Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New study focuses on nitrogen in waterways as cause of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere

New study focuses on nitrogen in waterways as cause of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere

Jake Beaulieu, a postdoctoral researcher the Environmental Protection Agency in Cincinnati, Ohio, who earned his doctorate at the University of Notre Dame, and Jennifer Tank, Galla Professor of Biological Sciences at the University, are lead authors of new paper demonstrating that streams and rivers receiving nitrogen inputs from urban and agricultural land uses are a significant source of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere.

Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and the loss of the protective ozone layer. Nitrogen loading to river networks from urban and agricultural activities is a potentially important source of nitrous oxide emission to the atmosphere. It occurs through a microbial process called denitrification, which converts dissolved nitrate-nitrogen to nitrous oxide and dinitorgen gases.

In a paper appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Beaulieu and Tank describe how they measured nitrous oxide production rates from denitrification in 72 streams draining multiple land-use types across the United States.

They found that the amount of nitrous oxide produced in streams is related to human activities that release nitrogen into the environment, such as fertilizer use and sewage discharges.

"Runoff from agricultural and urban watersheds has increased the availability of nitrogen in streams and rivers, greatly increasing nitrous oxide production rates," Beaulieu said. "This research shows that river networks play an important role in how human nitrogen use affects climate change and ozone loss."

The new study reports that streams and river networks are the source of at least 10 percent of human-caused nitrous oxide emission to the atmosphere worldwide, which is three times the amount estimated by an earlier report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Beaulieu and Tank suggest that reductions in nitrous oxide emissions from stream and river networks can be achieved through changes in urban and agricultural land use patterns, such as reduced agricultural fertilizer application.

Jake Beaulieu
University of Notre Dame

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chesapeake Bay regs would cost cattlemen $30,000 to $40,000 each

Dec. 22, 2010 7:18am

If Congress pushes through proposed Chesapeake Bay legislation during its lame duck session, Virginia farmers could face billions of dollars in additional expenses.

"On the farmer side of the equation, we’re talking about somewhere in the neighborhood between $1.5 billion and $3 billion," said Wilmer Stoneman, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation associate director of governmental relations. "Fencing cattle out of streams, the icon of the Chesapeake Bay Program, is going to cost $800 million. It will probably cost around $30,000 to $40,000 apiece for every cattle farmer in the watershed. And that’s a cost that they can’t absorb on their own."

Stoneman is featured on The Real Dirt explaining why Farm Bureau members are opposed to the bill and how voluntary water quality protection efforts of thousands of farmers have been ignored.

Federal Cap on Water Pollution Is Chesapeake Bay's Road to Remedy

Federal Cap on Water Pollution Is Chesapeake Bay's Road to Remedy

Mon Dec 20, 2010 11:24am EST

Nutrient trading in some states is similar to the carbon cap and trade Congress failed to pass to address global warming pollution

By Lisa Song

When Dawn Stoltzfus looks at the Chesapeake Bay, she sees a body of water on life support. "It's barely hanging on," Stoltzfus, a spokeswoman from the Maryland Department of the Environment, told SolveClimate News.

The Chesapeake Bay is the country's largest estuary, with a watershed that's home to 17 million people. Despite decades of cleanup efforts, the estuary remains plagued by invasive species, harmful algal blooms and loss of wetland habitat.

Excessive nutrients pose the biggest challenge to water quality, and for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency is setting mandatory limits on Bay-wide nutrient loads.

The final numbers—called Total Maximum Daily Loads—will be released later in December and are supported by executive orders from May and September 2010, when President Obama called for better restoration of the Bay's ecosystem health.

In draft targets released in September, the EPA aimed to reduce the Bay's nitrogen and phosphorous by 25% from current levels, with all reduction measures in place by 2025.

If that sounds like the federal government is putting a cap on the water pollution flowing into the Chesapeake, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. Further, in order to meet and possibly go beyond those pollution limits, several states in the watershed have initiated nutrient trading programs.

The basic concept is the same as the carbon trading Congress has failed to pass to address global warming pollution. Businesses that would produce too much nutrient pollution can buy nutrient credits from other businesses that operate under the allocated limits.

Chuck Fox, senior advisor to the EPA Administrator, said this work on daily load limits in the Chesapeake is the most aggressive and most complicated done in EPA history.

"We want to bring a new level of leadership and write a new course of history for the Chesapeake Bay," he said.

Failure to Comply Will Have Consequences

Each year, millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous are washed into the bay. These nutrients, which originate from wastewater treatment plants, fertilizer runoff and air pollution, can induce algal blooms that remove oxygen from the water and block sunlight from reaching underwater plants.

All marine habitats need nutrients to survive, said Richard Batiuk, Associate Director for Science at EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office. But the nutrient load has gotten so excessive it's like “we've poured on cheeseburgers and fries." The Bay needs to be put on a diet, he said.

Past clean-up efforts relied on voluntary nutrient reduction goals. If a state didn't meet its goal, there was no price to pay except for some bad press, Batiuk said.

The upcoming Daily Loads will apply to six watershed states – New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia – and hold them responsible for their nutrient output. States that don't comply will face consequences, such as stricter Daily Loads in the future and decreased EPA funding for state programs. In addition, states must commit to two-year milestones that clearly demonstrate progress.

Each state is free to come up with its own method of nutrient reduction. The process began this summer, when the EPA calculated preliminary figures for Total Maximum Daily Loads. Each state then wrote strategy reports on how they would meet those limits: examples include upgrading wastewater treatment plants or planting cover crops to reduce soil erosion. The strategies will be updated once the EPA publishes final Daily Load figures later this month.

This flexibility allows each state to use the strategies that are best for them, said Batiuk. For example, New York, which has a very strong local-based government system, is working to clean up local streams and rivers that feed into the Chesapeake. Delaware, with its poultry farming industry, is turning manure into landscape fertilizer to be sold across the eastern seaboard.

Nutrient Credit Trading in Three States

Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia operate nutrient trading programs. Maryland's began in 2008, and it was aimed at point-sources of pollution such as wastewater treatment plants. After two years, the program yielded only a single credit trade. That’s because the point-sources were reluctant to sell off their right to pollute.

Any wastewater plant that sells nutrient credits is effectively driving development to its competitors, said John Rhoderick, Administrator of Resource Conservation Operations in Maryland's Department of Agriculture. Once a treatment plant reaches the maximum Daily Load, there's no way to expand service to new customers.

To encourage trading, earlier this month Maryland expanded the trading program to include non-point sources of pollution -- such as agricultural runoff. State experts have begun to assess individual farms to estimate the nutrient output. If the farm has nutrient credits to spare, farmers can sell them and generate revenue.

"Right now we have a lot of interest from people we've run these assessments on," Rhoderick said, but no one has jumped into trading yet. Market signals aren’t clear enough. The credits haven’t been priced, because the prices will depend on how many farmers opt into the program. The expectation is that farmers who find ways to reduce nutrient output will be able to sell their credits to wastewater treatment plants seeking to expand, and generate added income.

Rhoderick points out that the nutrient credit trading program is different from carbon cap and trade programs that people are familiar with in one important respect. Under Maryland's current program, polluters can’t begin trading until they have met their nutrient limits. They can’t keep polluting and buy their way into compliance. They must first comply, before trading their way into possible expansion.

Still Rhoderick expects there will be plenty of buyers. The trick will be to get sellers into the market, and that's what the expanded trading program aims to do. By 2015, Rhoderick is hoping to see 10% of Maryland's farmers trading nutrient credits.

Pennsylvania’s nutrient credit system also had a slow start. Now six years old, it didn’t see its first trade until 2007. Since then, there have been nine completed trades with another six pending. In total, the state has traded 92,000 nitrogen credits and 200 phosphorous credits (each credit is equal to a pound of nutrient).

Looking into the future, experts are looking at ways to combine nutrient trading with carbon cap and trade. Some conservation practices such as planting trees sequester carbon in addition to absorbing nutrients; a recent University of Maryland study modeled how both practices might be combined yielding dual benefits to landowners.

Batiuk hopes that Chesapeake Bay will set an example for the nation. If the collaborative efforts work here, he said, then this gives hope for bigger projects like restoring the Gulf of Mexico, whose watershed drains a much larger area but which shares many of the same problems as the Chesapeake.

Real Challenges in Algae-based CO2 Capture


Real Challenges in Algae-based CO2 Capture

I thought it would be good to revisit the topic of CO2 capture (and partial sequestration) by algae, where the idea is to use the CO2 from concentrated CO2 emitting sources, especially power plants, to grow algae and use the biomass to produce biofuels. The concept is enticing in that it solves two problems in one go – reduces the net amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere while providing us with a renewable source of biofuel.

But, as will not be surprising, there are significant challenges this concept faces, and it can be safely said that it will take at least five years before anyone can convincingly come up with a biological/engineering model that can accomplish this sustainably. All the same, it is a domain that has exceptional potential. With this in mind, the Oilgae team does a continuous review of this field; I thought I’d share some of our latest thoughts about algae-based CO2 capture with you.

You will appreciate this is a relatively vast topic to be covered in a single newsletter; so I will limit myself to revisiting the real challenges that we see in algae-based CO2 capture.

I would request who would like more details on any of the challenges listed below to send me a note so I could answer specific questions (to the extent possible, that is).


It is difficult, if not impossible, to capture 100% of CO2 that is pumped into the ponds
This could be an important challenge, given that the total cost of CO2 capture, cooling, transportation and ultimate transfer to the ponds is one of the largest cost contributors for algae biofuel production. A literature review suggests that it might be difficult to achieve capture %s that are higher than 75%.


Energy costs for constructing sumps
The % of absorption of CO2 increases significantly if sumps are constructed in a customized manner within the ponds. However, construction of these pumps could add a few % points to the total cost.


Storage of CO2 during night
Algae consume CO2 during the daytime and they do not consume any CO2 during night when they in fact respire and let out CO2. Thus, any system needs to ensure that there is a storage of CO2 piped from the power plant. This could add to costs.


Overall economic viability
Ultimately, the challenge for algae-based CO2 might not be technical or biological in nature, it is more likely to be economic. The costs of algae-based CO2 capture are still quite unclear.


Industrial incentives and perception
Where the power plants have no penalties for not sequestering the CO2 that they generate, there is little incentive for these plants to invest in uncertain technologies such as algae-based CCS. And at a time when implementing even a pilot-scale algae-based CCS effort could cost in millions, a lack of clear incentive or penalties will be a severe inhibitor to research efforts.

While Copenhagen was a disaster, I am not sure how much better Cancun has performed in the context of getting national mandates on CO2 capture / sequestration.


Water source near the power plants
It requires about a million liters of water to make 1 T of dry algae biomass. In order for a large power plant to have algae cultivation that sequesters millions of T of CO2 per year, it is imperative to have access to large quantities of water., which the power plants might not have access to.

Narasimhan Santhanam


Monday, December 20, 2010

Boom in harmful algal blooms

Boom in harmful algal blooms

Harmful algal blooms (HAB), lethal for human beings and marine ecosystems alike, are steadily increasing in intensity in the Indian waters. Researchers have found out that the toxic blooms had increased by around 15 per cent over the last 12 years in Indian seas.

There were 80 harmful blooms between 1998 and 2010 in the Indian seas against the 38 that took place between 1958 and 1997. The number of such blooms was just 12 between 1917 and 1957, according to scientists.

These findings form part of the research data that was generated by a team of marine life experts, including K.B. Padmakumar and V. N. Sanjeevan of the Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology, Kochi and N.R. Menon of the Cochin University of Science and Technology, as part of a national programme of the Centre.


The researchers had monitored the harmful blooms and tried to identify the factors causing the bloom, dynamics of bloom formation, spread and its ecological consequences on marine ecosystems. The potentially toxic micro algae recorded from the Indian waters included Alexandrium, Gymnodinium, Dinophysis, Coolia monotis, Prorocentrum lima and Pseudo-nitzschia.

Toxic blooms have been reported from over 30 countries, including India. The first recorded observation on algal blooms in India was in 1908.


