Plants Sense Water To Grow Roots In The Right Direction

Maize hydropatterning - 10 June 2014. The Hounsfield Facility University of Nottingham

Scientists have discovered how the presence of even small amounts of water can influence the structure of plant roots in soil, a finding that opens up new possibilities to improve water and nutrient foraging for important food crops.

Significant improvements in crop yields are urgently required to meet the 50% increase in world population by 2050. The degree of root branching determines the efficiency of water uptake and acquisition of nutrients in crops. Understanding the regulation of root branching is therefore of vital importance.

Using an advanced form of X-ray imaging BBSRC-funded researchers from The University of Nottingham, working with several international groups including colleagues in the USA, have discovered that root branching is profoundly influenced by the distribution of water in soil. An ability to precisely determine where water is in soil, which is different from a touch-reaction, affects the positioning of new lateral roots. Lateral roots (LR) form on the side of the main root in contact with water, but rarely on the dry side.

The researchers have called this novel process “hydropatterning” and showed that it is common to the experimental model species Arabidopsis as well as the important food crops maize and rice. Their results are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Professor Malcolm Bennett, from The University Of Nottingham’s School Of Biosciences, who led the UK team said: “We have discovered that plant roots can sense small differences in water availability across their diameter. Root branching is a target of hydropatterning, with lateral roots only forming on the side of the main root contacting water in soil. Identifying the genes and signals that control this process opens up new possibilities to improve water and nutrient foraging in crops.”

Professor Sacha Mooney, also from The University Of Nottingham’s School of Biosciences, added: “Research in this area has traditionally been hampered by the opacity of soil preventing us actually visualising root behaviour in situ and in three dimensions. This is an excellent example of how the latest imaging technologies such as X-ray micro Computed Tomography can help to provide new insights into important biological mechanisms.”

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Canary Island The First In World To Be Powered By Just Wind And Water

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The smallest and southernmost of Spain’s Canary Islands is about to make an outsized mark on the path toward a more renewable energy-powered future.

With the opening of a new wind farm next month, El Hierro, population just over 10,000, will become the first island in the world to be fully energy self-sufficient through combined wind and water power. The five wind turbines will provide 11.5 megawatts of power, enough to meet the demand of the population and the desalination plants on this small crop of land off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.

When the wind isn’t blowing, hydropower will fill the void. When the wind is blowing, power will be used to pump water into a reservoir in a volcanic crater about 2,300 feet above sea level. Then when power is needed, that water will be released down to a lower reservoir and used to generate electricity on the way. This process is known as pump-storage hydroelectricity, and is used in many other countries across the globe — including the world’s largest outside of Washington, D.C.

“This system guarantees us a supply of electricity,” said the director of the Gorona del Viento wind power plant, Juan Manuel Quintero.

With the $75 million project set to come online, El Hierro will no longer have to rely on costly and dirty diesel generators for electricity — although it will maintain an oil power station just in case. According to Phys.org, the island’s transition to renewable energy will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20,600 tons per year and save the island from using 40,000 barrels of oil a year.

Other islands are taking advantage of renewable resources to become wind- and solar-powered, but El Hierro is believed to be the first to do so exclusively with wind and hydro power and without having any connection to an outside electricity grid.

LINK: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/05/01/3433002/spanish-island-renewable-energy/

Building A Hugelkultur

Video showing the benefits of a Hugelkultur (raised bed system), things like using little to no water/irrigation. It also shows how to build and maintain the bed. Interesting clip, I might employ something like this on my allotment instead of your standard raised beds.

Nasa-funded Study: Industrial Civilisation Headed For Irreversible Collapse?

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Natural and social scientists develop new model of how ‘perfect storm’ of crises could unravel global system

A new study partly-sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The independent research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The HANDY model was created using a minor Nasa grant, but the study based on it was conducted independently. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.
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