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  • richardmitnick 1:55 pm on October 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From New Scientist: “First digital map of ocean sediments reveals weaker carbon sink” 


    New Scientist

    30 September 2015
    Michael Slezak

    (Image: Adriana Dutkiewicz et al./University of Sydney)

    The first global digital map of the ocean floor sediments (shown above) shows we have little clue about how the world’s biggest carbon sink works.

    About half the carbon emitted into the atmosphere by human activity ends up in the ocean. It dissolves into the surface water, where it is taken up by phytoplankton during photosynthesis.

    “Once they die their remains sink to the bottom and they lock away the carbon,” says Adriana Dutkiewicz at the University of Sydney in Australia. Or at least, that’s what people thought.

    Dutkiewicz has now shown that this process seems to depend on water temperature ¬and salinity – something her team discovered when they digitally mapped the seafloor.

    Previous maps of seafloor sediments were drawn by hand, and the last one was completed in the 1970s. So Dutkiewicz and colleagues looked at sediment descriptions and samples taken by scientific cruises from as long ago as the 1950s. From more than 200,000 data points, they focused on the 15,000 highest quality ones, and used a computer model to turn them into a detailed map of the world’s ocean sediments.
    Blotchy sediment

    The map threw up surprises. It found there is 30 per cent more clay on the seafloor than previously thought, and 25 per cent less of a sediment called diatom ooze – the dead remains of a type of phytoplankton called diatoms.

    And what researchers thought were continuous belts of different sediment types turned out to be separate pockets, blotched around the ocean floor.

    Dutkiewicz then compared the map with data related to the temperature and salinity of the ocean surface, as well as regions with regular large blooms of diatoms – the most common type of phytoplankton.

    “The map demonstrates that the diatoms on the seafloor don’t correspond to seasonal blooms on the surface,” says Dutkiewicz. Instead, the amount that makes it to the bottom depends on the surface water having a low salinity and temperatures of between 0.9 and 5.7°C, but high concentrations of nutrients.

    Without these surface conditions, fewer diatoms make it to the bottom. “We know they come from the surface, but they suffer some sort of fate before they get to the seafloor. They are not preserved,” she says. “They get recycled in the upper surface somewhere.”

    And that means that rather than being locked away on the ocean floor for millennia, the carbon re-enters the atmosphere sooner. But exactly how long before it makes it back into the atmosphere is unknown.
    Puzzle piece

    “It’s one piece of the puzzle,” says Philip Boyd at the University of Tasmania. “It’s possible that there’s a large proportion of material that could sink below 300 or 400 metres and that would take the carbon out of circulation for decades or centuries.”

    Next, Dutkiewicz plans to look at the relationship between temperature and diatom accumulation over tens of millions of years by drilling cores of ocean sediment.

    But the fact that what makes it to the bottom seems to depend on temperature is a worry in the face of soaring temperatures, says Dutkiewicz.

    In the longer term, things are even grimmer since diatoms only live in cold water. “With warming, the diatoms will be replaced with small phytoplankton that produce less oxygen and have less mass so deposit less carbon on the seafloor,” she says.

    Journal reference: Geology, DOI: 10.1130/G36883.1

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:40 pm on September 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Princeton: “How to Curb Emissions? Put a Price on Carbon” 

    Princeton University
    Princeton University

    Princeton Woodrow Wilson School

    Sep 3, 2015
    B. Rose Huber | 609-258-0157

    Literally putting a price on carbon pollution and other greenhouse gasses is the best approach for nurturing the rapid growth of renewable energy and reducing emissions, according to an article published in Nature. (Photo credit: Environmental Defense Fund)

    Literally putting a price on carbon pollution and other greenhouse gasses is the best approach for nurturing the rapid growth of renewable energy and reducing emissions.

    While prospects for a comprehensive carbon price are dim, especially in the U.S., many other policy approaches can spur the renewables revolution, according to a new policy article published in Nature.

    The current price of carbon – which is below zero, once fossil-fuel subsidies are taken into account – is far too low given the hidden environmental, health and societal costs of burning coal and oil.

    The authors – which include Princeton University’s Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs – urge policymakers to implement a range of policies until the time that a carbon price becomes politically realistic.

    The article, whose lead author is Gernot Wagner, senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, urges modernizing and opening up access to power grids for renewable sources like solar and wind energy (similar to the access fossil fuel sources enjoy), and subsidizing key technologies, particularly for energy storage. Additionally, investments must be made that support research and development related to low-carbon energy technologies.

    “The current inadequacy of carbon pricing stems from a catch-22,” the authors write. “Policymakers are more likely to price carbon appropriately if it is cheaper to move onto a low-carbon path. But reducing the cost of renewable energies requires investment, and thus a carbon price.”

    While some obstacles regarding low-carbon energy are technological, many are policy-driven, the authors write. Current policies were set with the fossil-fuel industry in mind, but the same principle could apply with the emerging renewable energy technologies as well.

