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Climate & environment - Nov 7

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Carbon-Capturing Rock

Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review
Geologists discover that certain rock formations could sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide.
Chemical reactions that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it in the form of solid rock inside geological formations could offset billions of tons of carbon-dioxide emissions each year, according to researchers at Columbia University, in New York. The scientists say that research done on large rock formations in Oman suggests new ways to sequester carbon-dioxide emissions to help lessen global warming.

The researchers have shown that rock formations called peridotite, which are found in Oman and several other places worldwide, including California and New Guinea, produce calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate rock when they come into contact with carbon dioxide. The scientists found that such formations in Oman naturally sequester hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide a year. Based on those findings, the researchers, writing in the current early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calculate that the carbon-sequestration rate in rock formations in Oman could be increased to billions of tons a year--more than the carbon emissions in the United States from coal-burning power plants, which come to 1.5 billion tons per year.

The Columbia researchers' strategy is attractive because of the very large potential to store vast amounts of carbon dioxide, says Marco Mazzotti, the head of the Separation Processes Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zurich. Typically, today's strategy for carbon sequestration involves pumping it underground, where it is trapped in porous aquifers. Since the Columbia researchers' approach would store carbon dioxide in the form of rock, it would eliminate the chance that the carbon dioxide would leak out, Mazzotti says.
(4 November 2008)

Is water the new oil?

Juliette Jowit, Observer
... The farmers in Wadi Faynan are not alone. Like communities around the world, they are paying the price for thousands of years of exploitation of our environment. Already, 1bn people do not have enough clean water to drink, and at least 2bn cannot rely on adequate water to drink, clean and eat - let alone have enough left for nature. Lack of water is blamed for many of the world's most distressing crises: millions of deaths each year from disease and malnutrition, chronic hunger, keeping children away from schools which offer hope of a better life. Mostly it is the poor who suffer, but increasingly rich nations are struggling, too. Australia has endured so many dry years that a leading climatologist has said it's time to stop saying 'gripped by drought' and accept that the lack of rain is permanent.

In parts of the US supplies are so vulnerable that last autumn the Red Cross delivered water parcels to the town of Orme in Tennessee. 'I thought, "That can't be the Red Cross. We're Americans!"' resident Susan Anderson told a reporter. In California, some farmers abandoned their crops this year as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the first state-wide drought for 17 years. Meanwhile Barcelona was so desperate that it began importing tankers of water from cities along the coast. Even in the notoriously wet UK, water has become such a problem in the crowded southeast that one company plans to build a desalination plant, the sort of desperate measure associated with oil-rich desert states.

The Stockholm International Water Institute talks about 'an acute and devastating humanitarian crisis'; the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, warns of a 'perfect storm'; Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary General, has raised the spectre of 'water wars'. And, as the population keeps growing and getting richer, and global warming changes the climate, experts are warning that unless something is done, billions more will suffer lack of water - precipitating hunger, disease, migration and ultimately conflict.
(2 November 2008)

Why small plastic particles may pose a big problem in the oceans

Kellyn Betts, Environmental Science & Technology
New evidence shows that marine animals can take up the toxic chemicals that can become concentrated in small plastic particles.
Over the past few years, scientists have begun to realize that the increasing volume of plastic materials slowly decomposing in the world’s oceans may present a long-term problem for marine food chains already reeling from overfishing and other anthropogenic insults. Partly as a result of a pair of influential papers published in ES&T, scientists are now exploring the role that fragments of plastic trash may play in transporting marine pollutants.
(5 November 2008)
In the same publication: Toward cleaner oceans (has a striking photo of a turtle bedecked with plastic).

Swiss Guardian of our Climate
Swiss Info
Swiss climatologist Thomas Stocker has one of the world's most prestigious scientific jobs, co-chairing a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Stocker also heads the climate and environmental physics department at Bern University, a world leader in research into greenhouse gases. His team measures concentrations of the gas trapped in ice cores in Antarctica.
(November 2008)
Beautifully produced mini-documentary, recommended for science fans. Shows the nuts-and-bolts of climate research in the arctic. Some of Stocker's work was used by Al Gore in his film. To hear Stocker's opinions on resource use and climate, see the section that starts at about 10:00. -BA

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