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2016-08-09 Postcards
   2016-08-01 19:04:20    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Zhang Kun

 

Hello and welcome to Postcards, a show that takes you across borders without actually making the trip. I'm Wenjie.

More than a third of the world's population can no longer see the Milky Way at night time because of man-made lights on Earth. Among those missing out on awe-inspiring views are nearly 80 percent of North Americans and 60 percent of Europeans. These are the findings of a new global atlas of light pollution, recently published as part of a scientific paper. But remote rural areas far from areas of dense population are discovering the lucrative appeal of star light tourism. Here's Nick Lanigan with this postcard from Spain.

More than four-fifths of the earth's population now live beneath skies polluted by artificial light, which blocks out the Milky Way for more than a third of them.

That's according to recent research by the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in northern Italy.

The allure of space and the twinkling stars in the night sky have captivated mankind since prehistoric times.

Juan Fernandez is an amateur astronomer.

"I started with a little telescope and I felt like a complete astronaut. When I was a child I wanted to be an astronaut and thanks to that telescope I fulfilled my dream. Even though I was not in a spacecraft, I was looking at what astronauts were seeing: all those stars, star clusters, nebula."

Fernandez started when he was six years old. Then he borrowed his neighbour's telescope and it took him 15 years to give it back.

But as urban spaces grow, the corresponding increase in light pollution means that star gazing is not something many people can experience.

Now thanks to a group of amateur astronomers, dark skies and starlight tourism experiences are growing in popularity in Spain.

15 years ago some astronomers began to organise themselves into an association and that gave birth to a travel agency specialising in starlight tourism.

'Astroandalus' answers the increasing demands of people interested in observing their first star-studded night sky.

Visitors travel to Andalucia from big cities like Madrid and Barcelona or even Germany and France to enjoy skies full of stars.

From a shared experience to a romantic starlit dinner for two, 'Astroandalus also organises trips to Finland, Norway and Sweden to see the northern aurora borealis.

As Astroandalus' Jose Jimenez explains, tourism is evolving and people are increasingly looking for an original experience.

"People who're searching for starlight tourism are looking for a special kind of tourism. They do not just want to visit places, they want to create a memory. Keep that souvenir of having experienced something original, something to tell people about, something to remember. In that sense, we can offer complete experiences. Not just enjoy the astronomical activity under a dark sky but also to keep a memory of the charming accommodation, the gastronomy and the local natural and cultural heritage."

Spain's mild climate and cloud free skies make it perfect for dark skies tourism.

The Sierra Morena, Catalonia valleys, "asparagus valleys" in La Rioja, or Valleys of Leza, Jubera, Cidacos and Alhama, and northern mountains of Sierra de Gredos have been certified Starlight Tourism Destinations by the Starlight Foundation, a non-profit group created by the Astronomical Institute of the Canary Islands.

The certification demonstrates a commitment to protecting the night sky from light pollution and promoting astronomy. It's valid for five years and is supported by UNESCO, the World Tourism Organization and the International Astronomical Union.
 
Starlight Tourism Destinations must prove the quality of the skies and the means to ensure their protection, but they must also have appropriate infrastructure: accommodation, telescopes, astronomical observatories and specialized instructors to guide novice astronomers.

Hotel owner Paco Sanchez, a keen amateur astronomer, built a private observatory on the roof of a mountain, but he soon opened it to the public when he realised the demand. He says it has increased his business at his hotel in rural central Spain, two hours from Madrid by car.

"It's high-quality tourism, from both intellectual and economic points of view. Thanks to the tourists, the villagers don't leave any more. They fled to the cities because there are no resources here for them. On the other hand, we also achieve a pollution-free area."

Francisco Sanchez is an astronomer and also vice-president of the Starlight Foundation.

"Light pollution is an excess of light that impedes us from seeing the stars. Big cities cannot see the sky, even in the villages, because of the silly lighting. So, at the Starlight tourism sites, which are protected, you can rest assured that you are going to see the sky, the planets and the stars."

As the development of astro-tourism is very recent, tourist agencies do not yet have much data.

However, according to the Starlight Foundation, 200,000 people have visited el Teide Starlight destination in the Canary Island of Tenerife to go stargazing.

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Ten thousand hectares of Australia's mangroves have died in the space of a month, according to a world expert on the plants. The dieback stretches from Queensland to the Northern Territory and is being attributed to climate change. Here's Spencer Musick with this postcard from Australia.

Norm Duke is a world expert on mangroves and he's never seen anything like this before.

He has filmed these images showing dead mangroves along a 200 kilometre stretch of the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory.

"These are the most shocking images of dieback I've ever seen."

Duke is the leader of the Mangrove Research Hub at James Cook University in Queensland.

He says the dieback stretches all the way to Karumba in Queensland, which is on the eastern side of the Gulf.

"And that's the shocker, right. Because it's not only unprecedented, it's extensive, it's severe."

A single photograph from consultants working in the Northern Territory alerted Duke to the problem.

"The trees here are alive, right, and we can clearly see they're dead in this image here."

The location is so remote that the only way to confirm the extent and timing of the mangrove's dieback was with specialist satellite imagery.

"And that's how we've made our calculation of roughly about 10 thousand hectares of dead mangroves and you have to ask why?"

Duke is convinced that unusually low rainfall in the last wet season and elevated temperatures led to the massive dieback late last year.

It happened at the same time as the coral bleaching season on the Great Barrier Reef.

"The wet season was only one month long in the year before. And usually the wet season in the Northern Territory in that area is probably three or four months long."

Duke says he has no doubt that this is down to climate change.

by his assessment, ten percent of the Gulf's mangroves are now dead.

He says the next key question is: Can they recover? Only time and the mangroves will tell.

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The family of a little boy who went missing in Canada almost 25 years ago are hoping developments in technology will help them find their son. Michael Dunahee was four when he was abducted from a playground in British Columbia. New digital methods, such as those being used to find Michael, are said to be fundamentally changing the way we search for missing children. Here's Zhao Jianfu with this postcard from Canada.

Crystal Dunahee's son Michael was four when he was abducted from a playground in British Columbia.

His disappearance, in 1991, led to one of the largest child abduction investigations in Canadian history.

Almost a hundred police officers from across the region were employed to try to find him.

Michael remains missing, but his family have not lost hope of finding him. Crystal says she instinctively knows he's alive and that giving up is not an option.

Police believe a stranger took Michael in broad daylight from the playground where he was playing.

His mother Crystal was just yards away, taking part in a sports event.

Each year there are more than 50,000 reports of missing children to police in Canada, according to Government figures.

But abductions account for less than 1 percent of reports.

According to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection the abduction of a child by a complete stranger is the rarest but most alarming type of missing child case.

For many families there are swift reunions, but in cases such as Michael Dunahee's, the wait continues.

However, new technologies such as age enhancement photos are now helping the search for missing children and increasing the likelihood of finding them.

Children grow quickly, and their appearances change.

But forensic artists are now able to create age progression photos to show how a person might look years, or even decades later.

Age enhancements of Michael have led to thousands of tip-offs to the police. With each new photo, his family are forced to relive the horror.

"You'd think looking at a picture of a child from four to twenty-seven, when the last one was done, there is a, should see some sort of a resemblance, because you sort of progress, so it's really hard to see that, to watch your child age in drawings, over seeing them face to face."

In the US and Canada Amber Alerts are the most well-known notification of missing children, broadcast via social media as well as through radio, television and on traffic signs.

Facebook users in Canada receive photos and relevant information directly onto their mobile feeds in the first critical hours after a child goes missing, if they have liked the page.

And smartphone users can receive automatic text messages if a child has gone missing in their area. Experts agree that social media can make a huge difference in the outcome of missing children's cases.

Don Krug is a Technology and Media Professor at the University of British Columbia. He says social media and technology help searches to get started extremely quickly.

"The types of advances that have been made with wireless technology, is just phenomenal. So I think that as long as there's, people are subscribed to the particular network that they need to be, the information is reaching them almost immediately."

However, only 45,000 Canadians are signed up for automatic mobile notifications according to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Krug blames the current sign up system in Canada. He believes the alerts should be mandated by law in Canada, as they are in the United States.

"It would allow them to automatically distribute information in a particular region to a group of phones, that are in that area. There wouldn't be any type of obligation to sign up, there wouldn't be any kind of permissions involved, they would automatically receive that message. Now that way, people would get, I think you would get the maximum number of people having access to the information."

Crystal now works for Child Find, a charity dedicated to the safety of children. She works with parents and urges them to create an ID book for their children, which can be uploaded and distributed to the authorities in the event of an abduction.

"It just helps get the information out there a lot quicker if you've got the information at your fingertips, that you can pass to the police department, because you are really frazzled trying to figure out, OK, height, weight, and thinking about what were they wearing that day, like all these different things that you have to think of. There's just one less thing that you have to think about if you've got it already up to date within the booklet itself, if you ever have to use it."

Digital media is now one of the strongest ways of providing information about a missing child according to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

New mobile technology will be trialled in Canada next year, with the eventual aim of sending automatic text alerts to the 28 million mobile phone users in Canada. Once successful, the mobile emergency system will be rolled out nationwide.

For Crystal Dunahee, the more help at her disposal the better. And with the 25 year anniversary of Michael's disappearance almost upon her, Crystal says there will never come a time when she will stop the search for her son.

"The mother's intuition I believe is, is strong. You just, I just know, it's just a feeling I have that one day he'll come home."