    The authors point toward Germany and China as examples. Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act guaranteed 20 years of grid access and fixed prices for solar- and wind-power producers. Meanwhile, in China, climate, energy and industrial policies have boosted the manufacturing scale of renewable technologies.

    But despite these efforts, many countries still use coal and natural gas as their main source of electricity. Likewise, many forms of bioenergy actually increase net emissions rather than reduce them.

    To this end, the authors suggest the following for policymakers and governments:

    Check that all climate-change interventions pass a benefit-cost test (taking environmental, health and societal costs into account);
    Ensure policies related to renewable energy ease the way toward a national carbon cap or tax;
    Open up access to electricity grids for renewables and break up any non-competitive arrangements;
    Support the modernization of power grids to facilitate adoption of new renewable energy sources; and
    View the energy sector in its entirety since transportation may become increasingly dependent on electricity.

    “Ambitious renewables policies should be followed by strengthened climate policies,” the authors conclude. “These are the sorts of pieces that need to come together to deepen solar and wind penetration levels and achieve the ‘holy grail’ of climate policy: an effective carbon price.”

    Co-authors include Tomas Kaberger, professor of industrial energy policy at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden; Susanna Olai, an environmental economist at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Katherine Rittenhouse, an economic analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund in Boston, Massachusetts; and Thomas Sterner, professor of environmental economics at the University of Gothenburg.

    The article, “Push renewables to spur carbon pricing,” was published in the Sept. 3, 2015, issue of Nature.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:59 pm on September 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From SUNY Buffalo: “Filtering the carbon from coal” 

    SUNY Buffalo

    SUNY Buffalo

    UB-led team awarded $1.9 million federal grant to insert palladium nanoparticles into membrane that removes greenhouse gases from the fossil fuel

    Credit: Petteri Sulonen via Wikipedia Commons.

    September 3, 2015
    Cory Nealon

    Despite gains by natural gas, wind and solar, coal remains the top electricity producer in the United States.

    Accordingly, interest is strong in developing technology that curbs unwanted effects, such as greenhouse gas emissions, that result from coal’s combustion.

    To address the matter, the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a $1.9 million grant to a research team led by the University at Buffalo. The researchers will develop a membrane to remove carbon dioxide, which makes up the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, from gasified coal before its combustion.

    “The idea is to decarbonize coal before burning it,” said Haiqing Lin, PhD, the grant’s principal investigator and an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

    Haiqing Lin, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, University at Buffalo. No image credit.

    The grant is one of 16 announced last month by the energy department’s National Energy Testing Laboratory.

    Lin will work with UB Distinguished Professor Mark T. Swihart, PhD, who serves as executive director of the New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics. Also working on the project are Helios-NRG, LLC of Amherst, New York; Membrane Technology and Research, Inc. of Newark, California; and the National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Alabama.

    “We are pleased to be working with UB on developing this exciting new technology which has the potential to make a step change in the economics of carbon capture from fossil-fueled power plants, thereby mitigating the nation’s emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Ravi Prasad, president at Helios, one of roughly two dozen high-tech startup companies in the UB Technology Incubator, which is administered by the university’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR).

    While coal accounted for 39 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2014, it contributed 77 percent of the electricity sector’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Because of coal’s abundance in the U.S. and abroad, researchers are exploring ways to capture, utilize and sequester carbon dioxide from the fossil fuel, a concept more commonly known as “clean coal.”

    One way involves turning coal into a gas by reacting the fossil fuel at high temperatures with oxygen or steam. The result is a synthetic gas (syngas), containing mainly hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which can be used, among other things, to generate electricity.

    Technology exists to remove the majority of carbon dioxide from syngas; however, the process makes it expensive compared to electricity derived from natural gas and other sources. The idea of using a membrane is appealing, Lin said, because it’s passive, and potentially more energy-efficient and less costly compared to other technologies.

    The team will develop and test a polymer-based membrane outfitted with palladium-based nanoparticles. The polymers act as a filter, largely preventing the passage of carbon dioxide, while the palladium acts as a bridge that enables hydrogen gas to more easily pass through the membrane.

    Theoretically, the hydrogen gas would pass through the membrane and then be burned, which in turn would power turbines. Meantime, the carbon dioxide could be geologically sequestered, used to create chemicals or pumped underground for enhanced oil recovery.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:52 pm on August 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Nature: “China’s carbon emissions overestimated” 

    Nature Mag

    19 August 2015
    Jeff Tollefson

    China’s cement industry may produce less carbon than was thought. Xiezhengyi/Cpressphoto/Corbis

    China’s carbon emissions may be significantly lower than previously thought — about 14% less in 2013 than estimated by the Chinese government and others, according to research published this week in Nature (Z. Liu et al. Nature 524, 335–338; 2015). The analysis draws on data from more than 4,200 Chinese mines — including new measurements of the energy content of coal — among other sources.

    “At the beginning of the project we thought that the emissions might be higher” than existing estimates, says Zhu Liu, an ecologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lead author of the study. “We were very surprised.”

