STUDY: TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE, NOTHING SUBSTITUTES FOR REDUCING CO2 EMISSIONS

From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton Released: 27-Jun-2014        Source  University of Chicago Citations Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Vol. 42, 2014

 

Newswise — The politically expedient way to mitigate climate change is essentially no way at all, according to a comprehensive new study by University of Chicago climatologist Raymond Pierrehumbert.

Among the climate pollutants humans put into the atmosphere in significant quantities, the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the longest-lived, with effects on climate that extend thousands of years after emissions cease. But finding the political consensus to act on reducing CO2 emissions has been nearly impossible. So there has been a movement to make up for that inaction by reducing emissions of other, shorter-lived gasses, such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide, and particulates such as soot and black carbon, all of which contribute to warming as well.

Pierrehumbert ’s study shows that effort to be, as he puts it, a delusion. “Until we do something about CO2, nothing we do about methane or these other things is going to matter much for climate,” he said.

Pierrehumbert is the Louis Block Professor in Geophysical Sciences at UChicago, and holder of the King Carl XVI Gustaf Chair in Environmental Sciences at Stockholm University for 2014-2015. His study, published in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, brings together findings from the scientific literature with new research and analysis. Its conclusions are clear.

“Ray convincingly shows the benefit and importance of doing everything we can to lower CO2 emissions, and as soon as possible,” said Katherine H. Freeman, professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University. “We should lower short-lived pollutants like methane too. But, as he makes clear, we should not let them distract us from the urgent need to stop burning fossil fuels.”

The basic physics of climate pollutants has been well known for a long time. The warming effect of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants disappears quite quickly after the pollutants are removed from the atmosphere. When you remove them, you get a one-time-only, lump-sum benefit. CO2, on the other hand, lingers in the atmosphere. And if you are still emitting CO2 while you are reducing methane and its fellows, that additional CO2 continues to affect the climate for thousands of years.

Perhaps as a result of wishful thinking, the policy implications of those facts had
become confused, said Pierrehumbert. Part of the problem is that the statistical tool used to compare the climate effect of gasses is badly flawed. The measure, called Global Warming Potential (GWP), predicts the effect on climate by comparing the emission rate of carbon dioxide with the emission rate of methane. But a one-ton-per-year reduction in the amount of methane emitted translates into a single lowering of the global thermostat, while a one-ton-per-year reduction in CO2 yields a climate benefit that increases over time. That’s because each extra ton of CO2 that would have been emitted would have irreversibly ratcheted up the global thermostat by an additional increment.

Despite its well-known defects, GWP has been used since 1990 and was incorporated into the Kyoto Protocols in the climate-trading schemes implemented by Europe. Pierrehumbert proposes a different metric, which looks at the climate effect of reducing CO2 emission by a fixed number of tons and then finds the rate by which you have to reduce methane emissions to get the same effect.

Pierrehumbert’s study doesn’t propose a single “right” policy on climate change, said Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn State. “But it is a very useful analysis that will be viewed carefully by people who are interested in making good policies, and the main conclusions will help inform those policies.”

Pierrehumbert himself hopes that his work will help lead policymakers to abandon Kyoto-style multi-gas trading schemes, which treat the gasses equivalently, and put the emphasis on CO2 for the next 50 years or so. “I see puncturing the excessive enthusiasm about short-lived climate pollution control as a step in the right direction,” he said, “because it takes away one of the grounds for procrastination on CO2. If you’re serious about protecting climate, it’s the CO2 you’ve got to deal with first.”
— Carla Reiter

 

MERCURY POLLUTION IN THE WORLD’S OCEANS RISING

From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton – August 6, 2014                            Stone Hearth News – National Science Foundation

 

Little was known about how much mercury in the environment was the result of human activities or how much “bioavailable” mercury was in the world’s oceans. Until now.

The first direct calculation of mercury pollution in the world’s oceans, based on data from 12 oceanographic sampling cruises during the last eight years, is reported in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.

The scientists involved are affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, Wright State University in Ohio, the Observatoire Midi-Pyréneés in France and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research in the Netherlands.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the European Research Council. It was led by WHOI marine chemist Carl Lamborg. The results offer a look at the global distribution of mercury in the marine environment.

“Mercury is an environmental poison that is detectable wherever we look for it, including the ocean abyss,” says Don Rice, director of the NSF’s Chemical Oceanography Program, which funded the research.

“These scientists have reminded us that the problem is far from abatement, especially in regions of the world’s oceans where the human fingerprint is most distinct.”

Mercury is a naturally occurring element as well as a by-product of such human activities as burning coal and making cement.

“If we want to regulate mercury emissions into the environment and in the food we eat, we should first know how much is there and how much human activity is adding every year,” says Lamborg.

“At the moment, however, there is no way to look at a water sample and tell the difference between mercury that came from pollution and mercury that came from natural sources. Now we at least have a way to separate the bulk contributions of natural and human sources over time.”

The group started by looking at data that reveal details about ocean levels of phosphate, a substance that is better studied in the oceans than mercury and that behaves in much the same way as mercury.

Phosphate is a nutrient that, like mercury, is taken up into the marine food web by binding with organic material.

By determining the ratio of phosphate-to-mercury in water deeper than 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) that has not been in contact with Earth’s atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, the researchers were able to estimate mercury in the oceans that originated from natural sources such as the breakdown, or weathering, of rocks on land.

Their findings agreed with what they would expect to see given the pattern of global ocean circulation.

North Atlantic waters, for example, showed the most obvious signs of mercury pollution because that is where surface waters sink to form deep and intermediate water flows.

The tropical and Northeast Pacific, on the other hand, were relatively unaffected; it takes centuries for deep ocean water to circulate to these regions.

Determining the contribution of mercury from human activity required another step.

To obtain estimates for shallower waters and to provide numbers for the amount of mercury in the oceans, the scientists needed a tracer–a substance that could be linked with major human activities that release mercury into the environment.

They found it in one of the most well-studied gases of the past 40 years: carbon dioxide. Databases containing information on carbon dioxide in ocean waters are extensive and readily available for every ocean at virtually all depths.

Because much of the mercury and carbon dioxide from human sources comes from the same activities, the team was able to come up with an index relating the two.

The results show that the oceans contain about 60,000 to 80,000 tons of mercury pollution.

Ocean waters shallower than about 100 meters (300 feet) have tripled in mercury concentration since the Industrial Revolution. Mercury in the oceans as a whole has increased roughly 10 percent over pre-industrial times.

“The next 50 years could very well add the same amount that we have seen in the past 150,” says Lamborg.

“We do not know what that means for fish and marine mammals, but likely that some fish contain at least three times more mercury than 150 years ago. It could be more.

“The key is that now we have some solid numbers on which to base continued work.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

OCEAN’S MICROBIAL MEGACITY: LIKE HUMANS, THE SEA’S MOST ABUNDANT ORGANISMS HAVE CLEAR DAILY CYCLES

Coordinated timing may have implications for ocean food web

From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton  10 July 2014 Science, Journal University of Hawaii

OCEAN’S MICROBIAL MEGACITY:

Imagine the open ocean as a microbial megacity, teeming with life too small to be seen.

In every drop of water, hundreds of types of bacteria can be found.

Now scientists have discovered that communities of these ocean microbes have their own daily cycles–not unlike the residents of a bustling city who tend to wake up, commute, work and eat at the same times.

Light-loving photoautotrophs–bacteria that need solar energy to help them photosynthesize food from inorganic substances–have been known to sun themselves on a regular schedule.

But in new research results published in this week’s issue of the journal researchers working at Station ALOHA, a deep ocean study site 100 kilometers north of Oahu, Hawaii, observed species of bacteria turning on cycling genes at slightly different times.

The switches suggest a wave of activity that passes through the microbial community.

“I like to say that they are singing in harmony,” said Edward DeLong, a biological oceanographer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and an author of this week’s paper.

“For any given species, the gene transcripts for specific metabolic pathways turn on at the same time each day.”

The observations were made possible by advanced microbial community RNA sequencing techniques, which allow for whole-genome profiling of multiple species at once.

DeLong and colleagues deployed a free-drifting robotic Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) research expedition to Station ALOHA.

Riding the same ocean currents as the microbes it follows, the ESP is equipped to harvest the samples needed for this high-frequency, time-resolved analysis of microbial community dynamics.

What the scientists saw was intriguing: different species of bacteria expressing different types of genes in varying, but consistent, cycles–turning on, for example, restorative genes needed to rebuild solar-collecting powers at night, then ramping up with different gene activity to build new proteins during the day.

“It was almost like a shift of hourly workers punching in and out on a clock,” DeLong said.

“This research is a major advance in understanding microbial communities through studies of gene expression in a dynamic environment,” said Matt Kane, a program director in NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences, which co-funds C-MORE with NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences.

“It was accomplished by combining new instrumentation for remote sampling with state-of-the-art molecular biological techniques.”

The coordinated timing of gene firing across different species of ocean microbes could have important implications for energy transformation in the sea.

“For decades, microbiologists have suspected that marine bacteria were actively responding to day-night cycles,” said Mike Sieracki, a program director in NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences.

“These researchers have shown that ocean bacteria are indeed very active and likely are synchronized with the sun.”

The mechanisms that regulate this periodicity remain to be determined.

Can you set your watch by them?

DeLong said that you can, but it matters whether you are tracking the bacteria in the lab or at sea.

For example, maximum light levels at Station ALOHA are different than light conditions in experimental settings in the laboratory, which may have an effect on microbes’ activity and daily cycles.

“That is part of why it is so important to conduct this research in the open ocean environment,” said DeLong.

“There are some fundamental laws to be learned about how organisms interact to make the system work better as a whole and to be more efficient.”

Co-authors of the paper are Elizabeth Ottesen, Curtis Young, Scott Gifford, John Eppley, Roman Marin III, Stephan Schuster and Christopher Scholin.

The research also was funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

My comments

It is enough to put you off swimming in the sea. Think I will give sea bass fish dish a miss. My father and my son, as a boy, would fish in the sea off the beach. They would catch some fish and eels , but in later years beach fishing as a sport seemed pointless as there were so few fish  available it took a day to catch one fish – not enough for supper.   It seems these days you could be eating fish and mercury, not fish and chips.  Are we killing off our own food. See you Sunday. Jeanne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About jeanne hambleton

Journalist-wordsmith, former reporter, columnist, film critic, editor, Town Clerk and then fibromite and eventer with 5 conferences done and dusted. Interested in all health and well being issues, passionate about research to find a cure and cause for fibromyalgia. Member LinkedIn. Worked for 4 years with FMA UK as Regional Coordinator for SW and SE,and Chair for FMS SAS the Sussex and Surrey FM umbrella charity and Chair Folly Pogs Fibromyalgia Research UK - finding funding for our "cause for a cure" and President and co ordinator of National FM Conferences. Just finished last national annual Fibromyalgia Conference Weekend. This was another success with speakers from the States . Next year's conference in Chichester Park Hotel, West Sussex, will be April 24/27 2015 and bookings are coming in from those who raved about the event every year. I am very busy but happy to produce articles for publication. News Editor of FMS Global News on line but a bit behind due to conference. A workaholic beyond redemption! The future - who knows? Open to offers with payment. Versatile and looking for a regular paid column - you call the tune and I will play the pipes.
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