Earth on acid: The present and future of global acidification

Nov 06, 2012

Climate change and extreme weather events grab the headlines, but there is another, lesser known, global change underway on land, in the seas, and in the air: acidification.

It turns out that , smelting of ores, mining of coal and metal ores, and application of to soils are all driving down the pH of the air, water, and the soil at rates far faster than Earth's natural systems can buffer, posing threats to both land and sea life.

"It's a bigger picture than most of us know," says Janet Herman of the Department of Environmental Sciences at University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Herman and her colleague, Karen Rice of the USGS, discovered that despite the fact that they worked on different kinds of acidification in the environment, they were not well informed about the matter beyond their own specialties. So they have done an extensive review of science papers about all kinds of environmental acidification and are presenting their work in a poster session on Tuesday, 6 Nov., at the annual meeting of the (GSA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.

Acidification is both a local and global problem, since it can be as close as a nearby stream contaminated by mine tailings or as far-reaching as the world's oceans, which are becoming more acidic as sea water absorbs higher concentrations of carbon dioxide that humans dump into the atmosphere by .

Coal gives a by being the biggest contributor of anthropogenic carbon dioxide to the global atmosphere as well as creating regional acidification. Coal burning is famous for creating , which had dramatic environmental impacts on forests, streams, and lakes in eastern North America and Europe and led to major policy changes.

"It's not at all clear that other regions are considering such policy restrictions to be important," Herman says, regarding places where population growth is expected to increase acidifying activities.

Normally, acids in the environment are buffered by alkaline compounds released by the weathering of minerals in rocks. The problem today, according to Herman, is that the rate of acidification by human activities has outstripped the weathering rate and buffering capacity of the planet.

In their work, Herman and Rice look at the population projections by country over the next four decades to see where the increased industrialization and agriculture will likely lead to new acidification hot spots. Their hope is that by doing this people can anticipate the problem and plan to mitigate the harmful environmental effects, says Herman.

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More information: gsa.confex.com/gsa/2012AM/fina… /abstract_207495.htm

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Pkunk_
2.3 / 5 (9) Nov 06, 2012
The intelligent ones have been saying for decades that the only way to get the energy we need is to build more nuclear reactors and STOP USING COAL . Coal is the cheapest and at the same time the dirtiest and most environmentally polluting fuel used.

But the greenies have for decades resisted nuclear energy at every possible opportunity due to which entire countries are now addicted to Coal are baseline power. The results are plain to see , massive damage to the environment. And coal actually releases more radiation into the atmosphere than nuclear since to get the same energy as one kg of nuclear material , you need 18000 kg of coal . And that amount of coal already has more than 10kg of radioactive material inside it. Which is now going into our lungs.
cantdrive85
1.9 / 5 (7) Nov 06, 2012
That's sounds great until the Chernobyl's and Fukushima's of the world occur, they will continue to as well, then your claim of radiation release is skewed in a disastrous manner. There is a reason you don't hear of the Fukushima Fifty any longer, they are either dead or nearly there.
djr
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 06, 2012
Pkunk - "Coal is the cheapest" why do you need to comment - when you don't have a clue what you are talking about? I guess it is Dunning Kruger effect. This one site - that took me five seconds to find - demonstrates how wrong you are in claiming that coal is the cheapest. http://en.wikiped...y_source Nat. gas is actually cheapest, followed by hydro. Nuclear is pretty high on the list. To blame 'greenies' for preventing nuclear is so simplistic. Do you understand that it is impossible to get insurance on a nuke - without government footing the cost? The whole energy thing is so politicized - but it sure does not help to spread such misinformation.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (7) Nov 06, 2012
pkunk is absolutely right. and forget even about the discussion of nuclear. look at all the idiot 'greens' who protest against 'hydro-fracking' they are morons and have no understading of energy policy.
plus, some of them are even unknowingly funded by pro-coal lobbyists who want natural gas driven out of the electricity space.

the green's literrally think that the country can transition to solar and wind if it just wants to. that is simply wrong. massive decades long industries do not get over-turned in a few years. you can put them out of business yes, but that does not mean you can replace thme just because you want to. perhaps if we stopped being a democracy it is thought a dictator could simply force people into slavery until there are enough windmills and solar panels to provide sufficient energy. even with a slave economy----this would not be possible in less than a few decades. the physics of industrial production and electrcitiy production cannot be overcome with hope.
VendicarD
5 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2012
A global population of 15 billion, living at U.S. levels of energy waste, and powered entirely by Nuclear power would require the construction of 200,000 new Nuclear Reactors.

