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Thursday, November 19, 2009

CONCERNING CARBON

I yesterday spent most of my day at a workshop sponsored by the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii:

“Concerning Carbon”

Symposium Agenda

Asia Room, East-West Center

Wednesday 18 November 2009

0800: Doors open, coffee available

0830: Begin session, Framework talks

Brian Taylor, Overview

Pete Mouginis-Mark, UH satellite opportunities for carbon cycle; Matt Church, Ocean carbon time series observations; David Karl, Kaimalino as a platform for process studies

1000: Break

1030: Ocean color, ocean phys-bio-geochemical processes in 4-D, air-sea fluxes,and related research topic presentations. Leadoff discussions by Brian Taylor, Paul Lucey, Bor Yann Liaw, John Porter, Nikolai Maximenko, and others.

1200: Lunch

1300: Ocean acidification, coral reef health, coastal ocean processes and related research topic presentations. Leadoff discussions by Richard Zeebe, Marlin Atkinson, Eric DeCarlo, Paul Jokiel, Rhian Waller, and others.

1430: Break

1500: Carbon sequestration, and related research topic presentations. Leadoff discussions by Lorenz Magaard, Greg Ravizza, Gerard Nihous, Kevin Johnson, Michael Antal, and others.

1630: Adjourn

In each discussion session, we anticipate additional speakers from the participants – please bring your slides with you! We have approximately 45 participants confirmed, and the room holds 60, so we look forward to a well-attended and intellectually stimulating day!

Image of Brian Taylor.

The event was inspired by Dean Brian Taylor and led by Sandy Shor. It was an informative experience for me, although much of the science was way beyond my current interest level. Dean Taylor indicated that this was an opportunity for the various departments and institutes in the school to interact so that partnerships could be formed.

A few presentations caught my attention. For example, Paul Jokiel reported that the projected ocean warming, which will also increase acidification, will affectively dissolve much of the coral within the century, if not in 50 years. At least, I think that is what he said. Someone will correct me if not so.

Michael Antal postulated that the conversion of biomass into carbon (he has a patented system) can make a crucial difference, for, added to the soil, plant growth can perhaps be improved by 70%. Further, this carbon will largely remain in the elemental form for a long period of time. I asked whether his concept could be applied to the open ocean. He said he'll think about it. Again, perhaps some readers of this blog might suggest marine pathways.



There were other interesting talks, but, like most gatherings, the informal discussions during breaks provided the opportunity for me to personally satisfy my curiosity. For example, David Karl mentioned that artificial upwelling from OTEC, if properly managed, could well remediate carbon dioxide because of the phosphorus factor, plus the opportunity to conveniently add trace metals (such as iron) to the controlled marine biosystem. The former is a new one for me, while the latter is the Martin Experiment. Dave, of course, is part of at least one of those teams continuing the effort. Even a company, Climos, has formed to take advantage of the coming market incentives.


Dave and I have had discussions in the past about the role of methane in climate change. Only a few years ago, methane was not considered to be much of a problem. Today, the global warming influence of this gas could well be up to one-third the worry.


The Venus Syndrome, to become, possibly, my first novel, with two co-authors, will develop the potential of marine methane hydrates (from the tundra and near coastal sites) triggering a worst case scenario: the conversion of Planet Earth to Planet Venus, which has a surface temperature of around 900 degrees Fahrenheit. This is Chapter 5 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth. One molecule of methane has 25 times the potency of a carbon dioxide molecule towards climate heating. While the storyboard for the novel has satellites detecting this sudden jump of methane emanations, Peter Mouginis-Mark said that no one is doing any of this today, and it might be impossible. I guess we will need to get creative. Hey, this will be a novel.


While a few scientists have speculated that sudden releases of marine methane hydrates have occurred in our geologic past, resulting in sudden temperature jumps, the 900 degree scare will just not happen to our globe. But is 50 degrees F possible? Maybe, and it certainly does make for an intriguing novel premise, perhaps providing that needed 2x4 club to influence decision-makers, for the simple solution to prevent this cataclysm is to control our climate now, and all signs show that nothing much will happen in Copenhagen next month.


Anyway, to return to the symposium, Dean Taylor began the process of forming working groups on ocean color, carbon sequestration (or, at least to team on another proposal to the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program) and a third related to coral reefs and ocean acidification. He suggested a white paper from each team by the early spring.


Just to plant a seed, for this was not the appropriate venue for this topic, I nevertheless lightly expounded on the need for Hawaii to initiate R&D on sustainable aviation, as our state is so dependent on tourism, and jet fuel prices will skyrocket when Peak Oil occurs. Maybe a partnership with the College of Engineering on designing a next generation hydrogen powered aircraft (which could be a dirigible capable of flying up to 350 miles per hour) and producing jet fuel from marine algae. Any of this will not be commercialized in time, but if we start now (and we should have after the 1979 energy crisis) we might be able to shorten the length of the looming great local depression. In my retirement I'm into doomsday threats. To my pleasant surprise, several faculty members came up to talk to me about this subject. There is presently no substitute for the jetliner nor jet fuel on the horizon, and no one, save for some beginning work on biofuels from algae, is spearheading this study area. This is by the far the most important economic need for the State, and SOEST is ideally conformed to take this leadership role.


Finally, I might add that Manfred Zapka sent me two references:


1. Climatologists Baffled by Global Warming Time-Out (Gerald Traufetter): just released today from Germany, here are more details to my November 3 blog, giving detractors a new set of ammo to deride global warming.


2. On Warming, Peat is the "Elephant in the Room" (Washington Post): report today indicating that peat fires (usually purposely to clear land) on Borneo in 2006 equaled the combined emissions from Germany, Britain and Canada, or more than all U.S emissions from ground and air travel.

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The Dow Jones Industrials were down 170 at one point, but recovered to end minus 94 at 10,332, while world markets also mostly decreased. Crude oil dropped below $78/barrel and gold stayed steady at $1144/toz.

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The oceans are quiet.

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