    His team’s findings do not unseat China from its position as the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Even when the lower estimate is taken into account, China’s carbon output for 2013 is still more than two-thirds higher than that of the United States, the second-largest emitter. But the study underscores long-standing uncertainties in the methods with which scientists calculate the emissions of individual nations, and how much carbon cycles through the atmosphere and into oceans and ecosystems. For comparison, the cumulative reduction in Chinese emissions outlined in the study — roughly 2.9 billion tonnes from 2000 to 2013 — is larger than the estimated amount of carbon that the world’s forests pulled out of the atmosphere from 1990 to 2007.

    That presents a problem for researchers who study the carbon cycle. “We can easily go back and retroactively adjust Chinese carbon-emission estimates,” says Ashley Ballantyne, a climate scientist at the University of Montana in Missoula. “Unfortunately, we cannot go back and adjust all the previous studies on the global carbon cycle and their conclusions based on the previously biased emission estimates.”

    The Chinese government releases data on energy consumption and production at the provincial and national levels, but those statistics often conflict with each other, and are revised frequently. Liu and his team analysed government data on energy production and on exports and imports of coal, oil and gas. They found that China’s fossil-fuel use was 10% above the official government estimate, but that the country’s overall emissions were lower once China’s reliance on low-quality coal from domestic mines was taken into account. This is because lower-quality coal contains less carbon than higher-quality deposits, so burning it produces less energy and less heat-trapping CO2.

    The team says that its estimate for how much CO2 will be produced by burning Chinese coal is around 40% less per unit than the figures adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the team calculates that emissions from cement production, a coal-fuelled process that is a major contributor to global emissions, are 45% below existing estimates.

    The coal measurements were collected from mine reports and from a project sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences that assesses the country’s cumulative carbon emissions and carbon uptake by ecosystems across China. Liu says that the quality of Chinese coal is likely to be getting worse as the country burns through its best reserves.

    “This is probably the best available estimate of emissions from coal burning in China, and that is an important contribution,” says Gregg Marland, a geologist at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and a co-author of the study. But he adds that the revised figure is within the range of uncertainty reported in existing inventories.

    And it may need to be increased as the Chinese government releases further energy data, says Glen Peters, a climate-policy researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environ­mental Research in Oslo. Although China said in February that its coal consumption had dropped between 2013 and 2014, he notes, the government has since increased its cumulative estimate of coal consumption over the past decade by 12–14%. Scientists are still waiting for the government to release revised estimates of energy production, including imports and exports, over the past decade. Liu says that his team’s estimates are unlikely to change when the latest data are released later this year, but Peters says that the figures may need to rise by as much as 7%.

    Such uncertainty arises in part from the many different ways to define and measure energy consumption; researchers do not know what kind of assumptions the Chinese government is making with its data. “If China reported their CO2 emissions, then we would know the assumptions that they want to make and many of these issues would then go away,” says Peters. The challenge, he adds, is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

    “With Chinese energy statistics,” he says, “there is always a ‘but’.”

    See the full article here.

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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 2:08 pm on July 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From astrobio.net: “‘Carbon sink’ detected underneath world’s deserts” 

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Jul 29, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    Scientists followed the journey of water through the Tarim Basin from the rivers at the edge of the valley to the desert aquifers under the basin. They found that as water moved through irrigated fields, the water gathered dissolved carbon and moved it deep underground. Credit: Yan Li

    The world’s deserts may be storing some of the climate-changing carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, a new study suggests. Massive aquifers underneath deserts could hold more carbon than all the plants on land, according to the new research.

    Humans add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere through fossil fuel combustion and deforestation. About 40 percent of this carbon stays in the atmosphere and roughly 30 percent enters the ocean, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Scientists thought the remaining carbon was taken up by plants on land, but measurements show plants don’t absorb all of the leftover carbon. Scientists have been searching for a place on land where the additional carbon is being stored—the so-called “missing carbon sink.”

    The new study suggests some of this carbon may be disappearing underneath the world’s deserts – a process exacerbated by irrigation. Scientists examining the flow of water through a Chinese desert found that carbon from the atmosphere is being absorbed by crops, released into the soil and transported underground in groundwater—a process that picked up when farming entered the region 2,000 years ago.

    Underground aquifers store the dissolved carbon deep below the desert where it can’t escape back to the atmosphere, according to the new study.

    The new study estimates that because of agriculture roughly 14 times more carbon than previously thought could be entering these underground desert aquifers every year. These underground pools that taken together cover an area the size of North America may account for at least a portion of the “missing carbon sink” for which scientists have been searching.

    “The carbon is stored in these geological structures covered by thick layers of sand, and it may never return to the atmosphere,” said Yan Li, a desert biogeochemist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Urumqi, Xinjiang, and lead author of the study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. “It is basically a one-way trip.”

    Knowing the locations of carbon sinks could improve models used to predict future climate change and enhance calculations of the Earth’s carbon budget, or the amount of fossil fuels humans can burn without causing major changes in the Earth’s temperature, according to the study’s authors.

