MIT professor of geophysics Daniel Rothman stands next to part of the Xiakou formation in China
A team of researchers from MIT may have found new evidence to shed light on the cause of the most devastating mass extinction in the history of our planet. The event, estimated to have taken place around 252 million years ago, was responsible for the extinction of roughly 90 percent of all life on Earth.
The team’s research indicates that the catastrophic event was in fact triggered by the tiniest of organisms, a methane-releasing microbe called Methanosarcina. New evidence suggests that at the time of the extinction, the microbes appeared in massive numbers across the world’s oceans, spreading vast clouds of the carbon-heavy gas methane into the atmosphere. This had the effect of altering the planet’s climate in a way that made it inhospitable to most other forms of life inhabiting Earth at that time.
It was previously believed that the mass extinction, known as the end-Permian extinction, was due to either vast amounts of volcanic activity, a devastating asteroid strike or prolific all-consuming coal fires. Any of these events could have caused the mass deaths, however there are inconsistencies in the evidence that point away from the traditional theories and towards the new findings presented by the researchers from MIT…
Although the team does not believe that…heightened levels of volcanism were responsible for the extinction itself, they do believe that it could have been the catalyst. The sudden and devastating increase in carbon-containing gases present during the end-Permian extinction is put down to a massive bloom of Methanosarcina. However, for this bloom to take place, the microbes would require an abundant source of carbon and nickel, both of which were discovered in a new analysis of sediments in China, and could have been distributed widely through a volcanic eruption.
The case for Methanosarcina being responsible for the extinction is further strengthened by the team’s findings that, at the time of the end-Permian extinction, the microbes had undergone a genetic transfer from another microbe. This is what gave the Methanosarcina the ability to produce methane at such a prolific rate.
With the catalyst of volcanic activity, the Methanosarcina were able to spread across our planet’s oceans unchecked. This allowed the microbes to produce vast quantities of carbon-containing methane, by harvesting the now carbon- and nickel-rich water. The release of said methane would have had the effect of raising the carbon dioxide levels in the waters, causing ocean acidification, irrevocably altering the ecosystem.
Let us hope no natural occurrence allows us to experiment firsthand with the hypothesis.
Of course, if such a cataclysm initiated, we can count on the usual assembly of know-nothings to stand around – doing their best to interfere with any attempt to save the species of Earth – while the rest of us die trying.
Last year was one of the 10 hottest on record, with sea levels at record highs, Arctic ice at historic lows and extreme weather in various corners of the globe signaling a “new normal,” scientists said Tuesday in the 2012 State of the Climate report.
Meant to be a guide for policymakers, the report did not attribute the changes in climate to any one factor, but made note of continued increases in heat-trapping greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide…
The report’s data indicate “new normal” conditions that can inform planning decisions, instead of relying on models that “count on the future being statistically a lot like the past,” Kathryn Sullivan said at a news briefing.
Global surface temperatures – land and water – were the eighth or ninth warmest, depending on which data set was used, since recordkeeping began in the late 1800s, the report found.
However, in the decade leading up to 2012, global temperatures actually declined by .05 degree C, according to Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Karl said the 50-year trend indicates global temperatures have consistently increased about .15 degree C per decade.
The recent decrease in temperatures has been noted by climate change skeptics who question the impact of human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide, on climate.
However, other changes detailed in the report paint a more complex picture:
- Sea levels reached a record high, after a sharp decrease in 2011 possibly linked to the Pacific Ocean phenomenon La Nina, which can have a cooling effect;
- Arctic sea ice shrank to its smallest summer minimum since satellite records began 34 years ago, while Antarctic sea ice reached a record high;
- More than 97 percent of the ice sheet covering Greenland melted at least a bit in the summer of 2012, four times greater than the 1981-2010 average;
- Average sea surface temperatures rose, but not much, making 2012 among the 11th warmest years on record;
- Ocean heat was near record high levels in the upper half-mile of the water, and temperatures also increased in the deep ocean.
The State of the Climate report is being published as a supplement to the August Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and is available online.
I suggest reading the whole report. Something in there for everyone, amateur or professional, scientist or advocate for science.
It will bore the crap out of “skeptics” who normally rely on ideologues who tell them what to believe.
Here at one of the largest dairy farms in the country, electricity generated using an endless supply of manure runs the equipment to milk around 30,000 cows three times a day.
