Iron-rich rock helps oceans sink atmospheric carbon

First published in Chemistry World, 05.04.18

Adding crushed rocks containing magnesium and iron minerals to seawater allows it to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere, geoscientists have shown.

Oceans are the world’s most efficient carbon store. Around a quarter of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are sequestered into the sea, and oceans could take in up to 80% of manmade carbon if the process, which usually takes centuries, could be sped up.

A team led by Eric Oelkers from University College London, UK, spread finely milled peridotite – an ultramafic rock that is rich in iron – in tanks of seawater with simulated wave activity. As the powdered rock dissolved it raised the pH of the water, enabling it to react with more atmospheric CO2. The sequestered carbon mineralised into aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate, which sank to the bottom of the tanks.

If powdered peridotite was added to actual oceans, the researchers say, the aragonite would sink to the ocean floor and become sediment, storing carbon permanently. And in nature, aragonite is important for the calcification of corals, so it may even have the added bonus of supporting coral growth.

So far, the approach has only been tried in laboratory simulations. Oelkers says the method needs further scrutiny before it could be seen as a viable way to reduce atmospheric CO2.

‘With upscaling, there are many, many things to consider, some of them unexpected,’ he tells Chemistry World. For example, the extra iron in peridotite rocks could cause plankton blooms. The rocks also contain materials that are harmful to marine life, such as nickel, and it is not clear what impacts these would have on a large scale.

The energy and money required to mine and mill the peridotite also needs to be considered. The researchers propose that the method should be limited to coastal areas where peridotite is common, in order to limit carbon emissions from transport.

Juerg Matter, a geoengineer at the University of Southampton who was not involved in the research, says further refinement of the method could help lower the energy costs of peridotite powder production and save on emissions.

‘The question is really what the acceptable grain size could be,’ he says. ‘Is it really necessary to produce ultrafine particles, or could we tune the process [so] less milling time is required?’

Bigger isn’t better for energy savings

This article first appeared on Climate News Network, 19.05.17.

LONDON, 19 May, 2017 Advances made in the energy efficiency of heating and transport are lost because of people’s desire to have bigger houses and cars, two research papers have shown.

Researchers have found that houses in England, Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand are getting bigger as people want more space and extra rooms. This means there is more air to be heated, destroying any climate benefits gained by better heating systems and more efficient insulation, they say.

The study, published in ScienceDirect, found that most house buyers struggled to understand the actual amount of energy their new home would use. Instead, they took information on energy efficiency as a yardstick for consumption.

This means house-owners may think their new, efficient home uses little energy, when in fact it may use more than their neighbours older, smaller houses, says Helen Viggers, a researcher at the public health department of the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, and a co-author of the paper.

Implicit trade-off

“There is general knowledge in the public that both house sizes and insulation standards have increased, and a feeling that both of these are probably ‘good things’,” she told the Climate News Network. “But there is less understanding of the implicit trade-off in energy requirements with increasing house size.”

Viggers is critical of measuring energy usage by square metre, as this “immediately hides [the fact] that larger houses use more energy than smaller ones”.

The New Zealand team also found that larger, stand-alone dwellings featured more wasted” space – such as large lobbies, corner space and little-used hallways. They were designed in a less energy-efficient way than multi-home buildings or small houses.

The findings of the study mirror a 2016 paper by a team of scientists from the University of Barcelona in Spain. They compared Spanish car-buying habits with advances in the energy efficiency of engines, and found that, instead of actually saving energy, people would buy bigger and faster cars.

With little awareness of actual energy consumption,
people involuntarily increase their carbon footprint
while thinking they are helping the environment

The Spanish researchers found that fuel efficiency would have improved by 32% and 40% for petrol and diesel cars respectively, if the cars had stayed the same size. However, they learned that car weight increased by 31% for petrol cars and 26% for diesel between 1988 and 2015, meaning modern cars actually use more fuel than those from three decades ago, despite being more energy efficient.

The New Zealand researchers admitted they did not know whether increases in efficiency directly led to larger-sized consumer objects, or whether other factors influenced people’s buying decisions. But such consumer behaviour has dire consequences for the environment, both teams warn in their papers.

With little awareness of actual energy consumption, people involuntarily increase their carbon footprint while thinking they are helping the environment, Viggers says.

Attractive alternatives

She and her colleagues say policymakers and homebuilders need to come up with better, more attractive smaller homes, and should design some “stunningly good” smaller dwellings.

“They should make the maximum use of the space available, have appropriate room sizes and be aesthetically pleasing,” says Viggers, “so that buyers can see an alternative that might work just as well as a larger dwelling for their family.”

She also supports the creation of mandatory energy certificates that take into account actual consumption, and not just heating efficiency, which would allow those moving into a new home to “make a more informed decision about what that dwelling is worth”.

“Thermal modelling earlier in the design process also forces the designer and builder to explicitly choose the level of energy efficiency they want, and therefore the trade-offs they have to make,” she says. Climate News Network

Changing climate to wreak havoc on Mediterranean soils

This article first appeared in Chemistry World, 15.05.17.

Climate change could reduce the amount of carbon stored in soil in the Mediterranean region by a third over the next 60 years, according to research undertaken at the University of Cordoba. This in turn could drive up food prices and endanger crop production in the region as soils become poorer and more and more fertiliser is needed to keep yields up.

A study of 600 soil samples from the Sierra Morena region in Spain found that local soils contain between 2 and 7% organic carbon matter. However, when scientists modelled the relationship between the soil and 24 variables affected by climate change, such as rainfall and temperature, they found that organic carbon content could decrease by an average of 35.4% in the region’s topsoil.

The Spanish researchers reveal that, while each soil type is different, a carbon content of less than 2% generally means soil is unsuitable for agriculture. They found that soil organic carbon was most likely to decrease in lowlands and on southward-facing slopes, which are also the most suitable for growing food.

A map showing the study area: Sierra Morena - Spain

Source: © Elsevier – from Science of the Total Environment 592 (2017) 134–143

Over 600 soil samples were taken from across the Sierra Morena region in Spain. The results show cause for concern on food production in the region over the next 60 years

To cope with a decrease in soil organic carbon, local farmers would have to increase fertiliser use, which could exacerbate related problems, such as water pollution, says co-author Alfonso Olaya Abril. ‘The price of foods will increase due to the increase in production costs directly related to this,’ he explains. ‘In some cases, traditional crops will have to be changed for others more adjusted with the new needs. Consumers and farmers will suffer the consequences.’

In many Mediterranean countries, food consumption already outstrips production, with only France and Spain exporting significant amounts of cereals and vegetables. The Spanish study should be an early warning to policymakers, who need to adapt local agricultural practices to the realities of climate change, says Miriam Muñoz-Rojas, a biologist at the University of Western Australia, who has extensively researched Mediterranean soils. ‘Sustainable land use in Mediterranean areas could reduce the negative effects of predicted climate change impacts by sequestering atmospheric carbon into the soil,’ she says. ‘[This] could bring additional environmental and economic benefits, such as improvement of soil quality and enhancement of crop productivity.’

However, Abril is cautious about advocating specific policies, as only 50% of the soil organic carbon content in their study can be traced to specific contributors. He says more research is needed to understand how other factors, such as microorganisms in the soil, affect the presence of carbon, and how these will develop as the climate changes.

Eyes show that stress reduces climate concern

This article was first published on Climate News Network, 14.05.17.

LONDON, 14 May, 2017   People who are stressed pay less attention to climate change images and struggle to be receptive to messages about its impact, a study has found.

Researchers from Switzerland used eye tracking to measure how much attention a group of test subjects paid to images illustrating climate change. The goal of the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, was to find out how everyday stress affects the attention that people pay to global warming, even when generally they  have a pro-environment stance.

“The results of our study suggest that individuals might be more receptive if they are in a relaxed and unpreoccupied state,” says Silja Sollberger, a researcher at the University of Zurich’s department of psychology.

Based on their answers to a questionnaire, 71 men were split into two groups with either high or low environmental interest. They were then randomly put into stressful or control conditions and shown images related to climate change, alongside other negative images.

Eye movements

By measuring the eye movements of the test subjects, the scientists, from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, found that all the men, regardless of their environmental stance, paid less attention to negative imagery when stressed. This was true even for those men who were interested in climate change and considered themselves pro-environment.

The behaviour of the test subjects suggests that governments and non-profit organisations running climate change awareness campaigns should think carefully about where and when they broadcast their message.

“It might be more successful to place climate change posters in recreational places rather than targeting commuters at a busy train station”

“Climate campaigns might benefit from considering the mental state of target individuals at the time they are being approached,” says Sollberger.

“For example, it might be more successful to place climate change posters or to ask people for donations in recreational places – like parks, zoos and cinemas – and on weekends, rather than targeting commuters at a busy train station or employees during their lunch break.”

Climate change education

These findings are important, as budgets to raise awareness of climate change and educate people about its consequences are notoriously low.

Unesco, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, has just $2 million a year to spend on climate change education, while the EU has a €63 million budget for climate action between 2014 and 2020. This compares with around $115 million a year spent by the fossil fuel industry on lobbying against climate change initiatives.

In their paper, the researchers admit that their selection of participant groups had an unintentional consequence. Men assigned to the unstressful conditions had on average higher incomes than those who were assigned to the stressed group. They wrote that low incomes contribute to chronic stress, which might exacerbate the effects of artificial stress placed on the candidates.

However, the researchers explain that the effects of stress on climate change interest observed in the study apply only to individuals. They say it is not possible to draw conclusions from their work about climate change attention in societies plagued by stress factors such as war or poverty.

Sollberger says that previous research has shown little difference between poor and rich countries in people’s attention to climate change. In fact, people living in poorer countries experience the impact of climate change much more strongly than those living elsewhere, which has a positive influence on their interest in the topic.

“Residents of poorer countries generally tend to be just as concerned about the environment, or more so, than residents of wealthier countries,” says Sollberger. – Climate News Network

EU climate spending criticised by auditors

31.11.16 – Original story on Climate News Network

The EU is billions of euros below its climate target and there are insufficient checks on where much of the €1 trillion budget is going.

The European Union could miss its climate spending targets due to fragmented funding and inflated numbers, warns the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

Although in percentage terms the figures look small, the fact that the total budget is €1 trillion means a great deal of money is being spent on purposes other than mitigating or adapting to climate change.

A report by the ECA reveals that some of the funds labelled climate adaptation were “not proven” to be that. If other criteria were used, the actual spending on climate-related issues in fisheries and agriculture alone would be €33 billion less than estimated.

The report says the EU will spend just under 19% of its budget on climate-related activities by 2020, short of the union’s 20% spending goal. Between 2014 and 2016, EU climate spending hovered at around 17.6% of the budget, but did not increase significantly, the auditors found. Spending was meant to have reached 19.7% of the total budget by 2017.

With the EU budget for 2014-2020 standing at just over €1 trillion, the projected loss of climate investment could be in the billions.


One reason for missing the target is the fragmentation of EU climate spending, the auditors say. Instead of pooling the funding into one climate action pot, the European Commission decided to channel money from different streams towards climate activities, leaving it up to the respective fund managers to decide how this would be done.

Sources of climate funding include fisheries, farming and technology development. In these areas there has been “no significant shift towards climate action and not all potential opportunities for financing climate-related action have been fully explored”, says the ECA.

Markus Trilling, finance policy coordinator at the watchdog Climate Action Network, thinks the EU needs better management of its spending. “Large parts of the funding to European farmers, both direct payments and under rural development programmes, are labelled climate adaption, but positive environmental impact is not proven,” he says.

Another reason behind the shortfall identified by the auditors in their 22 November report is the European Commission’s habit of using planned expenses, which, the report says, do not always mirror actual spending.

“The European Commission should immediately
improve its so-called ‘climate action tracking’
methodology to get a more accurate picture of the
volume and actual impact of climate action spending”

However, a spokeswoman for the European Commission’s climate action directorate says efforts to ramp up climate activities are under way, and that the EU is still broadly on track to meet the target by 2020. “We have already managed to integrate climate-related spending into our policy and this is an achievement of its own,” she told Climate News Network.

Such efforts, however, have not extended to all parts of the climate action budget. Horizon 2020, the EU’s research programme, spends only 24% of funds on climate-related work, while its target is set at 35%, the auditors reveal.

Furthermore, they say that the EU lacked a specific plan as to how it would ensure programmes that have fallen behind will catch up. Spending on climate action would have to increase by 22% every year until 2020 for the target to be met, the report found. “Progress has been made, but in key spending areas it is largely business as usual,” says Phil Wynn Owen, the auditor who oversaw the compilation of the report.

Climate tracking

In addition, the EU’s efforts to track climate spending are poor, the auditors say. If the commission used what the court deems “internationally established methodologies”, such as those used by the OECD, actual climate spending under the agriculture and fisheries heading would be around €33 billion less than currently estimated.

“The European Commission should immediately improve its so-called ‘climate action tracking’ methodology to get a more accurate picture about the volume and actual impact of climate action spending,” says Trilling.

The EU’s 20% spending promise is a vital contribution to meeting the UN emission reduction targets set out for its member states. According to Trilling, the EU cannot maintain its aspirations to lead on the Paris Agreement if spending is not ramped up in time to meet the promise. To be a climate action leader, “the whole EU budget has to be 100% climate-proof”, he says. – Climate News Network