Stories tagged Earth Buzz


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending Environmental Initiative's 2012 Legislative Preview, part of their Policy Forum series.

Basically, a bipartisan group of legislators discussed their environmental priorities with a diverse audience of public, private and nonprofit representatives for the purpose of providing

"a valuable first look at the most pressing environmental issues facing the state in anticipation of the upcoming legislative session."

MN Most Wanted: Asian carp, aquatic invasive species
MN Most Wanted: Asian carp, aquatic invasive speciesCourtesy State of Michigan

The biggest surprise to yours truly was the prevalence of carp among the discussion. Asian carp, AIS (aquatic invasive species), etc., etc.. Everyone appeared in agreement regarding the threat posed by carp, so the real question is what do we do about their impending invasion?

One repeated suggestion was to fund more research, specifically at the University of Minnesota. This is probably an important step towards defending our state waterways, and I think this story helps illustrate why:

"As yet, no technology can stop these downstream migrations; neither grates nor dangerous, expensive electrical barriers do the job.

But a wall of cheap, harmless bubbles just might—at least well enough to have a significant benefit."

Researchers at the U of MN have discovered that bubble barriers may deter 70-80% of carp migration. It's not the visual affect of the bubbles that prevents all but the most daring carp from penetrating the barrier, rather the noise -- equivalent to what you or I would experience standing about three feet from a jackhammer.

The bubble barrier has currently only been tested on common carp, but researchers involved in the experiment want to test the technology on Asian carp next.

In addition to the bubble barrier, U of M researchers are investigating whether Asian carp pheromones can be used to lure them into traps.


The future is now for some lucky Americans. The rest of us will have to wait and hope that someday soon our recycling trucks might also run on “trash gas.”

“Trash gas” is natural gas that is harvested from landfills where it is produced by the decomposition (breaking down) of organic waste. One future-thinking company, Waste Management Inc, now has over 1,000 trucks fueled by methane (a natural gas) that they collect from one of their very own California landfills.
I'd Rather be a Recycling Truck: A lucky 1000 Waste Management recycling trucks run on cleaner-burning natural gas (compared to conventional diesel).  Are more in the making?
I'd Rather be a Recycling Truck: A lucky 1000 Waste Management recycling trucks run on cleaner-burning natural gas (compared to conventional diesel). Are more in the making?Courtesy Tom Raftery

Natural gas can be used in vehicles in either a compressed or liquefied state. Waste Management’s trash gas trucks are about 50/50 compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). You should check out those links, but to give you the gist of the idea here, imagine a balloon filled with natural gas. CGN is like squeezing that balloon. LGN is like cooling that balloon until the molecules inside condense into liquid like steam on a bathroom wall.

Why is this a BIG idea? CNG and LNG emit less carbon and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere than diesel (the conventional fuel used by most large trucks). As you’ve probably heard, carbon dioxide is among the greenhouse gases contributing to global climate change. Meanwhile, nitrogen oxides contribute to smog, which is bad for your health besides being unsightly. Less is definitely more when it comes to carbon and nitrogen oxides.

As for more, Waste Management’s single currently operating LGN-generating landfill creates 13,000 gallons of LGN each day, which is enough to fuel 1,000 trucks. According to the primary source of this blog post, Waste Management has another landfill-turned-fuel station up for approval. With an additional 299 landfills and about 21,000 trucks, it might not be that long before a Waste Management “trash gas” truck comes rolling along your street.


Back in November, UC-Berkeley physicist Richard Muller surprised a number of people when he stated at a congressional briefing that “global warming is real.”

Muller had previously been called a climate skeptic for drawing attention to what he called numerous errors in the film “An Inconvenient Truth,” but his own extensive research showed none of his concerns about climate change science to be legitimate.

In fact, according to the Huffington Post, “Muller explained how his team reached the conclusion that in the last half-century the earth's temperature has risen roughly 1 degree Celsius, a number that exceeds the conservative 0.64 degree estimate put forth by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” His study was partially funded by the Koch brothers, oil-industry billionaires who have, on more than one occasion, funded studies by climate change deniers. The Koch brothers have since questioned Muller’s findings.

In a December Wall Street journal editorial, Bjorn Lomborg, author of the “Skeptical Environmentalist” conceded that global warming is a real threat and will hit developing countries hardest, but states that cutting carbon emissions won’t make much change in temperature over the next 30 years. He claims that rather than continuing to work on getting nations to lower emissions, we should just set up infrastructures to deal with the resulting problems from climate change. Bjorn, whose numbers and conclusions have often been questioned by scientists, seems to be saying we should just throw in the towel and stand back while economics determines our world’s future.

A few days later, the New York Times printed an article on the warming Artic permafrost, which contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere. Scientists believe that both global warming, resulting from human activity, and wildfires may be catalyzing the thawing of permafrost, which releases methane gas into the atmosphere as the ancient plants and animals that make up the frozen tundra decompose. Although it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, methane gas is even better at trapping heat and will potentially make earth’s atmosphere warm at an even faster rate, thawing more permafrost, in a vicious cycle.