    Although there are most likely many missing carbon sinks around the world, desert aquifers could be important ones, said Michael Allen, a soil ecologist from the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of California-Riverside who was not an author on the new study.

    If farmers and water managers understand the role heavily-irrigated inland deserts play in storing the world’s carbon, they may be able to alter how much carbon enters these underground reserves, he said.

    “This means [managers] can take practical steps that could play a role in addressing carbon budgets,” said Allen.

    Researchers gathered groundwater flowing under the desert sands. The amount of carbon carried by this underground flow increased quickly when the Silk Road, which opened the region to farming, began 2,000 years ago. Credit: Yan Li

    Examining desert water

    To find out where deserts tucked away the extra carbon, Li and his colleagues analyzed water samples from the Tarim Basin, a Venezuela-sized valley in China’s Xinjiang region. Water draining from rivers in the surrounding mountains support farms that edge the desert in the center of the basin.

    The researchers measured the amount of carbon in each water sample and calculated the age of the carbon to figure out how long the water had been in the ground.

    The study shows the amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in the water doubles as it filters through irrigated fields. The scientists suggest carbon dioxide in the air is taken up by the desert crops. Some of this carbon is released into the soil through the plant’s roots. At the same time, microbes also add carbon dioxide to the soil when they break down sugars in the dirt. In a dry desert, this gas would work its way out of the soil into the air. But on arid farms, the carbon dioxide emitted by the roots and microbes is picked up by irrigation water, according to the new study.

    In these dry regions, where water is scarce, farmers over-irrigate their land to protect their crops from salts that are left behind when water used for farming evaporates. Over-irrigating washes these salts, along with carbon dioxide that is dissolved in the water, deeper into the earth, according to the new study.

    Although this process of carbon burial occurs naturally, the scientists estimate that the amount of carbon disappearing under the Tarim Desert each year is almost 12 times higher because of agriculture. They found that the amount of carbon entering the desert aquifer in the Tarim Desert jumped around the time the Silk Road, which opened the region to farming, begin to flourish.

    After the carbon-rich water flows down into the aquifer near the farms and rivers, it moves sideways toward the middle of the desert, a process that takes roughly 10,000 years.

    Any carbon dissolved in the water stays underground as it makes its way through the aquifer to the center of the desert, where it remains for thousands of years, according to the new study.

    Estimating carbon storage

    Based on the various rates that carbon entered the desert throughout history, the study’s authors estimate 20 billion metric tons (22 billion U.S. tons) of carbon is stored underneath the Tarim Basin desert, dissolved in an aquifer that contains roughly 10 times the amount of water held in the North American Great Lakes.

    The study’s authors approximate the world’s desert aquifers contain roughly 1 trillion metric tons (1 trillion U.S. tons) of carbon—about a quarter more than the amount stored in living plants on land.

    Li said more information about water movement patterns and carbon measurements from other desert basins are needed to improve the estimate of carbon stored underneath deserts around the globe.

    Allen said the new study is “an early foray” into this research area. “It is as much a call for further research as a definitive final answer,” he said.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 12:56 pm on July 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From PNNL: “Playing ‘tag’ with pollution lets scientists see who’s It” 

    PNNL Lab

    July 29, 2015
    Mary Beckman

    Snow and ice from the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan range (upper left), an important source of water for many people, can be seen feeding rivers that flow down through India. Image courtesy of Jacques Descloitres, NASA

    Using a climate model that can tag sources of soot from different global regions and can track where it lands on the Tibetan Plateau, researchers have determined which areas around the plateau contribute the most soot — and where. The model can also suggest the most effective way to reduce soot on the plateau, easing the amount of warming the region undergoes.

    The work, which appeared in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in June, shows that soot pollution on and above the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau area warms the region enough to contribute to earlier snowmelt and shrinking glaciers. A major source of water, such changes could affect the people living there. The study might help policy makers target pollution reduction efforts by pinpointing the sources that make the biggest difference when cut.

    “If we really want to address the issue of soot on the Tibetan Plateau,” said Yun Qian, a study co-author at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, “we need to know where we should start.”

    Overall, the work shows that, of worldwide sources, India’s wildfires, cooking fuel and fossil fuel burning contribute the most soot to the mountain range and plateau region, followed by fossil fuel burning in China and other East Asian countries.

    However, the work also zooms in on regions of the plateau. In this close up, India contributes the greatest amount of soot to the most regions, especially the Himalayas and the central Plateau. China contributes the most soot to the northeast Plateau. Finally, sources in central Asia, the Middle East and Tibet are only important to the northwest Plateau.

    The researchers identified where the soot went and also determined how much warming it caused there. In addition to confirming previous work that soot causes net warming over the entire Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau region, one area stood out. Soot increased the amount of warming on the snowy northwest Plateau in the spring by more than 10 times the annual average of the entire plateau.

    “Soot on snow in the northwest plateau causes more warming than all other sources in the area,” said corresponding author Hailong Wang, an atmospheric scientist at PNNL. “It’s bigger than the effect of greenhouse gases and soot in the atmosphere. The strong heating caused by soot on snow and in the atmosphere can change air circulation over the Plateau, leading to a broader impact on climate.”

    Third pole

    Often called the Third Pole due to how much ice and snow accumulates there, the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau are the source of major rivers in nearby countries and changes to them can affect the largest populations in China and India. The mass of frozen water also contributes to the global climate, which is changing as Earth’s temperature rises.

    Although earlier work showed soot’s warming effect over the whole region, the researchers wanted to pinpoint what kind of sources contribute. The team looked specifically at fossil fuel sources, biofuel and biomass sources of soot. For example, people in the surrounding countries use much wood, grass and agricultural wastes to cook with, which the team categorized as biofuel.

    To track the soot, the team developed a new way to tag the soot particles emitted from individual sources within a climate model. The method had advantages over other source-attribution methods, which either don’t completely isolate contributions from particular sources or require running the model many times to turn the sources off and on one at a time.

    Essentially, the team “dyed” 16 sources of soot in a well-known climate model called the Community Atmosphere Model version 5, also known as CAM5. After running the model, the team compared the model’s results to actual soot data taken from seven sites in the Tibetan Plateau/Himalayan region and to satellite data of snow cover to see how well it represented soot and snowfall. The model performed well, and taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the model, the team focused on the soot.

    While the soot tracker showed where the soot fell or where it hovered in the air above ground, the tracker also showed the path the soot took to its ending position.

    “We got a vertical and horizontal view of the pathways,” said Wang. “Not only where the soot came from, but also how the air moves it, and how much got removed on its path.”

    Soot scooting boogie

    By zooming in on the plateau, the scientists got a great bit of detail, more than would have shown up on a global map. In the close up, the majority of soot that arrives in the Himalayas and the central Plateau comes from biofuel and fossil fuel burning in India; soot arriving in the northeast Plateau in all seasons and the southeast Plateau in the summer come from fossil fuel and biomass burning in China. In the northwest Plateau, emissions from central Asia and the Middle East also contribute significantly.

    Running the computer model in this way not only showed which source sent the most soot over, but also can determine which source would make the biggest impact if emissions are cut. The soot destination that changed the most was the northwest Plateau by cuts in central Asia’s fossil fuel burning. Cuts in South Asia can effectively reduce the soot level on the entire plateau, especially in the Himalayas.

    “The model can be used to test how efficient it would be to cut any particular amount of worldwide emissions,” said Wang. “For example, if we wanted to cut global emissions by an eighth, our results can tell us where to cut from to make the biggest reduction on the Tibetan Plateau.”

    The authors suggest this type of research could be helpful to policymakers interested in reducing the effects of climate change at the Third Pole.

    This work was supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, China Scholarship Fund, National Basic Research Program of China. Computing experiments used DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s NERSC computing resources, a DOE Office of Science user facility.

    See the full article here.

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    Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is one of the United States Department of Energy National Laboratories, managed by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The main campus of the laboratory is in Richland, Washington.

    PNNL scientists conduct basic and applied research and development to strengthen U.S. scientific foundations for fundamental research and innovation; prevent and counter acts of terrorism through applied research in information analysis, cyber security, and the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction; increase the U.S. energy capacity and reduce dependence on imported oil; and reduce the effects of human activity on the environment. PNNL has been operated by Battelle Memorial Institute since 1965.


  • richardmitnick 11:47 am on April 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From U Texas: “New evidence shows carbon important to ocean life that survived the Permian-Triassic mass extinction 252 million years ago” 

    U Texas Arlington

    University of Texas at Arlington

    April 3, 2015
    Bridget Lewis

    Backscattered electron image of Hyperammina deformis. Courtesy Merlynd and Galina Nestell

    Image of H. deformis taken with a DXR™xi Raman imaging microscope, with boxes indicating where the test was analyzed.

    A new study led by scientists with The University of Texas at Arlington demonstrates for the first time how elemental carbon became an important construction material of some forms of ocean life after one of the greatest mass extinctions in the history of Earth more than 252 million years ago.

    As the Permian Period of the Paleozoic Era ended and the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era began, more than 90 percent of terrestrial and marine species became extinct. Various proposals have been suggested for this extinction event, including extensive volcanic activity, global heating, or even one or more extraterrestrial impacts.

    Plot of extinction intensity (percentage of genera that are present in each interval of time but do not exist in the following interval) vs time in the past for marine genera.[1] Geological periods are annotated (by abbreviation and colour) above. The Permian–Triassic extinction event is the most significant event for marine genera, with just over 50% (according to this source) failing to survive.

    The work is explained in the paper, High influx of carbon in walls of agglutinated foraminifers during the Permian–Triassic transition in global oceans, which is published in the March edition of International Geology Review.

    Researchers focused on a section of the latest Permian aged rocks in Vietnam, just south of the Chinese border, where closely spaced samples were collected and studied from about a four-meter interval in the boundary strata.

    Merlynd Nestell, professor of earth and environmental sciences in the UT Arlington College of Science and a co-author of the paper, said there was extensive volcanic activity in both the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres during the Permian–Triassic transition.

