Thursday, January 29, 2015

You're born, you emit CO2, and then you die

  Correlation does not mean causation....except when it does

Climate Geoengineering is all about counteracting the effects of CO2 being released into the atmosphere by human activities.  But the huge amounts of CO2 being produced and emitted into the atmosphere every second by human activity is absolutely stunning.  

A good place to gain an inkling of understanding of the rate of CO2 production is at the "breathing earth" website.  This website shows in real time a graphical illustration of the numbers of  births, deaths, and CO2 emissions on the earth.   For instance, over the last 10 seconds four thousand tons of CO2 were emitted into the atmosphere.   And over the last 60 seconds 210 people were born and 47 people died. The website shows a map of the world, and countries light up on the map as people are born or die, or as CO2 is emitted.  China and India flicker on and off like Christmas tree lights.

The not-so-subtle message is that more people living on earth inevitably means greater and greater CO2 emissions.  People are born, they emit CO2, and then they die. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Carbon Sequestration vs. CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown

                                   Nice idea, but you can't ignore the geology

Government research agencies have spent billions of dollars on research on carbon sequestion over the last decade.  The research involves finding technologies that remove CO2 from the smokestacks at a power plant (known as carbon dioxide removal or CDR) and then storing or sequestering the CO2 by pumping it into the earth.  Its been assumed by proponents of CO2 sequestration that all the CO2 pumped into the ground would interact with various rocks and saline brines in the earth in such a way that the CO2 would be converted to rock.  However, a new study done at MIT is casting doubt on this basic assumption that underlies Carbon Sequestration.

The MIT scientists recreated high pressure subsurface environments in the lab and then pumped in CO2.  Much to their surprise most of the CO2 did not react with subsurface brines and turn into rock.   In fact, the CO2 tended to displace the brine and form a zone within the rock saturated in CO2 gas.  Where reactions between subsurface brine and CO2 did occur, it tended to form a barrier between areas of rock with brine in the pore spaces and areas where CO2 was displacing the brine.  

These results are very disappointing for advocates of carbon dioxide removal and sub-surface sequestration.  The discovery that CO2 injected into the earth remains in the gaseous form means that mass storage and sequestration of CO2 in the earth becomes much more problematical.  Numerous studies show that naturally occuring gases like methane and CO2 commonly leak up from the earth and into the atmosphere now.   Injecting huge amounts of CO2 removed from power plant exhausts into the earth accomplishes nothing if the CO2 then leaks back up the atmosphere.   

Thats exactly why my CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown proposal is designed around modern industrial processes that use Buckyballs and industrial chemicals to remove CO2, and then store it in the solid state in an ideal geologic reservoir, the Antarctic Ice Sheet. 
People have known for decades that H2S, CH4, CO2 and other gases are actively diffusing up from hydrocarbon reservoirs and other sources within the earth---in fact "gas sniffers" are sometimes used as to find gas leaks as part of a hydrocarbon exploration program.  In my humble opinion, its just wishful thinking to imagine that the geology of the earth is so simple that CO2 captured by CDR and then injected into the earth won't diffuse back up to the surface just like other gases do.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

What Color is your Buckyball?

                                           Can you make those C60 nanotubes in a different color?

What color are your buckyballs?  What color are your fullerene nanotubes?   Can I have some C60 in puce?

I've previously suggested that buckyballs could be used to geoengineer the climate by pumping down CO2 from the atmosphere.  Recent research at Rice University has shown that buckyballs (fullerene C60) combined with amine-rich compounds comprise an environmentally friendly way to capture atmospheric CO2.   I've proposed utilizing this process over Antarctica to capture CO2 from the atmosphere.  Then, as the buckyballs loaded with CO2 rained out over the Antarcic, they would naturally be buried by snow and incorporated into the Antarctic Ice Sheet.   

Of course this idea is just a concept and many obstacles exist in its application.  I can think of two basic problems right off the bat:

(1) Buckyballs are currently expensive.  You can buy buckyballs and nanotubes from a fullerene manufacturer through a chemical supply house, but 100 grams of buckyballs currently costs between $60-100.   This isn't too bad if you are doing small-scale laboratory experiments on C60 fullerene, but the cost would be prohibitive to use fullerenes to pump down thousands and thousands of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.  No way is the idea to use fullerene to geoengineer climate practical if you have to pay $100/gm for tiny allotments of buckyballs.   

To use buckyballs in geoengineering, we either have to get one heck of a bulk discount on buckyballs, or we have to set up dedicated facilities to make tons buckyballs specifically for geoengineering.  There is some hope the price will come way down as according to some folks, its actually pretty darn easy to make buckyballs.