The blooms turn lethal for human beings when they consume marine organisms that feed on such algae. Incidents of paralytic shell fish poisoning, following an algal bloom, was reported in 1981 from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Three persons lost their lives and 85 were hospitalised in Tamil Nadu.

In a similar incident at Vizhinjam in Kerala in 1997, seven persons died and around 500 were hospitalised. These people had consumed a mussel, which had fed on toxic algae. Another bloom that hit Kerala in 2004 resulted in nauseating smell emanating from the coastal waters extending from Kollam to Vizhinjam. More than 200 persons suffered from nausea and breathlessness for short duration due to the foul smell. The bloom also resulted in massive death in the region, scientists said.

Scientists had collected algal samples from 1,880 stations during the last 12 years as part of the study. They had also recorded the presence of 422 species of micro algae, including 35 harmful ones. Noctiluca scintillans was the dominant and frequently occurring algae during summer monsoon. While Cochlodinium, Gymnodinium, Gonyaulax and Ceratium bloomed frequently, blooming was an annual affair for Trichodesmium. However, the Noctiluca bloomed at intervals.

It was the Arabian Sea that experienced the most number of blooms over the decades. The Bay of Bengal recorded blooms by and large during the northeast monsoon when cyclonic storms occurred in the region. Global warming and the resultant storminess could also influence the frequency of bloom formation in the Indian seas, scientists said.

Causative factors

Upwelling, formation of mud banks, nutrient discharges from estuaries and run-off from the land during southwest and northeast monsoons cause some algae blooms in coastal waters.

The changing patterns of nutrient ratio of the coastal and the open ocean waters due to anthropogenic activities, increased aquaculture operations leading to enrichment of coastal waters, dispersal of toxic species through currents, storms, ship ballast waters and shell fish seeding activities were some of the factors triggering the blooms, they said.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Diatom Ventures LLC

A Venture Capital firm named Diatom Ventures

Our Purpose at Diatom Ventures is to help great entrepreneurs build profitable and enduring businesses that benefit the world. We partner with emerging, high-growth companies that have developed innovative products or services with the potential to remake their industries in socially responsible ways, in balance with nature and all company stakeholders. We believe that, working together, we can both make a difference and earn superior financial returns.

Diatoms are tiny creatures that have huge impacts. They are beautiful microscopic plankton that drift on or near the surface of the sea, multiply quickly when conditions are favorable, and form the foundation of the food chain in the world's oceans. They convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and nutrients into carbohydrates on which nearly all life in the ocean depends. They fuel all of the Earth's living systems, and by their sheer number may cycle as much carbon on Earth as all rainforests combined.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wadi Hanifa Bioremediation Project, Riyadh.

Bio-remediation Facility


The Bio-remediation Facility is designed as habitat and natural structures to support the

biology that will do the work of cleaning the water.

The three main goals of bio-remediation are:

1. Reduction of fecal and total Coliform bacteria to safe levels;

2. Elimination of bad odours; and

3. Prevent cumulative negative impacts of nutrient load through the Wadi.

the bio-remediation Facility is the integral part of the Wadi hanifah restoration project. the main treatment process of the water comprises 3 main functions that will take place in this area:

1. Aeration to kill the coloform bacteria in the water;

2. Development of a food chain to bio-accumulate excessive nutrients derived from urban sewage and wastewater; and

3. De-nitrifying (to metabolize nitrogenous compounds) to reduce odours emanating from the wastewater.

The four components of the Bioremediation Facility are designed to enhance the natural treatment process are:

1. biocells – These are the basic units of the Bio-remediation Facility which are responsible for the bulk of nutrient assimilation. The whole facility consists of 3 biocell groups as follows: Group 2 (20 biocells), Group 3 (34 biocells) and Group 4 (80 biocells);

2. aeration system – This provides sufficient levels of dissolved oxygen (DO) to the system killing coliform bacteria and creating favorable conditions to microbes, fish & other aquatic


3. artificial periphtyon benthic substrates – Provide substrates for biofilm / periphyton which is essential for bio-accumulating nutrients through the food chain; and

4. Fish (tilapia) – Serving as the top of the food chain and controlling the growth of filamentous algae.

The Bioremediation Sampling Monitoring Program is designed to allow for water sample collection at strategic locations. The data collected is used to determine the treatment efficiency of individual biocells, groups of cells and of the entire facility. There are twenty two (22) water quality parameters being analyzed in each location and grouped under four principal categories: General Variables; Organics; Nutrients; and Microbiology.