    “Much of the volcanic activity was connected with the extensive Siberian flood basalt known as the Siberian Traps that emerged through Permian aged coal deposits and, of course, the burning of coal created CO2,” Nestell said.

    Temp 1
    The extent of the Siberian Traps. (Map in German)

    He noted that there was also synchronous volcanic activity in what is now Australia and southern China that could have burned Permian vegetation. The carbon from ash accumulated in the atmosphere and marine environment and was used by some marine microorganisms in the construction of their shells, something they had not done before.

    Galina and Merlynd Nestell

    This new discovery documents elemental carbon as being a major construction component of the tiny shells of single-celled agglutinated foraminifers, ostracodes, and worm tubes that made up part of the very limited population of bottom-dwelling marine organisms surviving the extinction event.

    “Specimens of the boundary interval foraminifers seen in slices of rock that were ground thin and studied from other places in the world revealed black layers,” said Galina P. Nestell, study co-author and adjunct research professor of earth and environmental sciences at UT Arlington. “But nobody really checked the composition of the black material.”

    Nestell said this phenomenon has never been reported although sequences of rocks that cross this important Permian–Triassic boundary have been studied in Iran, Hungary, China, Turkey, Slovenia and many other parts of the world.

    For the study, Asish Basu, chair of earth and environmental sciences at UT Arlington, analyzed clusters of iron pyrite attached to the walls of the foraminifer shells for lead isotopes. Data from these pyrite clusters support the presence of products of coal combustion that contributed to the high input of carbon into the marine environment immediately after the extinction event.

    Brooks Ellwood, emeritus professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at UT Arlington and a professor in the Louisiana State University Department of Geology and Geophysics, collected the samples to study the Permian–Triassic boundary interval using magnetic and geochemical properties. He and his colleague Luu Thi Phuong Lan of the Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology in Hanoi, Vietnam, also collected the samples used in the biostratigraphic work by the Nestells and Bruce Wardlaw of the Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center at the U.S. Geological Survey and adjunct professor at UT Arlington.

    By using time-series analysis of magnetic measurements, Ellwood discovered the extinction event to have lasted about 28,000 years. It ended about 91,000 years before the actual Permian–Triassic boundary level – as defined worldwide by the first appearance of the fossil conodont species Hindeodus parvus – identification done by Wardlaw.

    Galina Nestell said the high carbon levels began after the extinction event about 82,000 years before the official boundary horizon and continued until about 3,000 years after the Permian–Triassic boundary horizon. The boundary horizon is calculated to be 252.2 million years before present.

    Other co-authors who contributed to parts of the study include Andrew Hunt, EES associate professor at UT Arlington, Nilotpal Ghosh of the University of Rochester; Harry Rowe of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin; Jonathan Tomkin of the University of Illinois, Urbana; and Kenneth Ratcliffe of Chemostrat Inc. in Houston.

    See the full article here.

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    U Texas Arlington Campus

    The University of Texas at Arlington is a growing research powerhouse committed to life-enhancing discovery, innovative instruction, and caring community engagement. An educational leader in the heart of the thriving North Texas region, UT Arlington nurtures minds within an environment that values excellence, ingenuity, and diversity.

    Guided by world-class faculty members, the University’s more than 48,000 students in Texas and around the world represent 120 countries and pursue more than 180 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in a broad range of disciplines. UT Arlington is dedicated to producing the lifelong learners and critical thinkers our region and nation demand. More than 60 percent of the University’s 190,000 alumni live in North Texas and contribute to our annual economic impact of $12.8 billion in the region.

    With a growing number of campus residents, UT Arlington has become a first-choice university for students seeking a vibrant college experience. In addition to receiving a first-rate education, our students participate in a robust slate of co-curricular activities that prepare them to become the next generation of leaders.

  • richardmitnick 8:28 am on February 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Carbon studies,   

    From Harvard: “Preventing greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere” 

    Harvard University

    Harvard University

    February 5, 2015
    Paul Karoff

    Microcapsules offer a new approach to carbon capture and storage at power plants

    Scientists from Harvard University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have developed CO2-absorbing microcapsules with significant performance advantages over the materials currently used for carbon capture at power plants. This illustration of the absorption process is superimposed on a fluorescent image of the microcapsules. (Image courtesy of John Vericella, Chris Spadaccini, and Roger Aines, LLNL; James Hardin and Jennifer Lewis, Harvard University; and Nature.)

    A novel class of materials that enable a safer, cheaper, and more energy-efficient process for removing greenhouse gas from power plant emissions has been developed by a multi-institution team of researchers. The approach could be an important advance in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

    The team, led by scientists from Harvard University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, employed a microfluidic assembly technique to produce microcapsules that contain liquid sorbents encased in highly permeable polymer shells. They have significant performance advantages over the carbon-absorbing materials used in current CCS technology.

    The work is described in a paper published online today in the journal Nature Communications.

