Tag Archive | "carbon dioxide"

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Waiting Means Being Too Late

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Jerry

We have a few researchers talking about how to put something in our atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s warmth and rising temperatures and/or how to remove carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere and sequester it safely somewhere.  These are the main two areas of emphasis of ‘climate engineering’.

Most scientists believe that climate engineering, or intentionally manipulating the global climate, is not desirable and would be our last option.  While they completely discount removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequestering it underground as ineffective given the size of the effort involved, they are concerned that putting something in the atmosphere to increase reflectivity will be tried and be very dangerous.

A broad range of options have been suggested as to how we can modify our atmosphere to increase its reflectivity where sunlight is directed back into space.  These include injecting sulphate particles into the stratosphere mimicing the natural cooling effects of volcanic ash and/or spraying seawater into the air to brighten clouds and reflect more sunlight back into space.  Thoughts have gone so far as even to suggest placing giant mirrors into orbit to reflect sunlight before it reaches Earth.

One of the first suggestions was from Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize for his work to understand the stratospheric chemistry to which our ozone is subject.  He suggested we inject tiny particles of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to shield Earth from solar radiation that would warm our planet.

The problem is that while Crutzen’s suggestion has spawned much talk of research, according to Anders Levermann (see article below), a Berlin-based climate scientist and Physics Professor, while it might cool the planet on average, it would do nothing to reverse the effect of greenhouse gases.  In a Huffington Post article published on May 8, 2015 entitled “Why Climate Engineering Won’t Work” he outlines the problem as he sees it.

He states, “The reason is as simple as fundamental: The extra abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere does not change our climate in a uniform manner.  The Arctic, for example, is warming almost twice as much as the tropics.  This has to do with a well-known effect called polar amplification.  The main reason for this is that warming enhances the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which then snows-off in the dry and cold polar region where it releases energy and warms the atmosphere.  Now if this sounds too complicated, one just has to hold up a thermometer in the Arctic and another one in the tropics:  They show that temperature up North rises faster than at the equator.”

He continued, “Now reflecting sunlight back into space would have the exact opposite pattern.  It would do a lot in the tropics where sunlight is strong, and less in the Arctic and Antarctic.  This is fundamentally true and cannot be fixed.  So, reflecting radiation back into space could cool the planet on average, but it cannot reverse the effect of the greenhouse gases – not even remotely.”

A recent New York Times article quotes Newt Gingrich, our former House speaker, in 2008 as saying “Instead of penalizing ordinary Americans, we would have an option to address global warming by rewarding scientific invention.”  He later added it would “Bring on American ingenuity.”  No matter how uninformed his observation, it is attractive for all since it removes the burden of changing anything, instead replacing it with a false hope.

A concern is that the political forces will rally around climate engineering or putting something in the atmosphere because it is “new business” for someone as opposed to reducing existing greenhouse gas emissions through changes in energy sources or usage that is costly for existing industries.  Existing industries are powerful lobbying sources that will use their political influence to focus efforts on others or push for climate engineering.  Companies small and large, researchers far and wide and entrepreneurs will vie for money and opportunity.

In February of 2015 a committee of the National Academy of Science (NAS) called for study of geoengineering options including federal funding for demonstration projects to test assumptions.  This does not mean however that the NAS views geoengineering positively.

In fact, the committee chairwoman, Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science Magazine and a former director of the U.S. Geological Survey, is quoted as telling The Associated Press on an Opinion Page of the New York Times “The public should read this report and say ‘This is downright scary.’  And they should say, ‘If this is our Hail Mary, what a scary, scary place we are in.’ ”

Ms. McNutt’s concern echoes that of futurist Jamais Cascio.   He suggested, “Global delays in reducing carbon emissions will likely force the human race to embark upon a set of geoengineering-based responses, not as the complete solution, but simply as a disaster-avoidance measure.”

Both have undoubtedly read a February 25, 2014 study published in Nature magazine that showed that geoengineering would not work.  They used an Earth system model and looked at the effectiveness of afforestation, artificial ocean upwelling, ocean iron fertilization, ocean alkalinization and solar radiation management during a high carbon dioxide-emission scenario.

The study team stated, “We find that even when applied continuously and at scales as large as currently deemed possible, all methods are, individually, either relatively ineffective with limited (<8%) warming reductions, or they have potentially severe side effects and cannot be stopped without causing rapid climate change.  Our simulations suggest that the potential for these types of climate engineering to make up for failed mitigation may be very limited.”

The evidence is in, existing geoengineering approaches will not work because the costs are too high, the approaches have been proven to be insufficient or with the complexity of the world atmosphere, we will certainly exchange one group of problems for another.  This only serves to delay the inevitable until it is too late.

There is a lot of talk about climate change and a lot of delay between discussion and action.  We all know we can control climate change by changing the way we live.  There is a serious question of whether we will.  The big questions are when will we act and what option will we choose.

We must follow our best scientific advice.  The scientists have said that “mitigation” or reducing the carbon dioxide modern society puts into the atmosphere is our best option.  It unfortunately requires a large change in how various industries conduct their business and in how we live.  But we must choose this option and we must do it now.  We cannot wait any longer.

Use the following links to access additional information or the source documents for this article.











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Full Carbon Capture at Boundary Dam

Posted on 28 October 2014 by Jerry

Canada has just fired up the world’s first full carbon-capture-and-storage (CC&S) coal fired power plant.  Congratulations to Canada and SaskPower!  They have taken one large step against climate change.  SaskPower has turned on a refurbished Boundary Dam power plant near Estevan Canada.  SaskPower opened the plant after spending $1.3 billion on the upgrade.

If you consider that we have been talking about carbon-capture-and-storage plants for decades.  Every developed country that has coal-fired plants has spent many hundreds of millions or billions of dollars to trial these technologies.  You wonder why it took so long to have the first working CC&S power plant?

There are an estimated 7000 coal-fired units worldwide with over 1200 new power plants planned for the next few years.  The International Energy Agency estimates that CO2 emissions linked to the burning of fossil fuels was 33 gigatons in 2011.  Some 42% or 13 gigatons was from the generation of electricity and heat.  This CO2 pollution was mainly from coal fired power plants.

We are not going to replace all the coal-fired power plants anytime soon.  The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) however, stresses the need to make fundamental changes in how we burn coal to make it a much cleaner energy source.  Turning coal-fired plants into clean or nearly clean sources of energy is absolutely essential if we are to make progress against climate change.

The Boundary Dam Plant is using an acid-base reaction or amine scrubbing.  Using this methodology a recent article in the September 6, 2014 issue of Science News states, “The gas produced in burning coal – usually a mix of oxygen, water vapor, nitrogen, CO2 and other trace pollutants such as sulfur dioxide – is blasted through a 15-meter-tall, 30-meter-wide cylinder packed with layers of eggcrate-shaped material.  The gas blows in at the bottom, while an amine solution – an alkaline liquid – pours down from the top.  The solution trickles over the large surface area created by the grooves and ridges in the material packing the cylinder.  The exhaust, now scrubbed of any CO2, vents out the top.  Meanwhile, the CO2-bearing solution pools at the cylinder’s bottom before being sucked into another giant tower” where the mixture is boiled and releases a pure CO2 stream for capture.  This CO2 can be captured, sold or transported underground for storage.

This is one of three major types of technology.  This technology is called a postcombustion method where exhaust created by burning fuel is sent through silos to chemically scrub it of CO2 that is generally sent for storage in the ground.  This technology has long been used in other industrial applications.  Other methods include oxygen fuel combustion and precombustion.

Oxygen fuel combustion burns the fuel in pure oxygen, not normal air.   This produces a CO2 and water vapor exhaust that are easy to separate.  This technology unfortunately must use a considerable amount of energy in the initial air separation step.

Precombustion converts the fuel to a gassy mixture of CO2 and hydrogen.  The two gasses are separated with the hydrogen moving a turbine and the CO2 sent underground for storage.  This technology is very familiar since it is used in fertilizer, chemical and gaseous fuel and power production.

Other major projects that have cost a lot of money include the Jänschwalde, an aging power plant in Germany.  In 2011 after having spent some $2 billion, local politics, public fears, and policy battles caused the program to close down before it even broke ground.  Two billion dollars before even breaking ground!!  This has been the ongoing history of expensive projects that have been cancelled.  It is almost as if, after having spent literally billions of dollars, the powers that be are canceling a plant before any opportunity to trial something.

Power companies have been strong opponents of any requirement for new technologies.  They have been successful in pressuring the U. S. government to postpone further requirements for major reductions in CO2 emissions due to adoption of these new technologies.

These interests pressured the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year to forego its requirement that new power plants come equipped with these carbon capture and storage technologies.  This requirement was dropped from new rules that the EPA announced in June of this year.

Finally we have a demonstration, at scale, of one of the technologies the coal industry has been resisting.  We still have an uphill battle to convince the governments of the world, that have been funding countless trials, to require their respective coal energy operators to embrace and adopt this technology.  Only in this way can we begin to seriously combat climate change.  We must thank Canada and the local power company, SaskPower, for completing its power plant conversion and providing an actual test of one of the technologies.

Use the following links to gain more information or see the source documents for this article.





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More Signs of Climate Change

Posted on 18 March 2014 by Jerry

Scientists in the U.S. and U.K. have concluded the lack of change in the world’s annual mean temperature, is only a short-term phenomenon.  In an earlier posting, see the September 2013 article “Stable Temperature Stokes Climate Controversy”, we discussed the controversy this lack of further warming has caused.

Scientists have settled on the Pacific winds as the likely culprit for a slower warming trend.  Their explanation is that their models show that stronger trade winds help to cool the Pacific Ocean driving warmer water into the deeper ocean in the west.  This cools global temperatures enough to explain the plateau the world’s temperature has experienced since 1998.

In the meantime numerous changes support that climate change alterations are still occurring.  Examples include an increase in the intensity of tornadoes in the United States leaving bigger paths of destruction in their wake, before and after photos in the Arctic showing scrubs have increased their sprouting due to warmer weather, and an “unprecedented rate” of increased acidity of ocean waters.

A report that was issued at the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World gave some statistics on the acidification of the ocean.  It reported:

Ocean Acidification in Numbers

  • 40% – The increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels since the start of the industrial revolution.
  • 26% – The increase in ocean acidity from preindustrial levels to today.
  • About 170% – The projected increase in ocean acidity by 2100 compared with preindustrial levels if high CO2 emissions continue (RCP*8.5).
  • 10 times – The current rate of acidification is over 10 times faster than any time in the last 55 million years.
  • 24 million – The number of tonnes of CO2 the ocean absorbs every day.

One of the more disturbing findings, based on a study conducted by New Zealand and Australian scientists, is that Antarctic ice sheets of East Antarctica contributed more sea level rise during a period some 135,000 to 116,000 years ago, during the last interglacial, than previously thought.  Today’s models have spent considerable effort to look at the West Antarctic ice sheet thinking it was more vulnerable.  This study suggests the East sheets are more critical than previously thought.

This is significant because the Antarctic ice sheets represent enough water to raise sea level by approximately 60 meters (~196 feet) if all the ice melted.    Quoting from the January 24, 2014 issue of Science magazine, “The implication is that the EAIS (Eastern Antarctic ice sheet) may have made a significantly greater contribution to sea-level rise over that period (the last interglacial) than currently believed, with the implication that projected changes in the climate of the southern hemisphere may constitute a more serious threat to the future stability of the EAIS than has generally been appreciated until now.”

These changes coupled with a disturbing shrinkage of the Himalayan glacial areas, a 26% change between 1977 and 2009, reinforce that the effects of climate change continue even without a rise in the world’s annual mean temperature.  This should give us an increasing impetus to call our leaders out to do more about climate change.  The actions to date from the largest contributor nations have been too little.  Let’s just hope they are not too late.

Use the links below for more information or to access the source documents for this article.



http://www.igbp.net/publications/summariesforpolicymakers/summariesforpolicymakers/oceanacidificationssummaruyforpolicymakers2013.5.30566fc6142425d6c9111f4.html  – Scroll down to “Download full pdf” and select.




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The More We Understand Ozone, the Less We Know

Posted on 29 December 2013 by Jerry

The Ozone Hole over the Antarctic in 2013 was slightly smaller than the average sized hole in recent decades.  This has led some scientists to believe we are beginning to see proof that the world’s ozone depletion has leveled off with the first signs of improvement.

Most of the world’s scientists are more cautious however, pegging the first date for when we will see tangible evidence of healing at a decade from now.  At that projected rate, full recovery will not occur until 2070.

In the short term there are annual fluctuations in the size of the hole that have puzzled scientists.  For instance while the size of the 2011 ozone hole was almost as big as that in 2006, which was the largest hole on record, the size of the ozone hole in 2012 was the second smallest on record.

Recent studies indicate that weather patterns play a more important role in the size of the hole in any given year than previously thought.  Dr. Susan Strahan of Nasa’s Goddard Space Center in Maryland said, “We have identified another factor that wasn’t fully recognized before: and that is how much ozone gets brought to the polar regions in the first place, by the winds.”

This revelation has forced scientists to come up with an alternate explanation of the annual size of the ozone hole.  Their analysis is that it depends on the various layers of the stratosphere that are involved and the wind’s influence.  Scientists believe that the more ozone is blown into the lower stratosphere there is a greater supply to destroy and the hole looks bigger.  They believe this is what happened in 2006.