In the article, the experts said that “if humanity began getting its own emissions under control soon, the greenhouse gases emerging from permafrost could be kept to a much lower level.”

Skeptics are looking at the evidence and becoming believers. Science tells us that climate change is real, and is already well underway, but that we can still slow global warming by reducing carbon emissions. In other words, we shouldn’t throw in the towel.

Here are links to the three articles to which I referred:

Are you prepared for a major earthquake? Do you know how to protect yourself when they happen? The purpose of the ShakeOut website is to help people and organizations do both. Several earthquake scenarios for individuals, schools, governments, and organizations are provided on the website. The ShakeOut dtill began in 2008 with the Great Southern California ShakeOut. Last year, the California ShakeOut had 7.9 million participants.

2011 was the first year of The Great Central U.S. ShakeOut. It was the largest earthquake drill to ever take place in the Central U.S. with more than 3 million registered participants. 2011 was also the first year of the British Columbia ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill to ever take place in Canada, with 470,000 participants.

The next Central United States ShakeOut will likely be held on February 7th, 2012, with the first Japanese ShakeOut, centered in Tokyo, planned for the following month on March 11, 2012, the anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.


Ten abandoned mining pits in Minnesota's Iron Range could have new life as pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants, according to a University of Minnesota,* Great River Energy, and Minnesota Power study.

[Hey, now: did you click on the hyperlink above? I don't put hyperlinks in posts for my own amusement, you know. They're for your viewing pleasure and learning enjoyment! Seriously though, click on them for great explanations, photos, diagrams, graphs, and more. You won't be disappointed.]

Match made in Minnesota: Wind and water "play nice" in pumped-storage hydroelectric technology.
Match made in Minnesota: Wind and water "play nice" in pumped-storage hydroelectric technology.Courtesy Steve Fareham

Pumped-storage hydroelectric technology sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but it's really just a neat combination of water and wind energy technology. What makes pumped-storage hydroelectric projects sexy is that they make it possible to store excess energy generated by wind turbines on windy days. This stored energy can then be used during the inevitable calm days -- addressing one of the biggest issues for today's wind energy industry!

How does it work?

It's basic physics, my friends: building potential energy and releasing kinetic energy. Specifically, excess energy generated by wind turbines "is used to pump water from a low-lying reservoir to a higher elevation pool" within the mine pit. This builds the potential energy of the water. Then, when that energy is demanded, "water from the upper pool is released generating hydroelectricity and refilling the lower pool." This releases kinetic energy, which can be turned into electricity.

How effective is it?

Researchers estimated that a pumped-storage hydroelectric facility built in Virginia, MN could output the same electricity as a "modest-sized" generator burning natural gas. However, at a cost of $120 million, the pumped-hydro facility would be more expensive than a comparable natural gas generator.

There are 40 U.S. locations currently employing pumped-storage hydroelectricity technology, but there are no definite plans for any such projects in Minnesota -- yet.

Read the Star Tribune's coverage of this story here.

*Including scientists from UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute, St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, and Humphrey School of Public Affairs; and funded largely by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

It is estimated that two-thirds of sulfur dioxide (SO2) air pollution in North America comes from coal power plants. In a recent scientific article published in Geophysical Research Letters, a team of scientists have confirmed that SO2 levels in the vicinity of U.S. coal power plants have fallen by nearly 50% since 2005. .Mean SO2 values for 2005-2007
Mean SO2 values for 2005-2007Courtesy NASA
This finding, using satellite observations, confirms ground-based measurements of declining SO2 levels. In many parts of the world, ground-based monitoring does not exist or is not extensive; therefore, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on the Aura satellite could potentially measure levels of harmful emissions in regions of the world where reliable ground monitoring is unavailable..Mean SO2 values for 2008-2010
Mean SO2 values for 2008-2010Courtesy NASA
Key: Yellow to violet colors correspond to statistically significant enhancements in SO2 pollution in the vicinity of the largest SO2 emitting coal-burning power plants indicated by the black dots.
Key: Yellow to violet colors correspond to statistically significant enhancements in SO2 pollution in the vicinity of the largest SO2 emitting coal-burning power plants indicated by the black dots.Courtesy NASA

Previously, space-based SO2 monitoring was limited to plumes from volcanic eruptions and detecting anthropogenic emissions from large source regions as in China. A new spatial filtration technique allows the detection of individual pollution sources in Canada and the U.S.

"What we’re seeing in these satellite observations represents a major environmental accomplishment," said Bryan Bloomer, an Environmental Protection Agency scientist familiar with the new satellite observations. "This is a huge success story for the EPA and the Clean Air Interstate Rule," he said.

