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Category — Carbon Dioxide

China and US boost search for CCS solution

Kieran Cooke


Sunset accentuates the pollution from a cement factory in Switzerland. Image: Stefan Wernli via Wikimedia Commons

Capturing carbon emissions from polluting industries has long been touted as a key way of helping to address climate change, but a new China-US agreement looks like giving much-needed stimulus to development of the technology.

For years, the energy companies have been telling us not to worry. Yes, mounting carbon emissions threaten to heat up the world – but technology, particularly carbon capture and storage (CCS), will come to the rescue.

The trouble is that there’s been plenty of talk about CCS and little action, with few projects being implemented on a large scale.

That could be about to change as China and the US, who have been leading the way on CCS research in recent years, this month signed a raft of agreements on tackling climate change  − with half of them focusing on CCS.

The idea behind CCS is to capture at source the carbon emissions from big polluters, such as power utilities and cement plants, and either pipe the CO2 down into deep storage cavities below the Earth’s surface or to recycle the emissions to be used in the production of biofuels.

Despite various geopolitical rivalries and disputes over trade, China and the US have shown increasing willingness to co-operate when it comes to climate change issues. [Read more →]

July 20, 2014   No Comments

James Lovelock: A Rough Ride to the Future

The YouTube uploader states:

“James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia Hypothesis, has written a new book: “ A Rough Ride to the Future“. Talking on this theme with Rosie Boycott at the Hay Festival on 31 May 2014, Lovelock appeared to be staking a claim for a new role as poster boy for the Global Warming Policy Obfuscation Foundation.”

Lovelock, an advocate of nuclear energy, has now also amended his earlier predictions about Anthropogenic Global Warming.

As Brian Clegg sums up on Goodreads: “Rather that trying to somehow get it back to an imaginary utopian state, he argues we should be looking at new ways to live that will enable us to manage despite what the climate throws at us. He points out, for instance, that in our fears of the impact of 2 to 6 degrees of warming we miss that Singapore manages perfectly well in an environment that is 12.5 degrees above the global average. Of course, you might argue that we couldn’t sustain that way of life for 7 billion people – and Lovelock is sanguine about this. He doesn’t expect humans to carry on at that kind of population level, as part of the adaptation.”

Some of Lovelock’s new ideas were challenged during Q&A.  

July 17, 2014   No Comments

Quick fixes won’t solve CO2 danger

Tim Radford


Bleak outlook: smoke billows from an oil-fired power station in Sweden. Image: Mikeinc via Wikimedia Commons

New research backs up the growing body of evidence that the only way to limit global warming in the long term is a serious cut in carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Once again, US scientists have come to the same conclusion: there really is no alternative. The only way to contain climate change and limit global warming, they say, is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

It won’t really help to concentrate on limiting methane emissions, or even potent greenhouse gases such as hydrofluorcarbons, or nitrous oxide, or the soot and black carbon that also contribute to global warming. Containing all or any of them would make a temporary difference, but the only thing that can work in the long run is a serious cut in carbon dioxide emissions.

Raymond Pierrehumbert, a climatologist at the University of Chicago, combined new research and analysis and a review of the scientific literature. He reports in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences that although livestock emissions such as methane are – molecule for molecule – potentially more potent as global warming agents than carbon dioxide, there remains no substitute for reducing the burning of fossil fuels.

“Until we do something about CO2, nothing we do about methane or these other things is going to matter much for climate,” he said. [Read more →]

July 7, 2014   No Comments

Dark shadow falls on melting icecap

Tim Radford


Signs of melting can be seen as darkness descends on the Greenland icecap. Image: Matthew Hoffmann/NASA ICE via Wikimedia Commons

Dust blowing in from warming areas of the Arctic is causing the Greenland icecap to melt faster by reducing the whiteness that reflects light and keeps it cool 

French scientists have identified a new mechanism that could cause the Greenland icecap to melt even faster – because dust is making its surface darker.

Marie Dumont, of the French national meteorological service, Météo-France, reports with colleagues in Nature Geoscience that, since 2009, the snows of the Arctic region’s biggest single permanent white space have been steadily darkened by “light-absorbing impurities” − known to the rest of the world simply as dust.

The Arctic has always been cold and white, simply because it is not just cold but is also white. The phenomenon is called albedo. Regions with a high albedo reflect light and stay cooler, so ice is a form of self-insulation.

Conversely, things that absorb light become warmer − and satellite data analysed by Dr Dumont and her fellow researchers shows that the Greenland ice is getting darker in the springtime.

They think the dust is blowing in from areas of the Arctic that are losing snow cover much earlier in the season as the climate warms. And, they calculate, this steady darkening alone has led to “significant” melting of the icecap.

This finding is ominous. What the researchers have identified is yet another case of what engineers call positive feedback. In the last 30 years, the Arctic sea ice has been in retreat, and researchers expect that, later in the century, the Arctic ocean will be entirely free of ice most summers. [Read more →]

June 13, 2014   No Comments

‘End high seas fishing for climate’s sake’

Tim Radford


End of the line for the high seas fleets? It seems utopian, but there’d be benefits. Image: Sensor via Wikimedia Commons

Two scientists say fish from the high seas are too valuable to be eaten, because they lessen climate change through the carbon they consume.

Marine biologists have delivered the most radical proposal yet to protect biodiversity and sequester carbon: stop all fishing, they say, on the high seas.

The high seas are the stretches of ocean that nobody owns and nobody claims: they are beyond the 200-mile economic zones patrolled and sometimes disputed by national governments. They are also what climate scientists call a carbon sink, a natural source of carbon removal.

Life in the deep seas absorbs 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and buries half a billion tonnes of carbon on the sea bed every year, according to Rashid Sumailaof the University of British Columbia in Canada and Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford in the UK. The two researchers put the value to humanity of life in the high seas – in terms of its ability to sequester carbon – at $148 billion a year.

Only a hundredth of the fish landed in all the ports in all the world is found on the high seas alone. And around 10 million tonnes of fish are caught by high seas fishing fleets each year, and sold for $16bn.

“Countries around the world are struggling to find cost-effective ways to reduce their carbon emissions. We’ve found that the high seas are a natural system that is doing a good job of it for free,” said Professor Sumaila. [Read more →]

June 10, 2014   No Comments

Cutting emissions is ‘perfect option’

Tim Radford


Out of this world: an artist’s impression of a solar probe approaching the sun. Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University via Wikimedia Commons

New research supports findings that the best way to limit global warming is simply by ending the use of fossil fuels, rather than ambitious climate engineering projects to reduce the sun’s effects

There is no alternative. To limit global warming and contain climate change, societies have no real option but to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to new research. There might be additional useful steps that nations could take, but nothing will be as effective as simply not burning fossil fuels.

Daniela Cusack, a geographer at the University of California Los Angeles, and colleagues report in the journal Frontiers of Ecology and Environment that they looked at all the options and came to the conclusion that abstinence would always be a better answer than such measures as putting giant mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, or multiplying the clouds to block the sun’s rays

“We found that climate engineering doesn’t offer a perfect option,” she said.“The perfect option is reducing emissions. We have to cut down the amount of emissions we’re putting into the atmosphere if, in the future, we want to have anything like the Earth we have now.” [Read more →]

June 6, 2014   1 Comment

Buried carbon causes deep concern

Tim Radford


Hidden menace: a vast store of organic carbon lies beneath the wind-blown soil of the Great Plains. Image: Zorin09 via Wikimedia Commons

Deep beneath the Great Plains of America, a vast buried store of organic carbon has been discovered by scientists − a hidden record of bygone climate, and a potentially serious danger to the future climate

Geographers in the US have found a new factor in the carbon cycle, and – all too ominously – a new potential source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. They have identified huge deposits of fossil soils, rich in organic carbon, buried beneath the Great Plains of America.

The discovery is evidence that the subterranean soils could be a rich store, or sink, for ancient atmospheric carbon. But if the soil is exposed – by erosion, or by human activities such as agriculture, deforestation or mining – this treasure trove of ancient charred vegetation, now covered by wind-blown soils, could blow back into the atmosphere and add to global warming.

Erika Marin-Spiotta, a biogeographer at  the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her colleagues report inNature Geoscience that what is known as Brady soil – ancient buried soil − formed more than 13,500 years ago in Nebraska, Kansas and other Great Plains states. [Read more →]

May 30, 2014   No Comments

Soils may absorb less CO2 than thought

Tim Radford


Ferdynand Ruszczyc’s The Soil: The part played by the world’s soils in accounting for carbon dioxide is pivotal. Image: Via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers believe that natural processes are not as efficient in absorbing carbon dioxide and putting a brake on global warming as they had previously thought.

Scientists from the US, China and Ireland may have settled one big question about climate change: don’t rely on the soil microbes to help damp down the temperatures. They report in Sciencethat as carbon dioxide levels rise, and temperatures increase, so does the turnover of carbon in the soil.

That means the hope that global warming must mean more energetic plant growth and therefore greater carbon uptake in the soil, in a cycle that engineers like to call negative feedback, looks a bit forlorn.

Kees van Groenigen of Northern Arizona University and colleagues analysed results from 53 different studies of soil carbon measurements in forests, grasslands and farmers’ fields around the world to see how CO2 affects plant growth, soil activity and soil carbon.

They found that extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere meant more input into the soil – nearly 20% more – but it also meant more turnover, up by more than 16%.

So if more went in, more was released, because the teeming microscopic fauna that inhabit the soil, recycle nutrients and redistribute plant nourishment also became more active.

“Our findings mean that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought,” said Dr van Groenigen. “By overlooking this effect of increased CO2 on soil microbes, models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have overestimated the potential of soil to store carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect.” [Read more →]

May 2, 2014   No Comments