Earthcare Cloud Mission Launches To Resolve Climate Unknowns

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: A sophisticated joint European-Japanese satellite has launched to measure how clouds influence the climate. Some low-level clouds are known to cool the planet, others at high altitude will act as a blanket. The Earthcare mission will use a laser and a radar to probe the atmosphere to see precisely where the balance lies. It’s one of the great uncertainties in the computer models used to forecast how the climate will respond to increasing levels of greenhouse gases. “Many of our models suggest cloud cover will go down in the future and that means that clouds will reflect less sunlight back to space, more will be absorbed at the surface and that will act as an amplifier to the warming we would get from carbon dioxide,” Dr Robin Hogan, from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, told BBC News.

The 2.3-tonne satellite was sent up from California on a SpaceX rocket. The project is led by the European Space Agency (ESA), which has described it as the organization’s most complex Earth observation venture to date. Certainly, the technical challenge in getting the instruments to work as intended has been immense. It’s taken fully 20 years to go from mission approval to launch. Earthcare will circle the Earth at a height of about 400km (250 miles). It’s actually got four instruments in total that will work in unison to get at the information sought by climate scientists.

The simplest is an imager — a camera that will take pictures of the scene passing below the spacecraft to give context to the measurements made by the other three instruments.
Earthcare’s European ultraviolet laser will see the thin, high clouds and the tops of clouds lower down. It will also detect the small particles and droplets (aerosols) in the atmosphere that influence the formation and behavior of clouds. The Japanese radar will look into the clouds, to determine how much water they are carrying and how that’s precipitating as rain, hail and snow. And a radiometer will sense how much of the energy falling on to Earth from the Sun is being reflected or radiated back into space.

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Ditch Brightly Colored Plastic, Anti-Waste Researchers Tell Firms

Retailers are being urged to stop making everyday products such as drinks bottles, outdoor furniture and toys out of brightly coloured plastic after researchers found it degrades into microplastics faster than plainer colours. From a report: Red, blue and green plastic became “very brittle and fragmented,” while black, white and silver samples were “largely unaffected” over a three-year period, according to the findings of the University of Leicester-led project. The scale of environmental pollution caused by plastic waste means that microplastics, or tiny plastic particles, are everywhere. Indeed, they were recently found in human testicles, with scientists suggesting a possible link to declining sperm counts in men.

In this case, scientists from the UK and the University of Cape Town in South Africa used complementary studies to show that plastics of the same composition degrade at different rates depending on the colour. The UK researchers put bottle lids of various colours on the roof of a university building to be exposed to the sun and the elements for three years. The South African study used plastic items found on a remote beach. “It’s amazing that samples left to weather on a rooftop in Leicester and those collected on a windswept beach at the southern tip of the African continent show similar results,” said Dr Sarah Key, who led the project. “What the experiments showed is that even in a relatively cool and cloudy environment for only three years, huge differences can be seen in the formation of microplastics.” This field study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, is the first such proof of this effect. It suggests that retailers and manufacturers should give more consideration to the colour of short-lived plastics.

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Proposed Zero-Carbon Cement Solution Called ‘Absolute Miracle’

“Concrete and steel production are major sources of CO2 emissions,” writes New Atlas, “but a new solution from Cambridge could recycle both at the same time.”

Throwing old concrete into steel-processing furnaces not only purifies iron but produces “reactivated cement” as a byproduct. If done using renewable energy, the process could make for completely carbon-zero cement.

Concrete is the world’s most used building material, and making it is a particularly dirty business — concrete production alone is responsible for about 8% of total global CO2 emissions. Unfortunately it’s not easy to recycle back into a form that can be used to make new concrete structures… For the new study, Cambridge researchers investigated how waste concrete could be converted back into clinker, the dry component of cement, ready to be used again. “I had a vague idea from previous work that if it were possible to crush old concrete, taking out the sand and stones, heating the cement would remove the water, and then it would form clinker again,” said Dr. Cyrille Dunant, first author of the study…

An electric arc furnace needs a “flux” material, usually lime, to purify the steel. This molten rocky substance captures the impurities, then bubbles to the surface and forms a protective layer that prevents the new pure steel from becoming exposed to air. At the end of the process, the used flux is discarded as a waste material. So for the Cambridge method, the lime flux was swapped out for the recycled cement paste. And sure enough, not only was it able to purify the steel just fine, but if the leftover slag is cooled quickly in air, it becomes new Portland cement.

The resulting concrete has similar performance to the original stuff. Importantly, the team says this technique doesn’t add major costs to either concrete or steel production, and significantly reduces CO2 emissions compared to the usual methods of making both. If the electric arc furnace was powered by renewable sources, it could essentially make for zero-emission cement.

“The first industrial-scale trials are underway this month,” the article adds.
“Producing zero emissions cement is an absolute miracle, but we’ve also got to reduce the amount of cement and concrete we use,” said Professor Julian Allwood, who led the research.

And the professor has also recorded a thoughtful video visualizing the process — and explaining the significance of their breakthrough.

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Bay Area City Orders Scientists To Stop Controversial Cloud Brightening Experiment

Last month, researchers from the University of Washington started conducting an experiment on a decommissioned naval ship in Alameda to test if spraying salt water into the air could brighten clouds and cool the planet. However, their project was forced to stop this month after the city got word of what was going on. SFGate reports: According to a city press release, scientists were ordered to halt the experiment because it violated Alameda’s lease with the USS Hornet, the aircraft carrier from which researchers were spraying saltwater into the air using “a machine resembling a snowmaker.” The news was first reported by the Alameda Post. “City staff are working with a team of biological and hazardous materials consultants to independently evaluate the health and environmental safety of this particular experiment,” the press release states. Specifically, chemicals present in the experiment’s aerosol spray are being evaluated to study whether or not they pose any threats to humans, animals or the environment. So far, there isn’t any evidence that they do, the city stated.

The prospect of a city-conducted review was not unexpected, the University of Washington said in a statement shared with SFGATE. “In fact, the CAARE (Coastal Aerosol Research and Engagement) facility is designed to help regulators, community members and others engage with the research closely, and we consider the current interactions with the city to be an integral part of that process,” the statement reads. “We are happy to support their review and it has been a highly constructive process so far.” The marine cloud brightening (MCB) technique involves spraying fine particles of sea salt into the atmosphere from ships or specialized machines. These sea salt particles are chosen because they are a natural source of cloud-forming aerosols and can increase the number of cloud droplets, making the clouds more reflective. The particles sprayed are extremely small, about 1/1000th the width of a human hair, ensuring they remain suspended in the air and interact with cloud droplets effectively.

By reflecting more sunlight, these brightened clouds can reduce the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth’s surface, leading to localized cooling. If implemented on a large scale, this cooling effect could potentially offset some of the warming caused by greenhouse gases.

You can learn more about the experiment here.

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G5 Severe Geomagnetic Storm Watch Issued For First Time Since 2003

Longtime Slashdot reader davidwr shares a report from Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC): On Thursday, May 9, 2024, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center issued a Severe (G4) Geomagnetic Storm Watch. At least five earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were observed and expected to arrive as early as midday Friday, May 10, 2024, and persist through Sunday, May 12, 2024. Several strong flares have been observed over the past few days and were associated with a large and magnetically complex sunspot cluster (NOAA region 3664), which is 16 times the diameter of Earth. [The agency notes this is the first time it’s issued a G4 watch since January, 2005.] “Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations,” NOAA said. “[The Space Weather Prediction Center] has notified the operators of these systems so they can take protective action.” The agency said it will continue to monitor the ongoing storm and “provide additional warnings as necessary.”

A visual byproduct of the storm will be “spectacular displays of aurora,” also known as the Northern Lights, that could be seen for much of the northern half of the country “as far south as Alabama to northern California,” said the NOAA. “Northern Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the majority of North Dakota appear to have the best chances to see it,” reports Axios, citing the SWPC’s aurora viewline. “Forecast models Friday showed the activity will likely be the strongest from Friday night to Saturday morning Eastern time.”

UPDATE 6:54 P.M. EDT: G5 conditions have been observed — the first time since 2003, says Broadcast Meteorologist James Spann.
This is a developing story. More information is available at, Google News, and the NOAA.

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Stockholm Exergi Lands World’s Largest Permanent Carbon Removal Deal With Microsoft

Swedish energy company Stockholm Exergi and Microsoft have announced a 10-year deal that will provide the tech giant with more than 3.3 million tons of carbon removal certificates through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. While the value of the deal was not disclosed, it stands as the largest of its kind globally. Carbon Herald reports: Scheduled to commence in 2028 and span a decade, the agreement underscores a pivotal moment in combatting climate change. Anders Egelrud, CEO of Stockholm Exergi, lauded the deal as a “huge step” for the company and its BECCS project, emphasizing its profound implications for climate action. “I believe the agreement will inspire corporations with ambitious climate objectives, and we target to announce more deals with other pioneering companies over the coming months,” he said. Recognizing the imperative of permanent carbon removals in limiting global warming to 1.5C or below, the deal aligns with Microsoft’s ambitious goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030.

“Leveraging existing biomass power plants is a crucial first step to building worldwide carbon removal capacity,” Brian Marrs, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Energy & Carbon Removal, said, highlighting the importance of sustainable biomass sourcing for BECCS projects, as is the case with Stockholm Exergi. The partners will adhere to stringent quality standards, ensuring transparent reporting and adherence to sustainability criteria. The BECCS facility, once operational, will remove up to 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, contributing significantly to atmospheric carbon reduction. With environmental permits secured and construction set to commence in 2025, Stockholm Exergi plans to reach the final investment decision by the end of the year.

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Startup is Building the World’s Largest Ocean-Based Carbon Plant – and It’s Scalable

An anonymous reader shared this report from CNN:
On a slice of the ocean front in west Singapore, a startup is building a plant to turn carbon dioxide from air and seawater into the same material as seashells, in a process that will also produce “green” hydrogen — a much-hyped clean fuel.

