Mar 31, 2009

Geo-Engineering & Irreversible Climate Change

Will Geo-Engineering Get Us Out of a Potential One-Way Street?

Coming on the heels of the Lohafex study which found that iron fertilization in the Southern Ocean did not fix significant amounts of carbon, this article from Foreign Affairs ($ubscription required, full text article available from the lead-author's website) is interesting. The idea is that even if all CO2 emissions were stopped, it would be a long time before the atmospheric CO2 concentrations decrease to pre-industrial levels. The authors advocate that geo-engineering is to be taken seriously, even if we do not end up deploying it. The article notes that options such as albedo enhancers (increasing the amount of solar energy reflected to outer space), iron fertilization of oceans are being touted as solutions. The authors also point out that whereas reaching a consensus on a globally-binding CO2 limiting agreement involves multilateral discussions, the geoengineering option on the other hand is less costly to be deployed by a single country, often without regard to other countries' interests. Because humans are already engaged in a large-scale geophysical experiment by pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, the authors note that reducing emissions would not likely suffice to prevent drastic climate change, and hence geo-engineering might become more attractive as policy makers confront this scenario.

On a related topic, in a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, USA), Solomon et al. indicate that if CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere (currently at 385 ppm) peak to 450-600 ppm (despite zero CO2 emissions) and atmospheric temperatures would not drop significantly for at least a century. Irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions are one of the impacts predicted by their modeling study.

My comments:
Although geo-engineering through albedo enhancers may decrease atmospheric temperatures, it does not directly reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Additionally, a recent study found that the use of albedo enhancers will limit the amount of sunlight available to plants. Other techniques such as iron fertilization are highly controversial, and as the Lohafex trial concluded, are likely to be only marginally beneficial. On the other hand, even if the major CO2 emitters reduce their emissions, it is likely that CO2 levels in the atmosphere will be high enough to worry policymakers in various countries to consider the extreme step of modifying the climate to fix the climate. To prepare for this eventuality, increased scientific collaboration on geo-engineering should be encouraged, so that the risks of various approaches can be evaluated.

Other articles of interest:
Tim Lenton and Nem Vaughan. The radiative forcing potential of different climate geo-engineering options. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, January 28, 2009


Mar 23, 2009

Lohafex project update: Iron fertilization in Southern Ocean fixes little CO2

Some processes involved in iron fertilization of the ocean.

The BBC reports that the Lohafex project team (Loha in Hindi stands for iron) found negligible CO2 fixation upon iron fertilization in the Southern Ocean, in contrast to smaller-scale studies which indicated that the iron addition would help fix CO2 by the sinking of the dead plankton biomass.
As shown in the figure, this is a delicate balance between nutrient availability, settling rates and other creatures which consume phytoplankton. The team found that the additional plankton was consumed by microscopic animals. Additionally, the team discovered that their experiment ran into silicic acid (H4SiO4) limitations, with the result that diatoms were not the dominant species observed in the bloom.


Mar 22, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

Cheesy T-shirt Caption Designed for Earth Hour 2009 [Mar 28 830-930pm Local time]

Earth hour is a growing movement of people and communities trying to send a message across about the need for conservation and reducing carbon based electricity consumption. Here I discuss briefly about how one could spend that 1 hour without electricity at night, which is considered "prime time" by the television media industry. [Link to Facebook Group]

A friend of mine casually mentioned to me about Earth hour coming up and reminded me to switch off lights on Saturday. That set me thinking about trying to organize a small Earth day party, with no lights. People could wear a fluorescent T-shirt or paint messages on blank Tshirts with Fluorescent fabric paint and wear them to the Earth hour party (a party with no lights obviously!).The idea is to get people to something fun without using electricity for 1 hour.

To observe Earth hour completely, my recommendation would be turn off all non-essential electricity powered appliances. That would mean,
actually unplugging:
  • Televisions
  • Cell phone chargers and other vampire electricity suckers, if not in use. (you could do this everyday)
  • Turning off computers or atleast placing them on standby.
Other the fun things that could be done.
  1. You could go for a walk or a run
  2. Singing with your friends
  3. Try to have a candle light dinner
  4. Try to meditate
  5. Be creative
Fine print Disclaimer: This site or coauthors or the ISP's will not be liable for any damages occurring from your actions in turning off power, or playing with fluoroscent paint. Any and all actions listed above are merely recommendations. Have fun, but always be responsible and care for your safety. Happy Earth Day.


Mar 10, 2009

Dr. Steven Chu's talk with Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose yesterday talked to the Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu on his show. LEED , batteries for plug-in hybrids, long-term oil prices, weatherization allocations in the stimulus, clean-coal technologies, cap-and-trade, US-China collaboration on climate change, offshore drilling, Nobel prizes, and the need for a coordinated energy strategy were some of the topics discussed.


Mar 4, 2009

Coal combustion residues

The 2/23 edition of C&EN had an article (subscription required) on problems associated with disposing ash generated from coal-fired power plants. Here is a link to a publication from The National Academies Press on managing coal combustion residues, which has some interesting additional background information. The article advocated that calcium sulfate/sulfide-containing wastes from flue gas desulfurization (FGD) be kept separate from the coal ash waste. Proper means of disposal in a dry, lined landfill is required to prevent leaching of the heavy metals to the environment. The scale of the problem/opportunity is shown in the above figure. What are some of the additional uses of ash, particularly fly ash and what are the challenges to their utilization?

The cement industry is the single largest consumer of fly ash. This works, because blending flyash into clinker not only is beneficial economically, but also enhances durability of the concrete. However, low-NOx regulations resulted lower firing temperatures, which result in unburnt carbon in fly ash. Cement manufacturers could co-fire high-carbon fly ash in their kilns as a component of the raw kiln feed, provided that certain precautions are taken. Additionally, research at Penn State & the University of Nottingham has focused on using the unburnt carbons in the fly ash to capture mercury emissions from power plants. Fly ash can also be used to make bricks, The Greenest Brick Company being an example.
Environmental implications of coal combustion residue handling and disposal are critical, because of the potential for heavy metal contamination and other health issues. Therefore, enhanced utilization of coal combustion residues should be one component of environmentally responsible utilization of coal.


Mar 2, 2009

Oil geopolitics in Central Asia & the Caucasus

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South Caucasus

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Central Asia

Here is a America Abroad Media program on oil politics in former USSR republics. The program notes the tug-of-war between Western nations (NATO) and China & Russia (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) for the region's oil & gas resources.

Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and other pipelines. Credit: Wikipedia

Historically, this region had Russian, Persian, Turkish, and Chinese political, cultural and social influences. As one of the commentators alluded to, this is a fight for the control of the center of the oil & gas-rich Eurasian landmass. As they say in chess, it is all about controlling the center.


Mar 1, 2009

Sinking ship? Shell exec thinks not....

Here is a link to a NPR interview with Shell Oil Company president Steve Inskeep. I am interested in the matter-of-fact manner in which CEOs and top management of both oil and utility companies imply that we as a society have to start using cleaner energy sources. I tend to agree with Mr. Inskeep that displacing millions of barrels of oil/day of imports has both of balance-of-trade, and national security implications, but do not know whether offshore drilling is the only way to achieve these goals.


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