Sunday, September 21, 2014

Climate and environment news from Colorado State University

As the entry that posted yesterday stated, I'm in Colorado on business.  I've already posted the space news from the state's flagship university.  Now it's time to share some stories from its Land Grant university, Colorado State, that I included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Solar storm and aurora) on Daily Kos.  As today is the People's Climate March, I'll focus on environment and climate stories.  Since I'm in an "I can't be all DOOM all the time" mood, I begin with good news.

Researcher, UN panel find ozone layer on the mend
by Kortny Rolston
September 10, 2014
For years, experts have warned that the Earth’s protective ozone layer is shrinking.

This week, CSU professor A.R. “Ravi” Ravishankara delivered some good news about the fragile shield of stratospheric gas: The ozone layer appears to be recovering.

The discovery was made by a panel of 300 scientists appointed by the United Nations to assess ozone depletion. Ravishankara helped lead the group, which has spent the past four years sifting through and analyzing ozone data and studies.

The panel attributed the turnaround to the “concerted international action” that took place in the wake of the 1987 Montreal Protocol. The agreement called for phasing out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) such as Freon and other harmful chemicals in refrigerators, air conditioners, aerosols, foam manufacture, etc., around the world.
This is exactly what the Montreal Protocol was supposed to do.  While the concentration of ozone-destroying gases has been decreasing, it's good to know that the ozone is increasing as well.

Next, a video and article about the subject of today's demonstration, climate.

Colorado State University Team Researches Arctic Soils and Climate Change

Colorado State University Associate Professor Matthew Wallenstein and his research team are studying how soil carbon storage is likely to respond to rapid environmental change.
Is global warming being accelerated in the Arctic?
by Jennifer Dimas
4 Sep, 2014
The soils in the Arctic have banked more carbon over thousands of years than the carbon contained in all of the world’s vegetation and the earth’s atmosphere combined. Why is that important? The Arctic has been taking carbon out of our atmosphere and storing it away in the soil lockbox for tens of thousands of years, until now.

CSU Associate Professor Matthew Wallenstein and his research team are studying how soil carbon storage is likely to respond to rapid environmental change.

“The climate is changing rapidly in the Arctic,” said Wallenstein. “Warming is occurring twice as fast here as in the rest of the world. And the results are visible from space. The short growing season is getting longer, and the plants are getting bigger and greener. What you can’t see from space is that the microbes and other critters that live beneath the surface are waking up too. This “biotic awakening” sounds like a good thing, and it probably is if you are a microbe, but could be bad for us. That’s because these microbes could open this carbon lockbox, releasing some of that banked soil carbon back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane. Because both of these are greenhouse gasses, that could further accelerate climate warming. There is some evidence that this is already happening. But there is a lot we don’t know, and we can’t really predict how this will play out in the future. That is why we are here.”
This is not good news, but not surprising, either.

Follow over the jump for a video and more environmentally related stories from CSU.

The Azolla Project at Colorado State University

People have been growing algae-seaweed for a long time. But when scientist and engineers get involved they ultimately want to optimize growth and build systems that offer higher yields. What Jason Prapas (Research Scientist-The Energy Institute at Colorado State University) intends to do with The Azolla Project is to create a low-cost growth environment that regulates temperature and relative humidity and produce an environment where Azolla can grow at the highest yield possible.

With growing concerns about dwindling resources, growing populations, and increased needs for protein sources, Azolla is a really elegant solution to a lot of these problems because it offers two solutions: 1. Azolla acts as a feed for cattle and poultry. 2. It’s also a fertilizer.
A fern, a fertilizer, a feed and a fuel
September 7, 2014
Inside Jason Prapas's backyard sit two blue kiddie pools covered in plastic, each filled with thousands of aquatic ferns the width of a dime growing in a mixture of water and waste. Colorado State University

Prapas, a researcher at the Energy Institute at Colorado State University,  checks the plants, known as azolla, several times a week to monitor their growth and to add water and nutrients. He logs information from his backyard experiment and compares it to data gathered by Ken Reardon, a CSU professor and an Energy Institute colleague, whose students are raising azolla in tubs of water in a lab on campus.

The two are trying to understand the saltiest conditions in which the aquatic fern can grow, how much light and phosphorous it needs to flourish, and whether human or animal waste can provide required nutrients for speedy growth.

With more research, they say, the fern could become a valuable biofertilizer and source of animal feed in developing countries.
That looks like a promising way to deal with the one of the effects of sea-level rise.

Now, how to make some money reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Fargreen wins 200,000 euro in Green Challenge
September 12, 2014
Fargreen, a startup founded as part of the College of Business's Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program, took home €200,000 (more than $250,000 USD) in the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2014 on Sept. 11.

CEO Trang Tran accepted the prize after pitching her company against four other finalists, selected from more than 300 entrants from 57 countries, in a weeklong competition in Amsterdam.  Fargreen works with local rice farmers in Tran's home country of Vietnam to divert leftover rice straw from burning to a growing medium for edible gourmet mushrooms. This process not only reduces air pollution and stops the release of greenhouse gases, it also gives farmers an additional crop to increase their income by 50 percent.

Tran expects Fargreen mushrooms to be available in Vietnamese grocery stores by the end of the year, where they will be the first branded mushrooms on the market and sell for a premium. The Green Challenge prize will help the company expand operations and eventually enter other countries, such as India, facing similar environmental challenges.
Finally, some education news close to my heart.

The Earth Sciences need women!
By Kortny Rolston
September 2, 2014
In the United States, men outnumber women in many science and engineering fields by nearly 3 to 1. In fields like physics or the geosciences, the gender gap can be even wider.

Emily Fischer, professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, is the lead investigator on a $1.7 million National Science Foundation grant to close that gap in the geosciences, which encompass mining and geology, atmospheric sciences, issues related to natural resource management, natural disaster forecasting, and oceanography.
I began my career in science as a geologist, and I can attest to the scarcity of women in the field when I was a student.  I then became a biologist, where there were more women.  I considered it an improvement.

Stay tuned for the Sunday evening entertainment entry.


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  3. Sorry about getting delete city going on here Pinku. The second one corrected the first and then I folded them together.

    Fascinating stuff maybe azolla can prevent this:

    (My Cli-Fi story).

    Azolla, truly amazing stuff I recall an article which said it had some important effect on oxygen levels sometime in the distant past. Siberia was mentioned. That is all I remember.

  4. You might want to check this out too if you have not already.

    Azolla made a fossil record in the Arctic in the early Eocene (about 50 million years ago) 8 meters thick. It lowered the temperature of the Arctic sea from 13 to -9 degrees C. It bloomed when the Arctic was warm and the CO2 was at 3500 ppm. It lowered CO2 to 650 ppm.

    I did not read this anywhere but I'm wondering if that is where the Arctic oil comes from? Deposits on land made coal, deposits in the sea made oil. That I did read somewhere.

    1. I'd be surprised if it did. Azolla may live in brackish water, but it's not an organism on the surface of the deep basins farther offshore, where oil forms. The organisms that contribute to oil deposits are usually diatoms and other planktonic algae, which do live in the photic zone in such areas, as well as the open ocean.