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  • richardmitnick 3:24 pm on October 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ecology,   

    From livesience: “Telltale Signs of Life Could Be Deepest Yet” 

    Livescience

    October 24, 2014
    Becky Oskin

    Telltale signs of life have been discovered in rocks that were once 12 miles (20 kilometers) below Earth’s surface — some of the deepest chemical evidence for life ever found.

    life
    White aragonite veins on Washington’s San Juan Islands may contain evidence of deep microbial life.
    Credit: Philippa Stoddard

    Researchers found carbon isotopes in rocks on Washington state’s South Lopez Island that suggest the minerals grew from fluids flush with microbial methane. Methane from living creatures has distinct levels of carbon isotopes that distinguish it from methane gas that arises from rocks. (Isotopes are atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei.)

    In a calcium carbonate mineral called aragonite, the standard mix of carbon isotopes was radically shifted toward lighter carbon isotopes (by about 50 per mil, or parts per thousand). This ratio is characteristic of methane gas made by microorganisms, said Philippa Stoddard, an undergraduate student at Yale University who presented the research Tuesday (Oct. 21) at the Geological Society of America‘s annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. “These really light signals are only observed when you have biological processes,” she told Live Science.

    The pale aragonite veins cut through basalt rocks that sat offshore North America millions of years ago. The veins formed after the basalt was sucked into an ancient subduction zone, one that predated today’s Cascadia subduction zone. Two tectonic plates smash together at subduction zones, and one plate descends under the other, creating deep trenches.

    Methane gas supplied the carbon as aragonite crystallized in cracks in the basalt, and replaced pre-existing limestone. The researchers think that microbes produced the methane gas as a waste product.

    “We reason that you could have life deeper in subduction zones, because you have a lot of water embedded in those rocks, and the rocks stay cold longer as the [plate] comes down,” Stoddard said.

    But the South Lopez Island aragonite suggests the minerals formed under extreme conditions that push the limits of life on Earth. For example, temperatures reached more than 250 degrees Fahrenheit (122 degrees Celsius), above the stability limit for DNA, Stoddard said. However, the researchers think the higher pressures at these depths may have counterbalanced the effects of the heat. The rocks are now visible thanks to faulting, which pushed them back up to the surface.

    Stoddard and her collaborators plan to sample more of the aragonite and other rocks nearby, to gain a better understanding of where the fluids came from and pin down the temperatures at which the rocks formed.

    Methane seeps teeming with million of microbes are found on the seafloor offshore Washington and Oregon along the Cascadia subduction zone. And multicellular life has been documented in the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on Earth, and in South African mines 0.8 miles (1.3 km) deep. Researchers also have discovered microbes feasting on rocks within the oceanic crust itself.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 10:02 pm on October 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ecology, , Methane Studies   

    From astrobio.net: “Scientists discover carbonate rocks are unrecognized methane sink” 

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Oct 18, 2014
    osu
    Andrew Thurber, 541-737-4500, athurber@coas.oregonstate.edu

    Since the first undersea methane seep was discovered 30 years ago, scientists have meticulously analyzed and measured how microbes in the seafloor sediments consume the greenhouse gas methane as part of understanding how the Earth works.

    The sediment-based microbes form an important methane “sink,” preventing much of the chemical from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to greenhouse gas accumulation. As a byproduct of this process, the microbes create a type of rock known as authigenic carbonate, which while interesting to scientists was not thought to be involved in the processing of methane.

    seep
    Methane bubbles pour out between rocks at the seep site. The white material at lower right is a type of bacterial colony commonly observed at methane seeps. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2013 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS –

    That is no longer the case. A team of scientists has discovered that these authigenic carbonate rocks also contain vast amounts of active microbes that take up methane. The results of their study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, were reported today in the journal Nature Communications.

    “No one had really examined these rocks as living habitats before,” noted Andrew Thurber, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and co-author on the paper. “It was just assumed that they were inactive. In previous studies, we had seen remnants of microbes in the rocks – DNA and lipids – but we thought they were relics of past activity. We didn’t know they were active.

    “This goes to show how the global methane process is still rather poorly understood,” Thurber added.

    mus
    A vast mussel community found on flat bottom as well as on rocks rising a meter or more off the seafloor. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2013 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS

    Lead author Jeffrey Marlow of the California Institute of Technology and his colleagues studied samples from authigenic compounds off the coasts of the Pacific Northwest (Hydrate Ridge), northern California (Eel River Basin) and central America (the Costa Rica margin). The rocks range in size and distribution from small pebbles to carbonate “pavement” stretching dozens of square miles.

    “Methane-derived carbonates represent a large volume within many seep systems and finding active methane-consuming archaea and bacteria in the interior of these carbonate rocks extends the known habitat for methane-consuming microorganisms beyond the relatively thin layer of sediment that may overlay a carbonate mound,” said Marlow, a geobiology graduate student in the lab of Victoria Orphan of Caltech.

