The Seas and Climate Change

Tiistai 22.10.2019 klo 15:57 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When one talks about climate change, one quite often forgets the 75 % of earth, the seas. The seas hold 50 times the carbon dioxide that the atmosphere has, and has absorbed about 30 % of the heat that has been generated in the past decades. Further, the carbon taken up by organisms is not rapidly released to the atmosphere as happens with terrestrial decomposition, but sinks to the bottom of the sea when the organisms die. It can take thousands of years before the carbon returns to atmosphere. The seas have consequently buffered much of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide production. In fact, the cumulative human emissions starting from the beginning of Industrial Revolution represent only about a percent of the total amount of carbon within the oceans. Thus, we would not have any problem, if all the anthropogenic carbon could be absorbed in the ocean.

Unfortunately, more than half of the extra production of carboWhite_Cliffs_of_Dover_NEW.jpgn dioxide by humans remains in the atmosphere. Further, the changes occurring in the seas decrease its effectiveness in buffering carbon dioxide loads, and the carbon dioxide uptake itself causes ocean acidification with difficult problems for oceanic organisms. Coral bleaching is the event that has received most attention as a result of climate change, but all the animals with calciferous shell (shell composed mainly of calcium carbonate) are increasingly having problems in shell formation as the oceans are cidified. This decreases the removal of carbon from the atmosphere, as dead invertebrates with calcium carbonate shells sink to the bottom of the sea, whereby the carbon is removed from atmospheric circulation for thousands of years. Ocean acidification also causes sensory problems for fish; the ecological consequences of this are not known. Another major problem associated with the seas is that the solubility of garbon dioxide decreases with increasing temperature. Thus, the water in temperate areas can hold much more carbon dioxide than tropical seas – this can be seen as a good feature, as temperate areas have produced most carbon dioxide, which has partially been absorbed by the ocean. However, the problem with climate change is that the sea water temperature increases everywhere, and consequently the ability of water to absorb carbon dioxide decreases. This can speed up temperature increase by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide left in the atmosphere, and cause a vicious circle: temperature increase results in less carbon dioxide contained in the water, consequently temperature increases further and decreases the carbon dioxide holding capacity. Also, the (mainly microscopic) algae of the oceans account for approximately half of the photosynthetic carbon dioxide fixation. The removal of carbon dioxide by algae has decreased by 10-20 % during recent years, probably because of aquatic pollution. This also contributes to climate change, and about as much as the recent changes in forestation.

As possibilities for removing carbon dioxide with the help of oceanic properties two solutions have been advocated. Both may have undesirable ecological consequences, and should not be used. First, the growth of algae in most parts of oceans is limited by iron availability. Thus, fertilizing the water with iron salts  could result in increased algal growth and removal of carbon dioxide by algal photosynthesis. The question here is that the ecosystems have evolved millions of years with low iron availability. What will a marked increase in iron availability do to the organisms in the ecosystem. Second, carbon dioxide could be pumped to deep in the oceans. At high pressures of ocean depths, carbon dioxide would remain as liquid. However, the organisms living in water above the liquid carbon dioxide will encounter hypercapnia to which they are not adapted. Again, the consequences to the ecosystem are unknown. Instead of increasing carbon dioxide removal, one should decrease its production.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: carbon dioxide, ocean acdification

From Acid Rain to Ocean Acidification

Keskiviikko 11.9.2019 klo 18:42 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In 1980’s the environmental problem in the news in Europe was acid rain. The sulphur dioxide (and to smaller extent oxides of nitrogen) emitted in the smoke from coal burning, condensed in clouds, and was part of the rain entering Scandinavian poorly buffered lakes. The pH of the lakes could decrease from 7 to 4 and wipe out virtually all the fish, shellfish and crayfish of the lakes. The toxicity of acid rain was aggravated by aluminium (Al). Aluminium is insoluble at high pH values, but acid rain solubilized it. The free metal ion, predominant at pH-values below 5 is highly toxic, and kills fish and crustaceans by disturbing their ion regulation. At higher pH values the aluminium hydroxides precipitate on the gills of aquatic animals causing their death. As a result of acid rain, the lakes had clear water, but virtually no animal life. At that time aluminium was considered to be a very bad toxicant. Having studied the acid rain-aluminium toxicity, it is difficult for me to understand that presently aluminium sulphate is used to “restore” lakes. Toxic aluminium will kill fish and invertebrates also in this case. Naturally, if the purpose is to get clear water, that is the thing to do, but as the acid lakes justify, clear water does not mean water, where animals can live.

In comparison to freshwater acidification, where water pH could decrease up to 3 pH-units, the most likely pH-decrease in ocean acidification is 0.3-0.4 units by 2100. Asranta.jpg a pH change this would not be a problem for animals, if it were not the result of changes in the carbon dioxide-bicarbonate-carbonate equilibria. In 1970’s and 1980’s the acid-base regulation of animals was studied extensively, using, e.g., hypercapnia (increased carbon dioxide level) as a disturbance. It was found that fish and other aquatic animals are quite poor in handling external carbon dioxide loads. While the degrees of hypercapnia used were much higher than the environmentally relevant ones during ocean acidification, it seems quite clear that any disturbances observed in animals are due to hypercapnia. The reasons for this are at least the following: (1) Aquatic animals have low total carbon dioxide levels. Consequently, any increase in external carbon dioxide tension, as happens during ocean acidification, will decrease the efficiency of carbon dioxide excretion. Since carbon dioxide is the major end product of aerobic energy metabolism, this causes disturbances of energy metabolism. (2) Increased carbon dioxide level can only be achieved at the expense of carbonate levels, which must decrease. All the shells of invertebrates are made of calcium carbonate. Thus, shell formation may be disturbed by ocean acidification. So, it is really the problems of handling carbon dioxide, i.e. hypercapnia, and not the pH-changes, that are the questions in ocean acidification.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: carbon dioxide, pH, climate change, aluminium

Record Deforestation of Amazonian Rainforest

Keskiviikko 3.7.2019 klo 19:19 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Brazilian President Bolsonaro is keeping his promises. IMG_20170826_0005.jpgHe belongs to the group of world leaders together with Trump and Putin, who deny that such thing as climate change is taking place. Or actually in an interview Trump said: “I don’t deny climate change, but it can go both ways – it can go both ways.” Anyhow, for some time now, deforestation of Amazonas has decreased, and that has been good news for world’s climate. But unfortunately the positive trend has now stopped. The deforestation of Amazon is now record high. Just as President Bolsonaro said, when coming into power. He wowed to stop environmentalists from disturbing the agroforest industry. He is now keeping his promise. It does not matter that the cutting of Amazon rainforest will make agricultural land everywhere, also in Brazil less fertile and increase the number of unpredictable weather events, including droughts all over the world but especially in the tropical and subtropical areas. However, if you deny that anything is happening to the climate, then doing what the present Brazilian government is doing is logical. It would actually be very pertinent for the rich Americans, who have said to use billions of dollars to combat climate change, to buy forest around areas, which are now being cut. That would make future deforestation more difficult.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon dioxide sink, climate deniers

Climate change, biodiversity loss - reincarnations of population bomb

Perjantai 2.11.2018 klo 12:46 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Very recently several important contributions on environmental questions have been published. First, the IPCC report on Climate Change, and, second, the WWF Living Planet 2018 report  (WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report 2018. Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A.(Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.). In addition, an article in Nature (Resplandy et al. 2018   Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 and CO2 composition, Nature 563, 105-108) indicates that more heat has been absorbed by the oceans than conservative estimates suggest, i.e. that climate change may be worse than previously thought

Surprisingly, the reports do not give virtually any attention to the size of human population, although looking at the above two pivtures, a striking similarity in the population increase and athospheric carbon dioxide level graphs can be seen. In the future, it can unfortunately be estimated that if climate actions are not effective, carbon dioxide production increases much more than population growth, since population growth occurs in areas, where carbon dioxide production per person has increased markedly during recent past. Also, the major reasons for the huge (60 %) biodiversity loss are habitat loss and exploitation, both the result of the need of increasing population to get food and other commodities.

It is shocking that economic circles and politicians throughout the world forget that all economic activity ultimately depends on healthy environment. As a result, growth is not possible indefinitely, and economic theories should center not around growth but around sustainability. And one of the major aims of future global planning should be to limit world population. However, as long as the growth-based ideology predominates, population growth is needed. Naturally, actions to corb population growth should be such that nobody is offended. I have toyed with the idea that foreign aid would be given to individuals, not the (mostly corrupt) governments. The direct funding would depend on the size of the family, increasing with a decrease in the number of children. Another significant action would be the schooling of women: this would significantly decrease the population growth, and would also foster equality - certainly opposed by many in male-dominated societies.

Many innovative solutions to decrease the exploitation of wild animals and habitat distruction have been already advanced. Also, there are a plenty of possibilities to decrease the energy needed for transporting goods and new ways of energy production. However, in my opinion, a success in combatting both climate change and biodiversity loss requires that we are succesful in limiting population growth. If we cannot do that, there is bound to be a collapse resembling one that is always seen with animal populations, which have become too dense.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: land use, extinctions, energy consumption, carbon dioxide

Population explotion and climate change - close connection

Tiistai 9.10.2018 klo 20:26 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In the late 1960s, when I became an environmentlaists (and still am 50 years later), the major worry was population growth. Then it was estimated that food production would soon become a problem. However, as a result of advances in agricultural methods, the absolute hunger in the world has decreased, although the population has increased threefold. However, one can say that virtually all of the present mejor global problems are due to population growth. I was shocked to see two charts superimposed: the population growth and the energy consumption in the world. The graphs were more or less identical. So, the climate change is very much to do with population growth. If the population could decrease to the level that it was in 1960s, there would be no climate change, nor would there be the global plastic problem etc.

Naturally we cannot forcefully decrease world population, but one of the ways to migitate  climate change should be to decrease population growth in Asia and Africa. And there could be quite a simple way to do this with everyone being happy. Much of the developmental aid could be tied to birth control: if a family had maximally two children, they would be given a certain yerly sum of money. This would probably be more effective way of combatting climate change in developing counties than anything else.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: population growth, energy consumption, carbon dioxide

Climate change - why seas matter

Keskiviikko 25.7.2018 klo 16:37 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Compared to the terrestrial environment the seas contain fifty times more carbon dioxide. Further, about half of all photosynthetic carbon dioxide removal is done by oceanic organisms, mainly phytoplankton, which partly remove carbon from circulation, when they sink to seabottom after dying.

An increasing temperature decreases the solubility of carbon dioxide and ocean acidification means that the equilibrium between carbon dioxide, bicarbonate and carbonate is driven towarIMG_20170727_0010_edited_101412.jpgds carbon dioxide. Further, the pollution of the seas has resulted in reduced  photosynthesis despite eutrophication in some areas.

The net result of the above is that liberation of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, from the seas to the atmosphere increases simultaneously as its photosynthetic fixation decreases. Furthermore, the marine environment enters vicious circle: the higher the temperature and lower pH, the more carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere and causes further temperature increase.

The well-being of the seas thus matters - also in mitigating climate change.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, carbon footprint, ocean acidification

Kelps - combatting climate change and a source of food

Perjantai 29.12.2017 klo 19:29 - Mikko Nikinmaa

An important contributor to the climate change is that photosynthesis in the oceans has decreased. Thus, any way of increasing it would be beneficial for combatting carbon dioxide accumulation. One way of doing this would be to cultivate kelp. It could be eaten as part of sallads, as binding the rice in sushi meals etc. The growing kelp would convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. Simultaneously the kelp fields would harbour a rich invertebrate fauna. I have yet not come across any negative sides in advocating kelp farming to combat climate change.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, aquaculture, carbon dioxide

Solar power cheaper than coal

Maanantai 3.7.2017 klo 10:25 - Mikko Nikinmaa

It has now happened. Solar energy has become cheaper than coal - at least for places where old coal power plants do not exist. The decrease in relative price of energy produced using renewable sources has surprised everyone. One needs to go back only 20 years, when "energy experts" said that renewable energy (referring mainly to solar and wind energy) will always be so expensive that its commercial use will not be feasible without marked financial state support.

The fact that solar energy has now become quite cheap has important ramifications. For example, oil and gas prices cannot increase markedly, since one is always able to use alternative energy sources instead, if the price is too high. Nuclear energy with its huge building costs is not an attractive alternative. And imagine if even a half of the 10 billion € now needed to build a nuclear power plant would be used to research on how to store energy, which is the major problem with solar power.

Yes, storing energy so that the solar energy would be usable in the dark times is still not solved satisfactorily. Plants do it, and the energy stored is the basis of fossil fuels. This actually shows that energy storage is a solvable problem. And if even a half of funds needed to build a nuclear power plant were directed to this type of applied research, the result would likely to enable us to produce cheap, clean energy, which is usable overnight - for the benefit of mankind.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, energy production, fossil fuels. carbon dioxide footprint

Climate change, and the effect of anthropogenic carbon dioxide, just imagination?

Lauantai 11.3.2017 klo 16:05 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Quite incredibly the US Environmental Protection chief Scott Pruitt said that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is not the primary reason behind climate change. The scientists in EPA are of opposite opinion - thus a politician can say how things are opposite to what scientiststs who have carried out careful research on the topic have given as the conclusion by EPA. This shows the views of the present US president and his government. Lets go back to the past when there was no EPA and the environment could be be polluted so that a burning river resulted in generation of EPA. Personally, I think that if there is even a possibility that human influence endangers our environment, for the sake of future generations we should carry out corrective actions as best we can.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: fossil fuels, carbon dioxide, anthropogenic effects

Another smoggy day

Sunnuntai 8.1.2017 klo 16:01 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In the past days one has again seen alarming pictures of the air quality in major cities. The worst ones are from Chinese cities like Beijing, but also big European ones, Paris and Madrid, have been in the news.

In Chinese cities the problem has mainly been that the energy production for warming houses and making steel is obtained using fossile fuels, largely coal with poor smoke purification. This is a well acknowledged problem, and the major reason why China has now become a very strong supporter of climate agreements. It is much better to get world's good opinion simultaneously as the number of people getting lung and airway diseases and dying from air pollution decreases. Against this background the opinion of future American president, favouring the use of fossil fuels is an unfortunate cry from the past.

The situation of Madrid and Paris is more of a problem. Poor air quality is mainly due to diesel cars. It is not long since diesel motors were considered environmentally friendly. However, their development has not been able to reduce the amount of small particles causing smog. So, one can almost predict that diesel cars are a disappearing feature. Only electric cars with electricity produced using wind, solar or different forms of water energy, are a real long-term solution for clean city air. Note that I have not included energy obtained burning wood, because burning produces both microparticles and carbon dioxide (naturally these can be removed using filters, and much less air pollution to the cities is given up from centralized energy producing units than from individual cars or fireplaces).

The removal of carbon dioxide from smoke is of utmost importance. As this is the case, innovations that enable the removal are important for combatting climate change. Recent news have indicated this kind of innovation. The produced carbon dioxide is precipitated as baking soda, which is then used. As a consumer product is the result, the removal of carbon dioxide does not cause cost as long as the product can be sold.

Future solutions for cleaner air require changes in thinking. We cannot rely on the solutions from the past, but need to find new ways of thinking. Instead of trying to go back to "Good Old 60's" we should think of ways of having sustainable future.     

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: air pollution, carbon dioxide, transport