Study: Aquifers beneath deserts may be huge CO2 sinks

k

Great Sand Dunes National Park. @bberwyn photo.

Research tracks path of carbon dioxide via agriculture to underground storage

Staff Report

FRISCO — Vast aquifers beneath the world’s deserts may be significant carbon sinks, scientists with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research said.

In a new study, the UCAR researchers estimated that those aquifers may store more carbon than all the plants on land.

About 40 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by people stays in the atmosphere and heats the planet. About 30 percent is taken up by oceans, where it is rapidly acidifying the water to the detriment of shellfish and other marine species.

The other 30 percent is partially absorbed by land plants, but when scientists ran CO2 models, it didn’t add up, so they started searching for additional carbon sinks.

The new study suggests some of this carbon may be disappearing underneath the world’s deserts – a process exacerbated by irrigation. Scientists examining the flow of water through a Chinese desert found that carbon from the atmosphere is being absorbed by crops, released into the soil and transported underground in groundwater, in a a process that accelerated when farming started in the region 2,000 years ago.

Underground aquifers store the dissolved carbon deep below the desert where it can’t escape back to the atmosphere, according to the new study.

The new study estimates that, because of agriculture, about 14 times more carbon than previously thought could be entering these underground desert aquifers every year. These underground pools that taken together cover an area the size of North America may account for at least a portion of the “missing carbon sink” for which scientists have been searching.

“The carbon is stored in these geological structures covered by thick layers of sand, and it may never return to the atmosphere,” said Yan Li, a desert biogeochemist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Urumqi, Xinjiang, and lead author of the study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. “It is basically a one-way trip.”

Knowing the locations of carbon sinks could improve models used to predict future climate change and enhance calculations of the Earth’s carbon budget, or the amount of fossil fuels humans can burn without causing major changes in the Earth’s temperature, according to the study’s authors.

Although there are most likely many missing carbon sinks around the world, desert aquifers could be important ones, said Michael Allen, a soil ecologist from the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of California-Riverside, who was not an author on the new study.

If farmers and water managers understand the role heavily-irrigated inland deserts play in storing the world’s carbon, they may be able to alter how much carbon enters these underground reserves, he said.

“This means [managers] can take practical steps that could play a role in addressing carbon budgets,” said Allen.

The scientists tracked the carbon with a close study of the Tarim Basin, a Venezuela-sized valley in China’s Xinjiang region. Water draining from rivers in the surrounding mountains support farms that edge the desert in the center of the basin.

The researchers measured the amount of carbon in each water sample and calculated the age of the carbon to figure out how long the water had been in the ground.

The study shows the amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in the water doubles as it filters through irrigated fields. The scientists suggest carbon dioxide in the air is taken up by the desert crops. Some of this carbon is released into the soil through the plant’s roots.

Although this process of carbon burial occurs naturally, the scientists estimate that the amount of carbon disappearing under the Tarim Desert each year is almost 12 times higher because of agriculture. They found that the amount of carbon entering the desert aquifer in the Tarim Desert jumped around the time the Silk Road, which opened the region to farming, begin to flourish.

After the carbon-rich water flows down into the aquifer near the farms and rivers, it moves sideways toward the middle of the desert, a process that takes about 10,000 years.

The study estimates that about 20 billion metric tons (22 billion U.S. tons) of carbon is stored underneath the Tarim Basin desert, dissolved in an aquifer that contains roughly 10 times the amount of water held in the North American Great Lakes. Globally, carbon storage in the sub-desert aquifers could be as high as 1 trillion metric tons (1 trillion U.S. tons) of carbon–about a quarter more than the amount stored in living plants on land.

Continue reading

Winemakers eye native American grape species as a way to reduce pesticide use

cg

Wine without pesticides?

Chemical analysis informs potential hybridization efforts

Staff Report

FRISCO — As the widespread and disastrous consequences of heavy pesticide use become ever-more apparent, wine-makers and grape growers are trying to figure out ways to make their grapes more resistant to bugs and fungi without using toxic chemicals.

The answer may lie in crossing the domestic grape species used in most wine production — Vitis vinifera — with native wild American grapes, like Vitis californica, which make terrible wine but are pest-resistant. Continue reading

NOAA steps up efforts to track West Coast toxic algae

A nice haul of blue crabs.

Toxin-producing algae is threatening West Coast fisheries.

Grant funding to help pinpoint cause of outbreak

Staff Report

FRISCO — After sending extra scientists to help track the spread of toxin-producing algae along the West Coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this month said it will help fund more monitoring and research. The agency is committing $88,000 in grant and event response funding for Washington state.

According to NOAA, the money will go to supporting researchers and state and tribal managers in collecting and analyzing additional samples to test for abundance and concentrations of toxins. The information, along with analysis of ocean and weather conditions, will help identify factors contributing to the outbreak and its severity. Continue reading

Environment: Feds extend comment period on controversial Endangered Species Act changes

sdf

Can the Endangered Species Act be improved?

Proposed changes would make it harder for citizen groups to petition for protection

Staff Report

FRISCO — The feds will give the public an extra two months to weigh in on proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, with a new comment deadline set for mid-September.

In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service published draft regulations, saying that the changes are aimed at improving transparency and inclusiveness. The move to freshen up the Endangered Species Act reflects “advances in conservation biology and genetics, as well as recent court decisions interpreting the Act’s provisions.” Continue reading

Feds face another clean water lawsuit

dfg

The federal government is being sued by conservation groups and industry over the new Waters of the U.S. rule.

Conservation groups say new rule has too many pollution loopholes

Staff Report

FRISCO — There will be yet more legal wrangling over a new federal clean water rule, as conservation groups said last week they will sue to plug some loopholes that could open the door for more pollution in wetlands and streams.

At issue is the so-called Waters of the U.S. rule finalized by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May. That means the feds will be getting sued twice over the rule. Industry groups announced their challenge in mid-July, claiming the new regulations “dramatically expand federal regulatory authority. Continue reading

EU wind power growing by leaps and bounds

Global capacity grew to 370 gigawatts in 2014

klj

Got wind?

Staff Report

FRISCO — Europe is now generating about 8 percent of its total energy usage from wind power, according to an annual report from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

If that doesn’t sound like a lot, here’s another way to look at it: Windpower generated enough electricity to cover the combined annual consumption of Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Ireland. Thanks to the ever-decreasing costs of building new windpower facilities, the EU could be producing at least 12 percent of its annual power needs with turbines by 2020.

The report confirms that wind power has been the most widely deployed form of renewable energy in the past two decades, with the global cumulative capacity growing to 370 gigawatts in 2014. Last year represented an annual record with 52.8 GW of wind turbines capacity installed worldwide, a 48% percent increase compared to 2013 and 17 percent over the 2012 record of 45.2GW. Continue reading

New satellite data aids wildfire efforts

saf

Wildfires in Canada send thick plumes of smoke streaming across the Great Lakes region. Photo via NASA Earth Observatory.

Real-time info and detailed imaging helps firefighter get the jump on dangerous blazes

Staff Report

FRISCO — New satellite-based technologies developed by NASA have already helped firefighters in South Africa respond to dangerous wildfires, and could help resource managers in the U.S. get a jump on blazes that threaten communities.

The new fire detection tool uses data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite to detect smaller fires in more detail than previous space-based products. The high-resolution data have been used with a cutting-edge computer model to predict how a fire will change direction based on weather and land conditions. Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,774 other followers