Friday, May 27, 2016

Sound Exposure Guidelines for Fishes and Sea Turtles

Sound Exposure Fishes and Sea Turtles

Oceanic noise pollution is a serious problem that can be easily overlooked, especially in the wake of more physical sources of marine pollution, such as the fabled Great Pacific Garbage Patch. However, anthropogenic sound exposure from ship traffic, sonar, and other means can have detrimental effects on the physiological and social nature of fishes, sea turtles, and marine mammals.

Legislative requirements for the assessment of anthropogenic sound in the ocean are present in different countries, but the criteria to meet them are not so clear for specific sources of sound exposure. ASA S3/SC1.4-2014 - Sound Exposure Guidelines for Fishes and Sea Turtles is a highly informative document that gives organizations the means to make accurate conservation-guided decisions in regards to their oceanic noise creation activities.

Marine animals use sounds to perform many tasks essential to their lives and fitness: to navigate, communicate, find food, locate mates, and avoid predators. The use of and response to these sounds has been developed in the ocean animals throughout their evolutionary path. However, when humans introduce new sound and pressure waves into the sea, they disturb the ambient sound and natural state of the animals.

There are only seven extant species of sea turtle, and all of them face a variety of threats that could potentially drive them towards extinction. While little data is available on the hearing abilities of sea turtles, morphological observations have indicated that the sea turtle has a typical reptilian ear with a few aquatic modifications. Specifically a thick layer of subtympanal fat on the back of the tympanum, the hearing structure makes it difficult to hear in air but easier to detect sound pressure underwater.

Sound Exposure Sea Turtles

Sea turtles hear best between 200 and 750 Hz, so low-frequency noise can harm their hearing and maybe even interfere with their nesting patterns. However, there is not enough available data to understand the full extent of the damages to sea turtles from sound exposure. To fill the gaps in knowledge about sea turtle sound exposure, ASA S3/SC1.4-2014 has extrapolated data on sound exposure for fishes, which is believed to be comparable to that of sea turtles.

Sound exposure in fishes has much more variation, since there are over 32,000 extant fish species. All fishes have ears that convey to them their linear and angular acceleration from sound and pressure, and all bony and cartilaginous fish have a lateral line system that responds to vibrations. The functions of these anatomical features are quickly thrown off from changes in ambient sound.

Fish Noise Pollution

In addition, many fishes have a gas bladder (swim bladder) that is used for buoyancy control, hearing, sound production, and/or respiration. Species with swim bladders are more likely to suffer from barotrauma (physiological trauma), and sudden pressure changes, often from impulsive sounds, can contribute to this. This not only harms behavior and hearing, but can also cause the animal physical harm, even immediate or delayed mortality.

Since fishes with swim bladders are especially susceptible to changes in sound and pressure, and different fishes respond differently to sound, ASA S3/SC1.4-2014 divides fishes and sea turtles into five groups to better address their potential exposure to sound. These are:
  1. Fish with no swim bladder
  2. Fish with swim bladder not involved with hearing
  3. Fish with swim bladder that is involved with hearing
  4. Sea Turtles
  5. Eggs and Larvae
ASA S3/SC1.4-2014 uses these categories to determine the severity of the harm and injury to fishes and sea turtles from sound pollution. The effects that it addresses are mortality and mortal injury, recoverable injury, TTS (short or long term changes in hearing sensitivity that may or may not reduce fitness), masking (impairment of hearing sensitivity from additional sounds), and any behavioral effects (in movement, range, reproduction, etc.).

Fish Sound Exposure

ASA S3/SC1.4-2014 covers five sources of anthropogenic sound that can lead to these detrimental effects in fishes and sea turtles, labeling their impact as high, low, or moderate. These sources are:
  1. Explosions used to dismantle in-water structures
  2. Pile Driving used in the construction of in-water structures
  3. Seismic Airguns used to extract oil and gas from under the seafloor
  4. Low- and Mid-Frequency Naval Solar
  5. Shipping and other continuous noises
Understanding these guidelines on sound exposure impact can help those currently contributing to detrimental sound pollution make better decisions.

While this standard is not intended to assess the hazards of sound exposure for marine animals, it does refer to them. Like fishes and sea turtles, noise pollution is notably dangerous for marine mammals, especially that coming from sonar, since it interferes with the natural sonar abilities of whales, dolphins, and sea lions.

Whale Sound Exposure

These guidelines were generated with the assistance of a great deal of peer-reviewed literature on the topic.  However, those involved with the standard’s publication understood that there is much-more research needed on the subject of marine sound exposure, so the standard comments on research recommendations that could further advance the body of knowledge.

