Iceland Carbon Dioxide Storage Project Locks Away Gas, and Fast

For years, scientists and others concerned about climate change have been talking about the need for carbon capture and sequestration. That is the term for removing carbon dioxide from, say, a coal-burning power plant’s smokestack and pumping it deep underground to keep it out of the atmosphere, where it would otherwise contribute to global warming. C.C.S., as the process is known, has had a spotty record so far. While there are some projects being designed or under construction, only one power plant, in Canada, currently captures and stores carbon on a commercial scale (and it has been having problems). Keeping a lot of CO2 out of the atmosphere would require a costly expansion of the technology to many more power plants and other industrial facilities. Among the concerns about sequestration is that carbon dioxide in gaseous or liquid form that is pumped underground might escape back to the atmosphere. So storage sites would have to be monitored, potentially for decades or centuries. But scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and other institutions have come up with a different way to store CO2 that might eliminate that problem. Their approach involves dissolving the gas with water and pumping the resulting mixture — soda water, essentially — down into certain kinds of rocks, where the CO2 reacts with the rock to form a mineral called calcite. By turning the gas into stone, scientists can lock it away permanently. One key to the approach is to find the right kind of rocks. Volcanic rocks called basalts are excellent for this process, because they are rich in calcium, magnesium and iron,... read more

Light Pollution Masks the Milky Way for a Third of the World’s Population

Stargazers from around the globe gathered at the Grand Canyon this week to gander upon our galaxy’s grandeur. The national park is hosting its annual star party, an eight-night event inviting the public to observe the heavens free from blinding city lights and street lamps. “As the sky gets darker after sunset you start to notice something on the eastern horizon that at first you think are storm clouds,” said John Barentine, an astronomer and program manager at the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit group that raises awareness to light pollution. “Then as it gets darker you realize they aren’t clouds in our atmosphere, but they are glowing clouds of stars.” What he and thousands of visitors witnessed was a sight hidden to many: The Milky Way. “One third of humanity cannot see the Milky Way,” said Fabio Falchi a researcher from the nonprofit organization the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Italy. “It is the first time in human history that we have lost the direct contact with the night sky.” Mr. Falchi and a cohort of dark-night knights have spent the last year creating an interactive world atlas that shows the global effect of artificial light on how most of us see the sky after the sun sets. They released the map to the public on Friday in the journal Science Advances. The new atlas is an improved version of their original one, which was released in 2001. The color-coded map, using data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite, quantifies the brightness of the night sky across the world, ranging from dark, pristine views like that... read more

In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide

A new study reports that recently established forests on abandoned farmland in Latin America, if allowed to grow for another 40 years, would probably be able to suck at least 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. That is enough to offset nearly two decades of emissions from fossil-fuel burning in the region. Abandoning additional pastures and allowing them to revert to tropical forest could soak up another seven billion tons of the gas, the scientists found. Their paper, published in Science Advances, offers the most detailed estimates to date for a promising approach to combating climate change. Many Latin American governments have promised to encourage forest regrowth, as well as to combat the destruction of existing forests, in their long-term climate plans. But how hard they will push on either issue is unclear. “This is a potential contribution that is sitting right under our noses,” said the lead author, Robin L. Chazdon, a University of Connecticut ecologist who is working at the International Institute for Sustainability in Rio de... read more

The Value and Gaps in a Big San Francisco Clean-Energy Conclave

Around San Francisco through the rest of this week, government ministers, investors, engineers, climate campaigners and wonks of all stripes will be discussing ways to provide the energy necessary to sustain human progress without overheating the climate. This is a huge challenge (watch the late great Nobelist Richard Smalley) and a long march, no matter how much one shouts “urgency.” Are such meetings worth the carbon combustion it took for hundreds of participants to get to the Bay Area? Over all, I’d say yes, just as was the case last week with the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting on sustainable development that I attended in Nairobi. The value is less in proclamations and joint statement than in creating and sustaining conduits for sharing and shaping ideas, as I explained here in the Nairobi context. A “super wicked” problem like the climate/energy challenge will inevitably have no universal solution applicable everywhere. But discourse can clarify what works where – whether it’s a new financial instrument fostering solar panel deployment or a new battery design. So what’s happening in San Francisco? The main event is the seventh “Clean Energy Ministerial” – the latest in a series of annual intergovernmental meetings largely shaped by the Obama administration but built on a Bush-era template – the “major economies” meetings on energy and climate. The clean energy meeting brings together top energy officials and other representatives from 23 countries and the European Commission and attracts all manner of interested parties (some paying $10,000 a table to be at certain events). The top American official at the conference, secretary of energy Ernest Moniz, explained the strategy this way... read more