For years, the farm has used livestock waste to create enough natural gas to power 10 barns, a cheese factory, a cafe, a gift shop and a maze of child-friendly exhibits about the world of dairy, including a 3D movie theater.
All that, and Fair Oaks Farms was still using only about half of the five million pounds of cow manure it vacuumed up from its barn floors on a daily basis. It burned off the excess methane, wasted energy sacrificed to the sky.
But not anymore.
The farm is now turning the extra manure into fuel for its delivery trucks, powering 42 tractor-trailers that make daily runs to raw milk processing plants in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Officials from the federal Department of Energy called the endeavor a “pacesetter” for the dairy industry, and said it was the largest natural gas fleet using agricultural waste to drive this nation’s roads.
“As long as we keep milking cows, we never run out of gas,” said Gary Corbett, chief executive of Fair Oaks, which held a ribbon-cutting event for the project this month and opened two fueling stations to the public…
The American Gas Association estimates there are about 1,200 natural gas fueling stations operating across the country, the vast majority of which are supplied by the same pipelines that heat houses.
But the growing market is also drawing interest from livestock farmers, landfill management companies and other industries handling methane-rich material that, if harnessed, could create a nearly endless supply of cleaner, safer, sustainable “biogas,” while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
To be sure, no one is pretending that waste-to-energy projects will become a major part of the larger natural gas vehicle market. But supporters say it could provide additional incentive to make biogas systems, which have lagged behind other sustainable energy solutions, more commercially viable.
RTFA. Partnerships are growing between dairy farmers and NatGas industry providers. They say we’ll be surprised how much they will grow over the next five years.
I’m ready to be surprised. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
Some scientific findings are just too good to leave alone, even if you don’t know if they can ever be confirmed: Such is the case for a study saying that plant-eating dinosaurs could have emitted enough digestive methane to warm Earth’s climate 150 million years ago.
“It is known that the time of these dinosaurs was warmer than now,” said David Wilkinson…lead author of a paper on the subject appearing in the journal Current Biology. “This is explained usually by an enhanced greenhouse effect, mainly carbon dioxide. If we are correct, then methane from sauropods may have been a contributor to this greenhouse effect.”
Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and modern-day livestock are thought to be responsible for about a quarter of the methane released in the United States. Some say that the belches and flatulence of cattle, pigs and sheep are a significant contributor to the warming effect caused by greenhouse-gas emissions. So why wouldn’t it have been the same in the age of giant plant-eating dinosaurs, when global biomass density was at least several times what it is today..?
He and his colleagues ran the numbers, using what they saw as conservative estimates for the total amount of dinosaur biomass and methane production rates per kilogram of body mass. They came up with a figure of 520 million tons of methane emitted per year, which is more than total modern-day methane emissions from all sources, natural and industrial. The current estimate for total methane emission is around 500 million tons a year, with 50 to 100 million tons of that coming from ruminant animals such as cows and goats, Wilkinson said…
Biologists have found that most of the modern-day methane emissions from livestock come from belching rather than flatulence. Was it the same for dinosaurs? “We have no particular view which end of the sauropod the methane came out,” Wilkinson told me. “Could be either or both…”
“What our simple calculations show is that, yes, it could. It’s a real possibility. But we don’t show that it did happen,” he said. “That would require much more work, and indeed it may be impossible to completely prove this without a time machine.”
Perhaps we might send some sort of device back through — eventually. It needn’t have a human pilot. Just a sensor-sniffer of sorts.
After more than a century ripping out its insides to supply coal to the rest of the country, the heavily mined and polluted province of Shanxi in northern China is in the midst of a gas boom.
Under the spray of the Yellow River near the city of Jincheng, “nodding donkeys” bob in lines that stretch to the horizon, hitched up amidst precious farmland to feed on the gas streaming through the coal seams below. Gleaming white storage tanks tower over the highways and dozens of drilling rigs dot the cliffs and valleys, some near the famed ancient cave settlements of Shanxi.
Gas output from the coal seams is rising fast and is set to hit 8 billion cubic meters this year, up a half from 2011 – emerging from nowhere just six years ago to provide China with a cleaner, home-grown alternative fuel for the future.
China is investing $16 billion to double output again by 2015. Beijing wants coal seam gas output as high as 30 bcm by 2020, which would be 15 percent of China’s total gas production, up from 5 percent of the total last year.
