Solar Power Project Shows How to Build 'Smart from the Start'
Defenders of Wildlife praised the first large-scale solar power plant approved to be built on public lands in Arizona Dec. 20, calling the Sonoran Solar Project a shining example of how collaboration among the solar industry, conservation groups, agencies and the local community leads to “Smart from the Start” renewable energy development.
“The way in which this project was planned sets the standard for future projects,” said Matt Clark, Defenders of Wildlife’s Southwest representative. “Both NextEra and the Bureau of Land Management listened to the public’s concerns regarding the project’s water consumption and impacts on wildlife and sensitive lands in the Sonoran Desert, then came up with significantly improved alternative that is a win-win for people and the environment.”
Project developer, NextEra Energy, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) avoided the conflicts and slowdowns that have plagued some other large-scale renewable-energy projects by soliciting early public input, and by working closely with conservation groups and the community to substantively address legitimate concerns with the initial project proposal.
The company initially proposed building a 375-megawatt solar thermal power plant, a technology that draws heavily on groundwater to generate electricity. The power plant would have likely deprived local communities and wildlife of already scarce water supplies in the arid region. Defenders and other conservation groups flagged this problem during the project’s initial public comment period, and the BLM and NextEra responded by redesigning the project with solar panels capable of generating as much as 300 megawatts of clean energy, using 98 percent less water. Because the project site is located near the Sonoran Desert National Monument, visual and auditory impacts were also important considerations. The project’s switch from solar thermal to photovoltaic technology significantly reduced both visual and auditory impacts, protecting the wild character of the nearby monument.
The company also reduced the project’s footprint by more than 1,600 acres, lessening its impact on wildlife and habitat. In addition, this site includes several important elements of “Smart from the Start” development—It has excellent solar resources, is close to existing transmission lines capable of delivering the energy to nearby cities, and has limited conflicts with wildlife and other natural resources.
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Learn more about Defenders’ work on renewable energy by clicking here.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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