Scientists have found a (partial) explanation for the ‘blood rain’ in Spain

Rain showers can sometimes take a bizarre turn: in very rare cases, animals such as fish and frogs have been known to fall from the sky alongside water droplets, and around the world, people have experienced what’s known as blood rain, where the water has a peculiar red tinge.

Reports of blood rain have been recorded for centuries – back before humans knew any better, it was believed the sky was actually spitting out blood. Nowadays, we have the technology to analyse the composition of blood rain so we no longer have to jump to any crazy conclusions, but scientists are only just figuring out how and why it occurs. And now a new study has put forward an explanation for a recent incident in Zamora, a city in northwestern Spain.

The people of Zamora and several nearby villages noticed blood rain falling from the sky late last year: was it chemical pollution? Was it some kind of deliberate sabotage? Was it a sign from God? A concerned resident sent a sample of collected rainwater to scientists at Spain’s University of Salamanca to see if they could come up with any answers. And now the results are in.

The researchers say a freshwater green microalgae called Haematococcus pluvialis is to blame – this microalgae is capable of producing a red carotene pigment called astaxanthin when in a state of stress, perhaps caused by getting caught up in a rain-cloud.

That matches up with previous studies of blood rain, one of which found the microalgae  to be the cause of an incident in Kerala in India– different kinds of microalgae, but the same root cause.

AstaxanthinAstaxanthin in H. pluvialis. Credit: Frank Fox/Wikimedia

What’s less clear is how these microalgae spores are travelling. H. pluvialis is not native to Zamora or any of the neighbouring regions, and before the Kerala incident, T. annulata was thought to only exist in Austria – a long way from India. So now the researchers have to figure out exactly how these mysterious microorganisms are making their way across the globe.

Hitching a ride on global wind currents would be a good bet, but so far researchers have been unable to find any concrete proof of this. The researchers identified a prevailing current that could’ve carried the microalgae out from North America to Spain, but have yet to pinpoint the exact source. Their work has been published in the Spanish Royal Society of Natural History Journal.

In the meantime, there’s no cause for panic if you’re caught in a blood rain shower: H. pluvialis is non-toxic and is often used as a food source for salmon and trout to give them a more pinkish hue. Indeed, motorcycle company Yamaha recently used the microalgae to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its factories.

blood prainsBlood rain puddle from Zamora. Credit: Joaquín Pérez

Source: Scientists have found a (partial) explanation for the ‘blood rain’ in Spain

Scientists have found a (partial) explanation for the ‘blood rain’ in Spain

A Canadian start-up is removing CO2 from the air and turning it into pellets

A pilot project to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it into pellets that can either be used as fuel or stored underground for later has been launched by a Calgary-based start-up called Carbon Engineering.

While the test facility has so far only extracted 10 tonnes of CO2 since its launch back in June, its operations will help inform the construction of a $200 million commercial plant in 2017, which is expected to extract 1 million tonnes per day – the equivalent of taking 100 cars off the road every year. It plans to start selling CO2-based synthetic fuels by 2018.

“It’s now possible to take CO2 out of the atmosphere, and use it as a feed stock, with hydrogen, to produce net zero emission fuels,” company chief executive Adrian Corless told the AFP.

Funded by private investors, including billionaires Bill Gates and oil sands financier Murray Edwards, Carbon Engineering is not the only company in the world intent on solving our carbon dioxide problems, but it claims to be the first to demonstrate how its technology can be scaled up to have both an actual environmental impact and commercial potential.

Instead of tackling the CO2 that pours out of factory smokestacks – because there are existing machines that do this pretty well – the Carbon Engineering ‘direct air capture plant’ will deal with everyday carbon emissions from buildings, transportation, and agriculture. “Emissions from sources you just can’t otherwise capture,” Corless says.

“It’s still a pilot-scale plant,” he told CBC News. “But it’s very important, because it’s the first time that anyone’s demonstrated a technology that captures CO2 that has the potential to be scaled up to be large enough to be relevant from an environmental or climate point of view.”

As we reported back at the time of the test plant launch, direct air capture works just like these new solar cells that split water into a hydrogen fuel – the CO2 recycling plant extracts CO2 from the air using a giant complex of fans, and combines this with liquid hydrogen split from water. This mixture can then be converted into solid pellets of calcium carbonate, and either heated to between 800 and 900 degrees Celsius to release pure carbon for use as fuel, or stored for later.

CEProcessCarbon Engineering

According to CBC News,
the larger plant should be able to produce up to 400 litres of gasoline or diesel per day using this method. One of the main things it has going for it is that because it turns the CO2 into fuel, no change in infrastructure will be needed to power big fuel-guzzlers such as ships, planes, and long-haulage trucks. Even existing petrol pumps can work with the fuel. A major limitation of solar and wind technologies, on the other hand, is that they require specific technologies to capture and disperse energy.

“The nice thing about the technology is that there are no real limitations for it to ultimately, in theory, displace all of the existing fossil-based transportation fuels,”Corless said.

Going forward, the most important thing for Carbon Engineering to figure out is how to be commercially viable. As Kesavan Unnikrishnan points out at Digital Journal, carbon can cost anything from $1/tonne (Mexico and Poland) to $130/tonne (Sweden) around the world, and Carbon Engineering will need to sell its product at around $100/tonne to support itself commercially.

We’ll have to wait and see how things go for direct air capture in the future, but we’re so excited by its potential. Watch the video below to find out more about how it works:

Source: A Canadian start-up is removing CO2 from the air and turning it into pellets

A Canadian start-up is removing CO2 from the air and turning it into pellets

Clean energy solutions that achieve benefits in health

Energy access is a basic requirement for human development and well-being, but it is vastly different for the poorest 3 billion people on Earth than it is for the richest 1 billion. The top billion consume 50 per cent of available fossil energy while—more than two centuries after the industrial revolution—the poorest 3 billion are still forced to rely on traditional fires (fueled by wood, dung, agricultural waste, charcoal and coal) to cook and heat their homes. One third of them are also forced to use kerosene and candles for lighting. This imbalance in access to modern energy comes at enormous costs to human health and the environment, and creates further disparities in how the effects of those costs are experienced.

In their use of fossil fuels, the top 1 billion contribute more than half the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming. If they (and the middle-income 3 billion) continue current rates of fossil fuel consumption, the world will witness warming of 2°C or more in a few short decades. The brunt will be borne by the bottom 3 billion, who live on the edge of subsistence and are most vulnerable to the resulting droughts or other changes in weather and climate.

At the same time—through being limited to using inefficient cooking fires and lamps—the poorest 3 billion are exposed to large quantities of soot (or black carbon) and brown carbon. Once emitted, black carbon particulates both escape into the atmosphere and contribute to household health risks. They are unquestionably deadly. About 4 million people die each year from the toxic smoke emitted by household fires and lights. Exposure to household air pollution kills more people than malaria, TB and HIV combined.

Such household emissions may also contribute as much as 20 per cent to black carbon emissions worldwide. This is vastly significant because black carbon (from stoves and other sources) is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide and leads to crop loss, deforestation and the melting of glaciers, threatening critical food and water sources.

About 4 million people die each year from the toxic smoke emitted by household fires and lights. Exposure to household air pollution kills more people than malaria, TB and HIV combined.

The consequences of energy imbalance are dire.

But the new United Nations initiative Sustainable Energy for All, which aims to provide access to sustainable and renewable energy sources to everyone, is unprecedented and extremely productive.

The health benefits of providing energy to the bottom 3 billion would be far ranging, and the climate benefits would be felt by all.

Project Surya, which we lead, focuses on clean energy solutions for the poorest that achieve benefits in health, climate and sustainability by employing clean cooking and lighting technologies that reduce smoke emissions by 90 per cent or more. One chronic issue with these advanced technologies—which still use locally available solid biomass— is that with the added performance comes additional cost. The costs—typically, about six weeks of income for rural households—along with the lack of robust supply chains, inhibit scaling up the technologies to the hundreds of millions of households where they are needed.

Yet the use of advanced energy technologies enables us to leverage the link between household pollution and climate change. Surya now provides users of advanced improved stoves with the credit they deserve for mitigating climate change. Households that employ them generate quantifiable reductions in black carbon and carbon dioxide, with direct positive impacts on the climate—and so should be able to sell the resulting credits in a market. Much as a company can sell carbon credits for cleaning up its operations, we believe individual women should also receive financial benefits for their actions to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and black carbon.

Generating carbon credits for switching to improved stoves is nothing new. After all, burning firewood leads to 1-2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. The contributions from each household do not reflect the total potential climate mitigation achieved, although improved stoves also help to reduce deforestation. But quantifying the black carbon reductions—which work separately from carbon dioxide—reveals that their true carbon savings are two to three times greater. Moreover, including black carbon may bring new investors and buyers to carbon markets because reducing it has more immediate climate mitigation impacts than cutting carbon dioxide and has clear health and sustainability benefits. So this new approach could catalyze new funds to support energy access at scale.

While this seems straightforward in principle, there are some formidable challenges. One example of these is verifying the use of clean stoves on a house-by-house basis. Another is accurately translating stove usage to “climate credits”, saleable via a carbon market (or results-based financing mechanism), which encompass reductions in both carbon dioxide and black carbon particulates from adopting the cleaner energy technology.
And a third is distributing the financial credits to the women using the stoves, or the stove distributor.

Project Surya’s Climate Credit Pilot Project (C2P2) combines cutting-edge air pollution and climate change science with pioneering wireless sensor technologies to work towards universal access to advanced cook stoves and solar lighting systems. Through an international partnership that includes NGOs, private donors, academics, government banks, The Gold Standard Foundation’s Voluntary Carbon market, rural entrepreneurs, village chiefs and small women’s groups, Surya uses wireless sensors integrated into kitchens to document climate credits generated by using improved stoves. Close to a quarter of households now use the improved stoves for 50-100 per cent of their daily cooking needs. Each household that uses the stove for all cooking could earn approximately $35 per year (assuming an estimate of $6 per tonne of CO2 equivalent). Carbon markets ensure a level of transparency and standardization of methods for verification and validation that will be important if this initiative is to scale up beyond Surya or any single institution. Surya is now working to expand this carbon market approach to encourage the adoption of clean lighting, as well as cooking, technologies.

Through this work, Project Surya is celebrating and rewarding the role of the poorest women in the world as climate warriors.

We acknowledge the contributions of Tara Ramanathan in leading the Nexleaf Analytics cookstove programme in the field and significant contributions from Omkar Patange in India. We thank Charlie Kennel and Ellen Lehman, Mac McQuown, Qualcomm Wireless Reach, UK AID, and the United Nations Environment Programme for their explicit support of C2P2.

Source: Credit Where it’s Due

Clean energy solutions that achieve benefits in health

New CO2 recycler captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turns it back into fuel

British Columbia start-up, Carbon Engineering is now developing technology to suck the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and save it for fuel and other applications.

It works similar to trees, but can be implemented on land unable to host tree growth, like deserts and ice.  The carbon dioxide can be processed with hydrogen, captured from water, and combined to form hydrocarbons in the way of jet fuel and gasoline, which can then be reused. The carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere when it’s burned and captured again in a self sustaining process, powered by renewable energy.

The company is currently constructing the “wet end” of their demo plant.  This is the part that circulates liquid to scrub CO2 from the air and concentrates the product in solid calcium carbonate pellets.

Source: New CO2 recycler captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turns it back into fuel 

New CO2 recycler captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turns it back into fuel

Zooplankton Are Eating Plastic, And That’s Bad News For Ocean Life

Tiny ocean animals that make up a base of the marine food web are ingesting tiny particles of plastic pollution, and that could be bad news for the health of the oceans.

That’s the main finding of a recent study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. The study focused on zooplankton, a group of organisms that are typically microscopic and that are eaten by small predators like krill, shrimp, and small fish. It looked at two types of zooplankton that live in the Northeast Pacific Ocean — copepods and euphausiids, both of which are tiny crustaceans. It found that one out every 34 copepods were eating tiny bits of plastic, along with one in every 17 euphausiids.

The findings represent the first time that zooplankton in the wild have been confirmed to be ingesting plastic, said Peter Ross, co-author of the study and head of the Ocean Pollution Research Program at the Vancouver Aquarium. Previous studies have demonstrated zooplankton eating plastic, but have done so in a lab — a setting that that’s less labor-intensive than going out into the ocean and that’s easier to control.

The zooplankton, Ross said, ingest the plastic because they’re looking for something of a certain size — that of a diatom or phytoplankton — and some tiny pieces of plastic fit the bill. The study focused on microplastics, tiny particles or fibers of plastic that are either manufactured to be small – microbeads in face wash, for instance — or that entered the environment as larger pieces of plastic but that have been broken down into small fragments. Both kinds of microplastic are widespread forms of pollution in the ocean — the debris has even been found in Arctic sea ice — but in this study, the plastic found in zooplankton didn’t include manufactured microplastic.

The study didn’t look at how zooplankton are affected by the plastic, but Ross said in a statement that the plastics could potentially block up the zooplanktons’ guts or leach into their bodies. And the transfer of these microplastics up the food chain is worrisome to Ross. The study notes that previous studies have found reproductive impacts and other health effects in marine organisms that have consumed plastic. The transfer of these plastics up the food chain, as zooplankton are eaten by larger creatures, is also worrisome.

“We’re concerned, obviously, that this is a way in which even if you’re a salmon and you don’t deliberately target a piece of plastic, you’re going to get exposed as a result of feeding on zooplankton,” Ross told ThinkProgress.

Baby salmon that spawn in British Columbia’s rivers and head out to sea once they’re mature enough will likely consume between two and seven particles per day just from eating zooplankton, according to the study. And a humpback whale, the study’s authors write, eats 1.5 percent of its body weight in krill and zooplankton every day, which means it would be ingesting 300,000 microplastic particles on a daily basis.

This isn’t the first study to examine the impacts plastic pollution is having on zooplankton. A 2013 study also found that, along with the phytoplankton and floating and other, smaller zooplankton that typically make up their diets, the tiny marine animals were eating microplastics. That plastic addition to the creatures’ diets could “negatively impact” their health, the study concluded.

One of the authors from that study helped create a video showing footage of zooplankton ingesting plastic

Manufactured microplastic has been the subject of substantial attention lately, as scientists warnof the harm they pose when they make their way into the world’s oceans and lakes — mostly to creatures, like plankton, that mistake them for food.

“They are about the same size as fish eggs, which means that, essentially, they look like food. To any organism that lives in the water, they are food,” Sherri Mason, an associate professor of chemistry at the State University of New York, Fredonia, told NPR last year. “So our concern is that, essentially, they are making their way into the food web.”

Several states have heeded scientists’ warnings. Last year, Illinois became the first state to pass a statewide ban on microbeads. Since then, six other states, including Wisconsin and New Jersey, have passed bans on the plastic.

But microbeads are only a small portion of the ocean’s massive plastic pollution problem. A study earlier this year found that in 2010, countries around the world contributed eight million tons of plastic to the oceans. That’s a lot more trash than has been measured so far in the ocean’s “garbage patches.” And, the study found, that amount is supposed to only increase in the next decade if the planet doesn’t seriously address its waste practices. Larger animals than zooplankton have also been found to eat plastic, thinking that it’s food: baby albatross have been found with bottlecaps and other plastic debris in their guts after dying — pollution that’s fed to them by their parents. Sea turtles, too, are known to eat plastic bags, likely mistaking them for jellyfish.

Ross said his study raised two additional questions: what is the impact of zooplankton’s consumption of plastic on the marine food web, and where exactly is the plastic pollution eaten by the zooplankton coming from? The sources, he said, are varied: even washing polyester clothes can cause plastic fibers to make their way into the water system. What Ross isn’t as concerned about, however, is the potential impacts of zooplankton’s plastic consumption on human health. Since humans typically eat fish filets — not fish guts — and have varied diets, he doesn’t think there’s a large chance of people being exposed to high levels of plastic from eating fish

.planktonSource: Zooplankton Are Eating Plastic, And That’s Bad News For Ocean Life

Zooplankton Are Eating Plastic, And That’s Bad News For Ocean Life