Warming ponds could speed up climate change


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Small ponds used by researchers at the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University. (University of Exeter)
Jenna Ladd | February 23, 2017

A recent study shows that when freshwater ponds warm, they release more methane and are able to store less carbon dioxide.

Researchers at the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University of London warmed a collection of man-made ponds by four to five degrees Celsius over the course of seven years. The first of its kind, the study found that the amount of methane released by the ponds increased by double while the amount of carbon dioxide the ponds could store decreased by half.

Professor Gabriel Yvon-Durocher was the study’s lead investigator. He said, “Given the substantial contribution small ponds make to the emission of greenhouse gases, it is vital to understand how they might respond to global warming.”

While ponds and lakes only account for about 0.008 percent of the total volume of water on Earth, they are major contributors of carbon dioxide and methane. Greenhouse gases from freshwater sources are mostly the byproduct of organic matter breaking down in low-oxygen environments.

Yvon-Durocher continued, “Our findings show that warming can fundamentally alter the carbon balance of small ponds over a number of years, reducing their capacity to absorb and increasing emissions of methane. This could ultimately accelerate climate change.”

The scientist noted that these findings are different than those normally observed on land, where the effect of rising temperatures lessen over time. In contrast, when ponds warm and release methane, a gas that is known to be 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, they actually exacerbate warming.

Ponds of less than one meter, such as those used in the study, are responsible for the release of 40 percent of all inland methane emissions.

 

The professor noted, “This accelerating effect in ponds, which could have serious impacts on climate change, is not currently accounted for in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models.”

The complete study can be found in the journal Nature Climate Change.

University of Iowa alumnus receives BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award


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University of Iowa Alumnus, James Hansen (Columbia University)
Jenna Ladd | January 17, 2017

University of Iowa Alumnus James Hansen has been honored with the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Climate Change category.

The BBVA Foundation promotes, finances, and developments research projects in Biomedicine and Health, Environment, Economy and Society, Basic Sciences and Technology, and Arts and Humanities on behalf of the BBVA Group, a multinational banking group headquartered in Bilbao, Spain.

Hansen received the Frontiers of Knowledge Award along with Japanese climatologist Syukuro Manabe. The two men independently developed the first computation models with the ability to simulate climate behavior, and pioneered the “use of these models to understand and project how Earth’s climate responds to changing concentrations of atmospheric CO2,” said the BBVA’s prize jury.

Originally from Denison, Iowa, Hansen earned his Bachelors, Masters, and PhD from the University of Iowa in Physics. He studied under renowned physicist James VanAllen in the space studies program in the late 1960’s. In 1967, Hansen joined NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. While researching planetary atmospheres at the Institute, Hansen was instrumental in establishing that Venus’ extremely hot temperatures were due to a greenhouse gas effect.

As CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere continued to rise throughout the 1970’s, Hansen shifted his focus and began to study the effect of CO2 on climate. He developed a computational model independently from Manabe, and his conclusions were published in the Journal of Science in 1981. The BBVA prize jury points out that this research was important because it was the first ever to incorporate global temperature data and to predict how global warming would affect other earth processes such as oceanic circulation and flooding.

Manabe said, “I started working with models earlier, but Hansen was the first to use these models to make predictions.”

Hansen served as Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies from 1981-2013. He is now an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute where he has led the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program since 2013.

Arctic region sees unprecedented warming in 2016


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NASA scientists surveying Arctic melt ponds during the summer months of 2011. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 14, 2016

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) presented its annual Arctic Report Card on Tuesday, and there’s no cause for celebration.

Scientists say that the Arctic experienced its warmest year ever recorded, and temperatures in the region are rising at “astonishing” rates. Jeremy Mathis is director of NOAA’s Arctic research program, he said, “Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year.”

Scientists explained that warming which used to only have an effect in the summer months is now affecting the Arctic year-round. Mathis added, “The Arctic as a whole is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet.”

The report said that the warming of the Arctic can be explained by long-term increases in carbon dioxide emissions and air temperatures as well as natural seasonal and regional variability. These effects are compounded by the feedback loops in the Arctic climate system. Before human-induced climate change, the Arctic region remained cool because large areas of ice and snow reflected much of the sun’s rays back into space. Now that large areas of the ice and snow are melting away, the sun’s rays absorb into the dark land masses and ocean water, causing temperatures to rise more quickly.

Mathis said, “What happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

He explained that warm temperatures in the Arctic could be influencing jet stream patterns in the Northern hemisphere, potentially causing extreme weather in the United States.