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A UK-based energy tech company is demonstrating how hydrogen fuel cells can be used to significantly extend the range of commercial drones. Intelligent Energy says its technology can extend flight time from 15 minutes to up to two hours, benefiting a range of industries from inspection to search and rescue. Before we come to the end of today's show, I would like to share with you an extra postcard from the UK.

It's lift-off for this four-rotored quadcopter, but this is a drone with a difference.

In this muddy Loughborough farmer's field, around 170 kilometres north of London, experts from UK-based energy group Intelligent Energy are testing what they claim to be a game-changer for drone tech.

While it may not appear different from current commercially-available UAVs, this drone is powered using two hydrogen fuel cells. The only waste product is warm air and water.

This, Intelligent Energy claims, solves two of the biggest problems associated with current battery-powered drones: flight time and re-fuelling.

Julian Hughes is acting managing director of Intelligent Energy's Consumer Electronics Division.

"So, I'm holding a drone with a fuel cell technology on board instead of a battery. So, we've integrated the fuel cells to give an extended flight time over and above traditional batteries."

On top of the drone are two hydrogen fuel cell stacks fitted with fans to usher in oxygen, which prompts the chemical reaction.

Underneath is a 350-millilitre hydrogen tank which, Intelligent Energy says, can be changed in around a minute once depleted.

Hughes says the water by-product produced by the reaction is so minimal it disappears as vapour, similar to what humans breathe out.

They claim any added weight is negated by the extended flight time.

"So, on the top are the two fuel cell stacks, they need oxygen which is from the air, which is what the fans help and underneath is the hydrogen. So, the hydrogen and the oxygen run across the fuel cell plates and produce electricity."

Intelligent Energy believes this application of hydrogen fuel cell technology will be a game-changer for the rapidly-growing commercial and enterprise drone market.

Independent research firm MarketsandMarkets expects the global commercial drone market to sky-rocket in the coming years, reaching more than five billion US dollars by 2020.

But Hughes says it's currently held back by the short range and long re-charging times associated with conventional batteries.

"So, the main problem with current battery technology on drones is flight time - you get around 15 minutes and then you have to re-charge the battery for a number of hours. And with fuel cell technology that we now have put on board, the flight times are significantly increased, up to between an hour and two hours. And no need to recharge the battery, all you need to do is change the fuel source and that takes around a minute."

It's thought longer flight times and quicker refueling will open a wide range of possibilities for high-flying drone tech.

Inspection, search and rescue, aerial photography, precision agriculture and parcel delivery could all benefit.

Having completed an engineering PhD at Cambridge University, Dr. Ben Todd founded London-based Arcola Energy, an engineering services company which specialises in fuel cells and hydrogen.

Dr. Todd says drones are potentially a good use for hydrogen fuel cell tech, but only when its application outweighs the added cost and complexity.

"Drones are potentially a very good use for hydrogen. In most cases, using a fuel cell and hydrogen is going to be more complicated and more difficult than using a battery. So, if you've got something that we'd call a straight forward application - so short-range, not very big payload - then you will use a battery, it's cheaper, it's easier. If you're trying to do a longer duration, if you've got a bigger payload, you might reach the limits of where battery technology is now and where it probably will be in a few years and you'll say; 'Okay, it's actually worth the extra complexity of bringing in the fuel cell', which is essentially a sister technology to a battery."

Dr. Todd says people shouldn't be worried about any safety implications.

"Essentially hydrogen is no more or no less dangerous than a whole load of other things we use every day. If somebody was to come along and say to you; 'I've invented this amazing thing, it does 90-miles-an-hour and it's got a tank of petrol under it,' you would ban it immediately. But we're familiar, we know how to deal with it, both in terms of the safety systems on the vehicle and our response teams. So hydrogen is no different to that."

Intelligent Energy's tech may be seen in the commercial space sooner than you think.

The energy group recently announced it had signed a deal with a "major drone manufacturer" with the eventual goal of rolling out its hydrogen fuel cell solution.

Here at the group's headquarters, experts aren't just experimenting with drones. They see potential applications in everything from cars to smartphones.

Intelligent Energy claims that once embedded, a fuel cell has the potential to keep a smartphone powered for over a week.

"It's starting now to hit the market in different areas. We've seen car companies have now released fuel cell vehicles, there are stationary power applications where fuel cells are providing back-up power to things like mobile phone towers or generators generally. And now where we're going is we're looking at different applications, obviously in drones, in phones, we are in the automotive market also."

Intelligent Energy's experts aren't the only ones experimenting in this space.

NASA scientists have been investigating and developing fuel cell technologies for multiple aerospace applications for years.

With that, we wrap up today's "Postcards." Your comments, suggestions or questions are always appreciated and you can contact us via e-mail at: postcards@cri.com.cn. For program producer Zhao Jianfu, I'm Wenjie. See you next week.

(source: AP)

 
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