Nature vs. The Internet: How Google Protects Its Undersea Cables from Shark Attacks

Footage from a recent survey of Google’s undersea fiber-optic cables revealed that shark bites are a very real threat to global telecommunications. Indeed, a Google spokesperson noted that the company actually coats its cables in a Kevlar-like material to protect against sharks. Interestingly, sharks seem to have more of a taste for fiber-optic cables than the old-fashioned coaxial copper wires. A report from the United Nations Environment Programme and International Cable Protection Committee Ltd. speculates that sharks may be "encouraged by electromagnetic fields from a suspended cable strumming in currents." In other words, sharks, which can sense electromagnetic fields, may mistake the cables for live prey. The phenomenon highlights the ways in which technology and nature can intersect, and the strange new interconnections between the energy of the natural world and our man-made grids. 

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With the succesful effort to repopulate the Gran Paradiso National Park in northwest Italy with alpine ibex, it is now a fairly common sight to see the wild goats on the near vertical face of the Cingino Dam, licking the salt incrusted stones.

Top 2 photographs by Maurizio Piazzai.
Bottom photograph by Stanislao Basileo.

Same holds in the U.S., and especially New England, which was deforested 4 times since colonization.

Watch: How Europe is greener now than 100 years ago

"More than 100 years ago, timber was used for almost everything: as fuel wood, for metal production, furniture, house construction. Hence, at around 1900 there was hardly any forest areas left in Europe. Especially after World War II, many countries started massive afforestation programs which are still running today," Fuchs told The Washington Post.

As a result, Europe’s forests grew by a third over the last 100 years. At the same time, cropland decreased due to technological innovations such as motorization, better drainage and irrigation systems: Relatively fewer area was needed to produce the same amount of food. Furthermore, many people migrated from rural to urban areas, or overseas.

Fuchs’ fascinating conclusion: Forests and settlements grew at the same time and Europe is a much greener continent today than it was 100 years ago. A closer look at different regions and countries reveals Europe’s recovery from the deforestation of past centuries.

More of these maps at WaPo

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Crossrail | BLDG BLOG

More than 23 miles (nearly 90%) of train tunnels are now complete, with tunnelling due to finish in spring next year. Six of Crossrail’s eight tunnelling machines have now completed their drives. The construction of ten new stations in central and southeast London is more than half complete.

The surface works, delivered by Network Rail, are well underway. Significant progress has been made on the new flyover at Stockley, providing access to Heathrow, and on a new dive under at Acton. In addition, a temporary station has opened at Abbey Wood to allow the new Crossrail station to be built.

More than 10,000 people are working directly on Crossrail at around 40 construction sites. Over the course of the project, it is estimated that Crossrail and its supply chain will support the equivalent of 55,000 full time jobs across the country. More than 7,000 people have completed training at Crossrail’s Tunneling and Underground Construction Academy in Ilford, which opened in 2011. In addition to Crossrail, 61,000 jobs are created around the country annually through TfL’s investment program. TfL and its suppliers have also created over 5,000 apprenticeship roles since April 2009.

Camera Robot Made For Disney Now Inspects Bridges

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by Michael Keller

Bridges are made to transport vehicles, not to make it easy for inspectors to do their job. That’s why inspecting the undersides and support pillars of tall ones is no easy task, either requiring people looking for problems to perform feats of contortion or the structure to go without review.

But infrastructure left without scrutiny is infrastructure bound to fail. In the case of the reinforced concrete that makes bridges, the test is a fairly straightforward one.

Inspectors use a device that checks for unseen corrosion within the concrete. The tool is an electrode attached to a wheel that detects big differences in electric potential within the material. This is a sign that corrosion—either from deicing salt that eats away the steel inside or atmospheric carbon dioxide that seeps in and changes the concrete’s chemistry—has set in and needs to be monitored. 

The question is just how to get to those hard-to-reach spots. Now engineers and roboticists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have developed a solution. 

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