Rafe Pomerance, a member of the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, was not involved with the report card. He said,“The 2016 Arctic Report Card further documents the unraveling of the Arctic and the crumbling of the pillars of the global climate system that the Arctic maintains.”

Iowa Rideshare program to cut costs and emissions


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Iowa Rideshare allows users to match with other commuters using various modes of transportation. (Iowa Rideshare)
Jenna Ladd | October 27, 2016

Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) recently launched a statewide rideshare program.

Iowa DOT partnered with several agencies to consolidate existing rideshare programs across the state into one state-of-the art system. Among those agencies are Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority, Metropolitan Area Planning Agency, East Central Iowa Council of Governments, and the University of Iowa. University of Iowa (UI) staff, students, and faculty can login to the system using their HawkID and password in order to be matched with other commuters on similar transportation routes. Iowa Rideshare has the capacity to detect matches for carpooling, biking, public transit, and walking, and officials say it has the potential to cut travel costs in half for users.

According to a survey done in 2012, a little more than half of UI employees drive to work alone, and 57 percent of commuters in the Iowa City area do the same. UI Parking and Transportation professionals say that Iowa City is among the most congested urban areas in Iowa, despite the fact that the state ranks seventh for shortest commute distance. Additionally, solo commutes by car can add up over time. Depending on the vehicle type and driving style, the Iowa DOT says that driving a car can cost between 60 cents and $1.20 per mile. After tacking on parking costs, which range from $27 to $110 per month, a person commuting just ten miles to work could pay an additional $555 to $1,500 per year in transportation costs. Consistently commuting alone by car has environmental impacts as well. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 19.64 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) are emitted per gallon of gasoline burned by automobile. The administration estimates that burning motor gasoline resulted in about 1,105 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2015.

Michelle Ribble is the commuter programs manager for the UI Office of Parking and Transportation. She said, “The UI is an extremely busy place and parking infrastructure is expensive. Each person using UI RideShare reduces pollution and frees resources that can more directly benefit everyone.”

The system, designed by a company called Rideshark, allows users to calculate miles traveled, emissions curbed, and money saved. Iowa DOT partnered with institutions like the UI to launch the rideshare program in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. A link to sign up for Iowa Rideshare in the Corridor area can be found here, or check out CorridorRide’s Facebook page to get news and updates about the service.

Human activity, El Niño contribute to record-setting CO2 levels


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Former CGRER graduate outreach assistant, Nick Fetty, interviews Dubuque mayor Roy Buol at the COP21 conference in Paris last December. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | October 25, 2016

With carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaching 400 parts per million (ppm), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently announced that a new era of “climate change reality” has begun.

Earth’s atmosphere contained 400 molecules of CO2 for every one million molecules for the first time in globally recorded history in 2015, and 2016 is likely to be the first year where global averages exceed this threshold.

Even though human outputs of CO2 remained steady from 2014 through 2015, a particularly strong El Niño in 2015 caused a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas levels. El Niño is a weather phenomenon characterized by especially warm temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean that have far-reaching weather effects. In 2015, the phenomenon caused drought in tropical regions around the globe, which negatively affected the amount of gases that forests, vegetation, and oceans were able to absorb.

While El Niño heightened the spike of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere last year, human activities like agriculture and industry caused 37 percent of the warming effect due to methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide increase from 1990 through 2015. Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general, said, “The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not.” Scientists at the longest-running greenhouse gas monitoring station in the world in Hawaii say that CO2 levels will not drop below 400 ppm for several generations. Carbon dioxide is responsible for around two-thirds of the warming effect that long-lived greenhouse gases have on the atmosphere.

WMO released this report just before the next round of climate talks associated with the Paris Agreement, a climate change mitigation plan signed by 200 nations last December. Participating countries committed to limiting temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Taalas said, “The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations.”

The 200 nations will meet in Morocco next month to forge a path forward.

IML-CZO Investigator Profiles: Neal Blair (Northwestern University)


Dr. Neal Blair has joint appointments in Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth & Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University (Northwestern University)
Nick Fetty | March 11, 2016

This is part of a series of articles featuring investigators and researchers with the IML-CZO project which “works to understand how land-use changes affect the long-term resilience of the critical zone.”

While urban and rural areas are seemingly polar opposites the two different areas depend greatly on one another, according to IML-CZO investigator and Northwestern University professor Dr. Neal Blair.

