illustration provided by Carbon Engineering in October 2018 shows one of
the designs of the company’s air contactor assemblies to remove carbon
dioxide from the atmosphere. (Carbon Engineering via AP)
Washington (AP) - The United
States needs to ramp up efforts to suck heat-trapping gases out of the
air to fight climate change, a new report said.
The report from the National
Academy of Sciences says technology to do so has gotten better, and
climate change is worsening. By mid-century, the world needs to be
removing about 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the air
each year. That’s the equivalent of about twice the yearly emissions of
Last year the world put nearly 37
billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, and emissions have
Steve Pacala, Princeton University
biologist and chair of the panel, said in an interview that having ways
to remove heat-trapping gases from the atmosphere would make the job of
tackling climate change “much easier.”
“It causes one to think differently
about the climate problem when you have a backstop,” he said. “And the
ultimate temperature we have to suffer through is going to be lower.”
The report comes on the heels of a
United Nations science report that painted a bleak picture of the
world’s ability to avoid dangerous warming. The latest study “is sort of
more optimistic; it gives some operational advice,” said Kate Gordon, a
research scholar at the Columbia Center for Global Energy policy who was
not part of the report’s panel.
The 370-page report called for the
nation to invest in technologies and methods that would remove the
heat-trapping gasses like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that are
generated from human activities like burning coal and natural gas for
electricity, or burning gasoline and diesel for transportation. The
technologies outlined include the simple and the futuristic:
- Plant more trees and manage
forests better, and limit the amount of land used by people. Plants take
carbon dioxide from the air and use it to grow.
- Conserve soils better so they can
store more carbon dioxide and produce more food.
- Conserve and restore coastal
plants, like marshlands and sea grass beds.
- A relatively new technology
called direct air capture. Pilot projects have started using giant fans
that pull in air, use a chemical reaction to suck carbon out, and then
inject it underground.
- A still-to-be-worked out
technology that relies on certain types of rock that can absorb carbon
- Burning more biofuel - like wood
- and capturing the carbon dioxide after combustion and either burying
it underground or making it into solids that can be spread on dirt.
“These technologies will clearly
help since we have screwed up a lot,” said Nobel Prize-winning
atmospheric chemist Mario Molina of the University of California San
Diego, who wasn’t part of the report’s panel.
The good news is that technology in
this field has advanced more in the past nine months than it had in the
previous decade, said study co-author Christopher Jones, an engineering
professor of Georgia Tech.
Pacala said the natural methods
like tree planting is pretty cheap and available now. But he said they
can only do so much because “there’s a limit to available land.”
Jason Furtado, a meteorology
professor at the University of Oklahoma who wasn’t part of the report,
called the bioenergy method the most promising, but not necessarily the
The direct air capture, being used
by Climeworks, Carbon Engineering and others, is mostly limited by cost,
Carbon Engineering acting chief
scientist David Keith, a Harvard University professor, said removing
carbon from the air makes sense only once humans have stopped putting so
much in the air. “The idea that humanity might continue huge fossil
(fuel) emissions while simultaneously balancing them with removal is
nutty - you plug the leaks before bailing the boat.”
The report addresses concerns that
it creates a “moral hazard” - raising hopes about the promise of these
carbon-removal technologies that could give civilization an excuse not
to cut emissions from coal, oil and gas now. Pacala said carbon removal
technologies aren’t a substitute for massive reductions in carbon
emissions. They are tools to get overall emissions down, he said.
“The fact that we need large-scale
negative emissions essentially tells us that we have left it (until) too
late to solve the problem,” said Norwegian scientist Glen Peters, who
tracks global carbon emissions.
July 17, 2012, file photo, adult female Pacific walruses rest on an ice
flow with young walruses in the Eastern Chukchi Sea, Alaska. A lawsuit
making its way through federal court in Alaska will decide whether
Pacific walruses should be listed as a threatened species, giving them
additional protections. (S.A. Sonsthagen/U.S. Geological Survey via AP,
Anchorage, Alaska (AP) -
Given a choice between giving birth on land or sea ice, Pacific walrus
mothers most often choose ice.
Likewise, they prefer sea ice for
molting, mating, nursing and resting between dives for food. Trouble is,
as the century progresses, there’s going to be far less ice around.
How well walruses cope with less
sea ice is at the heart of a legal fight over whether walruses should be
listed as a threatened species, giving them an added protection against
The federal government in 2008
listed polar bears as a threatened species because of diminished sea ice
brought on by climate warming. That year the Center for Biological
Diversity petitioned to do the same for walruses.
However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service concluded in October 2017 that walruses are adapting and no one
has proven that they “need” sea ice.
“It is unknown whether Pacific
walruses can give birth, conduct their nursing during immediate
post-natal care period, or complete courtship on land,” said Justice
Department lawyers in defending the decision.
A federal judge in Alaska will hear
the center’s lawsuit challenging the government’s decision not to list
the walrus as threatened. There is no court date set for the lawsuit.
Pacific walrus males grow to 12
feet (3.7 meters) long and up to 4,000 pounds (1,815 kilograms) - more
than an average midsize sedan. Females reach half that weight. Walruses
dive and use sensitive whiskers to find clams and snails in dim light on
the sea floor.
Historically hunted for ivory
tusks, meat and blubber, walruses since 1972 have been shielded by the
Marine Mammal Protection Act. Only Alaska Native subsistence hunters may
legally kill them.
An Endangered Species Act listing
would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical
habitat for walruses and plan for their recovery. Federal agencies,
before issuing permits for development such as offshore drilling, would
be required to ensure walruses and their habitat would not be
Inaccessibility protected walruses
for decades, but a rapid decline in summer sea ice has made them
In the Chukchi Sea between Alaska
and Russia, where Pacific walrus females and juveniles spend their
summer, ice could be absent during that season by 2060 or sooner,
according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Since 1981, an area more than
double the size of Texas - 610,000 square miles (1.58 million square
kilometers) - has become unavailable to Arctic marine mammals by
summer’s end, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
By late August, as sea ice recedes
beyond the shallow continental shelf, female walruses and their calves
face a choice: Stay on ice over water too deep to reach the ocean floor
for feeding - or come ashore for rest periods, where the smallest
animals can be crushed in stampedes triggered by a hunter, airplane or
More open water already has meant
more ship traffic. Walruses also could find more humans in their habitat
with a reversal of U.S. policy on Arctic offshore drilling. Former
President Barack Obama permanently withdrew most Arctic waters from
lease sales, but President Donald Trump in April 2017 announced he was
reversing Obama, a decision being challenged in court. The
administration’s proposed five-year offshore leasing plan includes sales
in the Chukchi Sea.
Designating walruses as threatened
would mean oil exploration companies would have to consult with federal
wildlife officials to make sure drill rigs don’t endanger the animals.
However, Trump’s Interior and Commerce departments in July proposed
administrative changes to the species law that would end automatic
protections for threatened plants and animals and set limits on
designating habitat as crucial to recovery.
Walruses are notoriously difficult
to count - and population estimates range widely. A preliminary one in
2017 put the number at 283,213, with the caveat that it could be as low
as 93,000 or as high as 478,975.
The array of stresses and
uncertainty about the walruses’ future are enough evidence for listing
them as threatened, the Center for Biological Diversity argues.
In the last decade, walruses that
gathered on shores have suffered hundreds of stampede deaths, and the
loss of ice floes has pushed them away from feeding areas, said Shaye
Wolf, climate science director for the nonprofit conservation group.
“They’re not adapting. They’re
suffering,” Wolf said.
Scientists advising the Fish and
Wildlife Service say the answer is not so clear cut, and much is unknown
about how sea ice loss will affect walruses.
Chad Jay of the U.S. Geological
Survey said it’s unknown, for example, why female walruses give birth on
ice instead of land.
“One of the thoughts is that ...
there’s more protection for the young from predators,” he said. “They’re
offshore, and it’s a cleaner environment, too, for giving birth. But
those are hypotheses that are difficult to prove.”
A nursing walrus needs to consume
more than 7,800 clams per day, according to a federal assessment. And
summer is the usual time for animals to fatten up.
When ice melted in alarming
quantities, forcing females and their calves to shore in herds as large
as 40,000, government scientists in 2008 tagged and tracked walruses to
see how the changes affected their feeding.
They learned that females, forced
to rest on beaches instead of ice, were still visiting their favorite
feeding areas. However, the longer swims drew down fat reserves critical
The walruses should be fine, the
study concluded, if they can replace calories with additional feeding in
winter, but whether that’s happening is unknown.
Undernourished females produce
smaller offspring less likely to survive. The declining size of polar
bear cubs in the southern Beaufort Sea was a factor in the decision to
list them as threatened.
Endangered species law does not
require perfect science to demonstrate adverse effects, Wolf said. When
there’s uncertainty, she said, the benefit of the doubt goes to the
There have been previous geological
time periods when walruses experienced a lack of sea ice, said Jay.
“Maybe they can get through that
sort of an environment. Maybe they can’t,” he said. “No one really
photo released by European Space Agency (ESA), the Ariane 5 rocket
carrying BepiColombo lifts off from its launch pad at Kourou in French
Guiana, for the mission to Mercury, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (JM
Guillon/2018 ESA-CNES-Arianespace via AP)
Mari Yamguchi & Frank Jordans
Tokyo (AP) - European
and Japanese space agencies said an Ariane 5 rocket successfully lifted a
spacecraft carrying two probes into orbit Saturday, Oct. 20 for a joint
mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.
The European Space Agency and
the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the unmanned BepiColombo
spacecraft successfully separated and was sent into orbit from French Guiana
as planned to begin a seven-year journey to Mercury.
They said the spacecraft,
named after Italian scientist Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo, was in the right
orbit and has sent the first signal after the liftoff.
ESA says the 1.3 billion-euro
mission is one of the most challenging in its history. Mercury's extreme
temperatures, the intense gravity pull of the sun and blistering solar
radiation make for hellish conditions.
The BepiColombo spacecraft
will have to follow an elliptical path that involves a fly-by of Earth, two
of Venus and six of Mercury itself so it can slow down before arriving at
its destination in December 2025.
When it arrives, BepiColombo
will release two probes - Bepi and Mio - that will independently investigate
the surface and magnetic field of Mercury. The probes are designed to cope
with temperatures varying from 430 degrees Celsius (806 F) on the side
facing the sun, and -180 degrees Celsius (-292 F) in Mercury's shadow.
The ESA-developed Bepi will
operate in Mercury's inner orbit, and JAXA's Mio will be in the outer orbit
to gather data that would reveal the internal structure of the planet, its
surface and geological evolution.
Scientists hope to build on
the insights gained by NASA's Messenger probe, which ended its mission in
2015 after a four-year orbit of Mercury. The only other spacecraft to visit
Mercury was NASA's Mariner 10 that flew past the planet in the mid-1970s.
Mercury, which is only
slightly larger than Earth's moon, has a massive iron core about which
little is known. Researchers are also hoping to learn more about the
formation of the solar system from the data gathered by the BepiColombo
"Beyond completing the
challenging journey, this mission will return a huge bounty of science,"
said Jan Wörner, ESA Director General, in a statement.
JAXA President Hiroshi
Yamakawa, who earlier managed the project, said, "We have high expectations
that the ensuing detailed observations of Mercury will help us better
understand the environment of the planet, and ultimately, the origin of the
Solar System including that of Earth."
It is the second recent
cooperation between the Europeans and the Japan Aerospace Exploration
Agency. JAXA's Hayabusa2 probe dropped a German-French rover on the asteroid
Ryugu earlier this month.