In 2011 the winds blew less ozone into the lower stratosphere so the ozone there was destroyed more quickly making the hole look bigger.  The scientists theorize that in 2012 the ozone was pushed into the upper stratosphere that masks the hole below and makes it look smaller.

This is not our first miscalculation.  When we originally attacked our ozone problem, we were not as sensitive to climate change as we are now.  Instead we were intent on the signing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol addressing ozone depletion.  In order to protect the ozone, parties to the Montreal Protocol approved the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to replace the more ozone damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and halons.  Also, selected third world countries were left out of the agreement.  (See January 2013 posting, “Are We Trading Greenhouse Gas for Ozone”).

Unfortunately we have come to regret our endorsement of HFCs as an ecofriendly substitute for CFCs, HCFCs, and halon gas.  While HFCs do not contain chlorine or bromine and therefore do not interact with ozone, they are powerful greenhouse gases that over time could negatively contribute to climate change.  Two varieties of HFC are particularly troubling because of how long they last in the atmosphere.  HFC-134 has an atmospheric lifetime of about 14 years while HFC-23 has a lifetime of 260 years.

In 2013 President Barack Obama announced an agreement in principle with India and signed a formal agreement with China to work at eliminating completely the use of the banned chemicals CFCs, HCFCs and halon gas.  In addition, the June 8, 2013 signed agreement with President Xi of China specifically mentions the threat of HFCs and indicates a willingness to significantly reduce the use of these chemicals as well.

Although this U.S./China document and the accompanying agreement by the G-20 countries on HFCs do not specify concrete steps or binding deadlines they do represent positive developments in the formal recognition of the problem.  The positive sentiments to make progress are encouraging to those of us that continue to be concerned about ozone depletion and global climate change.

Also encouraging are developments by the world’s major chemical producers who have developed alternative chemicals to replace HFCs.  DuPont has specifically mentioned their new family of refrigerants, Opteons, as a suitable replacement for other, more harmful, refrigerants.

Use the following links to obtain more information or see the original source documents:







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Climate Change in the Record Books, Forests and on the Ice

Posted on 09 August 2013 by Jerry

The effects of climate change are increasing as new worldwide records are set, feedback impacts begin to show, and further results are studied.  While heat records were broken in the U.S. it was difficult to know worldwide effects because of slower data gathering and reporting.

Results are in however and more nations reported new record temperatures in the decade of the 2000s than in any decade since data reporting began in 1850.  According to the World Meteorological Organization, temperatures in the last decade were the highest ever recorded on land and in the sea in both hemispheres.

Scientists are monitoring the pace of climate change.  They are alarmed that three feedback mechanisms appear to be increasing the speed of resulting warming in the present and may even accelerate it in the future.   Their first concern is that melting ice that adds colder fresh water into the northern seas may slow ocean currents that carry heat to the rest of the world.  This slowing of warm ocean currents will change temperatures worldwide often leaving warm water in colder climates.

As an example, a change such as this could cause Greenland to go from moderately cool to warm relatively fast.  Ice cores from the area show that previous shifts occurred very fast, in as little time as a decade.  The feedback concern is that as temperatures warm in Greenland, more ice melts putting more cold water into the ocean slowing currents and increasing temperatures which cause more ice to melt and so on.

A second feedback mechanism involves methane trapped in frozen permafrost around the world.  Recent studies show there is much more of this methane that extends deeper in the soil than previously assumed.  The carbon stores in tundra are now thought to represent double the methane presently in the atmosphere.

The feedback concern identified in a November 2012 article in Scientific American is that warmer temperatures accelerate thawing which allows microbes to begin to consume the organic carbon material turning it into COthat will go into the atmosphere as methane.  This would increase the warming of the atmosphere triggering more thawing of tundra and in turn encouraging microbes etc.

Beyond the methane contained in tundra, there are also large stores of methane hydrate, a mixture of ice and methane molecules, on the sea floor.  Countries seeking to find energy sources for their further development are unfortunately attempting to develop ways to extract this methane for energy use that will also increase its burning and release into the atmosphere. Japan recently reported the successful extraction of natural gas from an off shore methane hydrate deposit.

Unbridled corporate development is what has led to a worldwide expansion of fracking in search of trapped oil and gasses. This expansion of worldwide methane related energy sources is in direct conflict with rising concerns for climate change.  Some would suggest that anticipated climate change controls on further exploitation of coal, oil and gas are what have created the intensity of rapid search and development within the energy industries.