    These assemblages are also found in the Gulf of Mexico as well as off Chile, New Zealand, Africa, Europe – “and pretty much every ocean basin in the world,” noted Thurber, an assistant professor (senior research) in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

    The study is important, scientists say, because the rock-based microbes potentially may consume a huge amount of methane. The microbes were less active than those found in the sediment, but were more abundant – and the areas they inhabit are extensive, making their importance potential enormous. Studies have found that approximately 3-6 percent of the methane in the atmosphere is from marine sources – and this number is so low due to microbes in the ocean sediments consuming some 60-90 percent of the methane that would otherwise escape.

    bub
    Methane gas bubbles rise from the seafloor – this type of activity, originally noticed by the Okeanos Explorer in 2012 on a multibeam sonar survey, is what led scientists to the area. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2013 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS

    Now those ratios will have to be re-examined to determine how much of the methane sink can be attributed to microbes in rocks versus those in sediments. The distinction is important, the researchers say, because it is an unrecognized sink for a potentially very important greenhouse gas.

    “We found that these carbonate rocks located in areas of active methane seeps are themselves more active,” Thurber said. “Rocks located in comparatively inactive regions had little microbial activity. However, they can quickly activate when methane becomes available.

    “In some ways, these rocks are like armies waiting in the wings to be called upon when needed to absorb methane.”

    The ocean contains vast amounts of methane, which has long been a concern to scientists. Marine reservoirs of methane are estimated to total more than 455 gigatons and may be as much as 10,000 gigatons carbon in methane. A gigaton is approximate 1.1 billion tons.

    By contrast, all of the planet’s gas and oil deposits are thought to total about 200-300 gigatons of carbon.

    See the full article here.

    NASA

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  • richardmitnick 3:45 pm on October 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Ecology   

    From Brown- “Invasive species: Darwin had it right” 

    Brown University
    Brown University

    October 2, 2014
    David Orenstein 401-863-1862

    Based on insights first articulated by Charles Darwin, professors at Brown University and Syracuse University have developed and tested the “evolutionary imbalance hypothesis [ETH]” to help predict species invasiveness in ecosystems. The results suggest the importance of accounting for the evolutionary histories of the donor and recipient regions in invasions.

    Dov Sax of Brown University and Jason Fridley of Syracuse University aren’t proposing a novel idea to explain species invasiveness. In fact, Charles Darwin articulated it first. What’s new about Sax and Fridley’s “Evolutionary Imbalance Hypothesis” (EIH) is that they’ve tested it using quantifiable evidence and report in Global Ecology and Biogeography that the EIH works well.

    The EIH idea is this: Species from regions with deep and diverse evolutionary histories are more likely to become successful invaders in regions with less deep, less diverse evolutionary histories. To predict the probability of invasiveness, ecologists can quantify the imbalance between the evolutionary histories of “donor” and “recipient” regions as Sax and Fridley demonstrate in several examples.

    dar
    Survival of the fittest: An iceplant, from a region of high diversity in South Africa, is overtopping and killing a native shrub on the New Zealand coast, a region with far less diversity. Plant lines that have had to struggle against robust competition are strong invaders in areas where native plants have had an easier time. Photo: Jason Fridley

    Darwin’s original insight was that the more challenges a region’s species have faced in their evolution, the more robust they’ll be in new environments.

    “As natural selection acts by competition, it adapts the inhabitants of each country only in relation to the degree of perfection of their associates,” Darwin wrote in 1859. Better tested species, such as those from larger regions, he reasoned, have “consequently been advanced through natural selection and competition to a higher stage of perfection or dominating power.”

    To Sax and Fridley the explanatory power of EIH suggests that when analyzing invasiveness, ecologists should add historical evolutionary imbalance to the other factors they consider.

    “Invasion biology is well-studied now, but this is never listed there even though Darwin basically spelled it out,” said Sax, associate of ecology and evolutionary biology. “It certainly hasn’t been tested before. We think this is a really important part of the story.”

    cd
    Charles Darwin

    The theory was correct. What was missing was quantifiable evidence. That evidence has now been collected.

    Evidence for EIH

    Advancing Darwin’s insight from idea to hypothesis required determining a way to test it against measurable evidence. The ideal data would encapsulate a region’s population size and diversity, relative environmental stability and habitat age, and the intensity of competition. Sax and Fridley found a suitable proxy: “phylogenetic diversity (PD)” , an index of how many unique lineages have developed in a region over the time of their evolution.

    “All else equal, our expectation is that biotas represented by lineages of greater number or longer evolutionary history should be more likely to have produced a more optimal solution to a given environmental problem, and it is this regional disparity, approximated by PD, that allows predictions of global invasion patterns,” they wrote.

    With a candidate measure, they put EIH to the test.

    Using detailed databases on plant species in 35 regions of the world, they looked at the relative success of those species’ invasiveness in three well-documented destinations: Eastern North America, the Czech Republic, and New Zealand.

    They found that in all three regions, the higher the PD of a species’ native region, the more likely it was to become invasive in its new home. The size of the effect varied among the three regions, which have different evolutionary histories, but it was statistically clear that plants forged in rough neighborhoods were better able to bully their way into a new region than those from evolutionarily more “naive” areas.

    Sax and Fridley conducted another test of the EIH in animals by looking at cases where marine animals were suddenly able to mix after they became united by canals. The EIH predicts that an imbalance of evolutionary robustness between the sides, would allow a species-rich region to dominate a less diverse one on the other side of the canal by even more than a mere random mixing would suggest.

    The idea has a paleontological precedent. When the Bering land bridge became the Bering Strait, it offered marine mollusks a new polar path between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Previous research has shown that more kinds of mollusks successfully migrated from the diverse Pacific to the less diverse Atlantic than vice-versa, and by more so than by their relative abundance.

    In the new paper, Sax and Fridley examined what has happened since the openings of the Suez Canal in Egypt, the Erie Canal in New York, and the Panama Canal. The vastly greater evolutionary diversity in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean compared to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic led to an overwhelming flow of species north through the Suez.

    But evolutionary imbalances across the Erie and Panama Canals were fairly small (the Panama canal connects freshwater drainages of the Atlantic and Pacific that were much more ecologically similar than the oceans) so as EIH again predicts, there was a more even balance of cross-canal species invasions.

    Applicable predictions

    Sax and Fridley acknowledge in the paper that the EIH does not singlehandedly predict the success of individual species in specific invasions. Instead it allows for ecosystem managers to assess a relative invasiveness risk based on the evolutionary history of their ecosystem and that of other regions. Take, for instance, a wildlife official in a historically isolated ecosystem such as an island.

    “They already know to be worried, but this would suggest they should be more worried about imports from some parts of the world than others,” Sax said.

    Not all invasions are bad, Sax noted. Newcomers can provide some ecosystem services — such as erosion control — more capably if they can become established. The EIH can help in assessments of whether a new wave of potential invasion is likely to change the way an ecosystem will provide its services, for better or worse.

    “It might help to explain why non-natives in some cases might improve ecosystem functioning,” Sax said.

    But perhaps Darwin already knew all that.

    See the full article here.

    Welcome to Brown

    Rhode Island Hall: Rhode Island Hall’s classical exterior was recently renovated with a modern interiorRhode Island Hall: Rhode Island Hall’s classical exterior was recently renovated with a modern interior

    Located in historic Providence, Rhode Island and founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Brown is an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution comprising undergraduate and graduate programs, plus the Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, School of Engineering, and the School of Professional Studies.

    With its talented and motivated student body and accomplished faculty, Brown is a leading research university that maintains a particular commitment to exceptional undergraduate instruction.

    Brown’s vibrant, diverse community consists of 6,000 undergraduates, 2,000 graduate students, 400 medical school students, more than 5,000 summer, visiting and online students, and nearly 700 faculty members. Brown students come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

    Undergraduates pursue bachelor’s degrees in more than 70 concentrations, ranging from Egyptology to cognitive neuroscience. Anything’s possible at Brown—the university’s commitment to undergraduate freedom means students must take responsibility as architects of their courses of study.

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  • richardmitnick 8:36 pm on September 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology,   

    From NYT: “Building an Ark for the Anthropocene” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    SEPT. 27, 2014
    JIM ROBBINS

    WE are barreling into the Anthropocene, the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet. A recent study published in the journal Science concluded that the world’s species are disappearing as much as 1,000 times faster than the rate at which species naturally go extinct. It’s a one-two punch — on top of the ecosystems we’ve broken, extreme weather from a changing climate causes even more damage. By 2100, researchers say, one-third to one-half of all Earth’s species could be wiped out.

    ark

    As a result, efforts to protect species are ramping up as governments, scientists and nonprofit organizations try to build a modern version of Noah’s Ark. The new ark certainly won’t come in the form of a large boat, or even always a place set aside. Instead it is a patchwork quilt of approaches, including assisted migration, seed banks and new preserves and travel corridors based on where species are likely to migrate as seas rise or food sources die out.

    The questions are complex. What species do you save? The ones most at risk? Charismatic animals, such as lions or bears or elephants? The ones most likely to survive? The species that hold the most value for us?

    One initiative, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services formed in 2012 by the governments of 121 countries, aims to protect and restore species in wild areas and to protect species like bees that carry out valuable ecosystem service functions in the places people live. Some three-quarters of the world’s food production depends primarily on bees.

    “We still know very little about what could or should be included in the ark and where,” said Walter Jetz, an ecologist at Yale involved with the project. Species are being wiped out even before we know what they are.

    Another project, the EDGE of Existence, run by the Zoological Society of London, seeks to protect the most unusual wildlife at highest risk. These are species that evolved on their own for so long that they are very different from other species. Among the species the project has helped to preserve are the tiny bumblebee bat and the golden-rumped elephant shrew.

    While the traditional approach to protecting species is to buy land, preservation of the right habitat can be a moving target, since it’s not known how species will respond to a changing climate.

    To complete the maps of where life lives, scientists have enlisted the crowd. A crowdsourcing effort called the Global Biodiversity Information Facility identifies and curates biodiversity data — such as photos of species taken with a smartphone — to show their distribution and then makes the information available online. That is especially helpful to researchers in developing countries with limited budgets. Another project, Lifemapper, at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute,

    “We know that species don’t persist long in fragmented areas and so we try and reconnect those fragments,” said Stuart L. Pimm, a professor of conservation at Duke University, and head of a nonprofit organization called SavingSpecies. One of his group’s projects in the Colombian Andes identified a forest that contains a carnivorous mammal that some have described as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear, called an olinguito, new to science. Using crowd-sourced data, “we worked with local conservation groups and helped them buy land, reforest the land and reconnect pieces,” Dr. Pimm says.

    Coastal areas, especially, are getting scrutiny. Biologists in Florida, which faces a daunting sea level rise, are working on a plan to set aside land farther inland as a reserve for everything from the MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow to the tiny Key deer.

    To thwart something called “coastal squeeze,” a network of “migratory greenways” is envisioned so that species can move on their own away from rising seas to new habitat. “But some are basically trapped,” said Reed F. Noss, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Central Florida who is involved in the effort, and they will most likely need to be picked up and moved. The program has languished, but Amendment 1, on the ballot this November, would provide funding.

    One species at risk is the Florida panther. Once highly endangered, with just 20 individuals left, this charismatic animal has come back — some. But a quarter or more of its habitat is predicted to be under some three feet of water by 2100. Males will move on their own, but females will need help because they won’t cross the Caloosahatchee River. Experts hope to create reserves north of the river, and think at some point they will have to move females to new quarters.

    Protecting land between reserves is vital. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, known as Y2Y, would protect corridors between wild landscapes in the Rockies from Yellowstone National Park to northern Canada, which would allow species to migrate.

    RESEARCHERS have also focused on “refugia,” regions around the world that have remained stable during previous swings of the Earth’s climate — and that might be the best bet for the survival of life this time around.

    A section of the Driftless Area encompassing northeastern Iowa and southern Minnesota, also known as Little Switzerland, has ice beneath some of its ridges. The underground refrigerator means the land never gets above 50 or so degrees and has kept the Pleistocene snail, long thought extinct, from disappearing there. Other species might find refuge there as things get hot.

    A roughly 250-acre refugia on the Little Cahaba River in Alabama has been called a botanical lost world, because of its wide range of unusual plants, including eight species found nowhere else. Dr. Noss said these kinds of places should be sought out and protected.

    Daniel Janzen, a conservation ecologist at the University of Pennsylvania who is working to protect large tracts in Costa Rica, said that to truly protect biodiversity, a place-based approach must be tailored to the country. A reserve needs to be large, to be resilient against a changing climate, and so needs the support of the people who live with the wild place and will want to protect it. “To survive climate change we need to minimize the other assaults, such as illegal logging and contaminating water,” he said. “Each time you add one of those you make it more sensitive to climate change.”

    The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, beneath the permafrost on an island in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Norway, preserves seeds from food crops. Frozen zoos keep the genetic material from extinct and endangered animals. The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in Michigan, meanwhile, founded by a family of shade tree growers, has made exact genetic duplicates of some of the largest trees on the planet and planted them in “living libraries” elsewhere — should something befall the original.

    In 2008, Connie Barlow, a biologist and conservationist, helped move an endangered conifer tree in Florida north by planting seedlings in cooler regions. Now she is working in the West. “I just assisted in the migration of the alligator juniper in New Mexico by planting seeds in Colorado,” she said. “We have to. Climate change is happening so fast and trees are the least capable of moving.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 3:18 pm on September 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology,   

    “8 DOE labs collaborating on climate change project” 

    Labs to help accelerate development of state-of-the-science earth system models.

    world

    High performance computing will be used to develop and apply the most complete climate and Earth system model to address the most challenging and demanding climate change issues.

    Eight Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories, including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, are combining forces with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, four academic institutions and one private-sector company in the new effort. Other participating national laboratories include Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Sandia.