“Rural agricultural landscapes are responsible for much of the food that makes it to urban areas. The bioethanol that we used for transportation is also produced from the same land,” said Dr. Blair. “If we don’t manage the agricultural landscapes in a sustainable fashion, and especially in the face of increasing demand and climate change, the high population areas will be significantly stressed. Research in the IML-CZO should better inform our management.”

Northwestern University is located in Evanston, Illinois – a northern suburb of Chicago – in a state where agriculture is a major industry in the rural areas. Illinois led the nation in soybean production (by bushel) in 2014 and was second behind Iowa in corn production (by bushel) that same year.

Dr. Blair – who has joint appointments in Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth & Planetary Sciences at Northwestern – focuses on the role of the carbon cycle on agricultural land specifically and the Critical Zone – where terrestrial life meets its requirements – air, water and soil.

“When we speak of the C-cycle, we are typically referring to the conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide – or CO2 – to organic matter in plants and soils and then back to CO2. The C-cycle is an essential component of the Critical Zone. For instance, soil organic matter acts as a glue between soil particles causing them to aggregate. This makes erosion more difficult.”

Part of Dr. Blair’s research focus is to prevent agricultural land degradation such as what occurred on the American Great Plains during the first half of the twentieth century, an event that came to be known as The Dust Bowl.

“The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was caused by a combination of extreme drought and the loss of soil organic matter via excessive tillage. We have consequently developed conservation methods to maintain the necessary C-storage in soils,” he said.

Dr. Blair studied chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland and then went to Stanford to earn a PhD in Organic Chemistry. Different parts of the country face different environmental challenges, particularly in regard to water management.

“One of the major differences between the Midwest and the West coast, and especially California, is water management. The low relief of the Midwest has forced us to build extra drainage into the landscape so that water does not pool. As a result water is rapidly exported along with a significant portion of applied fertilizers. Ultimately the nutrients are delivered to the Gulf of Mexico by the Mississippi River where they cause hypoxic (dead) zones.”

As of August 2015, the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” was the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, or more than 5,000 square miles. Excessive nutrient pollution in the water lowers oxygen levels which has devastated fish and marine wildlife and in turn affected the economy of the region. However, the West Coast faces a different set of challenges.

“An overabundance of water has not been a problem for much of California agriculture. The high relief in some areas, such as in the Eel River CZO, coupled with land use drives rapid soil and bedrock erosion rates. Land sliding can be a major problem in some areas.”

The effects of climate change only exacerbate the issues that Dr. Blair and his colleagues study. Part of his goal with the IML-CZO is to study these phenomena so he and can other researchers can better understand these issues and educate the public about them.

“Climate change in the form of increased temperatures, more frequent drought and/or more extreme precipitation events will likely impact the Critical Zone C-cycle in ways we do not fully understand. An important objective of the IML-CZO research is to better understand how the Midwestern agricultural ecosystems will respond to these future perturbations.”

On The Radio: Iowa company uses CO2 to create beneficial algae


BioProcess Algae Biofarmer inspects a crop prior to harvest. (BioProcess Algae)
A BioProcess Algae Biofarmer inspects a crop prior to harvest in 2013. (BioProcess Algae)
September 21, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at BioProcess Algae, an Iowa based-company utilizing carbon dioxide to create an algae that can be used as a fuel source. 

Transcript: Bioprocess Algae

An Iowa-based company is using a unique technology to reduce carbon pollution.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

While Iowa’s sustainable energy industry is looking to reduce carbon emissions, BioProcess Algae in Shenandoah is using CO2 to create oxygen-producing algae. This form of carbon sequestration – harnessing existing carbon dioxide for commercial and environmental uses, keeping it out of the atmosphere – uses advanced bioreactors to combine light and CO2. The result is “crops” of algae that can be used in fuels and animal feed.

Algae are rich in oils, carbohydrates, sugars and proteins, making them ideal for livestock and even human consumption. But BioProcess believes algae products could one day replace gasoline – citing that petroleum developed in large part from algae that grew millions of years ago.

BioProcess recently moved from its staring point in Rhode Island to Shenandoah to be closer its primary CO2 source, a corn-fueled ethanol plant. That means that a portion of the ethanol plant’s CO2 waste is being prevented from entering the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

For more information about algae, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

http://www.bioprocessalgae.com/news/

http://www.ecori.org/climate-change/2015/9/9/captured-carbon-creates-new-business-opportunities