ASA S3/SC1.4-2014 was written and published by the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), an ANSI-accredited standards developing organization that focuses on bioacoustics and associated subjects.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

ANSI B77.1 for Passenger Ropeways

ANSI B77.1 Passenger Ropeway Standard
Sugarloaf Cable Car, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In a past post, we discussed ANSI B77.1-2011 - Passenger Ropeways - Aerial Tramways, Aerial Lifts, Surface Lifts, Tows and Conveyors - Safety Requirements, and referred to it as the standard for ski chair lift safety. While this bears truth, since it was developed by the National Ski Areas Association, it does not fully describe the scope of the standard. ANSI B77.1-2011 covers the design, manufacture, construction, operation, and maintenance of all passenger ropeways for both skiers and foot passengers.

Passenger ropeways are found all throughout the world as a means of transportation. Traditionally used as a way to travel throughout mountainous areas or other landscapes that are mostly inaccessible to cars, they have lately been gaining popularity in urban areas. The primary aerial lifts that are used to transport foot passengers are aerial tramways (or cable cars), which are held by two stationary ropes and propelled by a single moving rope, and gondolas (sometimes also called cable cars), which are supported and driven by cables above the cars.

ANSI B77.1-2011 covers both aerial tramways and gondola lifts. The specifications covered in the document help create and operate efficient and safe passenger ropeways, focusing on construction and maintenance of the cables, horizontal and vertical clearances, speed, and other features that are controlled through thorough testing and validation. It is also important to note that the standard gives different weight capacities for skiers and foot passengers to account for the weight variation from winter sport equipment.

ANSI B77.1-2011 also considers a variety of features and weather patterns, such as electric power lines, rockslides, avalanches, icing, rivers, highways, structures, and fire hazards. This is important for passenger ropeways because they are often installed in treacherous areas. For example, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway in South Africa needs to consider rockslides, wind, and obstructions.

Cable Car ANSI B77.1
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, South Africa

The guidelines in the standard are also applicable to passenger ropeways in urban environments. These have become increasingly popular because of their many distinct advantages over other means of transportation. Specifically, they do not need much space: they can cross over obstacles (such as an entire urban landscape) and their towers and structures require little real estate on the ground. They also are known for consistent travel times due to their avoidance of other transportation lines.

Passenger ropeways are a surprisingly desirable alternative for cities that need new ways to manage their traffic flow. For urban areas that currently lack aerial ropeways, installing them isn’t too difficult, as they have notable low costs and short construction times, and, since they use one engine to drive several vehicles, they are very energy efficient.

For example, The East River Skyway is a proposed plan to connect the Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs of New York City via gondolas to accommodate the rapidly growing traffic coming from the populating Brooklyn neighborhoods. Interestingly, this is a cheap alternative, as the gondola line could cost $397 million less to install per mile than additional subway lines.

Passenger ropeways by definition do not have to be aerial lifts. Funiculars, or cable railway systems that transverse steep planes, also fall under this umbrella term and are important for travel in certain areas. Funiculars are specified in ANSI B77.2-2014 - Funiculars - Safety Requirements.

If you’d like to learn more about ski passenger guidelines in ANSI B77.1-2011, please read: ANSI B77.1 Ski Chair Lift Safety

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Six Sigma Benchmarking Criteria for Organizations

Six Sigma Benchmarking

ISO 17258:2015 - Statistical methods - Six Sigma - Basic criteria underlying benchmarking for Six Sigma in organisations is a new standard for quality management. The Six Sigma method that is reinforced by this document can be used in combination with ISO 9001:2015 for a remarkably sound quality management system. Benchmarking helps the Six Sigma approach establish quality in any industry.

As we discussed in a past post, Six Sigma is a measure of quality that strives for near perfection. There is always a margin of error or potential for some mistake to occur, so no quality management system can claim to be absolutely perfect. However, Six Sigma surely comes close to perfection, as it requires no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. This applies to any service with potential defects.

ISO 17258:2015 covers a method for benchmarking to carry out a Six Sigma process. Benchmarks are currently used in a variety of business practices for comparison of levels of quality, performance, and productivity.  Six Sigma requires evaluation steps necessary to ensure its effectiveness, and the methods of benchmarking covered in this standard address them all in detail.

According to ISO 17258:2015, benchmarking is the complete process containing an objective establishment step, a measurement step, a controlling step for the level of quality of the measurement results, and a comparison step.

In establishing these reference points, the standard provides the means to initiate a Six Sigma system. Considerations related to benchmarking covered by ISO 17258:2015 include the general criteria (basic requirements of the consumer and practical way to attain that measure), the scope of measures taken on the processes of the organization (compliance, ethical behavior, returns, etc.), and the controls for the quality of the results.