    The project, called Accelerated Climate Modeling for Energy, or ACME, is designed to accelerate the development and application of fully coupled, state-of-the-science Earth system models for scientific and energy applications. The plan is to exploit advanced software and new High Performance Computing machines as they become available.

    The initial focus will be on three climate change science drivers and corresponding questions to be answered during the project’s initial phase:

    (Water Cycle) How do the hydrological cycle and water resources interact with the climate system on local to global scales? How will more realistic portrayals of features important to the water cycle (resolution, clouds, aerosols, snowpack, river routing, land use) affect river flow and associated freshwater supplies at the watershed scale?
    (Biogeochemistry) How do biogeochemical cycles interact with global climate change? How do carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles regulate climate system feedbacks, and how sensitive are these feedbacks to model structural uncertainty?
    (Cryosphere Systems) How do rapid changes in cryospheric systems, or areas of the earth where water exists as ice or snow, interact with the climate system? Could a dynamical instability in the Antarctic Ice Sheet be triggered within the next 40 years?

    Over a planned 10-year span, the project aim is to conduct simulations and modeling on the most sophisticated HPC machines as they become available, i.e., 100-plus petaflop machines and eventually exascale supercomputers. The team initially will use U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Leadership Computing Facilities at Oak Ridge and Argonne national laboratories.

    The model will also be optimized for deployment on the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), which is located at Berkeley Lab.

    “We need a new paradigm for how to develop and apply climate models to answer critical questions regarding the implications of our past and future energy choices for society and the environment,” says Bill Collins, ACME’s Chief Scientist and head of the Earth Sciences Division’s Climate Sciences Department at Berkeley lab.

    “To address this critical need, ACME is designed to accelerate our progress towards actionable climate projections to help the nation anticipate, adapt to, and ultimately mitigate the potential risks of global climate change,” Collins adds.

    Berkeley Lab scientist Bill Collins is the ACME Chief Scientist, with duties to lead the overall scientific direction of the project. He is working with the rest of the team to ensure that ACME can fully exploit the world-leading computers deployed by the Department of Energy.

    To address the water cycle, the Project Plan states that changes in river flow over the last 40 years have been dominated primarily by land management, water management and climate change associated with aerosol forcing. During the next 40 years, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a business as usual scenario will produce changes to river flow.

    “A goal of ACME is to simulate the changes in the hydrological cycle, with a specific focus on precipitation and surface water in orographically complex regions such as the western United States and the headwaters of the Amazon,” the report states.

    To address biogeochemistry, ACME researchers will examine how more complete treatments of nutrient cycles affect carbon–climate system feedbacks, with a focus on tropical systems; and investigate the influence of alternative model structures for below-ground reaction networks on global-scale biogeochemistry–climate feedbacks.

    For cyrosphere, the team will examine the near-term risks of initiating the dynamic instability and onset of the collapse of the Antarctic Ice Sheet due to rapid melting by warming waters adjacent to the ice sheet grounding lines.

    The experiment would be the first fully coupled global simulation to include dynamic ice shelf–ocean interactions for addressing the potential instability associated with grounding line dynamics in marine ice sheets around Antarctica.

    Other Berkeley Lab researchers involved in the program leadership include Will Riley, an expert in the terrestrial carbon cycle and co-leader of the Biogeochemical Experiment Task Team. Hans Johansen, a computational fluid dynamicist, is co-leader of the Computational Performance Task Team.

    Initial funding for the effort has been provided by DOE’s Office of Science.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:31 am on August 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ecology,   

    From M.I.T.- “Study: Cutting emissions pays for itself” 


    MIT News

    August 24, 2014
    Audrey Resutek | Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

    Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.

    But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.

    scales
    Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT

    “Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” says Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT, and co-author of a study published today in Nature Climate Change. “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”

    Selin and colleagues compared the health benefits to the economic costs of three climate policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program. The three were designed to resemble proposed U.S. climate policies, with the clean-energy standard requiring emissions reductions from power plants similar to those proposed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

    Health savings constant across policies

    The researchers found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program. The difference depended largely on the costs of the policies, as the savings — in the form of avoided medical care and saved sick days — remained roughly constant: Policies aimed at specific sources of air pollution, such as power plants and vehicles, did not lead to substantially larger benefits than cheaper policies, such as a cap-and-trade approach.

    Savings from health benefits dwarf the estimated $14 billion cost of a cap-and-trade program. At the other end of the spectrum, a transportation policy with rigid fuel-economy requirements is the most expensive policy, costing more than $1 trillion in 2006 dollars, with health benefits recouping only a quarter of those costs. The price tag of a clean energy standard fell between the costs of the two other policies, with associated health benefits just edging out costs, at $247 billion versus $208 billion.

    “If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don’t include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies,” says lead author Tammy Thompson, now at Colorado State University, who conducted the research as a postdoc in Selin’s group.

