Thursday December 13, 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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U.S. Sponsored Event Promoting Fossil Fuels Disrupted by Protesters

The conference, in Katowice, Poland, aims to work out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, the global pact on combating climate change.

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Fossil Fuels
Youth and indigenous groups protest against fossil fuels during US-hosted event at the UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 10, 2018, as the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference takes place in the city. VOA

Protesters disturbed a U.S.-sponsored event promoting fossil fuels on the sidelines of U.N. climate change talks on Monday.

The event called “U.S. innovative technologies spur economic dynamism,” touting the benefits of burning fossil fuels more efficiently, infuriated campaigners and many government delegations who want the talks to focus on moving away from coal, oil and gas.

Some 100 protestors in the audience at the event seized a microphone and interrupted opening remarks by Wells Griffith, the man President Donald Trump appointed as senior director for energy at the National Security Council.

fossil fuels
Representational Image Of Fossil Fuel plant.Wikimedia Commons.

They waved banners and chanted: “keep it in the ground.”

“I’m 19 years old and I’m pissed,” shouted Vic Barrett, a plaintiff in the “Juliana vs U.S.” lawsuit filed in 2015 by 21 young people against the government for allowing activities that harm the climate.

“I am currently suing my government for perpetuating the global climate change crisis… Young people are at the forefront of leading solutions to address the climate crises and we won’t back down.”

Before the interruption, Griffiths said it was important to be pragmatic in dealing with climate change in a world still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

Fire, CLimate Change, California, fossil fuels
Firefighters battle a wildfire as it threatens to jump a street near Oroville, California. VOA

“Alarmism should not silence realism… This administration does not see the benefit of being part of an agreement which impedes U.S. economic growth and jobs,” he said.

Also Read: Climate Change Left Its Fingerprint On The Most Extreme Disasters in 2017

The conference, in Katowice, Poland, aims to work out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, the global pact on combating climate change.

The United States, the world’s top oil and gas producer, is the only country to have announced its withdrawal from the accord. (VOA)