    “Microcapsules have been used in a variety of applications—for example, in pharmaceuticals, food flavoring, cosmetics, and agriculture—for controlled delivery and release, but this is one of the first demonstrations of this approach for controlled capture,” says Jennifer A. Lewis, the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a co-lead author. Lewis is also a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.

    This image shows the flow-focusing microfluidic capillary device used to produce the silicone microcapsules, where fluids 1, 2 and 3 correspond to the carbonate solution, ultraviolet-curable silicone, and an outer aqueous solution, respectively. (Image courtesy of John Vericella, Chris Spadaccini, and Roger Aines, LLNL; James Hardin and Jennifer Lewis, Harvard University; and Nature.

    Power generating plants are the single largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that traps heat and makes the planet warmer. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, coal- and natural gas–fired plants were responsible for one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012.

    That’s why the agency has proposed rules mandating dramatically reduced carbon emissions at all new fossil fuel–fired power plants. Satisfying the new standards will require operators to equip plants with carbon-trapping technology.

    Current carbon capture technology uses caustic amine-based solvents to separate CO2 from the flue gas escaping a facility’s smokestacks. But state-of-the-art processes are expensive, result in a significant reduction in a power plant’s output, and yield toxic byproducts. The new technique employs an abundant and environmentally benign sorbent: sodium carbonate, a.k.a. kitchen-grade baking soda. The microencapsulated carbon sorbents (MECS) achieve an order-of-magnitude increase in CO2 absorption rates compared to sorbents currently used in carbon capture. Another advantage: amines break down over time, while carbonates have a virtually limitless shelf life.

    This schematic illustration shows the encapsulated liquid carbon capture process in which carbon dioxide (CO2) gas diffuses through a highly permeable silicone shell and is absorbed by a liquid carbonate core. The polymer microcapsules are then heated to release absorbed CO2 for subsequent collection. (Image courtesy of John Vericella, Chris Spadaccini, and Roger Aines, LLNL; James Hardin and Jennifer Lewis, Harvard University; and Nature.)

    “MECS provide a new way to capture carbon with fewer environmental issues,” says Roger D. Aines, leader of the fuel cycle innovations program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and a co-lead author. “Capturing the world’s carbon emissions is a huge job; we need technology that can be applied to many kinds of carbon dioxide sources with the public’s full confidence in the safety and sustainability.”

    Researchers at LLNL and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Lab are now working on enhancements to the capture process to bring the technology to scale.

    The emission-scrubbing potential of CCS is not limited to the electric generation sector; Aines says that the MECS-based approach can also be tailored to industrial processes like steel and cement production, significant greenhouse gas sources.

    “These permeable silicone beads could be a ‘sliced-bread’ breakthrough for CO2 capture—efficient, easy-to-handle, minimal waste, and cheap to make,” says Stuart Haszeldine, professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the research. “Durable, safe, and secure capsules containing solvents tailored to diverse applications can place CO2 capture for CCS firmly onto the cost-reduction pathway.”

    MECS are produced using a double capillary device in which the flow rates of three fluids—a carbonate solution combined with a catalyst for enhanced CO2 absorption, a photocurable silicone that forms the capsule shell, and an aqueous solution—can be independently controlled.

    “Encapsulation allows you to combine the advantages of solid capture media and liquid capture media in the same platform,” says Lewis. “It is also quite flexible, in that both the core and shell chemistries can be independently modified and optimized.”

    “This innovative gas separation platform provides large surface areas while eliminating a number of operational issues including corrosion, evaporative losses, and fouling,” notes Ah-Hyung (Alissa) Park, chair in applied climate science and associate professor of Earth and environmental engineering at Columbia University, who was not involved in the research.

    Lewis has previously conducted groundbreaking research in the 3D printing of functional materials, including tissue constructs with embedded vasculature, lithium-ion microbatteries, and ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber epoxy materials.

    Funding for the encapsulated liquid carbonates work was provided by the Innovative Materials and Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technology program of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E).

    Other authors who contributed to the Nature Communications article include: John Vericella, Sarah Baker, Joshuah Stolaroff, Eric Duoss, James Lewicki, William Floyd, Carlos Valdez, William Smith, Joe Satcher Jr., William Bourcier and Chris Spadaccini, all of LLNL; James O. Hardin IV of Harvard University; and Elizabeth Glogowski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    See the full article here.

    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

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  • richardmitnick 1:05 pm on January 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Carbon studies,   

    From ESA: “Is Europe an underestimated sink for carbon dioxide?” 

    European Space Agency

    5 January 2015
    No Writer Credit

    A new study using satellite data suggests that Europe’s vegetation extracts more carbon from the atmosphere than previously thought.

    Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the most important human-made greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Large areas of vegetation, such as forests, are considered carbon ‘sinks’ because they assist in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

    Carbon dioxide in Earth’s Troposphere

    Without the natural carbon cycle, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration would be much higher and, consequently, the effects of global warming would be much larger.

