November 2006


 Seven-year stabilization of methane may slow global warming, UCI scientists say

Irvine, Calif., November 20, 2006

Scientists at UC Irvine have determined that levels of atmospheric methane – an influential greenhouse gas – have stayed nearly flat for the past seven years, which follows a rise that spanned at least two decades.

 Full article here

Mike Tidwell comments;

Flat is good. Any resumption is bad. A concern in all this is the stability of the 15,000 gigatons of methane hydrate on the sea floor. -MT

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Carnegie Mellon University

M. Granger Morgan demands curbs on CO2 emissions

PITTSBURGH–Carnegie Mellon University international engineering and environmental policy expert M. Granger Morgan is challenging U.S. federal and state officials to take the lead in eliminating dangerous carbon dioxide emissions that fuel global warming.

In today’s Science magazine, Morgan argues that legislators should impose regulations that will prevent power companies from rushing to build large numbers of long-lived conventional coal plants before regulations on carbon dioxide emissions come into effect. Building such plants today, without making provisions for future control of carbon dioxide emissions, could make such future regulations far more expensive than they need to be, according to Morgan, head of Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy.

The U.S. electricity industry plans to build 154 new plants in the next 24 years. Fifty of those plants are slated for construction in the next five years, according to data compiled by the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

“We’re talking about technology such as amine scrubbers, integrated gasification combined- cycles or oxyfuel plants that can capture and sequester CO2 in deep geological formations,” Morgan said.

Morgan said that most utility experts anticipate that CO2 emission constraints will be imposed within the next 10 years. “So imposing a law that would provide incentives to encourage builders of new coal plants could begin to help us intensify efforts to combat global warming,” he said.

In a recent report to the Pew Center For Climate Change, Morgan and Carnegie Mellon colleagues Jay Apt and Lester Lave showed that the nation needs to cut carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by more than 80 percent during the next 50 years to slow the impact of global warming.

“This could be done at an overall long-term cost increase in price of electricity of only about 20 percent — a small price to pay to save arctic seals, polar bears, coral reefs and other valuable ecosystems,” Morgan said.

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Mike Tidwell comments;

This article is hybrid. It suggests that we can cling to our hydrocarbon lifestyle if we make a great effort to sequester our CO2 emissions . Although this approach is far better than the purely “business as usual” solutions that are so often pitched, such as more efficient automobiles and so forth, it is still foolhardy. Basically whether we want to acknowledge it or not, it’s over. The reality of the Earth system is that large amounts of carbon from the underground to the atmosphere invites catastrophe. In my opinion, no “business as unsual” strategy, hybrid or otherwise, will succeed. New ways are our only salvation. – MT

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact: Angelo Bouselli
abouselli@asmusa.org
202-942-9292
American Society for Microbiology

Microorganisms one part of the solution to energy problem, says report

The answer to one of the world’s largest problems – the need for clean, renewable sources of energy – might just come from some of the world’s smallest inhabitants – bacteria – according to a new report, Microbial Energy Conversion, released by the American Academy of Microbiology

“Imagine the future of energy. The future might look like a new power plant on the edge of town – an inconspicuous bioreactor that takes in yard waste and locally-grown crops like corn and woodchips, and churns out electricity to area homes and businesses,” says Judy Wall of the University of Missouri – Columbia, one of the authors of the report.

Or the future may take the form of a stylish-looking car that refills its tank at hydrogen stations. “Maybe the future of energy looks like a device on the roof of your home – a small appliance, connected to the household electric system, that uses sunlight and water to produce the electricity that warms your home, cooks your food, powers your television and washes your clothes. All these futuristic energy technologies may become reality some day, thanks to the work of the smallest living creatures on earth: microorganisms,” Wall says.

The world faces a potentially crippling energy crisis in the next 30 to 50 years, according to the report. Additionally, the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting release of carbon dioxide and combustion pollutants have brought about global climate change, the effects of which we are only beginning to understand. The means of preventing the twin catastrophes of energy scarcity and environmental ruin are unclear, but one part of the solution may lie in microbial energy conversion.

The primary method of microbial energy conversion highlighted by the report is the use of microbes to produce alternative fuels. The report describes in detail the various methods by which microorganisms can and are being used to produce numerous fuels including ethanol, hydrogen, methane and butanol. It also discusses the advantages, disadvantages and technical difficulties of each production methodology as well as outlining future research needs. The report also focuses on the relatively new field of microbial fuel cells, in which bacteria are used to convert food sources directly to electrical energy.

“The study of microbial fuel cells is in it infancy, and yield and current density are low in today’s systems, but the potential to make great leaps of progress in yield and performance is great,” says Wall.

