Carbon capture is key to meeting climate goals

Large-scale underground storage of carbon dioxide could help thwart the worst effects of global warming.

Capturing and storing just 2,700 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide underground would make it possible for the world to keep global warming below the critical threshold of two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100.

That is the finding of a new study conducted by scientists at the Imperial College in London and published in the latest edition of the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

The current rate of carbon capture and storage, known as CCS, is on track to meet the goal of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to hold the line to less than two degrees warming over pre-industrial levels by century’s end.

Previously, scientists had overestimated the amount of carbon storage needed to meet the above goal, citing the need to sequester 10,000 Gt of carbon dioxide to hold the line on global warming.

Carbon capture works by trapping carbon dioxide in the location where it is emitted and storing it underground where it cannot be released into the atmosphere.

In order to meet the goal of holding the line on global temperature increase to prevent catastrophic climate change, the current rate at which carbon dioxide is being stored must be upheld without delays, the study warns. Research to identify additional underground locations where carbon dioxide can be stored must actively continue.

According to Christopher Zahasky of Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the world’s capacity to store carbon dioxide underground has increased 8.6 percent over the last 20 years.

If carbon capture is conducted at this rate alongside other methods of emission reductions, such as increased use of renewable forms of energy, more energy efficiency, and powering public transportation electrically, the world could meet the crucial IPCC target, something many doubted as being attainable.

“Nearly all IPCC pathways to limit warming to two degrees Celsius require tens of gigatons of CO2 stored per year by mid-century. However, until now, we didn’t know if these targets were achievable given historic data, or how these targets related to subsurface storage space requirements,” Zahasky said.

“We found that even the most ambitious scenarios are unlikely to need more than 2,700 Gt of CO2 storage resource globally, much less than the 10,000 Gt of storage resource that leading reports suggest is possible. Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for a lack of carbon capture and storage space.”

Factory closings linked to 85% spike in U.S. opioid overdoses, says study

Researchers examined data on overdoses in 112 counties throughout industrial areas of the U.S. south and Midwest from 1999 to 2016.

Loss of automobile-manufacturing jobs has been deadly for Americans at risk of opioid addiction, according to a new study. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, linked car plant closures to an 85% increase in fatal opioid overdoses in recent years.

Researchers examined data on overdoses in 112 counties throughout industrial areas of the U.S. south and Midwest from 1999 to 2016. During this time span, plant closures affected 29 counties; no plant closures occurred in the other 83. Within five years of any plant closure, the affected county’s overdose rate surged to 8.6 deaths per 100,000 people–or 85%–on average.

The biggest increases were among white men ages 18-34, followed by white men in the 35-65 age bracket, according to the study. It cited the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau as its main sources of data.

“These findings highlight the potential importance of eroding economic opportunity as a factor in the US opioid overdose crisis,” the authors wrote.

Study co-author Atheendar Venkataramani, assistant professor in the health policy division of the Perelman School of Medicine, told reporters that he and colleagues had been interested for some years in the impact of economic security on personal health. He said that a plant closure can severely alter a person’s outlook on the future, which in turn may cause his or her mental well-being to suffer and put the person at a greater risk of substance abuse.

Venkaratamani recommends that health-care providers and public health agencies work on more targeted screenings for substance abuse and deploying rapid treatment solutions. He also advised public officials at the local, state, and national levels to pursue policies for helping areas affected by economic or social change to become more resilient.

Ancient algae offers clues about where plants came from

These prehistoric algae specimens exhibit many traits seen today in green seaweeds.

How the first plants emerged on dry land on the prehistoric Earth has long been a mystery: They, like all life, existed only underwater billions of years ago, according to researchers. But some recent studies of molecular biology and an ancient algae fossil suggest a few clues.

According to researchers, the first plant life to transition out of water and onto land may have evolved from some form of seaweed and most likely had soft, mossy textures and shallow roots. Such plants don’t preserve well in fossils.

However, one recent find is an exception: an algae specimen in China that appears to be a billion years old, making it the oldest known specimen of green algae on Earth. It is 200 million years older than the previously oldest known algae fossil, which researchers had dated back to 800 million years ago.

“It’s very daunting. A billion years—that’s at least five times older than the oldest dinosaurs,” said Shuhai Xiao, a Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University geobiology professor and senior author of a paper announcing the discovery. “It’s before any animals. The world is very, very different from what we know today.”

These prehistoric algae specimens exhibit many traits seen today in green seaweeds: They were photosynthetic, multicellular, and had leaves and branches.

But the transition to dry land may have come even earlier, suggests another recent paper in Cell. University of Alberta biologist Gane Ka-Shu Wong and coauthors present evidence that the closest living relatives to land plants are a mossy freshwater species, Zygnematophyceae, which is single-celled. The adaptations plants need for dry land may have come about before the ancient algae specimens, the authors conclude.

SpaceX wins contract to fly cargo for NASA’s upcoming Moon mission

The planned space station, called the Lunar Gateway, will orbit the Moon and will be a docking point for the crewed flight that NASA plans to send to the Moon in 2024.

NASA selected SpaceX on Friday for a crucial cargo-transport role in its upcoming crewed mission to the Moon. The space agency decided that it will use a new SpaceX capsule to ferry cargo and supplies to the site of a planned lunar space station, a critical component of NASA plans to land a human crew on the Moon, conduct scientific research on the Moon, and build permanent posts on the Moon in years to come.

The planned space station, called the Lunar Gateway, will orbit the Moon and will be a docking point for the crewed flight that NASA plans to send to the Moon in 2024. The astronauts will disembark from their space module to the space station, board a landing module, and descend in the landing module to the lunar surface.