Beijing plans to double the share of natural gas in its energy mix by 2015 and reduce coal’s role in a drive to ease pollution and slow greenhouse gas emissions. China will import more gas, but it also aims to boost output from domestic natural gas fields as well as unconventional sources such as coalbeds and shale…
CBM could easily supply 15 percent of China’s total gas requirements within a decade, Randeep Grewal said. Last year, CBM output was 5.3 bcm, just over 5 percent of China’s total gas output of 102.5 bcm…
The increased domestic supply is a boon to China’s government as it will help temper imports. Beijing is facing a rising gas bill as it builds pipelines from central Asia or liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals along the coast to help meet its ambitious targets to increase the role of gas in fuelling China’s economy…
With China’s increasingly safety-conscious coal companies obliged to remove gas from their mines, exploiting CBM is also better for the environment than letting the methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – enter the atmosphere.
“It means somebody else will pay for degassing coal and will profit from it – it is a symbiotic process,” said David Creedy, coal expert with Sindicatum Sustainable Resources in Beijing…
CBM’s biggest unconventional competitor is potentially shale gas. If it were to develop quickly, China’s shale gas output could price some CBM out of the market.
But for now that looks unlikely, giving CBM developers a window of opportunity. Unlike CBM, developers have yet to adapt shale gas production techniques to China’s geology and there is to date no commercial shale gas production in China, even though the U.S. government estimates China sits on the world’s biggest shale gas reserves.
Nat Gas remains the cheapest and easiest conversion technology for a technology built on fossil fuel. I’ve pointed this out in a demonstration post within the last week.
Since China is in early days of sorting out their next 5-year plan, right now – it seems likely this wil be one more technology they will be able to implement for both cleaning up their environment and lowering costs. Two motivations which obviously don’t concern American politicians at all.
Katey M. Walter Anthony investigating a plume of methane
A bubble rose through a hole in the surface of a frozen lake. It popped, followed by another, and another, as if a pot were somehow boiling in the icy depths.
Every bursting bubble sent up a puff of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas generated beneath the lake from the decay of plant debris. These plants last saw the light of day 30,000 years ago and have been locked in a deep freeze — until now.
“That’s a hot spot,” declared Katey M. Walter Anthony, a leading scientist in studying the escape of methane. A few minutes later, she leaned perilously over the edge of the ice, plunging a bottle into the water to grab a gas sample.
It was another small clue for scientists struggling to understand one of the biggest looming mysteries about the future of the earth.
What to do with 12,000 tonnes of pig poo? That’s the question farmers James Hart and Jeremy Iles found themselves asking two years ago when contemplating how best to supplement their dwindling incomes.
Thanks to the buying power of the major supermarkets, pig farming is no longer as profitable as it once was, and Mr Hart in particular was looking at ways to make the most of the resources at his disposal.
The solution they came up with was beautifully simple; turn the huge amount of pig faeces generated on the farm – not to mention cow dung and chicken droppings – into hard cash…
Glebe Farm near the sleepy village of Hatherop in Gloucestershire is an unlikely place to stumble across a state-of-the-art, million pound biogas station of which there are just a handful in the UK.
The plant itself is wholly unremarkable to look at, but what goes on inside could help to revolutionise not just this farm, but hundreds of others just like it across the country.
In fact, the technology is proven and, given the government subsidies available, profitable. It’s just that, like with most renewable energies, the UK has been painstakingly slow on the uptake. In Germany, for example, there are thousands of similar plants.
In essence, vast quantities of animal waste are mixed with lots of grass in a cylindrical tower – “basically a 3,000 tonne cow’s stomach,” says Mr Hart.
Bacteria then break down the mixture, producing methane, which is siphoned off, cleaned and filtered.
This gas is then used to power what is effectively a £200,000 Mercedes truck engine, which in turn powers a generator, electricity from which is fed into the National Grid.
A by-product of the process is large quantities of fertiliser that remain in the tower once the bacteria have worked their magic.
The heat generated by the process is also captured and used for central heating at the farm house. It is, then, in renewable-energy speak, an efficient ‘closed-loop’ system.
No doubt the inevitable whine will burp from the blowhole of conservative critics – exclaiming over there being any sort of subsidy for new technology. Conveniently forgetting all the established “old” technology has always managed a government subsidy for the good of the people.
RTFA for lots of interesting detail.
