Solar panels mitigate climate change faster than forest cover

Also, the connection between loneliness and Parkinson’s and drones that can help rescue teams after a disaster in this edition of Science Notebook.

Published : Jan 11, 2024 11:00 IST - 4 MINS READ

A field of heliostats at a power station in the Arava Valley, Israel.

A field of heliostats at a power station in the Arava Valley, Israel. | Photo Credit: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg News

Forests mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon. Photovoltaic (PV) systems mitigate climate change by replacing fossil fuels. Both also increase the global heat load because they make the land surface darker, which absorbs heat. Basically, both replace arid dryland terrains, which are sites that attract large afforestation efforts and PV fields, thus reducing the normal albedo (the fraction of light a surface/body reflects) of these surface areas.

Rafael Stern, Jonathan Muller, and colleagues of Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovoth, Israel, investigated whether trees or solar panels were more quickly able to offset the increased heat they produce due to surface darkening. The authors measured surface albedo at a solar field in a hyper-arid region in the Arava Valley in Israel. They also measured afforestation data at a research station at the Yatir forest on the northern edge of the Negev desert. The data was used to calculate the break-even time required to balance the positive radiative forcing due to reduced albedo and negative radiative forcing due to carbon emission suppression of PV power generation or carbon sequestration by forests. In semi-arid land, PV fields break even and begin offering climate change mitigation benefits after about 2.5 years, which is more than 50 times faster than afforestation. In humid lands, the gap is not so wide, but solar panels continue to have the advantage. The authors note that forests provide many benefits beyond climate change mitigation, including ecosystem, climate regulation, and social services.

The work was reported in a recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Nexus.

Also Read | A new climate emergency emerges in adaptation finance needs

Loneliness and Parkinson’s

“Loneliness” (1880) by the artist Hans Thoma (1839-1924).

“Loneliness” (1880) by the artist Hans Thoma (1839-1924). | Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

It is known that loneliness is associated with morbidity and mortality, including higher risk of neurodegenerative diseases. “There is strong evidence,” a July 2021 WHO report said, “that social isolation and loneliness increase the risks of older adults for physical health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and stroke and for mental health conditions such as cognitive decline, dementia, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and suicide. There is also evidence, although it is not as strong, that social isolation and loneliness increase the risks of other health conditions (e.g. type-2 diabetes melitus, high cholesterol) and limit mobility and activities of daily living.”

Now, for the first time, medical scientists from Florida State University College of Medicine, Tallahassee, US, examined whether there is an association between loneliness and Parkinson’s disease (PD) and whether the association, if any, is independent of other risk factors or modified by age, sex, and genetic vulnerability.

This study examined the association between loneliness and incidence of PD in a population-based cohort of 4,91,603 participants drawn from UK Biobank ranging in age from 38 to 73 years; 54.4 per cent of the participants were female and 45.6 per cent male. This large cohort study, followed up for up to 15 years, found that loneliness was significantly associated with an increased risk of incident PD independent of demographic and socio-economic factors, social isolation, genetic risk, and physical and mental health.

The findings add to the evidence that loneliness is a substantial psychosocial determinant of health and support recent calls for the protective and healing effects of personally meaningful social connection, said the authors of the study, which was published in a recent issue of JAMA Neurology.

Also Read | A solar cell with unprecedented power conversion efficiency

Drones that can hear cries for help

Drones are increasingly being used after a disaster occurs to quickly fly over large areas of ruined infrastructure, locate victims, and speed up the response of rescue teams.

Drones are increasingly being used after a disaster occurs to quickly fly over large areas of ruined infrastructure, locate victims, and speed up the response of rescue teams. | Photo Credit: Fraunhofer FKIE

Searching for survivors during natural disasters is complex work as buildings and roads may be damaged. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones equipped with daylight cameras and thermal imaging cameras is therefore becoming increasingly widespread. They can quickly fly over large areas of ruined infrastructure, locate victims, and speed up the response of rescue teams. However, these imaging sensors cannot see victims trapped under rubble, and factors such as thick smoke, fog, or darkness also limit their effectiveness.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics (FKIE), Germany, are working on a solution for scenarios such as these. LUCY (short for Listening system Using a Crow’s nest arraY) developed by FKIE scientists is an array of microelectromechanical system (MEMS) microphones—known as a crow’s nest array—mounted on drones to help rescuers determine the direction from which noises such as cries for help, clapping, or knocking are coming. The robust MEMS microphones are inexpensive and used in applications such as smartphones. The special thing about this system is that the microphones are attached to the underside of the drone in a special geometric configuration and can perceive sound from all directions.

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