these systems more robust, stable and safe, BRICS seeks to harness the full range of capabilities at the intersection of engineering and biology,” said Justin Gallivan, DARPA program manager. “These capabilities could include efficient on-demand bio-production of novel drugs, fuels, sensors and coatings; or engineered microbes able to optimize human health by treating or preventing disease.”

Excerpt from BUILDING THE FOUNDATION FOR FUTURE SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY APPLICATIONS WITH BRICS
July 29, 2014

Predator Bacteria: the DARPA program

melioidosis

The  Pathogen Predators Program of DARPA would represent a significant departure from conventional antibacterial therapies that rely on small molecule antibiotics. While antibiotics have been remarkably effective in the past, their widespread use has led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections that are difficult or impossible to treat. In vitro studies have shown that predators such as Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus and Micavibrio aeruginosavorus can prey upon more than one hundred different human pathogens and will also prey on multi-drug resistant bacteria.

The Pathogen Predators program will answer three fundamental questions about bacterial predators:

1) Are predators toxic to recipient (host) organisms?
2) Against what pathogens (prey) are predators effective?
3) Can pathogens develop resistance to predation?

This list [of bacteria that could be killed by predator bacteria] includes NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) Category A and B threats to national security:

NIAID Category A and B
Yersinia pestis (i.e. plague)
Francisella tularensis (i.e. tularemia)
Brucella species
Coxiella burnetii (i.e. Q fever)
Rickettsia prowazekii (i.e.  typhus)
Burkholderia mallei (i.e. glanders)
Burkholderia pseudomallei (i.e. melioidosis)

Source DARRA (pdf)

The Manipulation of Wireless Networks and DARPA

MAC address. image from wikipedia

From the DARPA website and DARPA-BAA-14-44 WND Phases 2 and 3

The majority of work to develop and mature military wireless networks to date has focused on efficiency and stability in benign conditions…As the use of wireless systems expands, the likelihood of network compromise (whether maliciously or by unwitting misconfiguration) will increase. Beyond the conventional node-by-node security in use today, a set of network-based checks are needed to ensure that misinformation inserted into the control protocols does not disable the network functionality.

The Wireless Network Defense (WND) program is developing and demonstrating new technology to protect the control protocols of wireless networks from the effects of advanced attacks or other forms of compromise. The program focuses on the protocols at the network and medium access control (MAC) layers of the network stack with the goal of protecting those protocols that coordinate among the distributed devices’ management of resources such as spectrum, time, and power, and delivery of information.

The development of this technology will both improve the robustness of the class of wireless networks that are being procured and fielded in the near future, and also provide a reliable foundation on which to build the next generation of wireless systems. These new defenses will minimize the impact of attacks on network control and will force attacks to be observable and attributable in order to be effective.

Ideally…[one] should anticipate both passive listeners and active attackers; colluding attackers; dynamic attacks; and informed adversaries…[One]should assume that passive listeners and  active attackers will be able to collude. That is, the threat model is a real-world adversary.  Systems should be designed to mitigate attacks under all combinations of attackers and attacks…. [One]should further design mitigations and enhancements such that these mitigations and enhancements cannot themselves be leveraged by a knowledgeable adversary to attack the network.

See DARPA-BAA-14-44 WND Phases 2 and 3

Three Companies to Grapple with Fukushima Mess

tritium

The [Japanese] government picked three overseas companies to participate in a subsidized project to determine the best available technology for separating radioactive tritium from the toxic water building up at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.  Tokyo Electric Power Co. is currently test-running a system it says is capable of removing 62 types of radioactive substances from the contaminated water, but not tritium.  Thus tritium-laced water is expected to accumulate at the plant in the absence of any method to remove the isotope.

The three firms chosen from 29 applicants are U.S. firm Kurion Inc., which offers technologies to treat nuclear and hazardous waste; GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc., a joint venture of Hitachi Ltd. and U.S. firm General Electric Co.; and Federal State Unitary Enterprise RosRAO, a Russian radioactive waste management firm.

The government will provide up to ¥1 billion for each examination of the technologies and running costs, and consider whether any of them can be applied to treat the water at Fukushima No. 1, the industry ministry said.  The three companies are to conclude their experiments by the end of March 2016, a ministry official said.  The official cautioned there is no guarantee that any of the technologies will be put to practical use.

Three firms picked to help tackle toxic water at Fukushima No. 1, Japan Times, Aug. 26, 2014

In January 2014 it was made public that a total of 875 terabecquerels (2.45 g) of tritium are on the site of Fukushima Daiichi,and the amount of tritium contained in the contaminated water is increasing by approximately 230 terabecquerel (0.64 g) per year. According to a report by Tepco “Tritium could be separated theoretically, but there is no practical separation technology on an industrial scale.”  See Wikipedia

Going Strong: the 10 billion dollar market for illegal wildlife

dead sea turtles on Chinese ship

At $10 billion a year, illegal wildlife makes up the world’s fifth-largest illicit market behind drugs, counterfeit products, trafficked people and smuggled oil. An intergovernmental conference in Geneva from July 7th-11th, 2014 revealed the special worries about ivory smuggling in Thailand, rhino-horn trafficking through Mozambique and trade in tiger parts across South and South-East Asia.