(2)  Another basic problem has to do with the color of the buckyballs.  Thousands of tons of buckyballs loaded with CO2 falling from the sky onto the surface of the Antarctic Ice Sheet would temporarily blanket the ice before being buried by snow.  But, if the buckyballs are dark in color and have a low albedo (i.e. low solar reflectivity) then they will absorb solar energy and perhaps even cause local melting.  This would be a bad thing since the goal of the CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown is to bury everything in snow to store the buckyballs and CO2 in the ice sheet.  

This problem is easily solved by creating buckyballs with high albedos (i.e. high reflectivity).  The buckyballs currently being manufactured are silver to grey in color, looking much like graphite---another carbon compound.  But it shouldn't be too difficult to create buckyballs in different colors, including lighter colors that can efficiently reflect solar energy.   Anyone else want their buckyballs colored in puce?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Climate Geoengineering and Cow Dung Smog

                                                    The Taj Mahal enveloped in a cow dung smog.

India recently banned the burning of cow dung near the Taj Mahal, in an attempt to reduce the amount of smog in the air around the famous architectural gem.  This might surprise people who think that smog is only a product of factory emissions and and car exhausts, but smog produced by burning cow dung is a severe problem in India.

I first encountered cow dung smog when I was trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal some years ago.  The trekking routes used by western trekkers usually follow traditional foot paths used by Nepalis as they travelled between villages in the southern Himalayas.  The rugged and steep trekking paths go high into the mountains to cross mountain passes between small Nepali villages.  In many parts of Nepal the trails are still the only way to reach many small, isolated villages built in the valley bottoms, or perched on small areas of flat ground up in the mountains.    

As we trekked into these remote Nepali villages, miles from any automobiles or industrial activity, we encountered miasmas of smog.  How, we wondered, could there be smog without cars? We observed many small fires were burning and emitting a stanky smoke throughout the village---some of the fires were inside huts and some outside in the fields----and dried cow dung was the fuel being burned.  

Cows are considered sacred by Hindus, and may not killed or eaten.   However, it is less well known that cows are nonetheless a key part of the subsistence rural economy in Nepal and India because cow dung from the sacred cows is an important fuel.  The dung is gathered, dried, and burned for heat and cooking along with wood gathered from mountains forests.   In densely populated India the use cow dung for fuel is critical because, for the most part, there are no remaining forests from which peasants can gather firewood.

It is estimated that about a billion people around the world use cow dung as a source of fuel.   In addition to Nepal and India, cow dung is important in Egypt and parts of the rest of Africa, China and other areas in southeast Asia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria and Turkey.   And as the population of these regions increase, so does the population of cows that the economy depends on for fuel.

Cows are ruminants and live on grass.  Although huge amounts of CO2 are given off when cow dung is burned, this CO2 would've been released into the atmosphere anyway because grass dies and decays at the end of the summer.  But Cows and cow dung are still a significant source of greenhouse gases because  cows themselves release large quantities of methane and ammonia, and still more methane and ammonia is released when cow dung is burned.    Because methane is such a powerful Greenhouse gas (by some estimates CH4 is 23 times more powerful then CO2 at trapping heat), cows are thought to be responsible for about 18% of all global warming.

So what can the CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown geoengineering proposal and other geoengineering proposals doe about cows and cow dung smog and methane in the atmosphere?  Just about nothing.  Once methane gets into the atmosphere it is almost chemically inert---by some estimates any methane that gets into the atmosphere will stay there for almost a thousand years, with the greenhouse effect due to methane gradually increasing as the CH4 concentration in the atmosphere builds up.

Today's cow dung smog is tomorrow's greenhouse warming. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I graciously and modestly accept the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize

When the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 I couldn't help but thinking about the work I did with the UN climate change program back in the 90s and early 2000s when I was president of  the INQUA Volcanism Commission and an officer with the US National Committee of INQUA.  I didn't edit or write any of the major reports for the IPCC, but I was an expert reviewer of a paleoclimate chapter in an IPCC report and I wondered if that was enough to be considered part of the IPCC program and to share in the Nobel Peace Prize.  In the 1990s and early 2000s I spent a lot time scientific work and on committee work involving the UN climate change program, the UN climate treaty program to reduce carbon emissions  the Ford Foundation, NSF, IAVCEI, the PAGES program, the IGBP and the IPCC.   So when the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 I couldn't help wondering----did my small contribution of effort to the IPCC mean I shared in the Nobel Peace Prize?   I started paying close attention to my email account and waiting for a letter from the IPCC.  I didn't expect to get an actual gold medal in the mail, but I thought I might hear something.  But I never did hear from the IPCC.  I waited ...and waited.  Still nothing.  Well,  humph--- its not like I cared anyway-- to heck with them.

Eight years go by.

