Doubling Electricity Production by Storing it!

Pumped Hydro Storage

Paper: The value of CO2-Bulk energy storage with wind in transmission-constrained electric power systems

Authors: Jonathan D. Ogland-Hand, Jeffrey M. Bielicki, Benjamin M. Adams, Ebony S. Nelson, Thomas A. Buscheck, Martin O. Saar, Ramteen Sioshansi

Some storage solutions give back more than we put in

Energy is lost when batteries charge. This is the case for most energy storage solutions – we get out less than we put in. Some storage solutions, however, give back more than we put in, such as hydro-power dams. In these dams, energy is stored as elevated water (potential energy), and rivers add more water (more energy). An international team of researchers recently described an underground storage solution which could more than double the electricity put in and also help reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

Continue reading “Doubling Electricity Production by Storing it!”

Throwing Earth Off Balance: Evidence Grows that Our Planet is Heating Up Faster than in the Past

Feature image: A satellite looks down at the surface of Earth. Image from Unsplash 

Paper: Satellite and Ocean Data Reveal Marked Increase in Earth’s Heating Rate

Authors: N. G. Loeb, G. C. Johnson, T. J. Thorsen, J. M. Lyman, F. G. Rose, and S. Kato

At the most fundamental level, what causes climate change? Simply put, climate change is a symptom of an energy imbalance with more energy coming into Earth’s atmosphere than is able to go out. This imbalance drives changes in our climate system that scientists around the world study, including warming temperatures, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and coral reef bleaching. Using two different kinds of observational data, a recent study has found evidence that the energy imbalance is increasing, which suggests climate change will only worsen.

Continue reading “Throwing Earth Off Balance: Evidence Grows that Our Planet is Heating Up Faster than in the Past”

Mercury on the Move

Featured image: Gravel and rocks crushed by the Greenland Ice Sheet.  Image courtesy PennStateNews, used with permission.

Paper: Large subglacial source of mercury from the southwestern margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Authors: Jon R. Hawkings, Benjamin S. Linhoff, Jemma L. Wadham, Marek Stibal, Carl H. Lamborg, Gregory T. Carling, Guillaume Lamarche-Gagnon, Tyler J. Kohler, Rachael Ward, Katharine R. Hendry, Lukáš Falteisek, Anne M. Kellerman, Karen A. Cameron, Jade E. Hatton, Sarah Tingey, Amy D. Holt, Petra Vinšová, Stefan Hofer, Marie Bulínová, Tomáš Větrovský, Lorenz Meire, Robert G. M. Spencer

The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting at an astounding rate as our planet continues to warm.  Mercury levels in the glacial meltwater traveling into the ocean are the highest levels ever measured in natural systems and rival heavily polluted rivers in Asia.  By measuring and tracing mercury in the meltwater, Hawkings and coworkers estimated that the Greenland Ice Sheet contributes up to 10% of all mercury found in Earth’s Oceans today.  Where is this mercury coming from within the Greenland Ice Sheet?  It is not actually coming from the ice itself, but rather the rocks that have been crushed under the immense weight of the Ice Sheet over thousands of years.

Continue reading “Mercury on the Move”

The growing threat of hurricane-associated flooding in southeastern Texas

Feature Image: Flooding in Port Arthur, Texas on August 31, 2017 from Hurricane Harvey. Image from Wikimedia.

Article: Assessment of Future Flood Hazards for Southeastern Texas: Synthesizing Subsidence, Sea‐Level Rise, and Storm Surge Scenarios
Authors: M. M. Miller and M. Shirzaei

Residents of southeastern Texas are not strangers to hurricane landfalls, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which caused 80 fatalities and damaged over 80,000 houses without flood insurance. With the population of coastal areas in the United States expected to continue to grow, understanding how hurricane-associated flooding will change in the future is essential for informing policy decisions and flood resilience strategies. Unfortunately southeastern Texas is facing a triple threat of factors that increase the risk of flooding during hurricane landfalls: land subsidence, sea level rise, and more intense hurricanes.

Continue reading “The growing threat of hurricane-associated flooding in southeastern Texas”

Antarctic seafloor oxygen is diminishing–and glaciers may be to blame

Featured Image: Iceberg floating through thin sea ice. Image courtesy NASA ICE, used with permission.

Paper: Glacial melt disturbance shifts community metabolism of an Antarctic seafloor ecosystem from net autotrophy to heterotrophy

Authors: Ulrike Braeckman, Francesca Pasotti, Ralf Hoffmann, Susana Vázquez, Angela Wulff, Irene R. Schloss, Ulrike Falk, Dolores Deregibus, Nene Lefaible, Anders Torstensson, Adil Al-Handal, Frank Wenzhöfer, Ann Vanreusel

Nothing compares to the ethereal beauty of a clear lake. Looking down, you can see a whole world flourishing below: plants, fish, and critters. Compare that to a cloudy, or turbid, lake and suddenly you may feel very small, worried about what’s lurking beneath you. New research shows that the Antarctic ocean is transitioning from clear to turbid water, with big implications for ocean ecosystems.