The third and most alarming feedback issue for climate scientists is the loss of planetary ice.  The present rate of loss of ice was not predicted by many of today’s climate models.  This loss, as reported on this blog and elsewhere, is proceeding at a faster rate than anticipated.   Professor Euan Nisbet of the Royal Holloway at the University of London has labeled this the biggest failure of contemporary data modeling.

He comments on the feedback mechanism of the rapid melting of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, land ice in Greenland and in Antarctica.  He explains that this reduces the reflection of heat back into the atmosphere, increases surface temperatures, further melting more ice, etc. etc.   Nisbet states “feedback just follows feedback, follows feedback.”

These feedback cycles all create great risk that the speed of global warming will be faster than the best scientific models predict.  Scientists know greater delay in an environment of accelerating change is a prescription for an uncontrollable outcome.  The fear is our reaction will come so late that the rate of climate change will exceed our ability to affect it.

Other than the great droughts, rains, and floods which millions of people are experiencing there are a number of more localized effects of climate change that are beginning to show up.  These often make planning for the future difficult and may slow the rate of growth in certain cities.  An example is what is happening in Great Britain.

In rivers, higher highs and lower lows with less time between each is becoming commonplace.  Statistics for 2012 show that Britain saw flooding in one of every five days and drought in one of every four days.  The Tyne, Ouse and Tone rivers experienced their lowest and highest levels within a four-month period of time.  These new highs and lows have not been seen since recordkeeping began in the 1800s.

In Canada and the western United States warmer temperatures have created an onslaught of mountain pine beetles.  The greater warmth has extended their breeding period and total range such that hundreds of thousand of hectares of trees have been killed.  Of concern to scientists is that the trees represented a large carbon sink absorbing a large quantity of CO2 and they have now become carbon sources as the dead trees decompose.

Warming in Siberia is altering the occurrence of various tree types.  Forests of larches that can survive in colder weather are beginning to be replaced by spruce and fir.  The threat is that larches drop all of their thin leaves in the winter allowing sunlight to reach the underlying snow and be reflected back into the space.  Spruce and fir trees keep their needles and absorb and retain the sun’s heat before it can reach the snow.

Hank Shugart, an ecologist at the University of Virginia estimates the feedback from this worldwide change in vegetation alone could give the planet a 1.5 degree centigrade hike.  His conclusion is “We’re playing with a loaded gun here.”

Finally, there may be significant effects on human behavior as a result of warming temperatures.  A new report published in the Science and reported on by BBC News, indicates a strong link between changes in climate and a rise in assaults, rapes and murders.  A link has also been established for group behavior showing a connection between altering climate and group conflicts and wars.

An assessment of more than 60 studies looking at data from around the world showed a correlation between changes in climate and incidents of violence.  For example, domestic violence in India increased during the recent droughts and there were big increases in assaults, rapes and murders during periods of unusual heat in the United States.  Also, rising temperatures correlated with larger human conflicts such as ethnic clashes in Europe and civil wars in Africa.

The data the researchers looked at led them to conclude that by the year 2050 warmer temperatures and extreme rainfall would increase world rates of violence.  Their forecast is for a 16% increase in interpersonal violence and a 50% increase in group conflicts in some regions by 2050.  Considerable detail about the study methodologies was provided.

This research uses words and phrases such as a “substantial” correlation that is disputed by some other scientists.  Dr. Halvard Buhaug of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway, believes many of the conflicts cited could be linked to factors of high infant mortality, population density and nearness of international borders.

Dr. Buhaug states “I disagree with the sweeping conclusion (the authors) draw and believe that their strong statement about a general causal link between climate and conflict is unwarranted by the empirical analysis that they provide.”  Further he observes, “I was surprised to see not a single reference to a real-world conflict that plausibly would not have occurred in the absence of observed climatic extremes.  If the authors wish to claim a strong causal link, providing some form of case validation is critical.”

The reality is climate change is accelerating, energy companies are rushing to find new deposits before controls and we must demand action now from our politicians all over the world.  We must embrace renewable energy sources, put controls on the greed of energy businesses and win our race to slow global warming

I would endorse the purchase of the August 8, 2013 issue of Science magazine.  It has a very detailed special section on climate change that is over 50 pages long and contains 10 separate scientific submissions.  It is highly interesting.

Use the following links to obtain more information and/or see source documents:

http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_976_en.html (use the link in the second paragraph of the press release to access the report or its summary).







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