Archive for August, 2014

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.

Burned Birds Become New Environmental Victim of the Energy Quest

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 20, 2014   View Article

Birds singed in midair by a solar thermal power plant in the Mojave Desert — known as “streamers” for the smoke plume they emit — viscerally highlight the reality that the quest for energy almost always causes some form of environmental harm, even through technologies considered green and clean.

The same power plant that’s creating streamers was nearly derailed due to concerns about its potential impact on habitat for rare desert tortoise, for example. Wind power projects routinely kill birds and ruffle residents within their eyesight with concerns about visual blight. Geothermal energy projects have rattled nerves over elevated earthquake risks. Hydroelectric dams drove salmon runs to extinction.

“There are sacrifices that every technology has and the question is how visible those are,” Nathan Lee, a graduate student and researcher with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative who is developing a course on the ethics of energy policy with his adviser Lucas Stanczyk, told NBC News. “In the case of the birds getting singed by giant towers, it’s pretty visible and understandably it is therefore probably more upsetting than the quieter ways in which energy technologies cause a lot of harm.”

Human Activity Really Is Melting Glaciers, Study Says

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 14, 2014   View Article

Time lapse photography of shrinking glaciers makes a powerful visual case for the impact of human-caused global warming. That’s why, for example, it’s used in former Vice President Al Gore’s slideshow, An Inconvenient Truth, and by GlacierWorks, a nonprofit started by famed mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears to document climate change in the Himalaya.

But is human activity really causing the world’s glaciers to melt? After all, these rivers of ice have been melting ever since the Little Ice Age came to an end nearly two centuries ago, long before humans pumped out enough greenhouse gases to change the global climate. Perhaps the glaciers would be retreating even if humans never once burned a fossil fuel or cleared a forest.

“It seems to be so obvious that when it is getting warmer — and it is getting warmer because of human activity — the glaciers are melting because of human activity, but that actually hasn’t been shown before,” Ben Marzeion, a climate scientist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, told NBC News.

Now it has.

Giant Waves Pose New Risk for Ships in Ice-Diminished Arctic

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 11, 2014   View Article

Monster waves should be added to the list of hazards faced by ship captains as they plot a course through the waters of the Arctic Ocean, according to a new study that reports observations of house-sized swells in seas that until recently were covered in ice year-round.

“Waves always pose a risk to working at sea,” study author Jim Thomson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington in Seattle, said via email to NBC News from off the coast of northern Alaska. “The unique thing about the Arctic is that it is changing so rapidly that we cannot apply past measurements to understand future risk.”

Collapse of Civilizations Seen Through Key Beer Ingredient: Study

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 11, 2014   View Article

Beer, scientists have long argued, helped give rise to civilization in an arc of land that sweeps from modern-day Egypt to the border between Iraq and Iran. Today, chemical analysis of barley grains, one of beer’s key ingredients, is bolstering research into climate change’s role in the collapse of ancient societies.

“There has been a longtime debate about the relationship between climate and its changes and the development and in some cases demise of cultures,” Frank Hole, an emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and a study co-author, explained to NBC News. “The research that we did is attempting to pinpoint this more directly.”

To do this, he and colleagues collected samples of modern and ancient barley grains throughout the Near East and analyzed them to tease out the impact on agriculture of so-called mega-droughts over the past 10,000 years. The existence of these droughts has been inferred from sources such as pollen and microscopic animals in cores of soil pulled from lake and ocean bottoms.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach