Back in 2005, the IPCC Working Group III Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage declared that the storage of naturally and industrially produced carbon dioxide in depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs and aquifers was considered an essential component of the strategy to combat the build-up of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere. It seemed like an easy solution, pump CO2 captured from nasty coal power plants and other high volume greenhouse gas sources back into the underground reservoirs that oil and gas has been extracted from. After all, those geologic formations held hydrocarbons for millions of years—now the pumped out oil fields are just sitting there, waiting to be put to use. That was until testing was done on rock from actual cap strata. It would appear that infusing rock layers with CO2-saturated aqueous fluid can alter the properties of caprock, leading to the escape of the sequestered carbon back into the environment.
In 2009, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body charged with formally designating geological time periods, decided the Anthropocene concept “has some merit.” To investigate further they formed the Anthropocene Working Group, which published their initial findings this past February in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. The group reported a wide range of human impacts that could leave a stratigraphically significant mark on the planet's geological record. There is no doubt that humans have changed the world we live in, but has the change been significant enough to declare a whole new epoch? The Anthropocene debate is continuing this week at the 2011 Geological Society of America conference.
Much has be written and even more said about stopping climate change. The total foolishness of such a quest is obvious to anyone with even the most cursory understanding of Earth's climate over the Past 65 million years. The more science learns about the ever changing nature of climate the more capricious nature appears and the less significant the labors of H. sapiens are revealed to be. To place the ludicrous arguments and unsubstantiated fears of climate catastrophists in perspective, it is instructive to survey Earth's climate since the demise of the dinosaurs—the geological time period called the Cenozoic Era. During this long span of time, Earth's climate has undergone a significant and complex evolution. If one truth has been discovered by human science it is that Earth's climate is always changing, driven, as one set of researchers put it, by trends, rhythms and aberrations—the mechanisms of climate change.
Tyrannosaurs, the group of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and its closest relatives, are the most iconic and most studied of the dinosaurs. Made famous by movies, television shows and books, T. rex is the image most people think of when they hear the word dinosaur. The popular image of a tyrannosaur is that of a gigantic meat eater, like the one shown in Spielberg's Jurassic Park, but this was not always the case. T. rex was initially described 105 years ago by H. F. Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History. New fossil finds, including six new species during the past year alone, have shown tyrannosaurs to be a more diverse group that was first thought. A phylogeny that includes recently described species shows that tyrannosaurs originated by the Middle Jurassic but remained mostly small and ecologically marginal until the Late Cretaceous.
One of the more attractive forms of green renewable energy is geothermal—harnessing the natural heat of Earth's interior to provide warmth and electricity. Unfortunately, geothermal is really only viable in limited areas around the globe, due to crust thickness and strata type. One of those fortunate places is the American Southwest, the eastern part of California and the states of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. The sixteen geothermal plants already present in California's the Imperial Valley are among the first signs of what California hopes will become a renewable-energy boom. But without water these plants cannot generate any power, and their water comes from far away—from the already stressed Colorado river.
Once again, scientists propose that planet Earth has been so altered by human activity that we are entering a new geological time period—the Anthropocene. A viewpoint article by some stratigraphic heavy hitters, just published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, has proclaimed a new age caused by anthropogenic global warming and man's savaging of the environment. According to these experts, the effects of human activity have become so pervasive that Earth has been transformed and the 11,000 year old Holocene epoch is now a “lost world.” Is this really the start of a brave new epoch, one of our own making?
Earth's climate history includes numerous incidents of rapid warming and cooling. While Pleistocene ice-age glacial terminations are arguably the most dramatic recent examples of sudden climate change, during the last glacial period the climate of the Northern Hemisphere experienced several other significant episodes when the climate rapidly warmed. Scientists call these episodes Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) events after the Danish and Swiss researchers who documented them using ice-core studies. These rapid oscillations are marked by rapid warming, followed by slower cooling. The most prominent coolings are associated with massive iceberg discharge into the North Atlantic Ocean known as Heinrich events (HE). The melting icebergs add large volumes of cold fresh water to the ocean, disrupting circulation patterns and causing further climate changes. Scientists look to past events like these to help us understand how Earth's climate system functions—what causes our planet to cool or suddenly warm. Recently, new data on past climate changes have led one commentator to predict the end of winter skiing in the American Southwest.
There are a number of scientists who disbelive the theory that an asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs. They point to evidence that some species of sauropod may have survived the Chicxulub impact—widely hailed as the smoking gun in the dinosaur extinction—as proof that the event was simply not big enough to be a knockout blow. Now, according to Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech University, new information reinforces his claim that a much larger impact that he has named Shiva, actually did the dinosaurs in.
One of the fundamental aspects of Earth's ecological and climate systems is the way carbon moves through the biosphere. From land to air to water, through living organisms and even the plant's crust, carbon—the stuff of life—is always on the move. Scientists thought they had a pretty good understanding of how the carbon cycle works, until now. Recent work with strange, jellyfish like creatures called thaliaceans is causing scientists to re-evaluate the workings of the carbon cycle.