Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘Los Alamos National Laboratory’

Roughly speaking: How corn fields affect wind power production versus soybean fields

In University research on January 5, 2015 at 6:25 am
he corn beneath these MidAmerican Energy wind turbines near Blairsburg isn't yet quite as high as an elephant's eye. When the stalks reach maturity, their roughness can cut wind speed (and power production) at the turbine's hub, hundreds of feet up.

The corn beneath these MidAmerican Energy wind turbines near Blairsburg isn’t yet quite as high as an elephant’s eye. When the stalks reach maturity, their roughness can cut wind speed (and power production) at the turbine’s hub, hundreds of feet up. Credit: Todd Spink, National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Charles Robinson rarely gives any thought to what he plants under the 3½ wind turbines (he shares one with a neighbor) on his farm near Greeley, in northeast Iowa’s Delaware County.

The giant windmills are a boon for him and dozens of other farmers in the state, providing an income stream from wind farm operators. With more than 3,000 turbines installed (PDF), Iowa is a national leader in renewable wind energy.

Like most Iowa farmers, Robinson plants a rotation of corn and soybeans. He never thought whether it was one or the other was relevant for the power the turbines produce. “The blades are so high, it wouldn’t bother anything,” he told me last week.

But Brian Vanderwende, a doctoral student in atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and his adviser, Julie Lundquist, wondered: How do the crops planted below turbines influence the wind that spins their blades?

Last month, Vanderwende presented the surprising answer at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

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Roundup: Van Allen belts give electrons a jolt, a super scanner and a flood study dries up

In Uncategorized, University research on August 26, 2013 at 5:00 am
Van Allen belts with graph of electron acceleration

Recent observations by NASA’s twin Van Allen Probes show that a local kick of energy accelerates particles in the radiation belts surrounding Earth. The readings help explain how these particles reach energies of 99 percent the speed of light. Image Credit: G. Reeves/M. Henderson

I was in knee pants when I first heard about the Van Allen radiation belts, the donut-shaped rings of charged particles circling the Earth. In the movie (and later television series), “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” the belts catch fire, threatening the planet with global warming at hyperspeed – an impossible apocalypse.

The belts were new and little explored then, and one of my siblings told me they were named for their discoverer, James Van Allen, a University of Iowa physicist and a born and bred Iowan. In typical chip-on-the-shoulder Iowa fashion (“Hey, we’re more than corn! We have scientists!”), I’ve been proud of that discovery and its name ever since.

Van Allen’s research brought prestige and fame to U of I’s physics department and attracted some top scientists. And almost 60 years after the belts’ discovery, the university’s research still yields new insights.

The latest, published last month, shows the belts act as a potent particle accelerator, pushing electrons to nearly light speed.

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