More than 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, Earth almost became a lifeless planet. Around 90 percent of all living species disappeared then, in what scientists have called “The Great Dying…”
The world revealed by Algeo’s research sounds horrific and alien – a devastated landscape, barren of vegetation, scarred by erosion from showers of acid rain, huge “dead zones” in the oceans and runaway greenhouse gases leading to sizzling temperatures. This was Earth, 251 million years ago.
The more famous “K-T” extinction between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods – in which the dinosaurs went extinct – was triggered by a large meteoroid or bolide striking the Earth. The Great Dying, between the Permian and Triassic periods, has another culprit.
“The Permian-Triassic extinction event is still not fully understood,” Algeo said. “It took some time, but it finally dawned on the geologic community that this was not caused by a bolide.”
Algeo and his colleagues from around the world are building a better understanding of the events that all but erased life from our planet. The work involves five principal investigators in addition to Algeo…
The evidence Algeo and his colleagues are looking at points to massive volcanism in Siberia. A large portion of western Siberia reveals volcanic deposits five kilometers (three miles) thick, covering an area equivalent to the continental United States.
“It was a massive outpouring of basaltic lava,” Algeo said. And, the lava flowed where it could most endanger life, through a large coal deposit…
“The eruption released lots of methane when it burned through the coal,” he said. “Methane is 30 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. We’re not sure how long the greenhouse effect lasted, but it seems to be thousands of years, maybe tens of thousands of years…”
“If there is a lesson to all this,” Algeo said, “it is a reminder that things can get out of whack pretty quickly and pretty seriously. We are used to a stable world, but it may not always be so stable.”
Another portion of the lesson reminds us that it takes significant material input to a system to result in this kind of destabilization. Not that nature – or humans – are immune from doing so.
Cow belches, a major source of greenhouse gases, could be decreased by an unusual feed supplement developed by a Penn State dairy scientist.
In a series of laboratory experiments and a live animal test, an oregano-based supplement not only decreased methane emissions in dairy cows by 40 percent, but also improved milk production, according to Alexander Hristov, an associate professor of dairy nutrition…
“Cattle are actually a major producer of methane gas and methane is a significant greenhouse gas,” Hristov said. “In fact, worldwide, livestock emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane.”
Anthropegenic methane is methane produced by human activities, such as agriculture…
Methane production is a natural part of the digestive process of cows and other ruminants, such as bison, sheep and goats. When the cow digests food, bacteria in the rumen, the largest of the four-chambered stomach, break the material down intro nutrients in a fermentation process. Two of the byproducts of this fermentation are carbon dioxide and methane.
“Any cut in the methane emissions would be beneficial,” Hristov said.
Experiments revealed another benefit of the gas-reducing supplement. It increased daily milk production by nearly three pounds of milk for each cow during the trials. The researcher anticipated the higher milk productivity from the herd.
“Since methane production is an energy loss for the animal, this isn’t really a surprise,” Hristov said. “If you decrease energy loss, the cows can use that energy for other processes, such as making milk.”
My Italian grandmother always said everything smelled better around the cows she grew up with in the Italian Tyrol. Guess it was the wild oregano in their pastures, eh?
Methane as a source of automotive propulsion isn’t exactly a new concept, but it’s taken manufacturers a long time to figure out how to clean it up enough to let it power an engine long-term. GENeco thinks they have figured it out and has presented this Volkswagen Beetle as proof of concept. Dubbed the “Bio-Bug,” it basically runs on human excrement – seriously.
This Beetle’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine has been converted to run on methane gas produced by human excrement and can still top 183 kilometers per hour (about 114 miles per hour). We’ll try to avoid any fährt jokes. Methane is essentially similar to compressed natural gas, but has some unique challenges. “Previously the gas hasn’t been clean enough to fuel motor vehicles without it affecting performance,” said Mohammed Saddiq, the head of GENeco.
He added: “However, through using the latest technology our Bio-Bug drives like any conventional car and what’s more it uses sustainable fuel. If you were to drive the car you wouldn’t know it was powered by biogas as it performs just like any conventional car.”
The Bio-Bug actually uses regular unleaded gas on start-up, but switches over to methane automatically once it’s running. It was built by England’s The Greenfuel Company for GENeco, a division of one of Bristol’s largest sewage treatment plant. That plant, Wessex Water, claims that it will take but 70 toilets to power the Bio-Bug for a year.
Bravo! I won’t even include a smartass remark about Congress and crap.