Computer Simulations of Atlantic Ocean Currents Finds Collapse Could Happen in Our Lifetime

An anonymous reader shared this report from the Associated Press:

An abrupt shutdown of Atlantic Ocean currents that could put large parts of Europe in a deep freeze is looking a bit more likely and closer than before as a new complex computer simulation finds a “cliff-like” tipping point looming in the future. A long-worried nightmare scenario, triggered by Greenland’s ice sheet melting from global warming, still is at least decades away if not longer, but maybe not the centuries that it once seemed, a new study in Friday’s Science Advances finds.

The study, the first to use complex simulations and include multiple factors, uses a key measurement to track the strength of vital overall ocean circulation, which is slowing. A collapse of the current — called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or AMOC — would change weather worldwide because it means a shutdown of one of key the climate and ocean forces of the planet. It would plunge northwestern European temperatures by 9 to 27 degrees (5 to 15 degrees Celsius) over the decades, extend Arctic ice much farther south, turn up the heat even more in the Southern Hemisphere, change global rainfall patterns and disrupt the Amazon, the study said. Other scientists said it would be a catastrophe that could cause worldwide food and water shortages.

“We are moving closer (to the collapse), but we we’re not sure how much closer,” said study lead author Rene van Westen, a climate scientist and oceanographer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “We are heading towards a tipping point.” When this global weather calamity — grossly fictionalized in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” — may happen is “the million-dollar question, which we unfortunately can’t answer at the moment,” van Westen said. He said it’s likely a century away but still could happen in his lifetime. He just turned 30.

“It also depends on the rate of climate change we are inducing as humanity,” van Westen said.

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Earth Shattered Global Heat Record In 2023

The European climate agency Copernicus said Earth shattered global annual heat records in 2023, flirting with the world’s agreed-upon warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius. “On average, global temperatures in 2023 were 1.48 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times,” reports the Associated Press. “If annual averages reach above 1.5 degrees Celsius, the effects of global warming could become irreversible, climate scientists say.” From the report: The record heat made life miserable and sometimes deadly in Europe, North America, China and many other places last year. But scientists say a warming climate is also to blame for more extreme weather events, like the lengthy drought that devastated the Horn of Africa, the torrential downpours that wiped out dams and killed thousands in Libya and the Canada wildfires that fouled the air from North America to Europe. In a separate Tuesday press event, international climate scientists who calculate global warming’s role in extreme weather, the group’s leader, Imperial College climate scientist Friederike Otto said “we definitely see in our analysis the strong impact of it being the hottest year.”

The World Weather Attribution team only looks at events that affect at least 1 million people or kill more than 100 people. But Otto said her team was overwhelmed with more than 160 of those in 2023, and could only conduct 14 studies, many of them on killer heat waves. “Basically every heat wave that is occurring today has been made more likely and is hotter because of human-induced climate change,” she said. [….] Antarctic sea ice hit record low levels in 2023 and broke eight monthly records for low sea ice, Copernicus reported.

Copernicus calculated that the global average temperature for 2023 was about one-sixth of a degree Celsius (0.3 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the old record set in 2016. While that seems a small amount in global record-keeping, it’s an exceptionally large margin for the new record, [Copernicus Deputy Director Samantha Burgess] said. Earth’s average temperature for 2023 was 14.98 degrees Celsius (58.96 degrees Fahrenheit), Copernicus calculated.

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Yet Another Problem with Recycling: It Spews Microplastics

“An alarming new study has found that even when plastic makes it to a recycling center, it can still end up splintering into smaller bits that contaminate the air and water,” reports Wired:

This pilot study focused on a single new facility where plastics are sorted, shredded, and melted down into pellets. Along the way, the plastic is washed several times, sloughing off microplastic particles — fragments smaller than 5 millimeters — into the plant’s wastewater. Because there were multiple washes, the researchers could sample the water at four separate points along the production line. (They are not disclosing the identity of the facility’s operator, who cooperated with their project.) This plant was actually in the process of installing filters that could snag particles larger than 50 microns (a micron is a millionth of a meter), so the team was able to calculate the microplastic concentrations in raw versus filtered discharge water — basically a before-and-after snapshot of how effective filtration is.

Their microplastics tally was astronomical. Even with filtering, they calculate that the total discharge from the different washes could produce up to 75 billion particles per cubic meter of wastewater. Depending on the recycling facility, that liquid would ultimately get flushed into city water systems or the environment. In other words, recyclers trying to solve the plastics crisis may in fact be accidentally exacerbating the microplastics crisis, which is coating every corner of the environment with synthetic particles.

“It seems a bit backward, almost, that we do plastic recycling in order to protect the environment, and then end up increasing a different and potentially more harmful problem,” says plastics scientist Erina Brown, who led the research while at the University of Strathclyde.
“It raises some very serious concerns,” agrees Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and a former US Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, who wasn’t involved in the paper. “And I also think this points to the fact that plastics are fundamentally not sustainable.”

Wired ponts out that more than half the microplastics can be captured with a filtration system. “Without it, the researchers calculated that this single recycling facility could emit up to 6.5 million pounds of microplastic per year. Filtration got it down to an estimated 3 million pounds.”

But one of the paper’s co-authors shared their discouraging conclusion. “The recycling centers are potentially making things worse by actually creating microplastics faster and discharging them into both water and air. I’m not sure we can technologically engineer our way out of that problem.”

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Another Ocean Climate Solution Attempted by California Researchers

The Associated Press visited a 100-foot barge moored in Los Angeles where engineers built “a kind of floating laboratory to answer a simple question: Is there a way to cleanse seawater of carbon dioxide and then return it to the ocean so it can suck more of the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere to slow global warming?”

The technology, dubbed SeaChange, developed by the University of California Los Angeles engineering faculty, is meant to seize on the ocean’s natural abilities, said Gaurav Sant, director of UCLA’s Institute for Carbon Management. The process sends an electrical charge through seawater flowing through tanks on the barge. That then sets off a series of chemical reactions that trap the greenhouse gas into a solid mineral that includes calcium carbonate — the same thing seashells are made of. The seawater is then returned to the ocean and can pull more carbon dioxide out of the air. The calcium carbonate settles to the sea floor.

Plans are now underway to scale up the idea with another demonstration site starting this month in Singapore. Data collected there and at the Port of Los Angeles will help in the design of larger test plants. Those facilities are expected to be running by 2025 and be able to remove thousands of tons of CO2 per year. If they are successful, the plan is to build commercial facilities to remove millions of tons of carbon annually, Sant said…

Scientists estimate at least 10 billion metric tons of carbon will need to be removed from the air annually beginning in 2050, and the pace will need to continue over the next century… According to the UCLA team, at least 1,800 industrial-scale facilities would be needed to capture 10 billion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year, but fewer could still make a dent.
The article notes alternate ideas from other researchers — including minerals on beaches that increase the ocean’s alkalinity so it can absorb more carbon dioxide.

But this SeaChange process also produces hydrogen. So the director of UCLA’s Carbon Management institute also founded a startup that generates revenue from that hydrogen (and from “carbon credits” sold to other companies) — hoping to lower the cost of removing atmospheric carbon to below $100 per metric ton.

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How Did Earth Get Its Water?

Earth’s water could have originated from interactions between the hydrogen-rich atmospheres and magma oceans of the planetary embryos that comprised Earth’s formative years, according to new work from Carnegie Science’s Anat Shahar and UCLA’s Edward Young and Hilke Schlichting. Their findings, which could explain the origins of Earth’s signature features, are published in Nature. Phys.Org reports: “Exoplanet discoveries have given us a much greater appreciation of how common it is for just-formed planets to be surrounded by atmospheres that are rich in molecular hydrogen, H2, during their first several million years of growth,” Shahar explained. “Eventually these hydrogen envelopes dissipate, but they leave their fingerprints on the young planet’s composition.” Using this information, the researchers developed new models for Earth’s formation and evolution to see if our home planet’s distinct chemical traits could be replicated.

Using a newly developed model, the Carnegie and UCLA researchers were able to demonstrate that early in Earth’s existence, interactions between the magma ocean and a molecular hydrogen proto-atmosphere could have given rise to some of Earth’s signature features, such as its abundance of water and its overall oxidized state. The researchers used mathematical modeling to explore the exchange of materials between molecular hydrogen atmospheres and magma oceans by looking at 25 different compounds and 18 different types of reactions — complex enough to yield valuable data about Earth’s possible formative history, but simple enough to interpret fully.