According to TRAFFIC, a lobby group, the street value of rhino horn is $60,000 per kilo—more than the price of gold. Gram for gram, bear-bile flakes or powder sell in Japan [slightly less] than cocaine in Asia. Booming demand from Asia’s growing middle classes is pushing some species close to extinction. As supply dwindles, prices rocket, which tempts criminal gangs to sink their claws in even further.

Elephant ivory is valued for aesthetic reasons. Demand for rhinoceros horns, the paws and bile of Asiatic black bears and sun bears, tiger bones and penises, and deer musk, is stimulated by the healing powers ascribed to them in traditional Chinese medicine. Rhino-horn shavings boiled in water are said to cool and to cure headaches; the brew is akin to fingernail clippings in water (both are mainly keratin, an indigestible protein). Bear bile does help with gallbladder and liver problems—but no more than the synthetic version of ursodeoxycholic acid, its main component.

In February 42 countries, including China and Japan, and the European Union signed a declaration against trade in illegal wildlife products. Chinese law punishes the purchase or consumption of endangered species with up to ten years in jail. But in May, when Philippine forces seized a Chinese vessel carrying sea turtles, giant clamshells and live sharks off the disputed Half Moon Shoal, China expressed outrage at the “provocative action”—not the illegal cargo.

The illegal trade in wild-animal products: Bitter pills, Economist, July 19, 2014, at 54

Technology Firms Invade Defense Industry

Satellite Collision

[N]imbler Silicon Valley outfits are beginning to invade the defence industry’s territory. “Warfare is going digital,” observes Tom Captain of Deloitte, a consulting firm. Tech firms have shown that they can supply robots, drones and intelligence software. SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, a tech entrepreneur, is taking America’s air force to court to reopen bidding for a satellite-launch contract awarded to Boeing and Lockheed.

Excerpt, Weapons-makers: The case for defence, Economist, July 19, 2014, at 55

Suspected Imperialists: China in the North Pole

Northern Sea Route (blue) vs Southern Sea Route (red). Image from wikipedia

China is interested in the Arctic. On July 11th, 2014 its icebreaker, Xue Long (“Snow Dragon”), embarked on the country’s sixth Arctic expedition, with 65 scientists on board. A new 1.3 billion yuan ($210m) icebreaker will soon be launched, and last December  [2013] a China-Nordic research centre was opened in Shanghai.

New freight opportunities interest China along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) as ice recedes. In 2010 four ships took the route. Last summer 71 vessels did so. Each ship that takes the route must, at certain points, be accompanied by an ice-breaker, so it is unclear how soon the NSR will be suitable for mass transit, if at all.

Some climate models predict the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer by the middle of this century. The route cuts the distance between Rotterdam and Shanghai by 22% and Yang Huigen of the Polar Research Institute of China has predicted that 5-15% of China’s international trade will use the NSR by 2020. But Linda Jakobson, of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, says that is a “rather optimistic assessment” and that talk of the NSR as a new Suez Canal is overblown. Weather conditions and environmental sensitivities will make the route a difficult one.

As for energy, China is one of the biggest investors in mining in Greenland. A deal with Rosneft, a state-controlled Russian company, will explore offshore Arctic fields for oil. But the undersea resources in the Arctic are largely within the Exclusive Economic Zones of the littoral states (notably Russia), so if China wants to look for energy it will have to do so jointly…

But the new Chinese presence is not without concerns. Huang Nubo, a tycoon, recently bought 100 hectares (250 acres) of land in northern Norway and has bid for a plot on the island of Svalbard, where China has a research station. He aims to develop a resort for Chinese tourists. Mr Huang had similar plans in Iceland in 2011, but local protests quashed them. A Norwegian newspaper has called him a “suspected imperialist”.

China and the Arctic: Polar bearings, Economist, July 12, 2014, at 39

See also Arctic Council

How to Destroy the Pirates: free trade

Gulf of Aden map. Image from wikipedia

Ships navigating the lawless seas of the Gulf of Aden must keep a constant lookout for Somali pirates. The roots of Somalia’s maritime banditry lie in its desperately poor coastal villages, where the choice between fishing and piracy is an easy one for many.

Anja Shortland and Federico Varese mapped the locations of hijacked ships between 2005 and 2012. They found that hijacked vessels were always anchored far away from regional trading routes, and that big ports were not prone to piracy. There is a reason for that. Somali clans control local trade by issuing licences and charging informal taxes. The researchers reckon that communities which can tax imports and exports refuse to protect pirates because trade is a safer and more lucrative source of revenue than pirate earnings. Only clans that have no other income offer the pirates protection, in return for a share of their loot…..A… solution [to piracy] would be to build new roads and ports, which would allow remote areas to start trading. With alternative sources of income, fewer communities would be willing to harbour pirates….

A former president of Puntland repeatedly requested a road be built to Eyl, a rough-and-ready coastal town, as a quid pro quo for giving up piracy. His request was turned down, and piracy continued. Time for donors to rethink where they spend their pieces of eight.

Crime in Somalia: Pirates v economist, Economist, July 12, 2014, at 42