Monday October 15, 2018

Scientists may have found an upside to Air Pollution: Study

two pollutants coming out of the smokestacks at coal-fired power plants interact to make a kind of fertilizer for ocean-dwelling plankton

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FILE - Smoke billows from chimneys of the cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant in Dadong, Shanxi province, China. VOA
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US, Mar 3, 2017: Scientists may have found an upside to air pollution.

A new study found that two pollutants coming out of the smokestacks at coal-fired power plants interact to make a kind of fertilizer for ocean-dwelling plankton. That may help increase how much planet-warming carbon dioxide the plankton absorb.

The authors didn’t study the size of the fertilizer effect. But given the amount of coal burning going on, especially in Asia, they say it could be modest but significant.

While coal pollution is a major contributor to climate change and harms human health, “in this case it is doing us a good thing,” said University of Birmingham environmental scientist Zongbo Shi, senior author of the study.

“Earth systems are sometimes very complicated,” he added. “They are doing things that we don’t really expect.”

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Sulfate coating

Iron is essential for plant growth. But the mineral is often in short supply in ocean ecosystems.

Burning coal releases iron particles. Some estimates say the amount of iron falling into the oceans may have doubled or tripled since the Industrial Revolution.

But when that iron leaves the smokestack, it is locked away in a chemical form that’s not useful to plants.

Shi and colleagues found that as airborne particles drift along with other smokestack pollutants, they acquire a coating of sulfate, a chemical responsible for acid rain. That acidic coating triggers a reaction that generates iron sulfate, a soluble form of the mineral that plants can use.

The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

FILE - Power plant chimneys stand behind a coal-burning neighborhood covered in a thick haze on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Jan. 19, 2017.
FILE – Power plant chimneys stand behind a coal-burning neighborhood covered in a thick haze on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Jan. 19, 2017. VOA

Amount of absorption

The study “provides a demonstration of something that we thought was occurring, but couldn’t necessarily demonstrate,” said University of California-Davis engineering professor Chris Cappa, who was not involved with the research. But it’s still not clear how much is occurring, he said.

Burning less coal will still mean fewer greenhouse gas emissions. But Shi said the reduction might be less than anticipated.

“If we control air pollution, then all this potential uptake of carbon dioxide by the ocean will become less and less,” he said. “Then we will have to cut more and more greenhouse gas emissions.”

But outside experts cautioned that it would take more work to figure out what effect these air pollution particles actually have on how much carbon dioxide plankton absorbs.

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‘Nuanced’ relationship

“The link between iron fertilization and carbon dioxide storage is more nuanced,” said marine chemist Scott Doney at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “There was a period of time when people talked about deliberately fertilizing the ocean with iron as a route to carbon storage. And it turns out not to be so simple.”

Before people get too excited about the benefits of air pollution, they should know this: The same form of iron that plants find useful also triggers damaging chemical reactions in human lungs, Shi said. That may be responsible for some of air pollution’s impact on health.

“It is not a simple good or bad,” he said. (VOA)

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Climate Change Not A Hoax: Trump

President Trump signed a declaration Sunday saying the federal government will, for now, pay for 100 percent of the cleanup in Florida

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Climate Change
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump is backing off his claim that climate change is a hoax.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, Trump told CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes “I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again…I’m not denying climate change, but it could very well go back. You know, we’re talking about over millions of years.”

Trump has over the years called global warming a hoax and had once called it a Chinese plot aimed at wrecking the U.S. economy.

climate change
People clean up their house that was destro. yed by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach. VOA

Trump told 60 Minutes he does not know if global waning is manmade, despite the scientific research showing that pollution and human activity is the major contributor. He said he does not want to give “trillions and trillions of dollars” and lose “millions and millions of jobs” to prevent it.

Most scientists link a warming planet with storms that are more intense. Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle last week as the strongest storm to strike the continental United States in nearly 50 years.

Trump said there have been hurricanes that were “far worse” than Michael and said scientists calling for action on climate change have a “very big political agenda.”

Meanwhile, the town of Mexico Beach, Florida was just about wiped off the face of the earth by Hurricane Michael.

“Mexico Beach is devastated,” Florida Governor Rick Scott says. “It’s like a war zone.”

Climate Change
Scenes of devastation in Mexico Beach, Florida in the aftermath for Hurricane Michael. VOA

Michael’s 250 kilometer per hour winds left only a handful of buildings standing. Concrete slabs are left where houses and stores thrived. Only a few trees are left. The main U.S. highway that goes through the town is not drivable.

Mexico Beach police chief Anthony Kelly told VOA’s Spanish Service, “When you come here and see the devastation, it’s hard, it’s emotionally hard.”

“We know each person in the majority of the houses. They know us,” Kelly said. “All these people are close to us. And now we’re going around the neighborhoods making sure that they’re not in any of these houses that are so extremely damaged.”

“Looking in the debris, seeing photos of grandkids, people that we know that have come back here year after year, that’s the emotional side,” he said. “I’ve got officers that this is their first catastrophic event, and it’s hard to explain to them, you know, it’s going to get better, because they’re seeing reality.”

The town’s medical manager, Patricia Cantwell, said, “It’s extremely sad that the devastation has been so rampant throughout the Panhandle” of the state.

“Having lived through Hurricane Andrew in south Florida (in 1992), it’s going to take a while,” she told VOA. “It’s one day at a time. It looks overwhelming to start, but, you know, one day at a time. It’s going to take years to get things back up and running.”

Climate Change
Scenes of devastation in Mexico Beach, Florida in the aftermath for Hurricane Michael.. VOA

Brock Long, the head Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the death toll in Mexico Beach could rise, as rescue workers continue to search the rubble left behind by the storm. It could take another 10 days to compile a damage estimate.

Some physical structures in the town were lifted off their moorings and moved hundreds of meters away by the winds and storm surge from the storm. Other buildings were left in masses of debris, demolished beyond recognition.

Also Read: US First Lady Melania Trump Starts The Final Leg of Her Africa Trip

President Trump signed a declaration Sunday saying the federal government will, for now, pay for 100 percent of the cleanup in Florida, temporarily easing the financial burden from the state. (VOA)