    Most detailed assessment to date

    The study is the most detailed assessment to date of the interwoven effects of climate policy on the economy, air pollution, and the cost of health problems related to air pollution. The MIT group paid especially close attention to how changes in emissions caused by policy translate into improvements in local and regional air quality, using comprehensive models of both the economy and the atmosphere.

    In addition to carbon dioxide, burning fossil fuels releases a host of other chemicals into the atmosphere. Some of these substances interact to form ground-level ozone, as well as fine particulate matter. The researchers modeled where and when these chemical reactions occurred, and where the resulting pollutants ended up — in cities where many people would come into contact with them, or in less populated areas.

    The researchers projected the health effects of ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter, two of the biggest health offenders related to fossil-fuel emissions. Both pollutants can cause asthma attacks and heart and lung disease, and can lead to premature death.

    In 2011, 231 counties in the U.S. exceeded the EPA’s regulatory standards for ozone, the main component of smog. Standards for fine particulate matter — airborne particles small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs and even absorbed into the bloodstream — were exceeded in 118 counties.

    While cutting carbon dioxide from current levels in the U.S. will result in savings from better air quality, pollution-related benefits decline as carbon policies become more stringent. Selin cautions that after a certain point, most of the health benefits have already been reaped, and additional emissions reductions won’t translate into greater improvements.

    “While air-pollution benefits can help motivate carbon policies today, these carbon policies are just the first step,” Selin says. “To manage climate change, we’ll have to make carbon cuts that go beyond the initial reductions that lead to the largest air-pollution benefits.”

    The study shows that climate policies can also have significant local benefits not related to their impact on climate, says Gregory Nemet, a professor of public affairs and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who was not involved in the study.

    “A particularly notable aspect of this study is that even though several recent studies have shown large co-benefits, this study finds large co-benefits in the U.S., where air quality is assumed to be high relative to other countries,” Nemet says. “Now that states are on the hook to come up with plans to meet federal emissions targets by 2016, you can bet they will take a close look at these results.”

    This research was supported by funding from the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results program.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 6:52 pm on August 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology, , Volcanos   

    From BBC: “Iceland volcano: Eruption under ice-cap sparks red alert” 

    BBC

    23 August 2014

    Iceland has issued a red alert to aviation after indications of a possible eruption under the country’s biggest glacier, the Vattnajokull.

    icecap
    Vatnajökull, Iceland Ice cap

    The Icelandic Met Office warned that a small eruption had taken place under the Dyngjujokull ice cap.

    cap
    Dyngjujokull ice cap

    Seismic activity is continuing at the Bardarbunga volcano, about 30km away.

    volcano
    Map of Iceland showing the location of Bárðarbunga.

    Airspace over the site has been closed, but all Icelandic airports currently remain open, authorities say. A Europe-wide alert has also been upgraded.

    European air safety agency Eurocontrol said it would produce a forecast of likely ash behaviour every six hours.

    Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, producing ash that severely disrupted air travel.

    vol
    Eyjafjallajokull on map of Iceland

    The red alert is the highest warning on the country’s five-point scale.
    Flooding threat

    The Icelandic Met Office said a team of scientists was flying across the region on Saturday afternoon to monitor seismic activity.

    “The eruption is considered a minor event at this point,” police said in a statement.

    “Because of pressure from the glacier cap, it is uncertain whether the eruption will stay sub-glacial or not.”

    sign
    Warning sign on the road to the Bardarbunga volcano (20 August) On Wednesday several hundred people were evacuated from the volcano area

    eruption
    Eyjafjallajokull eruption (18 April 2010) The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in April 2010 caused the largest closure of European airspace since World War Two, with losses estimated at between 1.5bn and 2.5bn euros (£1.3-2.2bn).

    The Met Office later issued an update saying that tremor levels had decreased during the afternoon but that earthquake activity was continuing.

    Virgin Atlantic said it had rerouted a flight from London to San Francisco away from the volcano as a precautionary measure.

    It said its other flights “continue to operate as normal”.

    British Airways said it was keeping the situation “under close observation”, but that its flights were continuing to operate normally for now.

    The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said there would be no impact on flights unless there was an actual eruption.

    Bardarbunga and Dyngjujokull are part of a large volcano system hidden beneath the 500-metre (0.31-mile) thick Vatnajokull glacier in central Iceland.

    Authorities have previously warned that any eruption could result in flooding north of the glacier.

    On Wednesday, authorities evacuated several hundred people from the area over fears of an eruption.

    The region, located more than 300km (190 miles) from the capital Reykjavik, has no permanent residents but sits within a national park popular with tourists.

    The move came after geologists reported that about 300 earthquakes had been detected in the area since midnight on Tuesday.