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View the full report here;

www.asm.org/colloquia

Contact: Jennifer Fitzenberger
jfitzen@uci.edu
949-824-3969
University of California – Irvine

Forest fires may lead to cooling of northern climate

Brighter, snowy surface offsets impact of greenhouse gases, UCI study finds

Irvine, Calif. — Countering hypotheses that forest fires in Alaska, Canada and Siberia warm the climate, scientists at UC Irvine have discovered that cooling may occur in areas where charred trees expose more snow, which reflects sunlight into space.

This finding suggests that taking steps to prevent boreal forest fires to limit the release of carbon dioxide and methane — the most influential greenhouse gases — may unintentionally warm the climate in northern regions. Unusually large fires devoured forests in these areas over the past decade, and scientists predict that with climate warming, fires may occur more frequently over the next several centuries as a result of a longer fire season. Sunlight absorbed by the Earth tends to cause warming, while heat reflected back into space tends to cause cooling.ct-borealforest.jpg

“Boreal forest fires release greenhouse gases that contribute to climate warming, but inseparable changes in the forest canopy cause more sunlight to be reflected back into space during spring and summer for many decades after fire,” said James Randerson, associate professor of Earth system science at UCI and lead author of the study. “This cooling effect cancels the impact of the greenhouse gases, so the net effect of fire is close to neutral when averaged globally, and in northern regions may lead to slightly colder temperatures.”

Randerson and UCI scientists Kathleen Treseder, Michael Goulden and Charles Zender published their research in the current online edition of Science.

This is the first study to simultaneously analyze all aspects of how boreal fires influence climate. Previous studies by other scientists have suggested that fires in boreal regions accelerate climate warming because greenhouse gases from burning trees and vegetation are released into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation and trap heat.

The scientists focused on the Donnelly Flats fire in central Alaska, which burned about 16,549 acres in mid-June 1999. ct-donnely-flats-fire.jpgAfter the fire, scientists took field measurements of incoming and outgoing radiation, carbon dioxide being absorbed or emitted by plants, wind speed and other conditions in Donnelly Flats. They took similar measurements on nearby land that burned in 1987 and on land that burned in approximately 1920.

Scientists found that, right after the fire, large amounts of greenhouse gases entered the atmosphere and caused warming. Ozone levels increased, and ash from the fire fell on remote sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet, darkening the surface and causing more radiation from the sun to be absorbed. The following spring, however, the landscape within the perimeter of the fire was brighter than before the fire because fewer trees shaded the ground. Snow on the ground — more exposed after the fire — reflected more sunlight back into space, leading to cooling.

As years passed, lighter-colored deciduous trees such as aspen and birch grew to replace the dark conifer forest. When they lost their leaves in the winter, the snow-covered ground was more exposed. Younger trees also take in carbon dioxide at a faster rate than older trees. After 80 years, enough conifer trees grow back to darken the landscape and push the ecosystem toward a more climate-neutral state.

This study has implications for reforestation projects in which a primary goal is keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to slow climate warming. “We need to explore all possible ways to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Improving the efficiency of our use of fossil fuels has to be our highest priority,” Randerson said. “Storing carbon in terrestrial ecosystems also can help, but we have to consider all of the different ways that ecosystems can influence climate.”

Scientists tracked the change in the amount of radiation entering and leaving the climate system as a result of the fire — a measurement closely related to global air temperature. Typically, fires in boreal regions occur in the same area every 80 to 150 years. Scientists, however, found that when fires occur more frequently, more radiation is lost from the Earth and net cooling results. Specifically, they determined when fire returns 20 years earlier than anticipated, 0.5 watts per square meter of area burned are absorbed by the Earth from greenhouse gases, but more snow exposure and brighter surfaces causes 0.9 watts per square meter to be reflected back into space. The net effect is cooling. Watts are used to measure the rate at which energy is gained or lost from the Earth.

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mt comments;

It is well established that climate is warmer with land plants than without . That the carbon release does not entirely offset the cooling effect of diminished plant cover is hardly of interest. Because this article was written from a what is best-for-us-perspective and not from a what is the best-way-to-understand-broad-patterns the article ends up being confusing. What the article suggested to me was that these forests are undergoing large change. We might consider what it means when an area holding one-third of all of Earth’s forest begins to show rapid change–at levels not seen in modern times.

 

 

Contact: Dr Henrik Svensmark
hsv@spacecenter.dk <mailto:hsv@spacecenter.dk>
452-063-4740
Danish National Space Center <http://www.spacecenter.dk&gt;

The Milky Way shaped life on Earth

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Cosmic radiation penetrating the atmosphere promotes the formation of clouds which have a cooling effect on Earth’s climate.

Credit: Danish National Space Center

Frenzied star-making in the Milky Way Galaxy starting about 2400 million years ago had extraordinary effects on life on Earth. Harvests of bacteria in the sea soared and crashed in a succession of booms and busts, with an instability not seen before or since. According to new results published by Dr. Henrik Svensmark of the Danish National Space Center in the journal Astronomische Nachrichten, the variability in the productivity of life is closely linked to the cosmic rays, the atomic bullets that rain down on the Earth from exploded stars. They were most intense during a baby boom of stars, many of which blew up.

‘The odds are 10,000 to 1 against this unexpected link between cosmic rays and the variable state of the biosphere being just a coincidence, and it offers a new perspective on the connection between the evolution of the Milky Way and the entire history of life over the last 4 billion years,’ Dr Svensmark comments.

Dr Svensmark looked at the long record of life’s bounty given by counts of heavy carbon atoms, carbon-13, in sedimentary rocks. When bacteria and algae in the ocean grow by taking in carbon dioxide, they prefer the ordinary carbon-12 atoms. As a result, the sea becomes enriched in carbon-13, which is acceptable to sea creatures building their carbonate shells. Variations in carbon-13 therefore record how much photosynthetic growth was in progress when the shell-makers were alive – in other words, how productive the biosphere was at that time.

To his surprise, Dr Svensmark noticed that the biggest fluctuations in productivity coincided with high star formation rates and cool periods in Earth’s climate. Conversely, during a billion years when star formation was slow, cosmic rays were less intense and Earth’s climate was warmer, the biosphere was almost unchanging in its productivity.

This reveals a link more subtle than any straightforward idea of, say, a warm climate being life-friendly or a cold climate deadly. The record shows that in all icy epochs the biosphere kept lurching between exceptionally low and exceptionally high productivity. The suggested reason is that, although ice is unfriendly to life, winds are stronger when the world is cold. By stirring the oceans, they improve the supply of nutrients in the surface waters so much that productivity can be higher than in a warm climate. And this, in effect, enlarges the fluctuations in biological productivity.

Most likely, the variations in cosmic radiation affected biological productivity through their influence on cloud formation. Hence, the stellar baby boom 2.4 billion years ago, which resulted in an extraordinarily large number of supernova explosions, had a chilling effect on Earth probably by increasing the cloud cover.

This is one of a number of new perspectives on climate change arising from the discovery that cosmic rays promote the formation of clouds, which have a cooling effect on the surface temperature of Earth. Recent experiments on how the cosmic rays influence cloud formation were reported in DNSC press release 3 October 2006.

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By Daniel Wallis NAIROBI, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Unchecked climate change could drive up to 72 per cent of the world’s bird species into extinction but the world still has a chance to limit the losses, conservation group WWF said in a report on Tuesday. From migratory insect-eaters to tropical honeycreepers and cold water penguins, birds are highly sensitive to changing weather conditions and many are already being affected badly by global warming, the new study said. “Birds are the quintessential ‘canaries in the coal mine’ and are already responding to current levels of climate change,” said the report, launched at a United Nations conference in Kenya on ways to slow warming. “Birds now indicate that global warming has set in motion a powerful chain of effects in ecosystems worldwide,” WWF said. “Robust evidence demonstrates that climate change is affecting birds’ behaviour — with some migratory birds even failing to migrate at all.” In the future, it said, unchecked warming could put large numbers of species at risk, with estimates of extinction rates as high as 72 per cent, “depending on the region, climate scenario and potential for birds to shift to new habitats”. It said the “more extreme scenarios” of extinctions could be prevented if tough climate protection targets were enforced and greenhouse gas emissions cut to keep global warming increases to less than 2 degrees C (1.6 F) above pre-industrial levels. Already in decline in Europe and the United States, many migratory birds were now missing out on vital food stocks that are appearing earlier and earlier due to global warming, widely blamed by scientists on emissions from burning fossil fuels. In Canada’s northern Hudson Bay, the report said, mosquitoes were hatching and reaching peak numbers earlier in the spring, but seabirds breeding there had not adjusted their behaviour. In the Netherlands, it added, a similar mismatch had led to the decline of up to 90 per cent in some populations of pied flycatchers over the last two decades. “NOWHERE TO GO” Predicted rising temperatures could see Europe’s Mediterranean coastal wetlands — critical habitats for migratory birds — completely destroyed by the 2080s, it said. Rising temperatures were also seen having disastrous impacts on non-migratory species, as their habitat ranges shifted. “Many centres of species richness for birds are currently located in protected areas, from which birds may be forced by climatic changes into unprotected zones,” the report said. “Island and mountain birds may simply have nowhere to go.” In the U.S., unabated warming was seen cutting bird species by nearly a third in the eastern Midwest and Great Lakes, while almost three-quarters of rainforest birds in Australia’s northeastern Wet Tropics were at risk of being wiped out. “In Europe, the endangered Spanish imperial eagle, currently found mainly in natural reserves and parks, is expected to lose its entire current range,” WWF’s report said. Also at high risk were eight species of brightly coloured Hawaiian honeycreeper, Galapagos Islands penguins and the Scottish capercaillie — the world’s biggest grouse — which WWF said could lose 99 per cent of its habitat because of warming.

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