Good luck with that.

"But the greenies have for decades resisted nuclear energy at every possible opportunity due to which entire countries are now addicted to Coal are baseline power." - PkunkTard
djr
5 / 5 (3) Nov 06, 2012
the green's literrally think that the country can transition to solar and wind if it just wants to. that is simply wrong.

Pkunk is wrong when stating that coal is the cheapest. You are wrong if you don't believe that it is technically possible for us to run our world on renewable energy. I am tired of the use of the insulting labels such as greenies. Why can you not conceive of win-win? Why are you so uncreative? Countries like Germany, Scotland, Denmark etc. are leading the way to a cleaner - better world - that is also technically advanced, and has ample energy for an advanced technical economy. Sure it is going to take time to transition over - but it is happening as we speak. The U.S. is up to about 5% now. That is far behind many other countries that are more advanced in their thinking - but it is a good base to build on. Give us another 50 years, and we will get there. It could be a lot less - but for the politicization of the whole issue.
MikPetter
5 / 5 (1) Nov 06, 2012
Uranium in not a solution to climate change for at least 2 good reasons a)there isn't enough of it and b) It too is a polluting industry
There just aren't enough uranium reserves to power the world with nuclear power. If we replaced all electricity generated by burning fossil fuel with electricity from nuclear power today, there would be enough economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors for between 3 and 4 years (O'Rourke, 2004; Storm van Leeuwen & Smith, 2004). Even if we were to double world usage of nuclear energy, the life span of uranium reserves would be just 25 years.
Every reactor produces hundreds of tonnes of highly toxic radioactive waste and even after 50 years the nuclear industry and its government backers have been unable to find safe, long term means of managing this waste. Nuclear power also generates large amounts of greenhouse gases, e.g., CFCs, CO2, especially during uranium mining, milling and enrichment, and reactor construction.
Pkunk_
1 / 5 (5) Nov 07, 2012
@VendiTard spewed out -
A global population of 15 billion, living at U.S. levels of energy waste, and powered entirely by Nuclear power would require the construction of 200,000 new Nuclear Reactors.
Good luck with that.

The communists among us have a simple philosophy - "since not everyone can be rich , everyone should be poor". It is based on the Malthusian idea that the volk should be kept in control lest they discover the concept of free choice.
By the time we have a need for 200,000 nuclear reactors or 20 million Coal plants or 2 trillion solar panels , we will already be far along on developing Space Solar. There's more than enough 24x7 constant Solar power in orbit around the Earth to generate power for 50 billion souls. And when we spread out to the belt , we'll probably have a population far in excess of the 15billion figure you so fear.
djr
not rated yet Nov 07, 2012
Pkunk - I agree with your positive view of our possible future in terms of satisfying our energy needs, and also moving out into near space. I wish you would not politicize this so much. I don't think it is a matter of socialists vs capitalists - as so many want to spin it. I think it is more of visionaries vs Luddites. There are Luddites from all political perspectives. I believe that the free market system is the most efficient way to allocate resources - but it is also prone to excess, and destructive behavior - leaving an important role for government. I also think a much better educational system would temper those excesses - but here in the U.S. we are regressing in that area.
rubberman
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 07, 2012
Given the various alternatives to coal posted above, lets hop on a search engine and compare how many plants are expected to close in 2013 vs. how many are expected to come online....hmmm no data of this kind readily available other than a general consensus that due to growth in China and India (which is required to avoid a global economic collapse) more will be built than will be decommissioned. (not just in these 2 countries).

What ever humans are left in 1000 years are going to look back at this time our history, and ponder how we could be so stupid as to know what we are doing and keep doing it anyways. Perhaps they will understand that it was a matter of economic viability.
Maggnus
1 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2012
Perhaps they will understand that it was a matter of economic viability.


And political expediancy.
Pkunk_
1 / 5 (3) Nov 07, 2012
@djr and others said -
Pkunk - "Coal is the cheapest" why do you need to comment - when you don't have a clue what you are talking about? I guess it is Dunning Kruger effect.