    Criticism following the strictly enforced shutdown resulted in the CAA relaxing its rules to allow planes to fly in areas with a low density of volcanic ash.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:29 pm on August 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ecology,   

    From NASA: “Ozone-Depleting Compound Persists, NASA Research Shows “ 

    NASA

    NASA

    August 20, 2014
    Steve Cole
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0918
    stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov

    Kathryn Hansen
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-1046
    kathryn.h.hansen@nasa.gov

    NASA research shows Earth’s atmosphere contains an unexpectedly large amount of an ozone-depleting compound from an unknown source decades after the compound was banned worldwide.

    ball
    Satellites observed the largest ozone hole over Antarctica in 2006. Purple and blue represent areas of low ozone concentrations in the atmosphere; yellow and red are areas of higher concentrations. Image Credit: NASA

    Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), which was once used in applications such as dry cleaning and as a fire-extinguishing agent, was regulated in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol along with other chlorofluorocarbons that destroy ozone and contribute to the ozone hole over Antarctica. Parties to the Montreal Protocol reported zero new CCl4 emissions between 2007-2012.

    However, the new research shows worldwide emissions of CCl4 average 39 kilotons per year, approximately 30 percent of peak emissions prior to the international treaty going into effect.

    “We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said Qing Liang, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.”

    As of 2008, CCl4 accounted for about 11 percent of chlorine available for ozone depletion, which is not enough to alter the decreasing trend of ozone-depleting substances. Still, scientists and regulators want to know the source of the unexplained emissions.

    For almost a decade, scientists have debated why the observed levels of CCl4 in the atmosphere have declined slower than expectations, which are based on what is known about how the compound is destroyed by solar radiation and other natural processes.

    “Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang said.

    With zero CCl4 emissions reported between 2007-2012, atmospheric concentrations of the compound should have declined at an expected rate of 4 percent per year. Observations from the ground showed atmospheric concentrations were only declining by 1 percent per year.

    To investigate the discrepancy, Liang and colleagues used NASA’s 3-D GEOS Chemistry Climate Model and data from global networks of ground-based observations. The CCl4 measurements used in the study were made by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Earth System Research Laboratory and NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    Model simulations of global atmospheric chemistry and the losses of CCl4 due to interactions with soil and the oceans pointed to an unidentified ongoing current source of CCl4. The results produced the first quantitative estimate of average global CCl4 emissions from 2000-2012.

    In addition to unexplained sources of CCl4, the model results showed the chemical stays in the atmosphere 40 percent longer than previously thought. The research was published online in the Aug. 18 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

    “People believe the emissions of ozone-depleting substances have stopped because of the Montreal Protocol,” said Paul Newman, chief scientist for atmospheres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and a co-author of the study. “Unfortunately, there is still a major source of CCl4 out in the world.”

    NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

    See the full article, with video, here.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

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  • richardmitnick 2:19 pm on August 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology   

    From Astrobiology: “Sunlight controls the fate of carbon released from thawing Arctic permafrost” 

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Aug 22, 2014
    Source: University of Michigan
    Bernie DeGroat, (734) 647-1847, bernied@umich.edu

    Sunlight controls the fate of carbon released from thawing Arctic permafrost
    Aug 22, 2014

    image
    Headwaters of the Sagavanirktok River, North Slope of the Brooks Range, Arctic Alaska. Image credit: George W. Kling

    Just how much Arctic permafrost will thaw in the future and how fast heat-trapping carbon dioxide will be released from those warming soils is a topic of lively debate among climate scientists.

    To answer those questions, scientists need to understand the mechanisms that control the conversion of organic soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas. Until now, researchers believed that bacteria were largely responsible.

    But in a study scheduled for online publication in Science on Aug. 21, University of Michigan researchers show for the first time that sunlight, not microbial activity, dominates the production of carbon dioxide in Arctic inland waters.

    “Our results suggest that sunlight, rather than biological processes, controls the fate of carbon released from thawing permafrost soils into Arctic surface waters,” said aquatic geochemist Rose Cory, first author of the Science paper and an assistant professor in the U-M Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
    woman
    University of Michigan aquatic geochemist Rose M. Cory collects water from the Sagavanirktok River, Arctic Alaska. Image credit: George W. Kling

    Last year, the same team reported in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences that recently exposed carbon from thawed Alaskan permafrost is extremely sensitive to sunlight and can quickly be converted to carbon dioxide. Taken together, the two studies suggest that “we’re likely to see more carbon dioxide released from thawing permafrost than people had previously believed,” Cory said.

    “We’re able to say that because we now know that sunlight plays a key role and that carbon released from thawing permafrost is readily converted to carbon dioxide once it’s exposed to sunlight,” she said.

