Friday, October 31, 2014

Media Coverage of the CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown Concept

Media Coverage of the CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown Concept

The Alaska Dispatch Newspaper is an on-line publication that publishes news and features about Alaska.  They ran a news story on October 25, 2014, written by Ned Rozell, an excellent science writer based at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

Here's an excerpt:  

Geoengineering ideas

Beget's idea is an example of geoengineering -- using manmade solutions to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the 30-mile shell of gases around Earth. Accelerating levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is a frequent topic at the conference. Al Gore and climate scientist James Hansen have spoken with urgency on the subject in lecture halls packed with more people than live in most Alaska towns.
With geoengineering, humans attempt to modify the effects of planet-warming molecules in the atmosphere. The ideas, most still in the think-tank stage, range from painting roofs white to reflect sunlight to seeding the atmosphere with volcanic-emission-like particles known to cause global cooling. Another way to tackle the problem is to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Some have suggested dumping iron filings in the ocean to stimulate the growth of CO2-consuming plankton.
As he pondered these notions, Beget's northern bias came through.
"There really hasn't been any suggestion of using the cryosphere (the frozen parts of the planet) to store CO2," he said.

Never thawed

He thought the great plateau of East Antarctica, home of the South Pole. There sits an ice sheet as large as the Lower 48. At its thickest, the ice is 15,000 feet (nearly 3 miles) above the ocean. Upon that ice in 1983, Russians at the Vostok Research Station recorded a temperature of minus 128.6 Fahrenheit. Ice cores show no evidence of temperatures close to the thawing mark.
"There's no melt in the record, which goes back 200,000 years," Beget said. "It's a natural place for this concept."


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What is Planetary Geoengineering?


What is Planetary Geoengineering?

The idea of planetary geoengineering first entered the popular imagination through science fiction.   The basic idea is that humans and their technology can alter the climates of entire planets.  A well-known science fiction writer named Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a trilogy of sci-fi books about terraforming and geoengineering Mars to change the climate of Mars and make it habitable for humans.  The books in the series are titled Red Mars,  Green Mars, and Blue Mars, and Red Mars is now being made into a TV series by Spike TV.  An earlier Sci-Fi movie, Star Trek II:  the wrath of Khan ends with Spock dying and being resurrected (along with a dead world suddenly filled with dense vegetation and a bewildering array of microclimates) by the Genesis device. 

Unfortunately, we don't have a "Genesis" device or Captain Kirk to help us geoengineer the problems on earth today caused by global warming, but we still have Planetary Engineering.  So what is it?

One defintion comes from US National Academy of Sciences, a group comprised of leading US Scientists, who define climate geoengineering as “… large-scale engineering of our environment in order to combat or counteract the effects of changes in atmospheric chemistry.”  But in my opinion this definition is too restrictive as it links the activity of geoengineering with a value judgement and a motivation.   The NAS definition effectively limits the use of the term "geoengineering" only to instances where the intent is to combat ongoing climate changes.   

We don't define things that way in the English language.  For instance, the more familiar term of "engineering" is defined as ".....building or constructing things in accordance with scientific principles."  There is no outcome or value judgement specified in that definition, and that is only right.  If an engineer builds a bridge that then collapses, the bridge was still built and engineered.  The motivation and even the outcome are irrelevant.  Or if a member of the US Corps of Engineers builds a levee along a river through a town to control flooding, the levee may actually channel the floodwaters farther downstream and cause worse flooding there.  Again, it isn't the motivation or outcome that make it "engineering"---it is the activity.  

Planetary geoengineering should be defined the same way.  I will define Planetary Geoengineerng as ......human activities that change earth's climate and environment.   

Not all proposed geoengineering methods would necessarily work exactly the way the people who propose them intended.   If things went wrong in planetary engineering it would still be planetary engineering, just as the poor engineer whose bridge collapsed would still have engaged in engineering.  

Redefining planetary engineering simply as human caused changes in climate completely separates the activity (i.e. geoenginering) from any specific goal.   Obviously any geoengineering effort would only be undertaken to improve the earth's climate.  But what constitutes improvement?  Is it maintaining earth's climate at its current level?  Is it returning the earth's climate to something like the climate that existed in the early 1800s prior to the industrial revolution and the beginning of massive fossil fuel combustion (the early 1800s are part of a period known to climatologists as the "Little Ice Age").    And the climate that one person wants to "combat"  (to quote the National Academy of Sciences) another person might actually choose.  Here in Alaska, where I live, it gets very cold in the winter.  When it drops to -40° in the winter, there are a good number of Alaskans who are hoping for more global warming.  


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2014 CO2 emissions on trend for another record year

There seems to be little hope of significantly reducing global CO2 emissions any time soon.  The latest 2014 estimates for global CO2 emissions show that CO2 emissions from human sources following a trend close to the worst-case models compiled by the IPCC climate assessment group (see above).  And, CO2 emissions continue to continue to accelerate, putting the planet clearly on trend for significant global warming over the next 85 years.  

The depressing fact that our political leaders are unable and/or unwilling to taken the steps necessary to reduce global CO2 emissions by entering into a global, binding post-Kyoto climate treaty is now inescapable.  

Planetary geoengineering may offer a way to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations, or to alter the planet in ways that may help counteract the global warming caused by increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

I've started this blog to put down some thoughts about a new geoengineering concept that I am calling the CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown.