Posts Tagged ‘co2’
As a climate scientist, tackling global warming is an immense challenge. The most basic information, such as the location of the world’s fossil fuel-burning power plants and how much CO2 they emit, is difficult to obtain while sitting in an office. Through the power of crowdsourcing and the Internet, researchers at Arizona State University have created a computer game called Ventus that takes advantage of data provided by citizen scientists. Led by Kevin Gurney, the website operates on the belief that every facility in the world has at least a dozen or so people living or working near the plant that could provide valuable information. Players register through the page and are asked to provide the name and location of the plant along with what kind of fuel is used, how much electricity is produced, and the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. They are able to view all entries as well as make adjustments and edits. Participants who have provided the most useful data at the end of the year will win.
The team at ASU has already compiled a list of 25,000 plants through Google Earth. They estimate that there are over 30,000 fossil-fuel sites across the world, and the number is likely to grow as countries such as India and China continue to industrialize. With power plants accounting for nearly half of the world’s CO2 output, understanding where and how much greenhouse gas is being expelled into the environment will be a powerful tool for governments and communities to use in shifting towards alternative sources of energy.
Climate change is perhaps the single biggest issue facing the health of our communities. Severe weather conditions threaten the crops on which we depend for food and a thriving economy as well as the safety of our neighborhoods and health of our landscape. In San Luis Obispo, we have historically seen weather patterns consistent with a Mediterranean climate where we experience long, hot and dry summers with rainy, wet winters. Many of the native plants are drought-tolerant, and the cold waters and upwelling of nutrients off of our coasts provide us with a stunning amount of marine biodiversity. With greenhouse gasses on the rise, what can we expect for the seasons to come?
The Coast: According to a report released by the California Academy of Sciences in June of this year, Central California’s waters are already showing the effects of a warming planet. Surface waters have increased in temperature, sea levels are higher, winds are stronger, upwellings are more intense, there is increased ocean acidification, and shoreline erosion has accelerated. As a result, ecosystems have been thrown out of balance and organisms are struggling to adapt.
The study states that the most severe ecological disruption will come from the changes associated with upwellings, ocean temperature, sea level rise, and acidification. Upwelling appears to be increasing because of more rapid heating of land in contrast to the ocean which creates pressure gradients and strong winds, driving the process. Researchers worry that stronger currents may carry the larvae of fish and other animals out to sea, disconnecting whole populations and threatening the food web. Warm surface temperatures have heated bays and shallow waters, making for steep temperature gradients from east to west. Warmer surface waters also inhibit the vertical mixing of water and nutrients which can result in plankton blooms and areas of low dissolved oxygen, killing certain species that need oxygen rich habitats to survive and aiding in the takeover of invasive organisms.
Sea level rise has accounted for a large amount of coastline erosion as well as the change in tidepool ecosystems. Rising waters affect the ability of marine mammals to reproduce and rest, changing the living patterns for these top predators. As CO2 continues to be absorbed by the sea, waters have become more acidic, creating conditions where shelled animals cannot form their exoskeletons or even dissolve.
In regards to broader weather patterns, the El Nino oscillation cycles are expected to continue with higher temperatures than in the past. La Nina years will be wetter and warmer than average with heavy downpours becoming more frequent. Days of high fire risk are going to become more common with an extended fire season brought on by hotter temperatures and increased evaporation. Flooding and erosion from sea level rise and lack of vegetative cover will deposit more soil and sediment into freshwater systems, eventually affecting marine ecosystems as they flow out to sea. Saltwater is also expected to flow into freshwater systems as the oceans rise.
“Finish your potatoes! There are starving children in Somalia!” . . . “Don’t throw that out! Do you know how hard I work to put food on this table?” . . . “If you let that go to waste, you’re contributing to global warming!”
Global warming? Yes, it looks as though parents have one more phrase to add to their arsenal of nit-pickings to make their kids feel just a little bit guilty about leaving that last vegetable on the plate. Turns out that letting last night’s meatloaf languish in the refrigerator may be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. As Americans, we waste a staggering 55 million tons of food annually, which is roughly 40 percent of our total supply. Using software developed by CleanMetrics, an analytical firm out of Oregon, the USDA discovered that food waste is responsible for 135 million tons of atmospheric CO2 each year, about 1.5 percent of total output. That comes to about 440 pounds of discarded food per individual each year, not counting meals eaten in restaurants or taking into consideration the energy and emissions produced in cooking.
The type food you waste may also have an impact on the climate. For example, meats and dairy are more energy intensive and expensive to process, transport and raise. Depending on where you live, your salad may have had to travel several hundred miles to reach the grocery store, meaning more fossil fuels burned and time spent in refrigeration. According to CleanMetrics, nearly 80 percent of all emissions are created during transportation and processing, with additional greenhouse gas being released through decomposition in landfills.
What to do to keep the planet cool and mom and dad from nagging? Leftover plants and grains can be composted in order to let carbon return to the soil and become sequestered in the ground. Buying local groceries will help to cut down on the amount of highway your food needs to cover before becoming dinner. Eating lower down on the food chain can also reduce the amount of energy needed to create, sustain and process your meal. Most importantly, shop prudently and purchase only what you can reasonably eat within a given expiration date. Not only will you save a little bit of cash, but possibly make a dent in the fight against global warming!