Six Sigma Benchmarking

While Six Sigma benchmarking is intended for quality, performance, and productivity, it provides the means to input results that interface with other types of benchmarking as well. These include product performance benchmarking (the functional performances of products are compared) and financial performance benchmarking (i.e. cost benchmarking, value-added benchmarking, portfolio benchmarking).

As previously mentioned, ISO 9001 and Six Sigma can be used together in a quality management system. This is because ISO 9001, by its nature, is not prescriptive, allowing compliant organizations to use whichever means they prefer to carry out quality management processes. Regardless of their choice, they need to have a method for continuing improvement, as recommended by ISO 9001:2015

Benchmarking in Six Sigma allows for this, since it helps an organization determine the state-of-the-art levels of quality, performance, and productivity in their industry that they should strive for at any given moment.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hyperloop - Making Science Fiction a Reality

Hyperloop Future Science Fiction

The Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation concept that could potentially shorten travel times immensely. Originally conceived by perennial visionary Elon Musk, the Hyperloop is currently under development for many purposes, including a 35-minute voyage from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and a freight transportation network in Russia.

Hyperloop travel involves small pods gliding on a small cushion of air at high speeds. All Hyperloop processes are to take place in a large tube that has most of its air pumped out, which reduces resistance for pods and allows them to travel at potential speeds above 700 mph (1126.5 kph).

History of the Hyperloop

The background of Hyperloop-like technology reaches far deeper into history than Musk’s announcement several years ago. The Hyperloop bears a striking resemblance to the science fiction-based concept of the vacuum train, which was present in fiction as early as 1888. However, this concept is believed to have been borrowed from the 1812 scientific document, "Calculations and Remarks Tending to Prove the Practicality, Effects and Advantages of a Plan for the Rapid Conveyance of Goods and Passengers Upon An Iron Road Through a Tube of 30 Feet in Area, of the Power and Velocity of Air" by George Medhurst, in which he introduced the idea of air-driven tube travel.

Some real-life projects have even made use of similar technology, albeit in a less-advanced form. For example, the short-lived Crystal Palace pneumatic railway in 1846 South London contained a carriage fitted with collared bristles that was sucked along a 10-foot wide semi-airtight tunnel from the power of a large fan.

Hyperloop Past History
Crystal Palace Pneumatic Railway

In addition, in 1870, in the first attempt at transit tunneling in New York City, Alfred Ely Beach, inventor and editor of Scientific American, designed the Beach Pneumatic Transit line. While this was more of a novelty or demonstration than a fully functional mode of transit, it was still the first subway line in NYC. On a much smaller scale, New York City also operated a pneumatic tube mail network in 1897 that stretched 27 miles.

Because of its persisting presence in our popular culture, it was easy for the public to have a strong understanding of the Hyperloop’s design in the time before Musk publicly revealed it, especially after he hinted that the Hyperloop was a "cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table."

After long maintained anticipation, Musk revealed his plans for the Hyperloop in August 2013 through a 57-page PDF. In this document, he shot down previous theories on how something like a Hyperloop would work, instead proposing "a low pressure (vs. almost no pressure) system set to a level where standard commercial pumps could easily overcome an air leak and the transport pods could handle variable air density would be inherently robust."

He also projected that people would sit in pods that whipped through large steel tubes, and the pods could reach a max speed of 760 mph (1223 kph) throughout a total travel distance of 900 miles (1448 km). His initial plan for the Hyperloop was a 35-minute transit from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which he predicted would cost $7.5 billion to develop. Musk decided to not personally develop this technology, and instead made it open-source so that others could adapt his ideas into something fruitful.

Hyperloop One (formerly Hyperloop Technologies) is one of the primary organizations working to create the L.A.-San Francisco Hyperloop. Currently, this organization is conducting propulsion tests to determine if the technology is feasible. They strive to pioneer the fifth mode of transportation (after road, water, air, and rail).

Another California-based startup that is racing to create the high-speed transportation system is Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. In addition to development on a line in California, they are notably looking worldwide for locations that would benefit from a Hyperloop, such as Slovakia.

However, the development of this technology is not just limited to companies. Musk and SpaceX have strongly encouraged the involvement of university students to get involved with the development process. SpaceX has even announced a competition, to take place in summer 2016, in which university students and engineering teams will be able to test their human-scale pods in Hawthorne, California.

