Archive for 2014

Deep Argo: Probes in Ocean Abyss Explore Mysteries of Global Warming

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 12, 2014   View Article

Nearly a quarter century ago, Greg Johnson was a freshly minted PhD in oceanography puttering north in the South Pacific Ocean. About every 35 miles, the boat he was on stopped and scientists dropped an instrument overboard to measure temperature and salinity at regular intervals all the way to the seafloor.

This process was repeated in a crisscross pattern throughout the world’s oceans over the course of the 1990s. “At the end of it, we had kind of a blurred snapshot of the state of the ocean in that decade all the way from the surface to the bottom from coast to coast,” he explained to NBC News.

The following decade, scientists re-sampled some transects for the sake of comparison. Taken together, the measurements collected during the World Ocean Circulation Experiment are the best — and for most of the oceans only — data available on temperature and salinity 1.4 miles below the surface.

Today, Johnson is spearheading a project to deploy a global array of robotic floats that will probe to a depth of 3.75 miles, allowing scientists to continuously monitor changing temperature and salinity in the entire ocean except for the deepest trenches.

‘Clean Coal’ With Carbon Capture Debuts in North America (Not in US)

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 4, 2014   View Article

A first-of-its-kind coal-fired power plant retrofitted with technology to capture and store most of the carbon dioxide produced at one of its boilers officially began operations this week in Saskatchewan, Canada. Meanwhile, a similar project in Illinois to demonstrate a cleaner way to burn the world’s most abundant fossil fuel remains in legal and financial limbo.

Whether the U.S. government-backed project in Meredosia, Ill., will advance so-called carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology is an open question, but experts deem the technology itself vital if the world hopes to stand any practical chance at staving off catastrophic climate change.

And CCS is being propelled forward by pollution-control measures such as the Obama admnistration’s proposed rules to limit carbon emissions from new and existing power plants.

Drying Up? Six Industries at Big Risk in California’s Drought

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 29, 2014   View Article

In drought-stricken California, workers in industries from golf to medical marijuana are struggling to prevent the lack of water from drying up business. Most are cautiously watching the weather in hopes that fall and winter storms bring enough rain and snow to keep their doors open. But for some companies, the persistent lack of moisture has been too much: They’ve already been forced to close.

Ancient Egyptian Art Opens Window on Mammal Extinctions

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 8, 2014   View Article

Images of lions, giraffes, wildebeests and other creatures depicted on ancient Egyptian artifacts have helped scientists create a 6,000-year record of local mammal extinctions, according to a new study. Several of the extinction episodes correlate with known periods of drought and rapid human population growth.

While the correlations aren’t proof that drought and population pressures caused the animals to disappear, “it is an interesting pattern,” Justin Yeakel, a biologist at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, told NBC News. What’s more, he added, “as the communities lost species, the system became more unstable and this was largely due to the loss of redundancy in the system.”

In other words, when an herbivore went locally extinct several thousand years ago, it wasn’t a big deal because there were plenty of other herbivores around for the carnivores to eat. Now, there are so few of any mammals left, that the loss of any one species has a larger impact on those that remain.

Climate Hack? How Plastics Could Help Save Us From Greenhouse Gases

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 30, 2014   View Article

What’s the fix for a warming planet? Just one word: Plastics.

As the world grapples with greenhouse gas emissions still rising despite years of political wrangling over how to combat global climate change, a technology to convert carbon dioxide and methane into plastic is emerging as one potential market-driven solution. To boot, the process can be less expensive than producing plastics from petroleum.

“You have a new paradigm where plastics are saving the economy a whole lot of money, they are replacing oil, and in the process we are actually sequestering carbon emissions that would otherwise go into the air,” Mark Herrema, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Newlight Technologies in Irvine, Calif., explained to NBC News.

The market for plastics is massive — and thus the ability to sequester carbon. Plastics are found everywhere from beverage and food containers to toys, furniture and car parts. About 280 million tons of the stuff is produced every year, according to industry statistics.

Who’s Driving That Tanker? New Polar Code For Sailing Emerges

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 23, 2014   View Article

A quarter-century after a drunk captain and his fatigued crew ran the Exxon Valdez onto a reef where it spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, new rules are taking shape to prevent a similar disaster in the rapidly opening Arctic Ocean.

There, melting sea ice is opening a new frontier for cruise and cargo ships as well as prospectors for oil, gas, and hard rock minerals.

A key goal of the new rules is to ensure people skilled in navigating ice-strewn seas are aboard every vessel in Arctic and Antarctic waters, according to Lawson Brigham, a distinguished professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who has participated in the development of the so-called Polar Code for more than 20 years.

Climate Bomb? Methane Vents Bubble on Seafloor off East Coast: Study

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 23, 2014   View Article

Methane appears to be bubbling up from more than 500 vents on the Atlantic Ocean floor off the U.S. East Coast, according to a new study in a finding that could have profound long-term implications for the global climate.

While scientists suspected these so-called seeps existed there, until now they lurked undetected. Their discovery suggests similar seeps exist throughout the world’s oceans.

The seeps come from gas hydrates, an ice-like combination of water and methane that forms naturally with extreme cold and depth in the ocean. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and gas hydrates are thought to hold up to 10 times as much carbon as the earth’s atmosphere.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach