New satellite data released today shows a significant decline in gas flaring at oil production sites around the world in 2017, despite a half-percent increase in global oil production. The nearly 5 percent flaring decline begins to reverse years of increases in global gas flaring that started in 2010.
The data reveals about 141 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas was flared in 2017, down from nearly 148 bcm in 2016. While Russia remains the world’s largest gas flaring country, it also saw the largest decline in flaring last year. Venezuela and Mexico also reduced their flaring significantly in 2017. In Iran and Libya there were notable increases in gas flaring.
The data was released by the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), a World Bank-managed organization comprised of governments, oil companies, and international institutions working to reduce gas flaring. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and GGFR have developed the flaring estimates in cooperation with the University of Colorado, based on observations from advanced sensors in a satellite launched in 2012.
Gas flaring – the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction – takes place because of technical, regulatory, and/or economic constraints. It causes more than 350 million tons of CO2 emissions every year, with serious harmful impacts from un-combusted methane and black carbon emissions. Gas flaring is also a substantial waste of energy resources the world can ill afford.
“The latest global gas flaring data is encouraging, but we will have to wait a few more years to know whether it represents a much-needed turning point,” said Riccardo Puliti, the World Bank’s Senior Director and head of its Energy & Extractives Global Practice. “Ending routine gas flaring is a key component of our climate change mitigation agenda, and the global flaring reduction Initiative we launched just three years ago now has 77 endorsers, covering about 60 percent of the total gas flared around the world.”
In 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and 25 initial endorsers launched the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative that commits endorsers to not routinely flare gas in new oil field developments and to seek solutions to end routine flaring at existing oil production sites as soon as possible and no later than 2030. It has now been endorsed by 27 governments, 35 oil companies, and 15 development institutions.
“The Initiative is an essential tool for ending routine flaring,” said Bjorn Hamso, GGFR’s Program Manager. “Going forward, it is paramount that oil field operators continue to address ongoing “legacy” flaring, and that new business models are developed that will enable more investors to participate in flaring reduction projects.”
Drones to Save Lives by Providing Urban-Grade Healthcare in Rural Areas of India
A new experimental programme has shown how drone technology can be used to bring quality healthcare to people living in the remotest areas of India.
Healthcare professionals delivered vaccines, COVID-19 testing samples and medical products to a population of over 300,000 people represented by eight district health facilities in the Vikarabad district of the southern state of Telangana. The district was chosen because it includes communities living in the dense forests of the Anantagiri hills. The trial involved over 300 drone sorties in a 45-day period.
The trial oversaw the first vaccine delivery over long range (beyond visual line of sight) in Asia. It is part of a wider programme, Medicine from the Sky, led by the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India, in partnership with the Government of Telangana, Apollo Hospital’s Healthnet Global and NITI Aayog, the Indian government’s federal think-tank. The programme aims to work with business, policy-makers and communities to use drone technology to extend urban-grade healthcare to India’s remotest areas. Multiple stakeholders were consulted throughout, including healthcare workers, local communities, local police, district-level administrators and local air traffic control.
The findings of the trial, outlined in the report Medicine from the Sky, India: How Drones Can Make Primary Healthcare Accessible to All, offer a practical vision for delivering essential medicines to citizens who lack access to basic healthcare.
It comes after the central Indian government brought in Drone Rules 2021, a more liberalized regime for unmanned aircraft systems, which is expected to transform core sectors of the economy including logistics, agriculture, healthcare and emergency response. It also follows a drive to improve rural healthcare, with a range of programmes aimed at making it more accessible and inexpensive. The pandemic highlighted the lack of access to healthcare for rural communities due to infrastructure, supply and transport challenges.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, India’s Minister for Civil Aviation, described the programme as “pathbreaking”. He said: “With the recent liberalization of drone rules and the numerous government incentives for the drone sector, the stage is set for this innovative technology to flourish in India. To that end, the Medicine from the Sky initiative has demonstrated how the country can successfully make use of cutting-edge drone technology to ensure no one is left behind in terms of access to primary healthcare. We are hopeful that subsequent phases of this initiative will mainstream drones in healthcare.”
As key partners in the programme, the state government of Telangana earmarked the district of Vikarabad for the trials as it serves communities in the forests of Anantagiri. KT Rama Rao, Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development, Industries & Commerce, and Information Technology of Telangana, said: “Telangana has been a torchbearer for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Using drones to successfully enable a case for touching the lives of citizens in remote and inaccessible areas is a highlight that demonstrates how drones can be integrated into the healthcare ecosystem. Post Telangana, several other states have replicated the medical delivery use case.”
Apollo Hospitals was a clinical partner in the trail. Sangita Reddy, joint managing director, said the organization’s mission was “to enable access to quality healthcare services globally with the use of cutting-edge technology”.
“We look forward to continuing working with the World Economic Forum, the Government of Telangana and other states across the country in this project, which I am sure would be the inception of a new age in enhancing the healthcare supply chain,” she said.
NITI Aayog involved key decision makers in the programme to ensure high standards of compliance. “The pilot programme has demonstrated how detailed planning at the last mile, in consultation with local communities, can go a long way in ensuring that the country benefits immensely from drone technology,” said Anna Roy, Senior Adviser, NITI Aayog.
Purushottam Kaushik, Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India, said that India’s policies on the lower skies are opening up new possibilities for innovation, business and humanitarian work. “It’s critical that all citizens can benefit from this technology. This programme is enabling emergency healthcare services in remote terrain where access to services is very challenging. Drones will not only transcend difficult terrain but also pave the way for secure delivery for vaccines, medicines and all sorts of payloads,” he said.
The small things make a big difference in the science of measurement
Scientists must make ever more sophisticated measurements as technology shrinks to the nanoscale and we face global challenges from the effects of climate change.
As industry works more and more on the nanometre scale (a nanometre is a billionth of a metre), there is a need to measure more reliably and accurately things we can barely see. This requires metrology, the science of measurement.
Nano-scale metrology is useful in everyday life, for example to measure doses of medication or in the development of computer chips for our digital devices.
‘Metrology is needed everywhere that you make measurements or if you want to compare measurements,’ said Virpi Korpelainen, senior scientist at the Technical Research Centre of Finland and National Metrology Institute in Espoo, Finland.
Since the earliest civilisations, standardised and consistent measurements have always been crucial to the smooth functioning of society. In ancient times, physical quantities such as a body measurement were used.
One of the earliest known units was the cubit, which was approximately the length of a forearm. The Romans used fingers and feet in their measurement systems while the story goes that Henry I of England (c 1068 – 1135) tried to standardise a yard as the distance from his nose to his thumb.
Standardisation demands precise definitions and consistent measurements. In the interest of greater accuracy, in the 1790s, the French government commission standardised the metre as the basic unit of distance. This set Europe on a path to the standardised international system of base units (SI) which has been evolving since.
Since 2018, some key definitions of measurement units have been redefined. The kilo, the ampere, the kelvin and the mole are now based on fundamental constants in nature instead of physical models. This is because over time, the physical models change as happened with the model of the kilo, which lost a tiny amount of mass over 100 years after it was created. With this new approach, which was adopted after years of careful science, the definitions will not change.
This evolution is often driven by incredibly sophisticated science, familiar only to metrologists, such as the speed of light in a vacuum (metre), the rate of radioactive decay (time) or the Planck constant (kilogram), all of which are used to calibrate key units of measurement under the SI.
‘When you buy a measuring instrument, people typically don’t think of where the scale comes from,’ said Korpelainen. This goes for scientists and engineers too.
Once the realm of research scientists, nanoscales are increasingly important in industry. Nanotechnology, computer chips and medications typically rely on very accurate measurements at very small scales.
Even the most advanced microscopes need to be calibrated, meaning that steps must be taken to standardise its measurements of the very small. Korpelainen and colleagues around Europe are developing improved atomic force microscopes (AFMs) in an ongoing project called MetExSPM.
AFM is a type of microscope that gets so close to a sample, it can almost reveal its individual atoms. ‘In industry, people need traceable measurements for quality control and for buying components from subcontractors,’ said Korpelainen.
The project will allow the AFM microscopes to take reliable measurements at nanoscale resolution by using high-speed scanning, even on relatively large samples.
‘Industry needs AFM resolution if they want to measure distances between really small structures,’ Korpelainen said. Research on AFMs has revealed that measurement errors are easily introduced at this scale and can be as high as 30%.
The demand for small, sophisticated, high-performing devices means the nanoscale is growing in importance. She used an AFM microscope and lasers to calibrate precision scales for other microscopes.
She also coordinated another project, 3DNano, in order to measure nanoscale 3D objects that are not always perfectly symmetrical. Precise measurements of such objects support the development of new technology in medicine, energy storage and space exploration.
Dr Annette Röttger, a nuclear physicist at PTB, the national metrology institute in Germany is interested in measuring radon, a radioactive gas with no colour, smell or taste.
Radon is naturally occurring. It originates from decaying uranium below ground. Generally, the gas leaks into the atmosphere and is harmless, but it can reach dangerous levels when it builds up in dwellings, potentially causing illness to residents.
But there is another reason Röttger is interested in measuring radon. She believes it can improve the measurement of important greenhouse gases (GHG).
‘For methane and carbon dioxide, you can measure the amounts in the atmosphere very precisely, but you cannot measure the flux of these gases coming out of the ground, representatively,’ said Röttger.
‘Flux’ is the rate of seepage of a gas. It is a helpful measurement to trace the quantities of other GHG such as methane that also seep out of the ground. Measurements of methane coming out of the ground are variable, so that one spot will differ from another a few steps away. The flow of radon gas out of the ground closely tracks the flow of methane, a damaging GHG with both natural and human origins.
When radon gas emissions from the ground increase, so do carbon dioxide and methane levels. ‘Radon is more homogenous,’ said Röttger, ‘and there is a close correlation between radon and these greenhouse gases.’ The research project to study it is called traceRadon.
Radon is measured via its radioactivity but because of its low concentrations it is very challenging to measure. ‘Several devices will not work at all, so you will get a zero-reading value because you are below the detection limit,’ said Röttger.
Measuring the escape of radon enables scientists to model the rate of emissions over a landscape. This can be useful to measure the effects of climate mitigation measures. For example, research indicates that the rapid rewetting of drained peatland stores greenhouse gas and mitigates climate change.
But if you go to the trouble of rewetting a large marshland, ‘You will want to know if this worked,’ said Röttger. ‘If it works for these GHG, then we should see less radon coming out too. If we don’t, then it didn’t work.’
With more precise calibration, the project will improve radon measurements over large geographical areas. This may also be used to improve radiological early warning systems in a European monitoring network called the European Radiological Data Exchange Platform (EURDEP).
‘We have lots of false alarms (due to radon) and we might even miss an alarm because of this,’ said Röttger. ‘We can make this network better which is increasingly important for radiological emergency management support by metrology.’
Given the intensity of the climate crisis, it is crucial to present reliable data for policy makers, added Röttger. This will assist greatly in addressing climate change, arguably the biggest threat mankind has faced since the cubit was first employed as a measure in ancient Egypt over 3,000 years ago.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Triumph of Simulacra – How Deepfakes Aim to Rule Our Minds
Deepfakes are famous for fake pornography and YouTube videos with dancing politicians. But how can else they challenge our society?
According to Antispoofing Wiki The deepfake technology can be traced back to 1997 when the first digital face manipulation tool Video Rewrite was presented by the Interval Research Corporation. Funnily, the first deepfake in history was political — it made JFK lip-sync to a “I never met Forrest Gump” phrase.
In 2017 deepfake videos have turned into a mainstream threat as their production tools became widely available to the common users. Someone, under the alias “deepfake” posted on Reddit a few pornographic videos. In them, faces of a few Hollywood actresses — Gal Gadot being one of them — were glued to the real adult genre divas with the dark wizardry of generative deep learning. This is how the deepfake era began.
Currently, deepfakes are considered as the gravest threat coming from AI and machine learning technologies. Crime Science reports that deepfakes are capable of producing devastating societal harm: from political slender and fake news to petty money thefts via realistic impersonations.
The study also mentions that deepfake technology proliferation is simple to orchestrate: it can be quickly shared, sold, and copied by the perpetrators. (Unlike physical crime tools like guns — these require covert logistics.)
So, why are deepfakes so dangerous?
Falsified media can cause unpredictable results. For example, deepfake allegations nearly sparked an upheaval in Gabon. The military top ranks accused the president’s administration of using a synthesized video of the country’s leader Bongo Ondimba who, supposedly, died from a heart attack sometime earlier in 2019.