    Worldwide, permafrost soils contain twice the amount of carbon that’s in the atmosphere. So thawing permafrost is a special concern for climate modelers trying to predict the timing and extent of future warming due to the ongoing buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

    But soil carbon does not instantly turn into carbon dioxide gas when permafrost thaws. It must be dissolved in water and chemically processed before it gets released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Until now, scientists believed that bacteria were largely responsible for converting dissolved organic carbon into carbon dioxide gas in Arctic streams, lakes and rivers.

    river
    The Sagavanirktok River on the North Slope of Arctic Alaska. Image credit: George W. Kling

    To test that assumption, Cory and her colleagues analyzed water samples collected from 135 lakes and 73 rivers on the North Slope of Alaska over a three-year period. They compared the levels of sunlight-induced carbon processing—also called photodegradation, photochemical oxidation or photochemical processing—to carbon conversion due to bacterial respiration.

    They found that photodegradation of carbon exceeded bacterial respiration by up to 19-fold, accounting for 70-to-95 percent of the carbon processed in Arctic lakes and rivers. They determined that photochemical processing of soil carbon accounts for about one-third of all the carbon dioxide released from surface waters in the Arctic.

    “Carbon in thawing permafrost soils may have global impacts on climate change, yet controls on its processing and fate have been poorly understood,” said study co-author George Kling, a professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “Our study shows that photochemical processing of soil carbon is an important, newly measured component of the Arctic carbon budget.”

    In last year’s PNAS paper, Cory and her colleagues reported on places in the Alaskan Arctic where permafrost is melting and is causing the overlying land surface to collapse, forming erosional holes and landslides and exposing long-buried soils.

    spring
    Spring breakup of ice on the Kuparuk River, Alaska’s North Slope. Image credit: George W. Kling

    Sunlight—and especially ultraviolet radiation, the wavelengths that cause sunburn—can degrade organic soil carbon directly to carbon dioxide gas. It can also alter the carbon to make it a better food for bacteria, which respire it to carbon dioxide in much the same way that people respire carbon in food and exhale carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

    In PNAS, the team reported that sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas by at least 40 percent compared to carbon that remains in the dark.

    One reason scientists are so interested in all of this is that the thawing of Arctic permafrost creates the potential for what’s called a positive feedback loop: As the Earth warms due to the human-caused release of heat-trapping gases, frozen soils thaw and release carbon dioxide. The added carbon dioxide accelerates Earth’s warming, which speeds the thawing of Arctic soils and releases even more carbon dioxide.

    Understanding how permafrost carbon is converted into carbon dioxide and incorporating photochemical processing into climate models “is critical for predictions of how the Arctic C [carbon] cycle will respond to and perhaps amplify climate change,” the authors of the Science paper conclude.

    See the full article here.
    Astrobiology Magazine is a NASA-sponsored online popular science magazine. Our stories profile the latest and most exciting news across the wide and interdisciplinary field of astrobiology — the study of life in the universe. In addition to original content, Astrobiology Magazine also runs content from non-NASA sources in order to provide our readers with a broad knowledge of developments in astrobiology, and from institutions both nationally and internationally. Publication of press-releases or other out-sourced content does not signify endorsement or affiliation of any kind.
    Established in the year 2000, Astrobiology Magazine now has a vast archive of stories covering a broad array of topics.

    NASA

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  • richardmitnick 1:52 pm on January 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Ecology,   

    From Berkeley Lab: “Hitting the Sweet Spot for Advanced Biofuel Technologies” 


    Berkeley Lab

    January 25, 2013
    Lynn Yarris

    Earth’s atmosphere and the American economy would greatly benefit from the commercial development of clean, green and renewable domestic biofuels. Advanced biofuels, capable of a gallon-for-gallon replacement of petroleum-based fuels, are by definition, capable of exploiting common engine designs and using today’s fuel distribution infrastructures. Studies show advanced biofuels have a carbon life cycle that produces low or net-zero green house gases. Helping to commercialize advanced biofuels is the primary mission of Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU), the West Coast’s only state-of-the-art facility providing industry-scale test beds for laboratory discoveries in advanced biofuels research.

    abpdu

    unit

    ‘At ABPDU we can fill an important niche when it comes to the commercialization of advanced biofuel technologies,’ says James Gardner, the ABPDU’s Operations Manager. ‘There’s a term in the fuels world called the Valley of Death, where something that looks fantastic at the research scale, fails to pass through the gauntlet of scale-up testing that allows it to go on to the commercial scale. We can help nascent technologies navigate this valley and lower the barriers to market entry by providing a pilot plant that is very flexible and open-ended.’

    gard
    James Gardner

    Read a news release about the ABPDU opening here.”

    And, see the full current article here. Our problems of inefficient use of resources and a deteriorating environment for ourselves and our children are not going to go away until we research them away.

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

    doeseal
    cal

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