The long term purpose in collecting and analyzing data is to compare system performance to the Master Plan design objectives, in addition to developing long term bio-remediation operation and maintenance protocols.

A summary of water quality analyses is presented in the Nelson Environmental

“Bioremediation and Surface Water Monitoring Report” dated February, 2010.

Bio-remediation Facility performance

Based upon early testing and analyses – only five (5) months of data sets from August 2009

to February, 2010 – Nelson Environmental reported conclusive data in several key areas:

Suspended solid removal rates are high (clear water).

Ammonia removal rates are high.

Fecal and total coliform removal rates are significant.

System is functioning without odours from the water.

Aquatic higher life forms (fish) are thriving in the Bio-remediation Facility.

Emergance of a new level of preditors - birds.

In summary, the Bio-remediation Facility is performing beyond expectations.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cancun Conference - Global Warming

Space mirrors and algae to cut global warming

Activists of The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Organization hold signs urging people to turn vegetarian as they believe it will save the planet, in Cancun November 29, 2010.

Activists of The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Organization hold signs urging people to turn vegetarian as they believe it will save the planet, in Cancun November 29, 2010.

Photograph by: Gerardo Garcia, Reuters

CANCUN — UN scientists are to consider putting mirrors in space and sprinkling iron filings in the sea in an attempt to cut global warming, the climate change summit in Cancun has heard.

Speaking at the summit, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the Panel's next report on global warming would not only look at the threat of rising temperatures but also consider "geo-engineering" options that could reverse warming.

The announcement implied that scientists were losing faith in a global deal to stop temperature rise by limiting emissions.

There are already low expectations for the summit, being held at this beach resort on Mexico's east coast.

Representatives from more than 190 countries are meeting at the heavily guarded Moon Palace Hotel to try to find a way to limit emissions so that temperature rises stay below 3.6F (2C).

The IPCC is responsible for setting out the scientific basis on which the talks are based.

Addressing the opening conference, Dr Pachauri said if mankind continued to produce greenhouse gases at the current rate the world could experience catastrophic warming within 50 years.

He said the threat was so great that the fifth assessment report (AR5), due to be presented to the UN in 2014, would look at "geo-engineering options". "The AR5 has been expanded and will in future focus on subjects like clouds and aerosols, geo-engineering and sustainability issues," he said.

Later this year IPCC "expert groups" will meet in Peru to discuss geo-engineering.

Options include putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight or covering Greenland in a massive "blanket" so it does not melt.

Sprinkling iron filings in the ocean "fertilises" algae, which absorbs CO2 and "seeding clouds" means that sunlight is blocked. Other options include artificial "trees" that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, painting roofs white to reflect sunlight, and man-made volcanoes that spray sulphate particles high in the atmosphere to scatter the sun's rays back into space.

Critics have argued that the process could make climate change worse through unintended consequences.

Earlier this year the IPCC was forced to undergo a review after it was disclosed that the last report to the UN, the AR4, included the mistaken claim that the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. Critics called for the chairman to resign.

But Dr Pachauri insisted that the review made the panel stronger than ever.

"We are confident that the IPCC will emerge stronger as a result of this exercise and live up to the expectations of the global community," he said. The prospect of a treaty being agreed in Cancun is remote, as the world's two biggest emitters, China and the U.S., will not agree to legally binding targets.

Chris Huhne, Britain's Climate Change Secretary, has already admitted that a global agreement is unlikely this time, although he said it was possible to make progress in other areas.

Opening the talks, Felipe Calderon, Mexico's president, insisted a deal was still possible. "During the next two weeks, the whole world will be looking at you. It would be a tragedy not to overcome the hurdle of national interests."