Allegedly, to avoid losing power, the corrupt officials quickly whipped up a New Year’s deepfake address that would soothe the suspicious public and help them win some time.
The fabricated rumors were used by the national guards as a pretext to seize the central radio station — they pleaded for the citizens to stop whatever they were doing and flood the streets in righteous anger. However, the coup d’état failed.
Audio deepfakes seem to be an equally serious threat. In the UAE a massive heist was orchestrated with the help of a voice-cloning tool. Fraudsters mimicked a company director’s voice and successfully requested a $35 million transfer from a Hong Kong bank.
The pressing issue of deepfakes spurred regional and international alarm. For instance, the European Parliament published a study Tackling Deepfakes in European Policy. The document lists among all other risk categories brought by the technology: bullying, extortion, identity theft, election and stock-price manipulations, etc.
However, one of the most destructive properties of deepfakes are the liar’s dividend and truth apathy. While some are paranoid that one day they will be targeted by the odious technology and jeopardized beyond any belief, others can rejoice. Deepfakes will finally allow them to refute any compromising materials.
Liar’s dividend can produce a scarily damaging impact on our society. The paradigm don’t believe what you see can actually help some unscrupulous politicians and public figures wiggle out of a scandal.
Even though the legitimacy of a video or audio can be confirmed with technical means — like double compression analysis — regular observers are often distrustful of the expert verdict. It’s always easy to discard something you don’t really comprehend.
If the liar’s dividend is Phobos, then reality apathy is Deimos in this duet. Not being able to trust their own senses, people may ignore actually important materials. As long as there’s no reliable, trustworthy and universally available way to tell a fake from bona fide media, deception will prevail over common sense.
Deepfake isn’t alone: it has a sibling called “cheapfake”. Cheapfakes are a type of falsified media that are easy, cheap and quick to produce. Con artists don’t even need to operate neural networks to make them.
They can churn out cheapfakes in gargantuan amounts with simple editing tools: Movie Maker, Adobe Premiere/Audition and of course Photoshop. The famous “drunken Pelosi hoax” is a textbook cheapfake. It was produced by simply slowing down the speed of the original video, making the target appear intoxicated.
Yes, cheapfakes wouldn’t get their moniker for nothing. They are cheap indeed. And quite easy to spot too, like in the Pelosi hoax case. However, in certain areas where technological literacy leaves a lot to be desired, cheapfakes can lead to tragic events.
In 2018 a series of cheapfakes began circulating in the Indian WhatsApp group chats. It showed motorcycle riders “kidnapping” children for organ harvesting. It was accompanied by some really gruesome footage of dead kids “killed by the harvesters”.
It promptly stirred a panic and paranoia in the villages of Karnataka, Maharashtra and other Indian states. Villagers assembled in lynching mobs and attacked random outsiders, tourists and bikers — at least 20 random people got killed in light of this hoax.
In reality, the cheapfake used a recontextualization technique presenting some irrelevant footage in a completely different light. For instance, the images of the dead children were captured a few years prior to the hysteria to document war casualties among kids. As for the “bike-riding kidnappers”, it was simply a clip withdrawn from a social advertising that warned parents of how easy it is to abduct a child.
Experts indicate that lack of awareness and technological illiteracy are the two main factors that sparked mass lynching in India. Another vital factor is that social media and messenger apps are ideal channels for the deepfakes and cheapfakes to proliferate. It makes them similar to a viral disease.
Right now, there are just a handful of methods to neutralize false media. First, researchers recommend paying attention to visual clues: unnatural facial feature alignment, weird complexion, posture, gestures, lip movement/voice mismatches. Plus artifacts (such as distortion or blur) can be spotted in areas where one body part transitions into another: neck, elbows, wrists, etc.
Second, we should mention the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) proposed by Adobe. This initiative seeks to establish standards, as well as introduce a universal platform that will protect original media content from malicious tampering. This is achievable by inserting unerasable metadata — the special data that reveals who, where and when produced the content.
But of course these countermeasures won’t work solo. They need strong support from educators around the world. Starting in schools and finishing in communities living in the less developed regions. Ignorance is a breeding ground for many negative phenomena. And deepfakes are one of them.
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