A few weeks ago I did a google search on the IPCC.  And I find that in 2012....FIVE YEARS after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize the IPCC issued the following statement about who shares in the award: 

Statement about the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize
The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its work on climate change, together with former US Vice-President Al Gore.
In its citation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said that the IPCC and Mr Gore shared the prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change". In its announcement the Norwegian Nobel Committee stated that through the scientific reports it had issued over the past two decades, the IPCC had created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming, and that thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries had collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming.
The prize was awarded at the end of the year that saw the IPCC bring out its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).
The prize was awarded to the IPCC as an organization, and not to any individual associated with the IPCC. Thus it is incorrect to refer to any IPCC official, or scientist who worked on IPCC reports, as a Nobel laureate or Nobel Prize winner. It would be correct to describe a scientist who was involved with AR4 or earlier IPCC reports in this way: “X contributed to the reports of the IPCC, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.”
The IPCC leadership agreed to present personalized certificates “for contributing to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC” to scientists that had contributed substantially to the preparation of IPCC reports. Such certificates, which feature a copy of the Nobel Peace Prize diploma, were sent to coordinating lead authors, lead authors, review editors, Bureau members, staff of the technical support units and staff of the secretariat from the IPCC’s inception in 1988 until the award of the prize in 2007. The IPCC has not sent such certificates to contributing authors, expert reviewers and focal points

So way down at the very end in the fine print the IPCC says they couldn't be bothered to send certificates to the hundreds (?) of scientists who were expert reviewers or authors or coordinators and focal points for discussions of IPCC reports but these scientists actually were contributors and they (we) actually share in the IPCC award.  

OK.  Take a deep breath now.  These things happen.  Sure...Its OK that it took the IPCC five years (FIVE YEARS!!!!)  to issue a statement clarifying things, and another three years for me to find out about it, but its OK.   IPCC--- all is forgiven.   Its not like I cared about it anyway.....oh heck, why pretend I didn't care about it.

I WON THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE AFTER ALL!   I won!  I won!  I won!  I won! I won!  I won!  Me!  Me!  I won!  Where do I rent a Tux for the ceremony?  Book me tickets to Stockholm for the induction ceremonies.  Thank you ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you fellow Nobel prize winner Al Gore.   Everyone......I just want thank you all.  Sob.  Gulp.  [chokes up...stumbles off the podium clutching the gold medal to his heart].

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Torre del Oro, Sevilla, Spain

                                                  The Torre del Oro in Seville Spain

The Torre del Oro ("Tower of Gold") is a small medieval fort on the banks of the Guadalquivir River in Sevilla, Spain.   Originally constructed in 1220 by the Moorish rulers of Seville to defend the city from Christian attackers who would sail 70 miles up the Guadalquivir River to attack the city, the fort was repurposed by the Spainish after they reconquered Seville in 1248.  First it was used as a prison, but after Christopher Columbus discovered the New World the Torre del Oro became the designated Royal repository for all the gold and silver brought back from the Americas by the Spanish conquistadores.  All the Spanish treasure ships sailing from the New World to Spain would call at Seville, and all the gold and silver was offloaded and stored in the Torre del Oro before being taken to the royal treasury in Madrid.

Today the only gold and silver coming into the Torre del Oro comes from tourists.  The tower is one of the main touristic sights of Seville.  

At first glance the Torre del Oro and the city of Seville itself would seem to be immune from the effects of global warming and rising sea levels.  After all, the city lies 70 miles up river from the coast.  But alas, natural systems tend to be interconnected, and the Guadalquivir River debouches into the Straits of Gibraltar near the city of Cadiz   While its obvious that coastal areas will be affected by rising sea levels, its less well understood that rising sea levels inevitably mean large changes far upstream along the river basins that empty into the world's oceans.

If sea levels were currently falling, its easy to understand that rivers would have to erode their channels lower to remain connected with the falling ocean surface.  But sea levels are currently rising, and rivers around the world are going to have to respond.  If sea level goes up 10 feet, then the river channel and floodplain will also have to go up 10 feet to allow the river to continue to flow into the surface of the ocean.  The amount of aggradation produced by rising sea levels will progressively decrease upstream, but at sites like Seville, 70 miles from the ocean, the river is still going to agrade some amount.  The river will do this by flooding and depositing sediment to build up its  banks and its channel.  Eventually the Guadalquivir river will agreed to the point that it floods the lower part of the Torre del Oro, and that will inevitably lead to the collapse of the ancient tower.  

The Torre del Oro gots its name from its golden color, and the color results from the fact that the Moors constructed it out of mortar, lime, and clay with a good portion of straw mixed in.  What looks like a strong stone tower is actually made of blocks of dried mud and straw.  Once the Guadalquivir River rises enough to flood the base of the Torre de Oro the 800-year-old blocks of dried mud at the base of the tower will become river mud once again and the Torre de Oro will come tumbling down.rising sea levels will progressively decrease upstream, but at sites like Seville, 70 miles from the ocean, the river is still going to agrade some amount.  The river will do this by flooding and depositing sediment to build up its  banks and its channel.  Eventually the Guadalquivir river will agreed to the point that it floods the lower part of the Torre del Oro, and that will inevitably lead to the collapse of the ancient tower.  

