CO2 Emissions Also a Concern in the Oceans

Though carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are well-known as a contributor to global warming, it is not as well known that CO2 emissions also cause ocean acidification. Ocean acidity has risen 30 percent since the arrival of the Industrial Age. Research indicates that if CO2 continues to be emitted at today’s rates, it is expected that ocean acidity will increase by an additional 100 percent by the year 2100. Researchers based in Europe are currently conducting an experiment to determine how an increase in oceanic CO2 concentrations will affect oceanic organisms such as plankton.

This research project, funded by the European Union, is a multi-disciplinary affair. Among the researchers involved in this experiment are cell biologists, molecular biologists, marine ecologists, biogeochemists, and oceanic and atmospheric chemists. The scientists’ experiment is taking place off the coast of Svalbard, an island archipelago in the Arctic Sea. This oceanic experiment is the first of its kind to test the effect of increased CO2 concentrations in the Arctic Ocean. Ocean acidification is particularly worrisome in polar seas because carbon dioxide is absorbed more readily in cold water. This absorption of CO2 leads to unnaturally low carbonate saturation states in the water. This situation is particularly problematic because these sub-saturated waters could be corrosive to organisms made of calcium, such as shellfish, sea urchins, and calcareous plankton.

Many of these organisms play a key role in the oceanic food web. For example, plankton are eaten by organisms including fish, sea birds, and whales. The loss of plankton, or any other organism in the polar oceans, could have a disastrous effect on the rest of the food web.

In their six-week long experiment, the scientists have enclosed ocean plankton into nine 17-meter long “test tubes,” which each hold a volume of 50 cubic meters of seawater. Inside each “test tube,” the confined plankton are exposed to a range of CO2 concentrations that are expected to occur between now and the middle of the next century. The scientists are monitoring how these different CO2 concentrations affect the plankton, and their results should provide important information as to how increased CO2 concentrations in the ocean will affect oceanic organisms in the future.

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States Enact Regulations to Cut Greenhouse Emissions

The call to cut greenhouse gas emissions has not fallen on deaf ears at the state level. Due to a lack of initiative on the part of the federal government, states are dealing with regulating greenhouse gas emissions on their own. States are enacting laws that require lower greenhouse gas emissions, and are entering into agreements with one another to track and fight against further emissions.

California set the pace on greenhouse gas regulation back in 2002, when Governor Gray Davis signed a law curbing emissions from cars and trucks by 30 percent by 2016. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has since signed laws that limit industrial emissions and set up both an industrial emissions registry and a regional emissions cap-and-trade system.

Other states have followed suit. Fifteen other states, including Washington, Oregon, and almost all of the Northeast, have implemented California’s auto emissions standards. Thirty-one states have joined the voluntary Climate Registry to help measure emissions from industries and other sources in their states. Seventeen states have orders or laws that mandate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Twenty-three states have minimum renewable energy standards that require power companies to produce electricity using renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power. In fact, Iowa has set, in the words of Governor Chet Culver, the ambitious, yet attainable goal of achieving energy independence from foreign sources of energy by the year 2025.

California has hit a snag with its tail-pipe emissions law. In December 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency did not approve a Clean Air act waiver that would allow California to set stricter auto emission regulations; California and the fifteen other states that enacted similar laws have filed suit against the EPA to appeal its decision. Until the appeal is settled, the stricter auto emission standards wont apply to the auto industry. In spite of that set-back, individual states are moving forward with local and regional standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions and curb their impact on our climate.

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Researchers Work to Combat Climate Change

Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are a major cause of global climate change. Many scientists are tackling the problem from different angles — some work on policy changes while others develop technologies. They are all working to find ways to lower the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere. Here are a few examples of current research into lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Low-Swirl Injector (LSI) The low-swirl injector (LSI) is a combustion technology that burns many types of fuels at lower temperatures. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) are released when fuel, especially fossil fuel, is burned at power plants. Fuels burned at a lower temperature release much less NOx. The LSI can also burn fuels that contain less or no carbon dioxide, including hydrogen, setting the stage for lower carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. But it only gets better: The LSI can be used in existing power plants, so plants can upgrade their generators without replacing them. Hopefully the LSI will be out of the lab and into commercial power plants soon.

Cleaning Up Biodiesel Biodiesel is a promising alternative fuel that emits fewer greenhouse gases, but the glycerol by-product can ruin engines. A team at the University of Leicester in the Great Britain has found a greener way to clean glycerol from vegetable-oil biodiesel. Glycerol is now removed from biodiesel through a variety of environmentally unfriendly ways. The team developed a solution of vitamin B4 and glycerol to wash out glycerol from the fuel. Their new method is not only greener, but is also sustainable.

Reducing Fuel Emissions Experts from the University of California have a plan to fight global warming by reducing carbon emission from transportation fuels by 10 percent. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard, LCFS, will be in effect in California by 2020, and will probably set the bar for other emission standards in the United States and beyond. LCFS will affect all stages of a fuels life cycle, so industries and consumers will be responsible for lowering fuel emissions. “[LCFS] will likely transform the energy industries. And the 10 percent reduction is just the beginning. We anticipate much greater reductions after 2020,” says Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.

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