Scientists launch crowdfunding effort to study winter ozone formation in Utah’s fracking patch

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Signs of oil and gas development in eastern Utah  are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Snow may intensify the air quality impacts of energy development

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A team of American and Canadian scientists want to unravel some of the secrets of winter ozone formation related to oil and gas drilling — and they need your help.

University of Washington atmospheric researcher Becky Alexander, who is leading the January research project in Utah’s Uintah Basin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the field work. The team wants to raise $12,ooo in the next three weeks via their project website at mycroriza.com.

“It’s a global outreach effort,” Alexander said, explaining that crowdfunding for scientific research is a new and growing movement. Grassroots funding helps eliminate some of the administrative overhead costs sometimes associated with traditional sources of money. Sometimes, as much as 50 to 60 percent of federal funding ends up going toward overhead, she explained. Continue reading

Climate: Winds driving Antarctic sea ice growth

Global warming likely to reverse trend in coming decades

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Antarctic sea ice extent has been growing the past few decades, bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Climate scientists have long suspected that increasing winds around Antarctica have been the main cause of growing sea ice extent in the southern hemisphere, and new research from the University of Washington shows how and why that might be happening — even as overall global temperatures warm.

Global warming deniers have tried to use the growth of Antarctic sea as a weapon in their battle against science, but climate researchers point out that the loss of Arctic sea ice far outweighs the small increase in the southern hemisphere. And the new research suggests that, as global temperatures continue to increase, Antarctic sea ice is all but certain to start shrinking.

Overall, Antarctic sea ice has been increasing by about 1 percent annually, which has led to record sea ice extent in the region the past few years. As of September 16, Antarctic sea ice extent reached about 7.51 million square miles, a record for the date and about 3.9 percent above the 30 year average. By contrast, this year’s Arctic summer minimum ice extent is approximately 30 percent below the 30-year average. Continue reading

New study helps pinpoint El Niño impacts

Findings could help improve long-range winter forecasts

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Shifting cycles of warmer and cooler water in the central Pacific influence weather patterns around the world.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new study that sorts El Niño events into two categories could help forecasters develop better long-range forecasts to predict how the periodic warming of equatorial East Pacific waters may affect winter weather.

Part of the data for the research came from an array of buoys across the Pacific called the TAO-Triton array. The buoys observes conditions in the upper ocean to forecast El Niño months in advance, and for monitoring it as it grows and decays.

After analyzing all El Niño events since 1979, the NOAA and University of Washington scientists said the El Niños that show a drop in outgoing long-wave radiation from the tops of deep convective clouds are the ones that tend to play havoc with winter weathers. Continue reading

Researchers document astounding number of microbial and fungal species transported with high-altitude dust plumes

Scanning electron microscopy reveals a raisin-shaped bacterial spore atop a grain of dust that journeyed from Asia high in the troposphere to the West Coast and was detected by an observatory in central Oregon.

Scanning electron microscopy reveals a raisin-shaped bacterial spore atop a grain of dust that journeyed from Asia high in the troposphere to the West Coast and was detected by an observatory in central Oregon. Image courtesy NASA.

‘Atmosphere as ecosystem’

By Summit Voice

*Adapted from a University of Washington press release.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Aerial dust plumes from near and far are known to affect the timing of snowmelt in the Colorado Rockies, and in other areas, airborne dust helps supply nutrients for marine organisms.

A new study shows that those dust plumes — traveling high in the atmosphere — are also feeding a global melting pot of microscopic life, carrying thousands of species of bacteria and fungi across vast distances.

The findings were surprising to the researchers, who said the results of the study prompted them to perhaps start thinking of the upper atmosphere as an ecosystem.

“The long-range transport and surprising level of species richness in the upper atmosphere overturns traditional paradigms in aerobiology,” says David J. Smith, who recently earned his doctorate at the University of Washington in biology and astrobiology.

In a paper published in the current issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Smith reports that his research enabled him to gather enough biomass in the form of DNA to apply molecular methods to samples from two large dust plumes originating in Asia in the spring of 2011. The scientists detected more than 2,100 unique species compared to only 18 found in the very same plumes using traditional methods of culturing, results they published in July. Continue reading

Global Warming: Coast Guard tracks Arctic Ocean changes

New equipment deployed to help monitor impacts of melting sea ice

Open water just beyond the edge of the ice pack in Sept. 2012. Photo courtesy Ignatius Rigor.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — For better or worse, the Arctic is changing fast, and even if greenhouse gas emissions dropped to zero tomorrow, those changes are likely to continue for decades, and perhaps centuries.

In response to the changes, the U.S. Coast Guard and the University of Washington are partnering to get more data on the region, starting by deploying sensors and other equipment through cracks in the ice from an airplane hundreds of feet in the air.

This year saw record ice melt, and some scientists speculate that the Arctic ocean could be entirely ice free in summer during the next few decades.

“It used to be that the ice just pulled back a bit from the beach each year,” said Jamie Morison, an oceanographer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory. “Now we’re seeing huge areas of open water.” Continue reading

Climate change: scientists ponder cloud brightening

Geoengineering idea floated as a way to slow global warming

Could brightening clouds help slow the march of global warming? Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With international efforts to limit heat-trapping greenhouse gases faltering, some scientists say it’s worth at least exploring the concept of creating clouds that might reflect sunlight to counter global warming.

Geoengineering has always had a few proponents, as there are always some people who think that we can engineer our way out of any problem. But many of the ideas floated as possible solutions to global warming are just vague theories at best, with little evidence that they could work.

Now, University of Washington atmospheric physicist Rob Wood describes a possible way to run an experiment to test the concept of cloud brightening on a small scale. His idea is described in a paper published this month in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Wood makes it clear he’s not advocating for geoengineering, but wants to encourage more scientists to consider the idea of marine cloud brightening and even poke holes in it. Continue reading

Global warming: Rising temps threaten power production

The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Alabama had to shut down several times last summer because the Tennessee River’s water was too warm to be used for cooling.

More partial and total shutdowns of older coal and nuclear power plants predicted as air, river temps get warmer

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Lack of adequate cooling water supplies have already resulted in reduced production and even temporary shutdowns of several thermoelectric power plants, and global warming could exacerbate those problems, potentially cutting production by up to 19 percent in some places.

Just last summer, the the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama had to shut down more than once because the Tennessee River’s water was too warm to use it for cooling.

That problem will become more common, according to a group of researchers from the University of Washington and Europe, who projected impacts for the next 50 years. According to the study, the likelihood of extreme drops in power generation — complete or almost-total shutdowns — is projected to almost triple. Continue reading

Global warming could drive species extinctions at a much faster pace than estimated by most existing climate models

Pikas are among the species considered vulnerable to climate change. PHOTO BY KIM FENSKE.

New model includes migration rates, competition between species

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Global warming could drive species extinctions at a faster rate than predicted by most climate models because the existing research doesn’t account for species competition and movement, according to University of Connecticut ecologist Mark Urban.

“We have really sophisticated meteorological models for predicting climate change,” Urban said. “But in real life, animals move around, they compete, they parasitize each other and they eat each other. The majority of our predictions don’t include these important interactions.” Continue reading

Study: Scented laundry products emit carcinogens

If you use scented laundry products, your dryer may be a source of carcinogenic compounds.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Unregulated chemicals in laundry products emit more than 20 volatile organic compounds when they’re used in household dryers. The compounds include seven hazardous air pollutants and two known carcinogens — acetaldehyde and benzene —  for which the EPA has not established safe exposure levels.

The University of Washington research suggests that, based on the amount of laundry products used in the region, household clothes dryers could account for the equivalent of 6 percent of the amount of acetaldehyde emissions coming from automobiles.

The study was done by Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. Steineman previously used chemical sleuthing to deduce what chemicals are being used in fragranced consumer products.

Steinemann says she was spurred to do the study by people reporting adverse reactions to fragranced air coming from laundry vents. The project’s website includes letters from the public reporting health effects from scented consumer products.

“This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored,” Steinemann said. “If they’re coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they’re regulated, but if they’re coming out of a dryer vent, they’re not.” Continue reading

Study: Forest patch treatments help protect older trees

A three-year study in Washington shows that even small areas of well-treated forest can reduce the intensity of fires and the damage to older trees.

Study suggests thinning, combined with fuels removals, could help make forests more resilient to climate change

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even small fuel treatments of only a few acres can help reduce wildfire severity and protect older trees desirable for timber, wildlife, and carbon-storage values, according to the results of a three-year study recently completed in Washington. Such treatments could also help make forests more resilient in the face of climate change, a team of university and Forest Service researchers concluded.

“If dense forests are thinned and the surface fuels are removed, then ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir trees have a better chance of surviving an intense wildfire,” said Susan Prichard, a University of Washington research scientist and senior author of the study conducted after the 175,000 acre Tripod Fire. Continue reading

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