August 19, 2014

Livestrong makes strong donation.     Photo: paul/Flickr

Livestrong Makes $50 Million Donation

Money will go to patient-centered cancer care

In what the Texas Tribune is calling a "major strategic move," the Livestrong Foundation announced that it will make a $50 million donation to the University of Texas at Austin's new Dell Medical School to create the Livestrong Cancer Institutes.

Formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the nonprofit cancer-support organization split with its founder in 2012, after the latter was brought down by a doping scandal. Livestrong has since pressed ahead, forging a fresh identity under Doug Ulman, the organization's new president and CEO.

"We've obviously gone through a pretty strategic planning process over the last 18 months," said Ulman. "This opportunity clear and away rose to the top in terms of where we could, as an organization, have the biggest long-term impact on our mission. It's truly one of those opportunities that doesn't come along very often."

Livestrong's financial commitment to UT Austin will be paid out over 10 years and is one of the largest the university's new medical school has received.

Clay Johnston, the school's inaugural dean, said the money will not go toward new buildings but rather to increasing the collaboration between the university and Livestrong, with an emphasis on patient-centered cancer care.

"In Austin, the care that's provided to people with cancer who don't have insurance is not appropriate," Johnston said. "Austin does the best it can but in an antiquated system."


The Way Fire blazes into Tuesday morning near Wofford Heights and Kernville, California. The fire has burned more than five square miles.     Photo: Palley Photography

California Is Drying Out and Burning Up

The Golden State is now short more than a year's worth of water

California is still feeling the heat despite recent destructive thunderstorms that caused floods and mudslides in southern parts of the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor said in its weekly report that the rainfall's location "did not allow for significant percolation into drought-parched soils."

The report also stated that 99.8 percent of the state is currently experiencing "severe" drought, with 58 percent considered to be in "exceptional" drought. The drought has persisted since May, when 100 percent of California was considered to be at the severe level; in July, the first drought-period emergency rule was approved to regulate water use.

The Golden State is now short more than a year's worth of water. "The bottom line is, there's a lot of ground to make up," Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, told the Los Angeles Times. "Mother Nature can't put it back in that fast."

Now there's even more ground to make up due to a wildfire that sparked in the foothills of Yosemite National Park and required firefighters to be dispatched to protect homes on Tuesday. The two-square-mile blaze has already destroyed eight buildings and is threatening 500 more. The Way Fire, which broke out on Monday 215 miles south of Yosemite near Kernville, has grown to five square miles, according to the Associated Press. As of Tuesday morning, the fire had burned at least three structures and was zero percent contained. 

These fires are arriving on the heels of another that threatened Yosemite's sequoias and endangered 100 homes in early August.


The Eyjafjallajokull eruption of 2010 resulted in 100,000 flights being canceled and a great deal of other disruptions. The Bardarbunga volcano is part of a different volcanic system that's Iceland's largest.     Photo: Johann Helgason/Thinkstock

Livestream a Gigantic Volcanic Eruption

Iceland's Bardarbunga is set to erupt

It's debatable whether Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano is more difficult to pronounce than Eyjafjallajokull, which caught the world's attention when it erupted in 2010. But Bardarbunga is certainly bigger—it's part of Iceland's largest volcanic system—and it's getting very close to erupting.

Volcanic eruptions have five alert levels, and Bardarbunga is currently at the fourth, or orange, stage, which according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) means that the volcano "is exhibiting heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption." The next step, red, would indicate that an eruption is either imminent or currently happening.

The threat level went up Monday after the area experienced the biggest earthquake Iceland has seen since 1996. Since the first earthquakes in the area were detected Sunday morning, IMO says about 2,600 earthquakes have occured in the area. There's also evidence of increased magma movement.

When Eyjafjallajokull erupted, it affected 10 million travelers, as European airspace became disrupted for six days—volcanic ash can seriously damage aircraft engines. If Bardarbunga does erupt, it could look like "an explosive glacial eruption, leading to an outburst flood and ash emission," according to the IMO. Seismologist Martin Hensch told RTE News that it's still unclear how the ash cloud would measure up to Eyjafjallajokull's, but the biggest risk would probably be flood waves because Bardarbunga is located under the ice cap of the Vatnajokull glacier.

As we wait to see what happens, you can keep track of Bardarbunga with this livestream of the area that updates every 10 minutes.


Swallows fight over space on a solar panel. Little do they know…     Photo: Don McCullough/Flickr

Solar Farm Ignites Birds Midflight

Discovery might halt future Mojave Desert solar installations

Federal wildlife investigators in California are trying to halt a planned solar installation that would be twice as large as Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the world's biggest solar thermal plant, because birds ignite midflight when they fly through sun rays concentrated by mirror reflections.

When investigators visited the $2.2 billion Ivanpah plant last year before its February launch, they saw bird-based smoke plumes (known as "streamers" by employees) shoot through the air once every two minutes. BrightSource Energy—one of the companies involved in Ivanpah and spearheader of the proposed larger solar farm—estimates about 1,000 such deaths occur annually, but the Center for Biological Diversity says the carnage could climb to 28,000. Either way, investigators want the planned solar farm put on hold until a full year of bird deaths at Invanpah is tabulated.

What's the problem with Ivanpah? Streamers don't happen over every solar plant, but most solar plants use photovoltaic panels—Ivanpah doesn't. The question here is which is more at fault: the Mojave Desert location or the plant's unique construction.

The desert gets some of the best solar radiation in the country, but Ivanpah is also the biggest solar farm to employ power towers—a system wherein 300,000 garage-door-sized mirrors reflect light on boiler towers that produce steam to rotate turbines. Like a lethal disco ball, the solar farm singes birds as it generates electricity for 140,000 homes. 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials reported this month that power-tower solar farms have "the highest lethality potential" of any California solar project. The new BrightSource farm would have a 75-story power tower and stand in the flight path of more than 100 endangered species along the California-Arizona border. Investigators say it would be four times as lethal as Ivanpah.

Unfortunately, animals and insects are attracted to light—and concentrated light just concentrates the problem. The investigators told the Associated Press that Ivanpah "might act as a 'mega-trap' for wildlife … with the bright light of the plant attracting insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds." Ivanpah officials think they can solve the streamer problem despite biologists saying there's no known way to curb the deaths.

Although Invapah researchers are investigating ways to scare birds away with light and sound, BrightSource executives are trying to compensate for the problem in ways that won't help birds near the site—such as donating $1.8 million to programs that spay and neuter domestic cats, which kill more than 1.4 billion birds annually.

This isn't the first time Ivanpah has been in the news for stressing animal populations—it got bad press in 2012 for injuring protected tortoises.