I don't know which country you guys live in but in Asia Coal is cheaper when accounting for availability. Gas can be a bitch to transport without pipelines , due to which power plants "out of the grid" are pretty much coal based or nuclear.
Which is why it is important to balance coal with nuclear power plants or there is going to be serious pollution all around when coal is burnt in billions of tons as today. And despite all the flights of fancy of wind and solar , pigs don't fly (unless they're genetically modified of course) .
The darling of the green crowd , China burnt 3 BILLION TONS of coal last year.
rubberman
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 07, 2012
Pkunk- Regardless of how intelligent or accurate some of your points may be, saying something as delusional as referring to China as the darling of the green crowd damages any credibility of your previous points. You may as well have referred to the US as the most peace loving nation, or mentioned the overpopulation issue in Antarctica.
djr
not rated yet Nov 07, 2012
"Asia Coal is cheaper when accounting for availability." What on earth does that mean? Do you have any sources?

"And despite all the flights of fancy of wind and solar , pigs don't fly " Please do some reading. Some countries are already well on their way to supplying all of their energy from renewables - with wind and solar playing the major role. You are very uninformed - I am not sure why you would want to advertise that on a science web site.
Pkunk_
1 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2012
"Asia Coal is cheaper when accounting for availability." What on earth does that mean? Do you have any sources?

How about Forbes ?http://www.forbes...od-idea/
Most of the asian countries not counting the Gulf have LOTS of coal and very little gas. Due to which they just burn Coal.
Please do some reading. Some countries are already well on their way to supplying all of their energy from renewables - with wind and solar playing the major role.

Which country uses wind and solar as baseline power ? It's a total fraud . They always cheat and have thermal coal plants lying idle for when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. Even Germany and China with their GW of solar/wind power are constructing 100's of coal plants - http://wattsupwit...-policy/ .
Scientific fact - nuclear energy IS better for the environment than coal.
djr
not rated yet Nov 08, 2012
"It's a total fraud ." You are wrong - and demonstrating your ignorance on a science board. Sure - it is going to take time to transition to renewables - and storage is going to be important. Your reference to the German situation really shows your bias. German is one country leading the way. The coal plant referenced by Wattsup - was planned many years ago - and is currently needed due to the shutdown of their nukes. In time they will not need it. Scotland is on course to get 100% renewables by 2050. I am a supporter of nukes like you - but I see the lies too. Fukushima clean up cost will be around $125 billion - how much renewable will that buy you. Decommissioning costs are left out of the calculations - dishonest. Hurricane Sandy has been a great benefit - showing that renewables are very robust. If you stop getting your news from stupid-bias sites such as Wattsup - you might become a little more informed.
rubberman
3 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2012
"If you stop getting your news from stupid-bias sites such as Wattsup - you might become a little more informed."

And that goes for all you kids out there too!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Nov 08, 2012
Which country uses wind and solar as baseline power ?

Tokelau. It announced just today that it is the globe's first 100% solar nation.
http://www.smartp...ion/4887

Small and in an optimal position, I grant you. But nevertheless...

They always cheat and have thermal coal plants lying idle for when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine.

So? Having them and running them are two different things. If you have them, but only run them 20 days a year (instead of 365 days a year) then that's a lot less CO2.

Even Germany and China with their GW of solar/wind power are constructing 100's of coal plants

Germany is currently constructing Five. Two more are in the planning stage (but will probably not be built).
All of which were authorised way before the switchover was put into law - so the (private) energy suppliers have the right to continue building them if they want to.
Pkunk_
1 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2012
Which country uses wind and solar as baseline power ?

Tokelau. It announced just today that it is the globe's first 100% solar nation.

Firstly, Tokelau with 10 sq. km of area isn't a sovereign nation. There's plenty of money they receive from Auckland which is why they can afford to put up this solar project. Yes if you have free money to blow then you can go Solar and spend money on Batteries and Invertors. But can Asia with population of billions and millions of km of Area afford Solar or Wind ? Coal or Nuclear works just fine and provide reliable 24x7 power. (Most ppl in the West take 24x7 power for granted)
So? Having them and running them are two different things. If you have them, but only run them 20 days a year (instead of 365 days a year) then that's a lot less CO2.

The way Solar and Wind work(or do not), you are GUARANTEED to run the coal plant at least 8-12 hours every day. That is unless you have another Coal/Nuclear plant which can pick up the slack