    Global mean land-ocean temperature change from 1880 to 2013, relative to the 1951–1980 mean. The black line is the annual mean and the red line is the 5-year running mean. The green bars show uncertainty estimates. Source: NASA GISS

    Current knowledge about the European terrestrial biospheric carbon sink mostly comes from ‘inverse modelling’ studies using in situ measurements, and from inventories of biomass and ecosystem studies.

    To determine the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by Europe’s vegetation, scientists from the University of Bremen analysed carbon dioxide concentration measurements from satellites.

    The data were generated by the GHG-CCI project under ESA’s Climate Change Initiative, Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It included eight years of data from the Sciamachy instrument on ESA’s Envisat mission, and one year of data from Japan’s greenhouse gas-observing satellite, GOSAT.

    ESA Envisat


    Each satellite dataset was generated using a different method, ensuring that the results did not depend on a potential calculation problem specific to a single method. All calculations showed that Europe’s terrestrial vegetation – between the Atlantic Ocean and Ural mountains – absorbs about twice the amount of carbon per year more than previous estimates.

    Average satellite carbon dioxide concentrations over Europe

    The use of in situ carbon dioxide measurements in inverse modelling yielded similar results as measurements derived from biomass inventories. But the in situ stations are sparsely distributed across western Europe. Satellite measurements, however, cover the entire European continent and acquire spatially denser data.

    “Our estimate is at the high end of the uncertainty range estimated by previous studies, which did not use any satellite carbon dioxide observations,” said Maximilian Reuter, lead author of the study.

    “Using satellite data for this application is challenging, as even small measurement errors can result in significant errors of the strength of the inferred carbon source or sink. This is because the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is already quite high, so that even a large source or sink of carbon dioxide only results in a quite small relative change of the atmospheric carbon dioxide amount which we are measuring.”

    The study was published recently in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

    Frederic Chevallier, a climate modeller working at France’s Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, and leader of the GHG-CCI’s Climate Research Group, notes, “The various satellite products tested in this study all suggest a large continental sink. However, differences in the inner-European carbon dioxide patterns should be subject to future research.

    “Scientists agree that there are still open questions on carbon sinks, especially for the northern hemisphere, and that more research has to be performed on understanding the differences found by using satellite and in-situ carbon dioxide measurements and biomass inventory information.”

    A future extended in-situ network in Europe, along with NASA’s recently launched Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 and the possible [ESA] CarbonSat mission – one of the two candidates for ESA’s eighth Earth Explorer – will potentially provide the data to continue such research to clarify these open questions on Europe’s and the global carbon budget.

    NASA Orbiting Carbon Satellite 2
    NASA/Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2

    ESA CarbonSat
    ESA [proposed] CarbonSat

    See the full article here.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 8:53 am on January 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Carbon studies,   

    From Carnegie: “Major Milestones for Carnegie-hosted Deep Carbon Observatory” 

    Carnegie Institution of Washington bloc

    Carnegie Institution of Washington

    December 15, 2014

    Recent advances in our understanding of the quantities, movements, forms and origin of carbon in Earth are summarized in a just-published report. The research represents fast-paced progress on the depths of the biosphere, Earth, what erupts from volcanoes and leaks from sea floors, what descends back into Earth’s great depths, and the nature of carbon-bearing materials within planets.


    The Carnegie Institution for Science is the institutional home of the DCO Secretariat. Carnegie’s Robert Hazen and Russell Hemley are the executive and co-executive directors of this ambitious, transdisciplinary, 10-year effort. The group issued a midterm scientific report at the AGU today entitled, Carbon in Earth: Quantities, Movements, Forms and Origins now available online and in print. The research has been conducted by an international team under the auspices of the Deep Carbon Observatory.

    The carbon in the atmosphere, ocean, on the surface, life, and other shallow, near surface reservoirs accounts for only about 10% of Earth’s carbon. The mysterious 90% is what the Deep Carbon Observatory is exploring. The unique, 10-year program began in 2009 to explore, experiment, and build a new scientific field with a network of scientists from more than 40 countries. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded Carnegie the initial grant to fund the Deep Carbon Observatory at the institution’s Geophysical Laboratory. Other funders include other scientific organizations, institutions, and academies around the world.

    DCO scientists will also present more than 100 talks and posters at the American Geophysical Union meeting in progress beginning today in San Francisco.

    “The Deep Carbon Observatory has played a key role in promoting studies around the world of carbon in Earth and in extreme environments,” remarked Hemley. “Enormous progress has been made during the first five years. However, there is still a lot we don’t understand about this essential element and the environments in which it is found. The community is excited about answering many of the remaining questions during the second five years of the program.”

    See the full article here.

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    Carnegie Institution of Washington Bldg

    ndrew Carnegie established a unique organization dedicated to scientific discovery “to encourage, in the broadest and most liberal manner, investigation, research, and discovery and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind…” The philosophy was and is to devote the institution’s resources to “exceptional” individuals so that they can explore the most intriguing scientific questions in an atmosphere of complete freedom. Carnegie and his trustees realized that flexibility and freedom were essential to the institution’s success and that tradition is the foundation of the institution today as it supports research in the Earth, space, and life sciences.

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