Baby kangaroos can help in combatting climate change

Perjantai 19.5.2023 klo 19.30 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In addition to taking up immense land area as pasture, cattle causes the release of greenhouse gases directly. When they digest grass, they produce and burb methane, which is a strong greenhouse gas. This is because the bacteria in their fermenting stomach have methane as their end product.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice, if the methane release of cattle could be decreased? A recent study by Karekar and Ahring in Biocatalysis and Agricultural Biotechnology (Vol 47: 102526) “Reducing methane production from rumen cultures by bioaugmentation with homoacetogenic bacteria” has suggested that replacing methane-producing bacteria with acetate-producing bacteria in kangaroo babies’ faeces could completely prevent methane production, if the methane-producing bacteria were first eradicated. This finding is currently only done on rumen cultures, but if the change of bacterial consortiums can be done on commercial scale on cattle, some of the climate problems with cattle ranching would disappear. The fact that kangaroos can live with rumen  containing acetogenic bacteria indicates that they are compatible with mammalian herbivores. However, the efficiency of acetogenic bacteria may be lower than that of methanogenic ones.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: greenhouse gases, methane, cattle

We have got a problem

Keskiviikko 18.5.2022 klo 15.54 - Mikko Nikinmaa

More than half of Arctic land area belongs to Russia. Now that Russia is for a good reason isolated from most of the world, it is virtually impossible to get to have on-site information about what happens to the permafrost land in this time of climate change. This is a big problem, as there are huge deposits of natural gas under the permafrost, and if it melts, uncontrolled leaks of this very potent greenhouse gas get into the atmosphere.

Uncontrolled methane leaks have probably already taken place, as the appearance of unexplained craters has been reported before the Russian attack on Ukraine. Also, the measured methane concentration in air exceeds the concentration, which can be explained on the basis of agriculture, animal production and losses during oil and natural gas excavation, transport and use. So, now that we cannot follow the occurrence of leaks on site, the importance of remote sensing increases. Land-based measuring stations cannot report what is happening, as they are also in Russia and not available for Western climate scientists.

Luckily we now have quite extensive satellite surveillance system, which enables rapid evaluation of methane and other greenhouse gas concentrations. It is clear that the exact locations of methane leaks remains unknown, but that would be the case even if one had access to Russian locations, since most of the permafrost area is uninhabited.   

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, methane, permafrost, Russia

Human actions cause climate change even when fossil fuel use is not involved

Tiistai 22.3.2022 klo 18.24 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Although there are still many people thinking that climate change is not occurring or at least man has nothing to do with it, there are many problems that man is causing which accelerate temperature increase, and which could be avoided by human action. The points below are such, and can be very important in driving many parts of the world uninhabitable because of either too high temperature or drought or both. So, even people who do not believe that fossil fuel burning causes temperature increase, should accept that the following affect climate and that humans could take actions to combat the changes.

1. Because of massive deforestation, Amazon rainforest appears to near tipping point, where the rainforest turns to savannah. Boulton et al write in recent Nature Climate Change (Nature Climate Change 12: 271-278; 2022) how the resilience of Amazon rainforest has decreased dramatically since the early 2000s. Other studies have also indicated that whereas we have always considered Amazonas to be a carbon sink, it has recently turned into a net emitter of carbon dioxide. The major reason for carbon dioxide emissions is the widespread forest burning.

If the rainforest starts turning to savannah, naturally the first thing that happens is that the plant and animal species living in rainforest die off, so the biodiversity decreases radically. But even if this doesn’t concern the people, who deforest Amazonas, the following should. The water cycle of South America depends on the rainforest. If Amazonas turns into savannah, because more agricultural land is wanted, the whole South America dries up, and many areas become unsuitable for agriculture (too dry). So, by trying to increase agricultural area, greedy people end up decreasing it.

And because of the loss of one big carbon dioxide sink, the temperature throughout the world increases even if fossil fuels had nothing to do with climate change.

2. Two events happening to the oceans are also causing increased carbon dioxide levels and consecutive temperature increase even without the input of fossil fuel burning, and both depend mainly on human action. First, almost a half of the photosynthetic carbon dioxide use is due to the photosynthesis of (mainly unicellular) algae. Because of the pollution, it is estimated that the oceanic photosynthesis has decreased by 10-15 %. This increased carbon dioxide load is one factor affecting global temperatures, and could be avoided by human action – proper water purification. Second, world’s oceans are overfished. The global carbon cycle depends a lot on fish accumulating carbon. When they die, the accumulated carbon sinks to the bottom of the oceans and stays there for thousands of years. As overfishing reduces fish populations, this removal of carbon from ocean surface is reduced, and the reduced removal is seen as an increase in global carbon dioxide level, leading to temperature increase.

Again this takes place without any change in fossil fuel use, but is entirely human-caused.

3. There are further a couple of vicious circles, which increasingly take place, if human actions fail to limit temperature increase. Temperature increase decreases the carbon dioxide solubility in water. Thus, if temperature increases, more carbon dioxide is given up from the ocean, leading to further temperature increase etc. There are huge natural gas (methane) stores below the permafrost. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. If temperature increases so that permafrost starts melting, the methane below is liberated, causes further temperature increase leading to further permafrost melting and methane liberation etc.

To prevent these vicious circles from happening, climate deeds are important even today with the brutal Russian attack to Ukraine. In the best case, it can actually speed up the change from fossil fuel-based to green energy production.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: carbon cycle, Amazonas, deforestation, overfishing, permafrost, methane

LNG - an environmentally friendly ship fuel?

Perjantai 5.11.2021 klo 15.08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Ships started using Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as a fuel, because there was a grave need to decrease the sulphur and nitrogen oxide pollution caused by ship transport. Also, particle emissions are significantly smaller than for diesel-fuelled ships. Thus, the introduction of motors using LNG was considered to be a significant environmental win.

However, recent findings cast a doubt on this. In Environmental Science & Technology, Grönholm et al. (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2021, 55, 13677−13686) have measured the emissions from LNG-fuelled ships in the Baltic. Although also the carbon dioxide emissions decrease about 20 %, there is a marked methane emission. Since methane is about 30 times worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, a ship using LNG instead of diesel oil may have at least 30-fold climate effect. This is because of the LNG motors are commonly similar to the two-stroke motors in common use in e.g. leaf blowers. These motors emit a lot of unburned fuel in the environment. There are also LNG motors without this problem, the high pressure dual fuel engines. However, they have not become common for the simple reason that their nitrogen oxide emissions are higher than those of low pressure dual fuel engines and International Maritime Organization has setlimits to nitrogen oxide emissions. In contrast, there is no limit for methane emissions. The nitrogen oxides could be removed from the exhaust fumes by catalytic converters, but that would increase the cost of the motor, and as long as the methane emission is unregulated it is unlikely that the LNG-fuelled motors would change.

The simple solution would be to set emission limits for methane in boats. Since ship traffic accounts for approximately 3 % of world’s greenhouse gas emissions, without limits to methane emissions, conversion of ships to LNG-fuelled ones could increase this proportion far above 10 %. In order to combat climate change such a simple solution should be implemented until more environmentally friendly fuels become mainstream.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, methane emission, greenhouse gases

The duo living in the past (Trump and Putin) are a major threat to sustainable life

Maanantai 19.10.2020 klo 17.50 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Both Putin and Trump are anchored in the past, and hope to make decisions on 50-year old premises. Nothing can hurt the environment and, consequently, our future more than living in the past. For Trump it is the days on glorious 1960’s America, sending man to the moon. Those days American cars were the envy of every European: they were big, lean and fast. Although they used twice as much petrol as the small European cars, it did not matter, there was plenty of oil to burn. At that time the fossil fuel industry, and other industries were firmly rooted in industrialized west. There was no globalization, China and even Japan were not any commercial competitor, and the world population was 2-3 000 000 000.

The world had two major powers, USA and Soviet Union. Putin still dreams that he is leading the great Soviet Union, which has always had czars. Until the time of 1917 revolution they were called czars, but Stalin and other ruthless leaders did not rule democratically. Communist Soviet Union considered environment only as a commodity for the benefit of the party. One could do whatever, change the direction of rivers, drain lakes etc. just as long as it helped the top officials of the party.IMG_20170807_0057.jpgdeeply rooted in the past. When Trump says the science does not know, if there is climate change, it is only one of his 20000 lies. There is more unequivocal evidence of anthropogenic influence on the state of the environment than for any other scientific endeavour. Climate change is taken seriously by all the American industries apart from the oil and coal industries. Even most of the energy sector sees that oil and coal belong to the past: the use of renewable sources has exceeded the use of oil and coal this year. So when Trump and Pence are talking about the excellent environmental record of the present government, they are telling lies, which even the commercial circles do not accept. It is almost worse with Putin, since he does not have any opposition. For him climate change is only an opportunity. Temperature increase will make the Arctic Ocean ice-free and navigable. As a result, the huge gas deposits of Siberia are easier to utilize than hitherto. It does not matter to him that the same temperature increase, which makes the Arctic Ocean ice-free, also causes permafrost thawing and liberation of immense methane deposits to the atmosphere. Since methane is much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, methane liberation may lead to vicious circle speeding up temperature increase even if humans tried to restrict greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. Not that it matters to Putin, since he is of the opinion that even if there is climate change, it is not caused by human actions.

With these two science-denialists in power, it is all the more important that Europe steps up. Europe’s lead with backing from China and hopefully next year from USA will be needed. The only way to get Putin change his mind is to show that his fossil fuels cannot be marketed anywhere.

That’s what comes from living in the past – no decisions fitting the future.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: fossil fuels, climate change, temperature, Arctic Ocean, methane

Positive Feedbacks Accelerating Climate Change - Unless We Stop Anthropogenic Influence

Maanantai 29.7.2019 klo 16.01 - Mikko Nikinmaa

even if human effects were only a small proportion of factors causing temperature increase (which they are not, but I am saying it this way to make even people who deny a major influence of anthropogenic effects on temperature increase to understand the need to do everything possible to prevent any human effect), there are three things, which accelerate temperature increase, if temperature increases enough to start to cause them. And since they are possibly already happening, we should do our utmost that the human influence on temperature is mitigated.

First, as I have written in this blog a couple of times, if permafrost startsIMG_0401.JPG melting, methane deposits underneath it reach the atmosphere. Since methane is more than 20 times more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the release of methane to the atmosphere radically increases the temperature.

Second, temperature increase makes forest fires more likely. There are presently massive forest fires in Siberia and Alaska, which are producing as much carbon dioxide as Sweden in a year. Notably, one of the most common reasons causing forest fires is that cigarette butts are thrown to the environment. Fire need not start at once, but may begin, when suitable winds come.

Third, if the sea ice melts, the heat radiation is not reflected back, but absorbed by the much darker water. We can see this every year, when snow melts. Melting proceeds slowly as long as there is no dark spot anywhere, but as soon as bare ground is exposed anywhere, melting speeds up.

Because of these absolutely natural factors will speed up the temperature increase radically, it is important that even if human influence on temperature is deemed small, it is stopped without saying “doing it will decrease our economic competitiveness”. The failure to do what we can do may be the needle that breaks the camel’s back – small factor in itself, but added to everything else the reason for the generation of vicious circle.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: temperature, forest fires, methane, sea ice

Recent increase in atmospheric methane level

Torstai 15.12.2016 klo 12.49 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In the past couple of years the atmospheric methane concentration has increased drastically. It is very alarming, since methane is about twenty times more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If the level continues to increase, then the good intentions of the Paris climate agreement are brought to naught.

While the reason for the methane increase has not been pinpointed, agricultural practices have been suggested as a possible reason. Livestock production and rice cultivation produce a lot of methane. However, in my opinion, this cannot be the cause. The agricultural practices or production have not been changing so radically during recent years that a marked increase in methane production would be the result. Another reason for methane release is the use of fossil fuels, which has not increased drastically during the past couple of years. This leaves the more worrysome cause as possible. Arctic and subarctic marshes/mires are a major source of world's methane. In fact, it is supposed that the amounts of methane under the arctic permafrost exceed all other sources. Now, if the recent temperature increase has been adequate for enabling some of the permafrost to melt, the release of methane can suddenly increase. This could explain the rapid drastic increase in methane level.

The problem is that there is very little we can do, if this horror scenery is what has happened. The increase in methane concentration will cause temperature increase, cause the melting of permafrost, and further methane release - a vicious circle is generated. I hope I am wrong.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, methane