SpaceX’s newly assigned role in all of this, as of Friday, will be use of the company’s Dragon XL spacecraft, to carry research supplies to the space station that future astronauts will use when they head to the lunar surface. The Dragon XL will be docked at the Lunar Gateway for six to 12 months per mission and return to Earth to pick up supplies. According to SpaceX, the vehicle will be able to carry more than five metric tons of cargo per mission.

“This deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars,” said Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, in a statement.

Research suggests melting glaciers are fuelling climate change

New research highlights a previously unknown vicious circle that suggests that melting glaciers are fuelling climate change.

New research suggests that melting glaciers are fuelling climate change through the alteration of the chemistry on the surface of the ocean. These changes lead to increased glacial melting, which in turn accelerates sea levels rises.

The research was conducted by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at Australia’s University of Tasmania and used ocean modelling the examine the effects of glacial meltwater on the upper layers of the ocean. The data revealed that meltwater decreases the salt levels on the sea’s surface, making it less buoyant and preventing the mixing of ocean water that typically occurs during the winter and helps the warmer layers retain heat.

“This process is similar to what happens when you put oil and water in a container, with the oil floating on top because it’s lighter and less dense,” Alessandro Silvano, lead author of the study, said in a press release.. “The same happens near Antarctica with fresh glacial meltwater, which stays above the warmer and saltier ocean water, insulating the warm water from the cold Antarctic atmosphere and allowing it to cause further glacial melting. We found that in this way increased glacial meltwater can cause a positive feedback, driving further melt of ice shelves and hence an increase in sea level rise.”

The team also discovered that meltwater hinders the formation of denser water in certain regions of the Antarctic, which is necessary for the ocean circulation that is needed for the ocean absorption’s of heat and carbon dioxide.

“The cold glacial meltwaters flowing from the Antarctic cause a slowing of the currents which enable the ocean to draw down carbon dioxide and heat from the atmosphere,” says Silvano. “In combination, the two processes we identified feed off each other to further accelerate climate change.”

“Our study shows that this feedback process is not only possible but is in fact already underway, and may drive further acceleration of the rate of sea level rise in the future,” Silvano conclided. “Currently the ice shelves resist the flow of ice to the ocean, acting like a buttress to hold the ice sheet on the Antarctic continent. Where warm ocean waters flow under the ice shelves they can drive rapid melting from below, causing ice shelves to thin or break up and reducing the buttressing effect. This process leads to rising sea levels as more ice flows to the ocean.’

The findings were published in Sciences Advances.

Scientists identify key ingredients in Earth’s creation

A new study suggests that sulfites and bisulfites might be the key to understanding the evolution of life during the Earth’s early days.

Approximately 4 billion years ago, the Earth was a harsh place of volcanic eruptions and asteroid collisions devoid of any oxygen. But somewhere along the line, the chemistry of the Earth began to shift in favor of life, leading to the evolution of the planet’s first organisms, according to Phys.org.

And while scientists are still puzzled as to how this happened, a new study from MIT scientists and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics might pave the way for the answers.

The team behind the study suggests that the release of sulfur dioxide by volcanoes eventually settled and dissolved in water as sulfidic anions. In particular, as sulfites and bisulfites, which most likely accumulated in lakes and rivers.

“In shallow lakes, we found these molecules would have been an inevitable part of the environment,” says Sukrit Ranjan, lead author of the study. “Whether they were integral to the origin of life is something we’re trying to work out.”

The data suggests that sulfites and bisulfites are molecules that were available on early Earth. This makes them a new addition to the class of molecules that chemists can test in the laboratory in order to see if they can be used to synthesize the precursors of life.

Thus far, experiments suggest that sulfites and bisulfites could have encouraged biomolecule formation, although more work is needed to confirm if they are one of the keys to the earliest life forms.

“This demonstrates a need for people in the planetary science community and origins-of-life community to talk to each other,” Ranjan said. “It’s an example of how cross-pollination between disciplines can really yield simple but robust and important insights.”

The findings were published in Astrobiology.

Alien atmospheres could help in our understanding of exoplanets

Examining the nature of haze in laboratory-created alien atmospheres could help us better understand exoplanets.

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University are examining simulated alien atmospheres that mimic haze formation in exoplanet atmospheres in order to better understand data obtained by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, according to Syfy Wire.

Although telescopes can observe the sky without cloud interference, they have a problem seeing through hazes on other planets. In order to get around this, scientists decided to simulate this exoplanet haze formation.

“One of the reasons why we’re starting to do this work is to understand if having a haze layer on these planets would make them more or less habitable,” said Sarah Hörst, lead author of the study.

Hörst and her team examined the varying gas levels using a computer model to create nine simulated planets. The team then created the combinations of particles predicted by the laboratory model in order to determine which gas mixtures are most likely to lead to haze formation.

“Sometimes, they’ll make a solid particle, creating haze, and sometimes they won’t,” Hörst said. “The fundamental question for this paper was: Which of these gas mixtures — which of these atmospheres — will we expect to be hazy?”

It turns out that each of the nine lab-created atmospheres create haze in varying amounts, with the most haze particles observed in the water-dominated atmospheres as opposed to the methane atmospheres — where the team expected to see more haze.

“We had this idea for a long time that methane chemistry was the one true path to make a haze, and we know that’s not true now,” Hörst said.

The recent data marks the beginning of haze research that aims to help analyze data from the James Webb Space Telescope, which could help in our understanding of distant worlds and their potential for alien life.

The findings were published in Nature Astronomy.