The Latest (and Hardest) Tool for Battling Climate Change: Rocks

By Rachel Cernansky | March 9, 2009 3:39 pm

rocks.jpgRocks may be environmentalists’ newest best friends, if recent research is brought to real-world fruition. Working with the U.S. Geological Survey, scientists at Columbia University’s Earth Institute found large areas along the east and west coasts of the U.S. that are lined with rocks that may be able to absorb enough carbon dioxide to slow down climate change.

The new research builds on previous knowledge that rocks naturally absorb carbon dioxide by binding it with minerals to form solids such as calcium carbonate. The absorption takes place over thousands of years, during the recrystallization that occurs after the surfaces of rocks are dissolved by natural weathering. To speed up that process, scientists experimented in the lab by crushing a sample of rocks and adding a catalyst to dissolve them. They reformed in minutes and in doing so, absorbed carbon dioxide.

While the lab experiment relies on too small a scale to absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide, the scientists are hoping that natural rock outcroppings can be forced to absorb greater amounts and play a role in easing climate change. More research is needed on the feasibility of applying the technique, but one possible method would involve injecting rocks with hot water and pressurized carbon dioxide.

The study identified about 6,000 square miles of rocks that are rich in olivine and serpentine, minerals that scientists believe can be supercharged to absorb carbon dioxide, potentially soaking up a total of 500 years’ worth of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Now, all that’s left is figuring out how to deal with emissions from all those other years we’ve been polluting.

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Image: Flickr / ezioman

  • Mike

    And what will the unintended consequences of this be, I wonder?

  • chicago1901

    Sounds good to me! I presume though that the carbon footprint of the energy needed to inject the rocks with CO2 is way offset by the carbon thus sequestered? I didn’t see that in the article. Harvesting carbon from air is a terrific idea because it doesn’t matter where in the world you are and you can site the quipment in unpopulated areas near appropriate energy sources.

  • UncleAl
  • wildmon251

    Can anyone cite evidence or experiments that conclusively link CO2 to the greenhouse effect? Carbon Dioxide is such a tiny component ( 3 one hundredths of one percent or 0.0003) of the Earth’s atmosphere that I am skeptical that it could be having any effect at all. To put it in perspective, if you had a column of air ten thousand inches long, (1.89 miles), only 3 of those inches would be CO2. That would be a case of a single hair on the tail of the dog wagging the entire dog.

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  • Peter

    Oh, wildmon251, go back to staffing your neanderthal congressman. Carbon dioxide and other molecules like ozone, dioxin, and cancer cells don’t need to fit your juvenile analogies “such a tiny component” in order to effect our climate and lives.

  • wildmon251

    I’m sorry, I must correct myself. Due to errors in calculation 1.89 miles should actually read 833 FEET. Otherwise the statement still stands.

    Oh, and I see that Peter didn’t bring any facts or enlightenment to the table, just sneering contempt.

  • Thorn

    For whatever reason, my previous response to wildmon251 has not been posted. Maybe it was considered too harsh in tone, if so, I apologize. It is frustrating keep re-treading the same ground on something as basic as greenhouse gases for people like wildmon251, who apparently doesn’t know how to do even minimal quality research. There are plenty of resources that cover the science behind CO2’s part in climate change. It isn’t a new theory; it started in the 19th century with Joseph Fourier, for cryin’ out loud. Does wildmon251 think scientists just all of a sudden make this stuff up??? Good grief, read the IPCC report, will ya!

  • Hank Roberts

    That “3 inches” incredulity tripe has been copypasted to blogs about climate a lot recently.
    Look it up. Try it yourself.

    And if you doubt the math, look up “co2 laser” –radiation physics isn’t easy to understand.
    Your lack of understanding doesn’t keep it from working as described.

  • wildmon251

    Thorn, I looked up Joseph Fourier and found that his contribution has been to postulate that the atmosphere as a whole retains some solar radiation. I do not dispute that. He did not mention CO2 and the scantiness of CO2 is what I have a problem with.

    While I don’t think that scientists make things up, I do believe that scientists sometimes accept the work of other scientists without skepticism and as a result go down a false path. In Fourier’s day, scientists believed in the “luminiferous aether”. The Michelson-Morley experiment was intended to prove the “aether” existed. When the experiment proved just the opposite, Michelson and Morley considered it a failure. And it was a long time before science accepted the fact that the “aether” was a figment of their collective imaginations. There has never been a “Michelson-Morley” experiment to prove the effect of CO2.

    As for the IPCC, it is a heavily politicized organization that ignores inconvenient facts and embraces non facts that suit it’s agenda.

    Question: How does 75 cents ($.75) compare to twenty five hundred dollars ($2500)?
    Answer: The same as CO2 compares to the Earth’s atmosphere.

  • Thorn

    wildmon251, Fourier was a starting point. He was followed by John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius, both from the 1800’s. Others continued building upon CO2 science throughout the 20th century. It is not some ‘false path’. This information is easily accessible. The Research Channel has online videos from a National Science Foundation series call “To What Degree”:

    Your statement about the IPCC is uninformed. Their process is painstakingly thorough and transparent. Check out their full reports (not just the summary for policy makers), yourself. To believe in such conspiracy theories, is nothing but wishful thinking on your part.

    Do you really believe a proportional comparison between money and CO2 is valid? This probably explains your lack of understanding. My advice to you is to put away prideful self-deceit, and humbly acknowledge to yourself that you have a lot to learn on the subject.

  • Nic

    If wildmon251 is correct that substances in low concentrations can’t affect things, then how do drugs such as asprin or other medications work? Typical drug doses are measured in milligrams (1/1000th of a gram) and the typical body is >50 kilograms (1000 grams). So the concentration is around 1/1,000,000…. Or even if you compare a 100 mg dose to the glass of water you drink with your pill (conservatively 100ml or or 100 grams), the concentration is 1/1000th (very small)…
    Small concentration can have large effects.

  • wildmon251

    Nic, I’m not talking about ALL substances, just CO2. For instance, it makes sense that ozone, even though its concentration is 2 to 8 parts per TRILLION, can filter out certain spectra of sunlight. And medicines certainly do work, although their ratios are miniscule. But medicines and the ozone cycle have use a different mechanism than CO2, and scientific hard data backs up all conjectures about them . The conjecture about CO2 is that the cycle depends upon capture and retention of heat by individual CO2 molecules. Therefore, it would have to be dependent upon its ratio to the other gases. Which, I say again, would not seem to be enough to make any difference.

  • wildmon251

    Imagine $2500 dollars in quarters stacked one on top of the other. That stack would be 57 and 1/2 feet high and represent the Earth’s atmosphere. Now imagine 95 cents in quarters and dimes stacked one on top of the other. That stack would be 3/10ths of an inch high and represent the CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. 380 parts per million is the CO2 content of Earth’s atmosphere. This tiny amount, in proportion to the total, is what the Warmists are trying to hold responsible for the supposed disastrous consequences. We don’t know if the Earth is heating up, or not -nobody can be sure of anything now- but it most certainly is not due to CO2. The reason CO2 was chosen as the culprit is because it is produced by industrialization.


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