Article: NASA Satellite Confirms Sharp Decline In Pollution From US Coal Power Plants

Ozone is a triatomic molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms. Earlier this week, the scientific journal Applied Physics Letters published the article, Ozone generation by rock fracture: Earthquake early warning?, written by Raúl A. Baragiola, Catherine A. Dukes, and Dawn Hedges of the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science. If future research does confirm a correlation, an array of ozone detectors could be used to give early warning to earthquakes, as well as averting disasters in tunnel excavation, landslides, and underground mining operations.

University of Virginia Press Release: Study: Ozone From Rock Fracture Could Serve As Earthquake Early Warning


If you look at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s interactive map of nuclear power plants in the United States, you will see several in states bordering the Atlantic Ocean. This prompted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to request the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), along with other governmental and academic partners, to research the potential for tsunamis to strike the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, and prepare maps using sonar (originally an acronym for SOund Navigation And Ranging). Note that the March 11, 2011 earthquake near Honshu, Japan, created a tsunami that resulted in a nuclear disaster that is still being remediated.

NOAA Research Ship Nancy Foster: Nancy Foster supports applied research primarily for NOAA's National Ocean Service and Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.
NOAA Research Ship Nancy Foster: Nancy Foster supports applied research primarily for NOAA's National Ocean Service and Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Through this research, initiated about five years ago, the leading potential source of dangerous tsunamis to the East Coast was identified as landslides, either originating in submarine canyons or on the continental slope of the submerged margin of the continent of North America.

According to USGS marine geologist Jason Chaytor, many years of data collection and integration of existing data sets was needed in order to produce seafloor maps with the resolution needed to identify all of the relevant features for this study. The first field effort of this project was a multibeam bathymetric mapping cruise conducted aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Nancy Foster from June 4 to June 16, 2011. Using echosounders installed on the hull of Nancy Foster, the science team mapped canyons and shelf regions at high resolution over more than 380 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) of seafloor from south of Cape Hatteras, located offshore of North Carolina, to the eastern tip of Long Island in New York.
Bathymetric Map of Continental Slope 150 km Southeast of New Jersey: High-resolution multibeam bathymetry collected in and between Baltimore and Accomac Canyons during the June 2011 cruise. Color key at left shows depths (in meters).
Bathymetric Map of Continental Slope 150 km Southeast of New Jersey: High-resolution multibeam bathymetry collected in and between Baltimore and Accomac Canyons during the June 2011 cruise. Color key at left shows depths (in meters).Courtesy United States Geological Survey

A number of submarine landslides, some previously unknown, were either partly or completely mapped. Characteristics collected include the size and number of landslides, soil and rock properties, the water depth they occur in, and the style in which they fail. This information is often used in numerical modeling of tsunamis generated by landslides.

The scientists detailed their findings in the September/October issue of the USGS newsletter Sound Waves.


On November 10, 2011, at 17:25 UTC (or 11:25am Central Standard Time), a shallow quake occured in Greece about 11.8 miles NE of the town of Patras. According to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre, this earthquake had a magnitude of 5.1 (later downgraded to a 4.6) and was a relatively shallow quake at 5 km (approximately 3.1 miles) below the Earth's surface.

This region is characterized by a high level of seismicity, and small tremors are continually recorded along the coast of Patras. Another interesting aspect of Patras is that in antiquity, there was an ancient oracle, over a sacred spring, dedicated to the goddess Demeter. Professor Iain Stewart from the University of Plymouth has been studying a supposed link between ancient. sacred places in Greece and Turkey and seismic fault lines. Many ancient temples and cities lie along those fault lines and this may not be merely due to chance, but they may have been placed there deliberately.The Temple of Apollo at Delphi with Mount Parnassus in the Background
The Temple of Apollo at Delphi with Mount Parnassus in the BackgroundCourtesy Wikimedia Commons

For example, the Oracle at Delphi has been given a geological explanation. The Delphi Fault (running east-west) and the Kerna Fault (running SE-NW) intersect near the oracular chamber in the Temple of Apollo. In that area, bituminous limestone (i.e. limestone containing bitumen, a tarlike deriviative of petroleum) has a petrochemical content as high as 20%. Analysis of spring water in the area showed the presence of hydrocarbon gases, such as ethylene. Geologists have hypothesized that friction from fault movement heats the limestone, causing the petrochemicals within to vaporize. It has been suggested that exposure to low levels of the sweet-smelling gas ethylene would induce a trance, or euphoric state. Could the naturally occuring ethylene account for the strange, prophetic behavior of the Pythia (the priestess at the Temple of Apollo)?

The Delphi research is certainly persuasive, and received favorable coverage in the popular press and Scientific American, but it has come under criticism. Critics argue that the concentrations of ethylene identified by the researchers would not be sufficient to induce a trance-like state, and thus the connection to the mantic behavior of the Pythia is dubious.

Report: Geomythology: Geological Origins of Myths and Legends
Article: Breaking the Vapour Barrier: What Made the Delphic Oracle Work?
Report: Oracle at Delphi May Have Been Inhaling Ethylene Gas Fumes

Related Report: Earthquake Faulting at Ancient Cnidus, SW Turkey