Issues with the Hyperloop

As expected with something so new and advanced, there are many problems present with the Hyperloop that developers need to solve. Among these are obvious dangers, such as the potential hazards with a pod traveling hundreds of miles per hour through a metal tube. These require stringent testing to be better solved.

Another issue is the cost. Even though Musk predicted that the California Hyperloop would cost approximately $7.5 billion when he first pitched it, some critics are now calling that estimate unrealistic, and the New York Times even calculated that the actual cost would be much closer to $100 billion.

A related concern is the cost of fare once the Hyperloop has been installed. With the immense expenses needed to create the transit system, it is possible that a single trip will be very costly. This could exclude the common person from using the transportation system.

As Musk presented it, the Hyperloop will be self-powered from solar panels located on top of the tube, with the help of compressed air as energy storage. This makes it very energy efficient, but it is possible that it will not be remarkably environmentally friendly. The tube, to maintain such a high speed, will have to avoid turns and hills, meaning that it will likely have to travel in an undisturbed straight path. If this is true, developing the Hyperloop could require severe destruction of the nature and landscape of California. Environmental concerns aside, this would be very difficult to accomplish.

Hyperloop San Francisco
Imagine a large tube passing through here.

Another concern that has been rarely discussed is the issue of windows. Will the Hyperloop pods contain windows that let the passengers stare into the outside world? At speeds of 700 mph, could this be possible without straining the passengers’ eyes? This will likely be answered throughout the development process.

Many critics also state that a high-speed rail system (which Musk has demonstrated opposition to) might be a better alternative to a Hyperloop. In fact, there is a high-speed rail system in California currently under development that would be able to manage the traffic that a Hyperloop might not be able to accommodate. However, this high-speed rail system has continuously been delayed and is only favored by 44 percent of California residents.

Progress on the Hyperloop is still very much in its infancy, and its developers will need to overcome many hurdles before we are able to Hyperloop travel in our daily commutes. However, it should not be cast aside as some kind of unattainable dream of the companies involved.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Nuclear Power Plant Response to an Earthquake

Seismic Activity

The standard ANSI/ANS-2.23-2016 - Nuclear Power Plant Response to an Earthquake has been released, updating the 1988 version of the document. This collection of recommendations by the American Nuclear Society builds off federal requirements in the United States to detail the actions that the owner of a nuclear power plant must take in preparation and response to an earthquake.

Practically all nuclear power plants are designed to be able to withstand the effects of an earthquake, even those that are distant to seismic activity. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the government organization that formulates policies and regulations governing nuclear reactor safety, requires all licensees of nuclear plants to prepare for seismic activity when designing and maintaining their plants, and the NRC effectively incorporates any newly acquired information into its models.

However, this doesn’t mean that plant owners shouldn’t take additional precautions in the event of an earthquake. Even though all nuclear power plants under regulatory bodies are resistant to seismic activity, they should still be prepared for and willing to take measures that prevent any kind of disaster. Seismic activity is known to affect nuclear plants that have been designed properly, especially in Japan, where seismic activity from proximal fault lines has led to shutdowns of several plants and even played a role in the Fukushima Disaster (when paired with a tsunami).

ANSI/ANS-2.23-2016 it identifies actions to be taken by the plant owner that are not required, but enhance the general process of handling the event of an earthquake. In preparation of the event, it not only calls for a sound plan to deal with it, but also thorough inspections to determine if anything could compromise the plant. This includes loose parts, inoperable rod drive mechanisms, changes in coolant flow, etc.

Nuclear Power Plant Response to an Earthquake

In addition to preparing the owner and personnel for this event, the standard gives procedures to determine several integral factors after the earthquake, including the effects on the physical condition of the power plant, whether or not plant shutdown is required, and, if shutdown does occur, the readiness of the plant to resume operations. Engaging with any of these requires the plant owner to take short term and long term actions, all of which are addressed in ANSI/ANS-2.23-2016.

This standard was in need of a revision, since, during the time since the last revision, there have been several cases of nuclear power plants being shut down due to seismic activity. However, few of the past incidences of earthquakes requiring plant shutdowns have led to tragedy, but many have caused inefficiencies.

For example, some power plants that have been in suitable condition to resume operations have actually continued the inspection stage for months too long. Because of this, ANSI/ANS-2.23-2016 not only serves as a document that is intended to protect the plant from disaster, but is also succinct enough to avoid unnecessary preventative measures that can hinder the plant’s operations.

As we discussed in a past post on nuclear power, the energy source has been given a bad reputation by the public, despite serving as a reliable electricity generator without emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during its use. Standards like ANSI/ANS-2.23-2016 help to secure the safety of nuclear power plants and the areas that they power.

