The yellow and brown on this map of the western Canadian coast represent high concentrations of chlorophyll.
A California businessman lobbed 110 tons of iron into the ocean off the western coast of Canada this July, The Guardian revealed on Monday, and he did it in violation of two international moratoria on such activity. Russ George wanted to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton to sell carbon credits for the carbon dioxide that the tiny photosynthesizing organisms would take out of the atmosphere. Satellite images from August (above) showed that about 10,000 square kilometers of ocean greenery had already grown.
Blue whales, the largest animals on Earth, can eat about four tons of food a day—and when they’re done digesting, there’s still a whole lot of stuff left over. This aerial shot, taken by oceanographic consultant Eddie Kisfaludy off the Southern California coast, shows a blue whale and a truly enormous plume of its poop, the same vibrant orange as the krill on which the whales feed.
Whale feces, it turns out, plays a substantial role in ocean ecosystems. Since it floats to the surface, it brings nitrogen whales have taken in when they fed in the ocean’s depths to shallow waters, providing a much-needed nutrient for plankton there. The massive mammals’ poop also serves as a significant carbon sink; one study estimated that excrement from sperm whales in the Southern Ocean alone sequestered 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year.
Last year, when DISCOVER covered the FutureGen carbon capture and storage (CCS) project as one of our top 100 stories of 2009, we noted the nickname some opponents had bestowed on the big-budget experiment: “NeverGen.” That moniker feels even more appropriate now, as the Department of Energy has changed plans and now says it will overhaul the FutureGen idea and build it in a totally different way.
The FutureGen scheme called for building a new CCS demonstration coal plant in Mattoon, Illinois, about 180 miles south of Chicago. The Bush Administration quashed FutureGen because of its hefty budget, but President Obama revived the project with $1 billion in stimulus funding. Now, though, the government says it wants to retrofit an existing power plant across the state in a town called Meredosia rather than build a new one from scratch.
In the new design, the plant would be fed pure oxygen and burn coal, and the exhaust gas would consist of almost pure carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide would then be piped 170 miles east to Mattoon and injected underground, possibly along with contributions from an ethanol plant in Decatur, Ill., and other industrial plants along the way [The New York Times].
It’s not just the sequoias—the towering firs, hemlocks, and other trees of the Pacific Northwest make its forests the tallest in the world, matched only by those in Southeast Asia. That’s according to a study by NASA, which has completed the first survey of the heights of forests throughout the world.
The map, created by NASA’s ICESat, Terra, and Aqua satellites, does more than give bragging rights to West Coast residents. For one thing, it could help scientists who are trying to predict while wildfires might strike, as well as those who want to determine what kind of forests make the best carbon sinks.
The map could also provide a means of monitoring the effects of climate change and deforestation on the world’s forests. Deforestation and land change use is responsible for 20 percent of the world’s emissions, and 48 percent of the world’s deforestation occurs in Brazil, according to a 2008 report by the World Resources Institute [The Independent].
Michael Lefsky and colleagues spent years compiling the data, which they describe in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
This week it’s green for green: On Tuesday, we mentioned that the Department of Energy was giving out loans totaling $2 billion for two big solar panel projects. Now, the DOE has offered $67 million for research on carbon capture, in hopes of propelling nascent carbon capture and storage projects.
Carbon capture, as its name suggests, requires trapping carbon dioxide from fossil fuel-burners like coal power plants before it enters the air. It isn’t easy. For one, you have to figure out what to do with all the CO2 once you capture it. The first power plant to try out carbon sequestration has found that its neighbors aren’t keen on having CO2 pumped deep into the earth below their town.
Also, capturing the greenhouse gas requires energy, adding 80 percent to the cost of electricity for a new pulverized coal plant and around 35 percent for a high-tech coal gasification plant. The goal, the DOE says in the award announcement, is to reduce these costs to less than 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
When a small coal-fired power plant opened in northern Germany last September, it was heralded as the first example of a technology that could save us from the ravages of global warming, while allowing us to keep burning cheap and plentiful coal. The demonstration plant, built and operated by the Swedish power company Vattenfall, was designed to capture its carbon dioxide emissions and to pump them deep underground in a process called carbon capture and storage (CCS). But the project has thus far been a victim of “numbyism” – not under my backyard [The Guardian].
The plant’s managers say they’ve captured about 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide, but they haven’t been able to pipe it underground to the selected underground zone, where scientists say the atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide would instead be trapped in the rocks. Locals, apparently, aren’t so sure about the technology. “It was supposed to begin injecting by March or April of this year but we don’t have a permit. This is a result of the local public having questions about the safety of the project,” said Staffan Gortz, head of carbon capture and storage communication at Vattenfall. He said he did not expect to get a permit before next spring: “People are very, very sceptical” [The Guardian].