Friday, December 13, 2013

Ocean Tunnels

Ocean tunnels are proposed by Patrick McNulty as a way to combat global warming. Many of these tunnels, lined up across the Gulf Stream and the Kuroshio Current, could supply large quantities of clean energy to the North American East Coast and to East Asia.

Such tunnels can supply energy continuously, i.e. 24 hours a day, all year, making them suitable to supply base load energy as currently generated by coal-fired power plants and nuclear power plants. 

Ocean tunnels thus hold the potential to supply huge amounts of clean energy and facilitate a rapid move to a sustainable economy, as part of the comprehensive and effective action needed to combat climate change. This is pictured in the image below under part 1. 

Comprehensive and effective action is discussed at the Climate Plan blog

Ocean Tunnels can be combined with Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) methods that use the temperature difference between cooler deeper parts of the ocean and warmer surface waters to run a heat engine to produce energy. Once such a system is in place, it has access to both deeper parts of the ocean and to surface waters, while generating a lot of energy. Such a system can also be used to pull up sunken nutrients from the depth of the ocean and put them out at surface level to fertilize the waters there, while the colder water that is the output of OTEC will float down, taking along newly-grown plankton to the ocean depths before it can revert to CO2, as described in the earlier post Using the Oceans to Remove CO2 from the Atmosphere.

Tunnels could regulate temperatures in the Arctic in a number of ways. The clean electricity they generate can replace ways polluting energy that warms up the Arctic. The clean energy tunnels generate can also be used in projects that help reduce temperatures in the Arctic. Furthermore, the turbines in tunnels can reduce the flow of ocean currents somewhat, thus reducing the flow of warm water into the Arctic.

Additionally, tunnels also hold the potential to divert warm water elsewhere and to move colder water into places that could otherwise get too warm, i.e. part 2. (Heat management) of the above action plan, more specifically management of water temperature.

Tunnels could be shaped to guide the flow of water into a specific direction, which could divert some of the water that is currently going into North Atlantic Current towards the Arctic Ocean down a southwards course along the Canary Current along the coast of West Africa.

Thus, tunnels could both produce energy to pump water elsewhere, or to pump water onto the sea ice and glaciers, to thicken the ice, or to pump sea water up into the air to spray it around and create clouds. The energy could be used in projects to help reduce temperatures in the Arctic. Additionally, tunnels could also be shaped in ways to guide water, which works even when no energy is generated. Tunnels is a concept with many applications and testing and further studies will show which applications are attractive.

A comprehensive action plan will need to consider a wide range of action. A warming Arctic results in changes to the Jet Stream, in turn making that more extreme weather can be expected, as illustrated by the video below, by Paul Beckwith

In July 2013, water off the coast of North America reached 'Record Warmest' temperatures and proceeded to travel to the Arctic Ocean, where it is still warming up the seabed, resulting in huge emissions of methane from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor.
NOAA: part of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North America reached record warmest temperatures in July 2013
Diversion of ocean currents could reduce warming of the waters in the Arctic. As the image below shows, warm water is carried by the Gulf Stream all the way into the Arctic Ocean.

Warming up of the waters in the Arctic is threatening to cause release of huge quantities of methane that is held in sediments under the seabed, as discussed in the post Quantifying Arctic Methane.


- Climate change: Solutions to a big problem

- Arctic Methane Release and Rapid Temperature Rise are interlinked

- Causes of high methane levels over Arctic Ocean

- Quantifying Arctic Methane

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Methane-Eating Microbes Need Trace Metal

Methane can be released from hydrates during an earthquake or by rising ocean temperatures, and this can contribute significantly to global warming. Stimulating microbes to consume the methane in the water could prevent methane from entering the atmosphere and, as a new study has found, trace metals may hold the key. The following is from a Georgia Institute of Technology news release. 

A pair of cooperating microbes on the ocean floor “eats” this methane in a unique way, and a new study provides insights into their surprising nutritional requirements. Learning how these methane-munching organisms make a living in these extreme environments could provide clues about how the deep-sea environment might change in a warming world.
Scientists already understood some details about the basic biochemistry of how these two organisms consume methane, but the details of the process have remained mysterious. The new study revealed that a rare trace metal – tungsten, also used as filaments in light bulbs — could be important in the breakdown of methane.
Glass works in a chamber where she can control the oxygen
levels to mimic the deep sea environment. Credit: Rob Felt.
“This is the first evidence for a microbial tungsten enzyme in low temperature ecosystems,” said Jennifer Glass, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The study was recently published online in the journal Environmental Microbiology. The research was sponsored by the Department of Energy, NASA Astrobiology Institute and the National Science Foundation. Glass conducted the research while working as a NASA Astrobiology post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology, in the laboratory of professor Victoria Orphan.
The methane-eating organisms, which live in symbiosis, consume methane and excrete carbon dioxide.
“Essentially, they are eating it,” Glass said. “They are using some of the methane as a carbon source and most of it as an energy source.”
Phylogenetically speaking, one microbial partner belongs to the Bacteria, and the other is in the Archaea, representing two distinct domains of life. The archaea is named ANME, or anaerobic methanotrophic archaea, and the other is a sulfate-utilizing deltaproteobacteria. Together, the organisms form “beautiful bundles,” Glass said.
For a close-up view of the action on the sea floor, the research team used the underwater submersible robot Jason. The robot is an unmanned, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and can stay underwater for days at a time. The research expedition in which Glass participated was Jason’s longest continuous underwater trip to date, at four consecutive days underwater.
The carbon dioxide excreted by the microbes reacts with minerals in the water to form calcium carbonate. As the researchers saw through Jason’s cameras, calcium carbonate has formed an exotic landscape on the ocean floor over hundreds of years.
“There are giant mountains on the seafloor of calcium carbonate,” Glass said. “They are gorgeous. It looks like a mountain landscape down there.”
While on the seafloor, Jason’s robotic arm collected samples of sediment. Back in the lab, researchers sequenced the genes and proteins in these samples. The collection of genes constitutes the meta-genome of the sediment, or the genes present in a particular environment, and likewise the proteins constitute a metaproteome. The research team discovered evidence that an enzyme used by microbes to “eat” methane may need tungsten to operate.
The enzyme (formylmethanofuran dehydrogenase) is the last in the pathway of converting methane to carbon dioxide, an essential step for methane oxidation.
Microorganisms in low temperature environments typically use molybdenum, which has similar chemical properties to tungsten but is usually much more available (tungsten is directly below molybdenum on the periodic table). Why these archaea appear to use tungsten is unknown. One guess is that tungsten may be in a form that is easier for the organisms to use in methane seeps, but that question will have to be answered in future experiments.


Methane-Munching Microorganisms Meddle with Metals - Research News, Georgia Institute of Technology

Geochemical, metagenomic and metaproteomic insights into trace metal utilization by methane-oxidizing microbial consortia in sulphidic marine sediments, Jennifer B. Glass et al. (2013)