California just hit the water jackpot, but is it drinkable?

Is the discovery of a vast reservoir of groundwater under California’s Central Valley the answer to the state’s water shortage? Maybe, but getting to it could be expensive, say experts.

“It’s not often that you find a ‘water windfall,’ but we just did,” says study coauthor Robert Jackson, a professor at Stanford University. “There’s far more fresh water and usable water than we expected.”

While this is potentially good news for California, the findings also raise concerns about cost and quality.

Previous estimates of groundwater in California are based on data that are decades old and only extend to a maximum depth of 1,000 feet, and often less. Until now, little was known about the amount and quality of water in deeper aquifers.

“Water a thousand feet down used to be too expensive to use,” says Jackson. “Today it’s used widely. We need to protect all of our good quality water.”

Times are different now. California is in the midst of its fifth year of severe drought, and in 2014 Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in the state. To meet its surface water needs, the state is increasingly turning to groundwater supplies.

In the new study, Jackson and postdoctoral associate Mary Kang used data from 938 oil and gas pools and more than 35,000 oil and gas wells to characterize both shallow and deep groundwater sources in eight California counties.

The researchers conclude that when deeper sources of groundwater are factored in, the amount of usable groundwater in the Central Valley increases to 2,700 cubic kilometers—or almost triple the state’s current estimates. They published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Why it’s not all good news

While this is potentially good news for California, the findings also raise some concerns. First, much of the water is 1,000 to 3,000 feet underground, so pumping it will be more expensive.

Without proper studies, tapping these deeper aquifers might also exacerbate the ground subsidence—the gradual sinking of the land—that is already happening throughout the Central Valley. Groundwater pumping from shallow aquifers has already caused some regions to drop by tens of feet.

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Furthermore, some of the deep aquifer water is also higher in salt concentration than shallower water, so desalination or other treatment will be required before it can be used for agriculture or for drinking.

Another concern the Stanford scientists uncovered is that oil and gas drilling activities are occurring directly into as much as 30 percent of the sites where the deep groundwater resources are located. For example, in Kern County, where the core of California’s oil and gas industry is centered near the city of Bakersfield, one in every six cases of oil and gas activities was occurring directly into freshwater aquifers.

For useable water—water that the US Environmental Protection Agency deems drinkable if treated—the number was one in three.

Jackson and Kang stress that just because a company has hydraulically fractured or used some other chemical treatment near an aquifer doesn’t mean that the water is ruined.

“What we are saying is that no one is monitoring deep aquifers. No one’s following them through time to see how and if the water quality is changing,” Kang says. “We might need to use this water in a decade, so it’s definitely worth protecting.”

Source: Stanford University

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Test suggests North Carolina police target black drivers

Police in North Carolina are more likely to search black and Hispanic motorists than white or Asian drivers, according to a new study of 4.5 million traffic stops.

But while blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched, those searches are less likely to uncover illegal drugs or weapons than searches of vehicles with white or Asian drivers.

“Our threshold test suggests that officers apply a double standard when deciding whom to search.”

Studies based on the incidence of searches by race, and the outcomes of those searches, have been done in the past, but for the new study, researchers developed a third, entirely new measurement—a threshold test.

The researchers show that this new measure offers a statistically rigorous way to quantify how suspicious officers were to initiate a search. For example, did officers conduct searches when there was a 15 percent probability of finding weapons or drugs, or was a 5 percent inkling enough? They correlated these threshold assessments to the race or ethnicity of the subjects across the entire dataset of 4.5 million motor vehicle stops.

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“Our threshold test suggests that officers apply a double standard when deciding whom to search, with black and Hispanic drivers searched on the basis of less evidence than whites and Asians,” says Camelia Simoiu, a graduate students at Stanford University. “We consistently observe this pattern of behavior across the largest 100 police departments in the state.”

The study marks a new milestone in Stanford’s Project on Law, Order and Algorithms, which has already collected data on 50 million traffic stops in 11 states and is aiming to expand the database to 100 million stops from at least 30 states and every region of the Unites States. The purpose of the database, which the researchers plan to make publicly available, is to shed light on the prevalence of racial profiling and to identify techniques for improving police practices.

