Tuesday March 26, 2019

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

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)

Next Story

Due to Global Warming Mount Everest Melting Glaciers Throw Up Climbers’ Bodies

According to studies, glaciers in the Everest region are melting and thinning

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The association's Treasurer, Tenzeeng Sherpa, said climate change was affecting Nepal with glaciers, in parts, melting by a meter every year. Pixabay

With the melting of glaciers and snow due to high temperatures, Mount Everest expedition operators are finding more and more bodies of climbers on and around the world’s highest peak.

More than 200 mountaineers have died on the peak since 1922, when the first climbers’ deaths on the Everest were recorded. Most bodies have remained buried under glaciers or snow, CNN has reported.

“Due to climate change and global warming, snow and glaciers are melting fast, and bodies are being exposed and discovered by climbers,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, former President of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

mount everest
“Since 2008, my company has brought down seven bodies, some dating back to a British expedition in the 1970s,” he said. Pixabay

“Since 2008, my company has brought down seven bodies, some dating back to a British expedition in the 1970s,” he said.

According to studies, glaciers in the Everest region are melting and thinning.

“It’s a serious issue. We are concerned about this as it’s getting worse,” said Sobit Kunwar, an official of the Nepal National Mountain Guides Association. “We are trying to spread information to have a coordinated way to deal with it,” he said.

The association’s Treasurer, Tenzeeng Sherpa, said climate change was affecting Nepal with glaciers, in parts, melting by a meter every year.

mount everest
“We bring down most bodies. But for those that could not be brought down we pay ours respects by saying prayers and covering them with rocks or snow,” Sherpa said. Pixabay

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“We bring down most bodies. But for those that could not be brought down we pay ours respects by saying prayers and covering them with rocks or snow,” Sherpa said.

He lamented poor response of authorities in dealing with bodies found on the mountain. “We have not seen the government taking any responsibility,” he said.

Recovering and removing bodies from higher camps can be both dangerous and expensive. (IANS)