These Proposed Manmade Islands That Recycle CO2 Could Be the Solution to Climate Change We've Been Waiting For
As the climate change crisis grows more and more urgent, scientists are racing to develop ambitious ideas that will match the scope of the impending damage.
A group of Swedish and Norwegian scientists just submitted one of theirs.
We learned in elementary school that trees are good for the atmosphere because they take in harmful carbon dioxide (as well as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide) and release oxygen. Rainforests, those dense, rich, species-diverse forests, have historically been so good at this, they’ve been dubbed “the lungs of the planet.” Tropical forests store carbon, known as carbon sequestration, in their stems, leaves and roots, rather than releasing it to the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming and climate change. Unfortunately, these natural lungs appear to be losing their function, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they take in, according to a new study in the journal Science. Given that tropical forests store 25 percent of the global carbon and are home to 96 percent of the world's tree species, this new research reveals a potentially huge impact.
After analyzing satellite imagery of Asia, Africa and the Americas, researchers determined that deforestation, in which forests are torn down and replaced with urban spaces, farms or roads, is stealing the atmosphere-purifying power of these forests. However, it’s not just the sheer loss of numbers of trees that are responsible for the shift, the researchers say, so much as it is a decline in diversity of the kinds of trees that remain.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, reports that carbon dioxide levels surged at a “record-breaking speed” in 2016. Their report indicates carbon dioxide concentrations rose to 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, up from 400 ppm in 2015, reaching levels of CO2 saturation in the earth’s atmosphere not seen in 3 to 4 million years. This growth pushes our climate’s atmosphere further outside the range of 180-280 ppm estimated for recent cycles of ice ages and warmer periods.
Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO, issued the warning at the organization’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, held in Geneva on October 30. The bulletin states that today’s CO2 concentration of over 400 ppm exceeds the natural variability seen over hundreds of years.
Vast climate changes are not new to Earth. 450 million years ago most of the present-day United States was underwater. 20,000 years ago New England was buried beneath a mile-thick glacier. Although climate change triggered mass extinctions, life on Earth continued.
But why? Climate change turned Venus into a barren hellscape, but Earth never became hot or cold enough to wipe out all life.
Mars 2020 is NASA’s next planned mission to Mars, in which a compact car-sized rover will search for signs of past habitability, and maybe life, by drilling into the Martian regolith. Upon arriving in February 2021, the rover will have a unique task – generating oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide, using a process of electrolysis. When it launches in the summer of 2020, the exploratory robot will be equipped with a special type of fuel cell, called Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE. NASA expects that MOXIE will produce 10 grams of pure oxygen (O2) per hour, inhaling carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Martian atmosphere and splitting the CO2 into carbon and oxygen, which it then exhales. In a sense, Mars 2020 will perform a form of artificial photosynthesis.
Oxygen production on Mars is tantamount to future manned missions and human settlements. Besides being the gas humans breathe, liquid oxygen is rocket fuel. If large quantities of O2 can be generated on Mars, the cost of traveling there and back decreases dramatically, as launching from Earth costs between $5,000 and $13,000 per kilogram. To produce oxygen en masse, however, NASA will need a fuel cell 100 times larger than MOXIE. This would likely require human construction. Perhaps even more importantly, renewable stores of O2 on Mars, in combination with its low gravity, would allow Mars to serve as a launching point for future manned missions deeper into space.
There may be no natural disaster more humbling than hurricanes, with their gale force winds and flood-surges that destroy people’s homes, livelihoods and lives. Now two of them, back-to-back, have battered the United States and parts of the Caribbean and Cuba in the space of three weeks, including Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, which left much of Houston underwater, and Irma, which started out as a Category 5, the biggest hurricane to hit the United States since Andrew in 1992.
“The U.S. has never been hit, since we started collecting records in 1851, by two Category 4 or stronger hurricanes in the same season,” said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and co-founder of Weather Underground.
A startup in Vancouver has been collecting carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas produced by every gas-guzzling transportation method, and converting it into pellets of carbon, which can be safely stored and easily converted into the fuel that's used worldwide, every day, to power vehicles.