In the case of North Carolina, the researchers obtained records for traffic stops in the state from 2009 through 2014. The records included information about the ethnicity, age and gender of the people being pulled over and at least some information on the rationale of police officers for searching particular people and vehicles.

Until now, analysts have used two fairly simple statistical tests to look for patterns of racial profiling.

The first test, known as benchmarking, involves comparing search rates for people of different ethnicities. If blacks account for 10 percent of the local population but 30 percent of searches, that higher incidence would be evidence of discrimination. A second test examines the “hit” rate or outcome—the percentage of searches that actually lead to the discovery of weapons, drugs, or other illegal contraband.

How the ‘threshold test’ works

In North Carolina, both statistical tests provided strong evidence of unfounded racial discrimination. Police searched 5.4 percent of blacks and 4.1 percent of the Hispanics they pulled over, but only 3.1 percent of whites. In many cities and towns, however, searches of blacks and Hispanics were actually less likely to uncover contraband than searches of whites.

But even when both tests converge, the analysis has limitations. If a higher percentage of people in one ethnic group actually do carry illegal drugs or weapons, for example, a higher search rate for that group may not reflect racial discrimination.

So researchers went further than prior studies to get a more accurate view of the presence or absence of unfounded discrimination.

They did this by developing a complex statistical tool they call a threshold test. It analyzed four variables for each of the 4.5 million stops:

  • Race of the driver
  • Department of the officer making the stop
  • Whether the stop resulted in a search
  • Whether a search turned up drugs, guns, or other contraband

These four variables provided a statistical snapshot of an officer’s threshold of suspicion before searching a person of a given race. As the authors write: “In nearly every one of the 100 departments we consider, we find that black and Hispanic drivers are subjected to a lower search threshold than whites, suggestive of widespread discrimination against these groups.”

Specifically, the study found that police decided to search black drivers based on a 7 percent certainty that they might be hiding something illegal. If an African American driver looks nervous, for example, police might interpret the nervousness as a sign of possible guilt and insist on a search. For Hispanics, the search threshold was 6 percent certainty.

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But police in these 100 North Carolina cities wanted a 15 percent certainty before searching the vehicles of white drivers. The threshold for searching Asians was about the same as for whites.

The findings have important implications, the researchers note.

Had North Carolina’s police applied the same standard of suspicion to blacks as whites, they would have searched about 30 percent fewer black drivers—around 30,000 people over the six years in the study. Hispanics would have experienced a 50 percent reduction in searches affecting 8,000 drivers.
But while the new test reveals that the threshold of suspicion varies by race, there is a caveat.

“We cannot, however, definitively conclude that the disparities we see stem from racial bias,” they write. “For example, officers might instead be applying lower search thresholds to those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, a demographic that is disproportionately black and Hispanic.”

The researchers are collecting traffic stop data from other states to see what patterns are revealed by their analyses. They are also considering ways to apply their new statistical methods to other settings where race or ethnicity may be a factor, such as mortgage lending and hiring.

“We hope our results spur further investigation into allegations of police discrimination, and help improve public policy,” says Sharad Goel, assistant professor of management science and engineering.

Source: Stanford University

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These canned foods are the worst for BPA

A new study backs up concerns about exposure to the chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA, from food cans and jar lids.

The chemical can disrupt hormones and is linked to a range of health problems. California has listed BPA as a female reproductive toxicant, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has restricted its use in some products.

The worst offenders (in descending order): canned soup, canned pasta, and canned vegetables and fruit.

Researchers analyzed both dietary sources of BPA contamination and BPA levels in the urine of thousands of people who recently consumed canned food.

They found that canned food was associated with higher urinary BPA concentrations. The more canned food consumed, the higher the BPA.

Particular kinds of canned food were associated with higher urinary BPA concentrations. The worst offenders (in descending order): canned soup, canned pasta, and canned vegetables and fruit.

The study, published in Environmental Research, highlights the challenges consumers face in trying to limit their exposure to BPA, a compound used to make, among other things, resins that coat the inside of food cans and jar lids.

“I could eat three cans of peaches, and you could eat one can of cream of mushroom soup and have a greater exposure to BPA,” says lead author Jennifer Hartle, a postdoctoral researcher at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

A previous study led by Hartle found that children, who are especially susceptible to hormone disruption from BPA, are at risk from school meals that often come from cans and other packaging. This uptick in packaging is a result of schools’ efforts to streamline food preparation and meet federal nutrition standards while keeping costs low.

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In 2015, Hartle met with members of Congress who are working on regulating BPA in food packaging.

The FDA is still working to “answer key questions and clarify uncertainties about BPA,” according to the agency’s website.

“The FDA no longer allows BPA to be used in baby bottles, sippy cups, and liquid infant formula canned linings, and many food and beverage companies are moving away from the use of BPA,” Hartle says. “However, we do not know if synthetic BPA replacements are safe either.”

The researchers suggest that federal regulators expand testing beyond BPA to other chemicals used as BPA replacements in food packaging, none of which are included in national monitoring studies.

Source: Stanford University

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Self-healing, shape-shifting material reacts to light and heat

Scientists have created a new smart material that can heal itself and change shape when exposed ...

Recently, we’ve seen a bunch of new “smart” materials being developed that can heal themselves, spring back into their original shape when deformed, or change transparency when stretched. But while most of these have only one such function, researchers at Washington State University have created a material that can both change shape when exposed to heat or light, and assemble and disassemble itself.

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Category: Materials


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Toyota 86 drifts back to its roots with Initial D concept

The GT86 concept ripped from the pages of Japanese manga series Initial D

When it teamed up with Subaru to create the GT86, Toyota hoped it would act as a spiritual successor to the AE86 Corolla GT. This connection to a legendary past has now been made even stronger by a team within Toyota UK, which has channeled the AE86 from Japanese manga series Initial D to create a monochrome GT86 concept.

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Category: Automotive


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Lucas Museum withdraws from Chicago, headed to California instead

The museum features MAD's signature design language and vaguely resembles a couple of metallic volcanoes

George Lucas has had a sorry old time trying to get his MAD Architects-designed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art built. Unveiled in 2014, it subsequently required a redesign to address concerns over the loss of public land. At this point the project seemed to be on track, but it now transpires that the museum won’t be built in Chicago after all.

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Category: Architecture


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Tepui's new roof-top tent carries gear and camps out

Tepui shows the Project White Lightning prototype at Overaldn Expo 2016 in May

Last month at Overland Expo, Tepui previewed its all-new hard shell tent. It was so fresh from the manufacturing plant that it didn’t even have a name, outside of “Hard Shell Tent.” The company has now labeled it Project White Lightning and put it up on Kickstarter. The new tent offers the most comprehensive feature set we’ve seen on a roof-top tent, including integrated roof rails, the ability to double as a roof-top cargo box and a low-profile design that shouldn’t take away too many mpgs on your campground commute.

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Category: Outdoors


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Groundbreaking underwater exploration craft nears production

The latest rendering of the upcoming production version of the Platypus above/below water exploration craft

Ornithorhynchus anatinus is a bizarre creature. Not only due to its crazy duck, beaver and otter mash-up anatomy, but because it inhabits two watery worlds – one at the surface of small streams or rivers and the other below. When François-Alexandre Bertrand saw one sploshing about during a séjour in Australia, he’d found the perfect name for an above/below water craft concept he was mulling over. Design renderings for the Platypus emerged in 2011, followed by a working prototype two years later and a production timeframe set for 2014. It’s taken a little longer than expected to get there, but the Platypus team is finally bringing the novel exploration craft to market later this year. We popped down to the south coast of France a few days ago to talk new design and production plans. And to ride on, and under, the surprisingly chilly waters of the Mediterranean.

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general design discussion • Love and affection delivered through flower and gifts is for

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