The Torre del Oro gots its name from its golden color, and the color results from the fact that the Moors constructed it out of mortar, lime, and clay with a good portion of straw mixed in.  What looks like a strong stone tower is actually made of blocks of dried mud and straw.  Once the Guadalquivir River rises enough to flood the base of the Torre de Oro the blocks of dried mud at the base of the tower will become river mud once again and the 800-year-old Torre de Oro will come tumbling down.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The snows of Granada

                Moonlight on the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada, Granada, Espana

One of the most glorious sights in all of Europe is the ancient Moorish palace of the Alhambra perched on a hill above the city of Granada, with the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background.  

Granada is a city that treasures its views of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada.  The best viewpoints are from small plazas on the hillside above Granada where locals gather to play guitars and sing flamenco songs and watch the sunsets turn the snowy peaks pink and red.  The best of the viewpoints is called the "Mirador de San Nicolas" and people have been going there for centuries to see the view.  The Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca wrote a poem about how he would climb to the Miradors high above the oldest district of Granada, saying "The streets are narrow, dramatic, with stairways infrequent and dilapidated, undulating tentacles that twist and turn capriciously and exhaustingly in order to reach little viewpoints from which the vast snowy spines of the mountains are seen.

In summer, Lorca said  The mountain slopes are coloured violet and bright blue, while the summits are rosy-white. There are still spirited patches of snow that resist the sun’s fire, while in winter the snows of the sierra are visible beneath the gauzy mists…

Sadly, the snows won't be visible for much longer.  All across Europe ski areas are closing because they no longer receive enough winter snowfall.  Global warming is turning winter snow to rain.  The Spanish words "Sierra Nevada" mean snowy mountains, but continued global warming means less and less snow will actually fall even on the highest peaks.  No doubt some winter storms will still paint the mountains white, but the glorious sight of the Alhambra framed by snowy mountains will become a rare vision indeed.  

Yes...this means the rain in Spain will no longer fall mainly in the plain----.  

                            The Snows of Granada---a painting by Joaquin Sorolla

Monday, January 19, 2015

The tombolo at Gibralter

                                                       The tombolo at Gibraltar today

The Rock of Gibralter has been held by Britain since its capture from Spain in 1704.  The rock itself is part of a huge overturned fold of Jurassic shale and limestone.  Gibraltar is connected to the mainland of the Iberian Peninsula by a huge tombolo.  A tombolo is sand spit that connects an offshore island to the mainland.  Today most of the tombolo at Gibraltar is covered in houses, shops and apartment buildings, but you can see the original sediment of the sand spit and some sand dunes preserved along the Straits of Gibraltar in a small area along the beach within the kind of no-man's land that exists along the fence between Spain and Gibraltar.

Sand spits and tombolos are created by waves and winds that transport sediment along beaches, so they mostly lie very near to sea level.  The Gibraltar tombolo is no different---the maximum elevation of the land in La Linea---the Spanish city built right up to the border with Gibraltar, is about 3 feet above sea level.  

About 65,000 people live in La Linea today.  Mostly likely by the year 2100 the town will be abandoned due to sea level rise.    Wave action will continue to deposit sand on the tombolo as sea level rises, and eventually La Linea will disappear beneath the sands of a new tombolo.   If no new construction is allowed on the new tombolo, the view of Gibraltar from Spain in the year 2150 may look much as it did in 1782, when the tombolo was fully exposed, and John Mace painted a picture showing the view of Gibralter from Spain.

                                           The tombolo at Gibraltar as it appeared in 1782

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Prearcheology of Tarifa, Spain

Tapas Bars built on Wave cut surface at Tarifa Spain

Tarifa is a small town in Spain along the Straits of Gibralter. It marks the southernmost  point of continental Europe and the point of the closest crossing between Africa and Europe.  For over 2500 years Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines, Moors, French and British, and Spanish soldiers have fought over Spain and Tarifa has played a role in many of the wars.  The most prominent landmark in Tarifa is a huge fort built by Moors 1100 years ago just above the small harbor. 
     The fort and the surrounding part of the "old town" of Tarifa are built on a 100 m wide flat bench that lies about 6 m above modern sea level   This surface is a wave cut bench formed about 125000 years ago when part of the Greenland ice sheet melted during the last interglacial.  
     In 100-200 years sea level will again rise to this level and 2500 years of human history at Tarifa will again be under water, along with several dozen nice Tapas bars.