Continue reading “Antarctic seafloor oxygen is diminishing–and glaciers may be to blame”

Rust to the Rescue?

Featured Image: Shewanella putrefaciens CN-32 (a microbe capable of eating iron) on hematite (a rock containing iron). Image courtesy Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL). Used with permission.

Paper: Organic matter mineralization in modern and ancient ferruginous sediments

Authors: André Friese, Kohen Bauer, Clemens Glombitza, Luis Ordoñez, Daniel Ariztegui Verena B. Heuer, Aurèle Vuillemin, Cynthia Henny, Sulung Nomosatryo, Rachel Simister Dirk Wagner, Satria Bijaksana, Hendrik Vogel, Martin Melles, James M. Russell, Sean A. Crowe, Jens Kallmeyer

Just as a crow may use a rock to crack a nut, certain microbes can use solid iron to crack open methane.  This consumption limits the amount of methane lost from lakes into the atmosphere, making it a crucial process in mitigating production of greenhouse gasses.  These microbes are abundant in freshwater sediments, and their specialized mechanism for cracking open methane is most likely one of the oldest metabolisms on Earth, providing a modern-day window into the past.

Continue reading “Rust to the Rescue?”

Will California get more precipitation in future winters?

Featured image of a road in Death Valley in California by jplenio on Pixabay

Paper: Winter Precipitation Changes in California Under Global Warming: Contributions of CO2, Uniform SST Warming, and SST Change Patterns
Authors: L. Dong and L. R. Leung

As with any job tasked with predicting the future, climate scientists have a tough but important responsibility: understand how the climate will be different at the end of the century. Predicting future climate is especially critical in areas with large, vulnerable populations and that grow a large part of the food supply. California, for example, has a population of over 39 million and is a source of two-thirds of the fruits and one-third of the vegetables grown in the US. Changes to its climate will impact not only its own residents but also the population and economy of the whole country.

Continue reading “Will California get more precipitation in future winters?”

Plants may help solve the climate crisis, but is there enough water for everyone?

Featured image: Sugarcane plantation to produce ethanol in Brazil by José Reynaldo da Fonseca on Wikipedia under CC BY 2.5.

Paper: Stenzel, F., Greve, P., Lucht, W. et al. Irrigation of biomass plantations may globally increase water stress more than climate change. Nat Commun 12, 1512 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-21640-3

In order to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, we must stay under a 1.5℃ average global temperature increase from pre-industrial levels. To help reach this goal, there is growing interest in “negative emission technologies”, which are methods of removing greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere. These carbon capture technologies have been around since the 1970s, but the best carbon capture technology might be as simple as plants.  Fabian Stenzel and his team explain that cultivating fast-growing plant species, processing them into biomass, and capturing any emitted carbon dioxide therein, would actually result in negative emissions. Specifically, creating biomass through this method can capture upwards of 2 gigatons of carbon per year by 2050 (that’s close to the mass of 12 million blue whales). Burning this would also unlock an incredibly energy dense source of power. While burning the biomass would inevitably release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the process of growing it would drastically offset this by removing a much larger amount. However, one crucial question needs to be answered: will we have enough water to pull it off?

Continue reading “Plants may help solve the climate crisis, but is there enough water for everyone?”

How does climate change impact extreme cold outbreaks in the United States?

Featured image from CJ on Pixabay

Article: Quantifying Human-Induced Dynamic and Thermodynamic Contributions to Severe Cold Outbreaks Like November 2019 in the Eastern United States
Authors: C. Zhou, A. Dai, J. Wang, and D. Chen

Questions about extreme cold outbreaks have been featured in the U.S. news recently, as a majority of the country experienced record-breaking cold temperatures during the week of February 8, 2021. Was this extreme cold related to climate change? Will we see more of these events in the future? As Texans faced extensive blackouts due to issues with electricity generation and transmission because of the cold, meteorologists and news reporters tried to answer these questions as best they could. But what does the latest climate science say about the link, if any, between extreme cold outbreaks and climate change?

Continue reading “How does climate change impact extreme cold outbreaks in the United States?”

The Fate of Aquifers, and What Controls It

Paper: Divergent effects of climate change on future groundwater availability in key mid-latitude aquifers

Authors: Wen-Ying Wu, Min-Hui Lo, Yoshihide Wada, James S. Famiglietti, John T. Reager, Pat J.-F. Yeh, Agnès Ducharne, and Zong-Liang Yang

The ground I’m standing on feels solid, but it’s really full of porous rocks. The holes in these rocks are all different sizes, and water can flow through and between those with larger holes. Together, bodies of rocks that are saturated with water form aquifers. As groundwater supplies more than a third of the water humans use, groundwater and the aquifers that contain it are vital. They are especially vital in mid-latitude arid and semi-arid regions without enough surface water. In their recent research, Wen-Ying Wu and their collaborators studied the future of aquifers in such regions and what factors control it.

Continue reading “The Fate of Aquifers, and What Controls It”