The cluster of low-slung buildings starting to take shape in Tuas will become the “world’s largest” ocean-based carbon dioxide removal plant when completed later this year, according to Equatic, the startup behind it that was spun out of the University of California at Los Angeles. The idea is that the plant will pull water from the ocean, zap it with an electric current and run air through it to produce a series of chemical reactions to trap and store carbon dioxide as minerals, which can be put back in the sea or used on land… The $20 million facility will be fully operational by the end of the year and able to remove 3,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, said Edward Sanders, chief operating officer of Equatic, which has partnered with Singapore’s National Water Agency to construct the plant. That amount is equivalent to taking roughly 870 average passenger cars off the road. The ambition is to scale up to 100,000 metric tons of CO2 removal a year by the end of 2026, and from there to millions of metric tons over the next few decades, Sanders told CNN. The plant can be replicated pretty much anywhere, he said, stacked up in modules “like lego blocks….”

The upfront costs are high but the company says it plans to make money by selling carbon credits to polluters to offset their pollution, as well as selling the hydrogen produced during the process. Equatic has already signed a deal with Boeing to sell it 2,100 metric tons of hydrogen, which it plans to use to create green fuel, and to fund the removal of 62,000 metric tons of CO2.
There’s other projects around the world attempting ocean-based carbon renewal, CNN notes. “Other projects include sprinkling iron particles into the ocean to stimulate CO2-absorbing phytoplankton, sinking seaweed into the depths to lock up carbon and spraying particles into marine clouds to reflect away some of the sun’s energy.”

But carbon-removal projects are controversial, criticized for being expensive, unproven at scale and a distraction from policies to cut fossil fuels. And when they involve the oceans — complex ecosystems already under huge strain from global warming — criticisms can get even louder. There are “big knowledge gaps” when it comes to ocean geoengineering generally, said Jean-Pierre Gatusso, an ocean scientist at the Sorbonne University in France. “I am very concerned with the fact that science lags behind the industry,” he told CNN.

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Could the Earth’s Record Hot Streak Signal a New Climate Era?

South America’s Amazon River has reached its lowest level since measurements began, according to the Washington Post, while temperatures “hovered above 110 degrees Fahrenheit” for nearly a week as April began in the capital of Mali. “Nights offered little relief, with temperatures often staying above 90 degrees…”

“An overtaxed electrical grid sputtered and shut down,” they add, and “dehydration and heat stroke became epidemic… At the city’s main hospital, doctors recorded a month’s worth of deaths in just four days. Local cemeteries were overwhelmed.”

The historic heat wave that besieged Mali and other parts of West Africa this month — which scientists say would have been “virtually impossible” in a world without human-caused climate change — is just the latest manifestation of a sudden and worrying surge in global temperatures. Fueled by decades of uncontrolled fossil fuel burning and an El Niño climate pattern that emerged last June, the planet this year breached a feared warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Nearly 19,000 weather stations have notched record high temperatures since January 1. Each of the last ten months has been the hottest of its kind.

The scale and intensity of this hot streak is extraordinary even considering the unprecedented amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, researchers say. Scientists are still struggling to explain how the planet could have exceeded previous temperature records by as much as half a degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) last fall. What happens in the next few months, said Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, could indicate whether Earth’s climate has undergone a fundamental shift — a quantum leap in warming that is confounding climate models and stoking ever more dangerous weather extremes.

But even if the world returns to a more predictable warming trajectory, it will only be a temporary reprieve from the conditions that humanity must soon confront, Schmidt said. “Global warming continues apace.”
Will this summer’s La Niña cool things off? More atmospheric research is underway, and “Schmidt says it’s too soon to know how worried the world should be,” according to the article. But he does raise this possibility. “What if the statistical connections that we are basing our predictions on are no longer valid?”

“It’s niggling at the back of my brain that it could be that the past is no longer a guide to the future.”

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March Marks Yet Another Record In Global Heat

According to the European Union, Earth has reached its warmest March on record, capping a 10-month streak in which every month set a new temperature record. Reuters reports: Each of the last 10 months ranked as the world’s hottest on record, compared with the corresponding month in previous years, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said in a monthly bulletin. The 12 months ending with March also ranked as the planet’s hottest ever recorded 12-month period, C3S said. From April 2023 to March 2024, the global average temperature was 1.58 degrees Celsius above the average in the 1850-1900 pre-industrial period.

C3S’ dataset goes back to 1940, which the scientists cross-checked with other data to confirm that last month was the hottest March since the pre-industrial period. Already, 2023 was the planet’s hottest year in global records going back to 1850. El Nino peaked in December-January and is now weakening, which may help to break the hot streak toward the end of the year. But despite El Nino easing in March, the world’s average sea surface temperature hit a record high, for any month on record, and marine air temperatures remained unusually high, C3S said. “The main driver of the warming is fossil fuel emissions,” said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute. Failure to reduce these emissions will continue to drive the warming of the planet, resulting in more intense droughts, fires, heatwaves and heavy rainfall, Otto said.

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