Further Reading

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Intelligent Transport Systems Standards

Intelligent Transport Systems Standards ISO/TS 21219

ISO has released three technical standards concentrating on intelligent transport systems (ITS), all of which are centered on traffic and travel information through Transport Protocol Experts Group Generation 2 (TPEG2). These are:

Intelligent transport (or transportation) systems (ITS) encompass a wide range of technologies, and the general label has been used to identify any effort through engineering or information technology that improves transportation safety and mobility. A successful ITS enhances productivity through the integration of advanced communications technologies into vehicles and the transportation infrastructure.

Intelligent transport systems are complex, and can be difficult to comprehend. The ITS Professional Capacity Building (ITS PCB) Program offers a variety of free resources to educate individuals on ITS, including  deliver classroom, web-based, and blended courses, and webinars on different topics. You can learn more about these here:

TPEG2 is the official standard protocol for broadcasting traffic and travel-related information in the multimedia environment. All TPEG technology and applications were designed to be coded, decoded, filtered, and understood by humans and agent systems. TPEG2 is built specifically around UML modeling, and has a three container conceptual structure: Message Management, Application, and Location Referencing.

Intelligent Transport Systems Standards ISO/TS 21219

TPEG2 is partitioned into a number of parts in the ISO/TS 21219 series. Each of these parts is given a descriptive title relative to its application, which is reduced to a three-letter acronym. For example, the TPEG Service and Network Information application is abbreviated as TPEG2-SNI.

ISO/TS 21219-1:2016 (TPEG2-INV) serves as the index to the TPEG2 toolkit, helping establish names, categories, and rules for the entire system. This also applies Application Identification (AID) as new applications are added to the TPEG application family.

ISO/TS 21219-9:2016 is meant to standardize the method of delivering service and network information (TPEG2-SNI) during TPEG service use. TPEG2-SNI is meant to use language understandable to all service providers so that they can view the availability of services to simplify the delivery of information.

ISO/TS 21219-10:2016 is focused on the Conditional Access Information (TPEG2-CAI), which provides security for the information of the entire system.

However, these three standards only address some of the applications that are incorporated into the TPEG 2 ITS system. Other standards in the ISO/TS 21219 series encompass procedures for converting past models into current ones, conveying data, managing information, and using predictive data to improve traffic patterns.

The other intelligent transport systems in this series include:

Multiple Nucleic Acid Assays

Multiplex Nucleic Acid Assay]

Nucleic acid testing is the fastest growing field in laboratory medicine. With a rising emphasis on genetics, scientists and physicians are looking towards an individual’s biological code to explain a patient’s illness or potential for disease. However, understanding genes is not so simple, and there has been a need to make use of multiplex assays in nucleic acid testing.

Nucleic acid testing with multiple assays, or when two or more targets are detected simultaneously as set through a preparation process, is a complicated procedure. All multiplex assays present significant challenges, and laboratory personnel can develop assays in-house or use commercially available multiplex assays involving a variety of technologies and instrument platforms. CLSI MM17-A - Verification and Validation of Multiplex Nucleic Acid Assays; Approved Guideline standardizes the process of carrying-out this process.

CLSI MM17-A oversees all steps of the multiplex nucleic acid testing process, spanning development, verification, validation, control, data analysis, and implementation of the assays. It is meant to be used for a variety of laboratory purposes, including:

  • detection and identification of infectious agents
  • identification of genetic disorders
  • choosing drug therapies and doses (for pharmacogenetic purposes)
  • assessing disease progression and prognosis

CLSI MM17-A accomplishes this by giving recommendations to be used throughout the analytic verification and validation process of qualitative multiplex assays, sampled from DNA or RNA. The standard also includes a review of different types of biologic and synthetic reference materials (RM).

In addition, the document provides an overview of currently available technologies and the criteria for identifying new ones. Examples of these include polymerase chain reaction (PCR), multiple litigation-dependent probe amplification, transcription-mediated amplification, and nucleic acid sequence-based amplification.

Please note that this standard does not address assays measuring individual targets to later be evaluated simultaneously, and it is limited to analytic validation and verification of qualitative multiplex assays for genotyping and pathogen detection.

While CLSI MM17-A does address some guidelines for sample preparation, optimal guidelines for specimen labeling, collection, storage, and nucleic acid stabilization are described in detail in CLSI MM13 - Collection, Transport, Preparation, and Storage of Specimens for Molecular Methods; Approved Guideline.

CLSI MM17-A, like other clinical laboratory standards, was written and published by the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI), an ANSI-accredited standards developing organization.

CLSI Standards are available on the ANSI Webstore.