Interactions between the magma ocean and the atmosphere in their simulated baby Earth resulted in the movement of large masses of hydrogen into the metallic core, the oxidation of the mantle, and the production of large quantities of water. Even if all of the rocky material that collided to form the growing planet was completely dry, these interactions between the molecular hydrogen atmosphere and the magma ocean would generate copious amounts of water, the researchers revealed. Other water sources are possible, they say, but not necessary to explain Earth’s current state. “This is just one possible explanation for our planet’s evolution, but one that would establish an important link between Earth’s formation history and the most common exoplanets that have been discovered orbiting distant stars, which are called Super-Earths and sub-Neptunes,” Shahar concluded.

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Shutting Down Nuclear Power Could Increase Air Pollution, Finds MIT Study

If reactors are retired, polluting energy sources that fill the gap could cause more than 5,000 premature deaths, researchers estimate. The findings appear in the journal Nature Energy. MIT News reports: They lay out a scenario in which every nuclear power plant in the country has shut down, and consider how other sources such as coal, natural gas, and renewable energy would fill the resulting energy needs throughout an entire year. Their analysis reveals that indeed, air pollution would increase, as coal, gas, and oil sources ramp up to compensate for nuclear power’s absence. This in itself may not be surprising, but the team has put numbers to the prediction, estimating that the increase in air pollution would have serious health effects, resulting in an additional 5,200 pollution-related deaths over a single year.

If, however, more renewable energy sources become available to supply the energy grid, as they are expected to by the year 2030, air pollution would be curtailed, though not entirely. The team found that even under this heartier renewable scenario, there is still a slight increase in air pollution in some parts of the country, resulting in a total of 260 pollution-related deaths over one year. When they looked at the populations directly affected by the increased pollution, they found that Black or African American communities — a disproportionate number of whom live near fossil-fuel plants — experienced the greatest exposure. “They also calculated that more people are also likely to die prematurely due to climate impacts from the increase in carbon dioxide emissions, as the grid compensates for nuclear power’s absence,” adds the report. “The climate-related effects from this additional influx of carbon dioxide could lead to 160,000 additional deaths over the next century.”

Lead author Lyssa Freese, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), said: “We need to be thoughtful about how we’re retiring nuclear power plants if we are trying to think about them as part of an energy system. Shutting down something that doesn’t have direct emissions itself can still lead to increases in emissions, because the grid system will respond.”

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Fully Recyclable Printed Electronics Produced Using Water Instead of Toxic Chemicals

Duke University announces their engineers “have produced the world’s first fully recyclable printed electronics that replace the use of chemicals with water in the fabrication process” — bypassing the need for hazardous chemicals.
Electrical/computer engineering professor Aaron Franklin led the study, according to Duke’s announcement:

In previous work, Franklin and his group demonstrated the first fully recyclable printed electronics. The devices used three carbon-based inks: semiconducting carbon nanotubes, conductive graphene and insulating nanocellulose. In trying to adapt the original process to only use water, the carbon nanotubes presented the largest challenge…. In the paper, Franklin and his group develop a cyclical process in which the device is rinsed with water, dried in relatively low heat and printed on again. When the amount of surfactant used in the ink is also tuned down, the researchers show that their inks and processes can create fully functional, fully recyclable, fully water-based transistors….

Franklin explains that, by demonstrating a transistor first, he hopes to signal to the rest of the field that there is a viable path toward making some electronics manufacturing processes much more environmentally friendly. Franklin has already proven that nearly 100% of the carbon nanotubes and graphene used in printing can be recovered and reused in the same process, losing very little of the substances or their performance viability. Because nanocellulose is made from wood, it can simply be recycled or biodegraded like paper. And while the process does use a lot of water, it’s not nearly as much as what is required to deal with the toxic chemicals used in traditional fabrication methods.

According to a United Nations estimate, less than a quarter of the millions of pounds of electronics thrown away each year is recycled. And the problem is only going to get worse as the world eventually upgrades to 6G devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand. So any dent that could be made in this growing mountain of electronic trash is important to pursue. While more work needs to be done, Franklin says the approach could be used in the manufacturing of other electronic components like the screens and displays that are now ubiquitous to society. Every electronic display has a backplane of thin-film transistors similar to what is demonstrated in the paper. The current fabrication technology is high-energy and relies on hazardous chemicals as well as toxic gasses. The entire industry has been flagged for immediate attention by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“The performance of our thin-film transistors doesn’t match the best currently being manufactured, but they’re competitive enough to show the research community that we should all be doing more work to make these processes more environmentally friendly,” Franklin said.

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