Scientists at UC Irvine have mapped fossil fuel air pollution in the United States by analyzing corn collected from nearly 70 locations nationwide.
This novel way to measure carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil and natural gas will help atmospheric scientists better understand where pollution is located and how it mixes and moves in the air. Tracking fossil-fuel-emitted carbon dioxide will be important as countries throughout the world adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement among nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The United States signed the protocol, but the treaty has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate.
“Many nations are facing increasing pressure to monitor and regulate the release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel sources to limit greenhouse gas warming,” said James Randerson, associate professor of Earth system science at UCI and co-author of the study. “This method can help determine how much fossil fuel carbon dioxide is coming from different regions.”
The study appears Jan. 23 in Geophysical Research Letters.
Atmospheric scientists typically measure carbon dioxide by collecting air samples, but this is the first time fossil-fuel-emitted carbon dioxide has been mapped using plants. This new method may complement existing air sampling techniques because plants provide a cost-effective way to record average daytime conditions over several months. Plants take in carbon dioxide gas, from both background and fossil fuel sources, during photosynthesis, and it becomes part of the plant tissue.
In summer 2004, UCI scientists collected corn from farms and gardens in 31 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. They chose corn because it is widely grown and, as an annual plant, all of its carbon is derived from a single growing season. The scientists avoided pollution point sources such as highways and power plants to allow for mapping of regional patterns across different states. Back in the laboratory, the scientists dried samples of corn leaves and husks, then converted them to graphite using a series of chemical reactions. The graphite then was analyzed in the W.M. Keck Carbon Cycle Accelerator Mass Spectrometer, which measures a rare isotope of carbon, called radiocarbon. Carbon dioxide derived from fossil fuels contains no radiocarbon so it is easily distinguishable from other sources. With measurements from this machine, scientists calculated overall levels of carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuels at the location where the corn samples were collected.
California and the Ohio Valley had the most fossil-fuel-emitted carbon dioxide, while the Colorado region had the least. The scientists expected pollution from California and other western coastal states to drift east, but they found that the Rocky Mountains appeared to provide a barrier for the movement of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.
Air in the Mountain West, including Colorado, Idaho and New Mexico, was the cleanest, with about 370 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Air in the Eastern United States, which includes Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York, contained an additional 2.7 parts per million of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel sources. Air in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia had nearly twice as much additional carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, 4.3 parts per million.
“We have to better understand emission patterns and changes in the atmosphere in order to better regulate fossil fuels,” said Susan Trumbore, also a professor of Earth system science and co-author of the study. “This is a direct way to measure the release of carbon dioxide emissions that are contributing to climate warming.”
Diana Hsueh was the lead author and conducted the research as a UCI undergraduate. UCI researchers John Southon and Xiaomei Xu also contributed to this study, along with Nir Krakauer from the California Institute of Technology. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA.
About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,800 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.7 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.
Television: UCI has a broadcast studio available for live or taped interviews. For more information, visit www.today.uci.edu/broadcast.
News Radio: UCI maintains on campus an ISDN line for conducting interviews with its faculty and experts. The use of this line is available free-of-charge to radio news programs/stations who wish to interview UCI faculty and experts. Use of the ISDN line is subject to availability and approval by the university.
Jennifer Fitzenberger | EurekAlert!
Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union
Enormous dome in central Andes driven by huge magma body beneath it
25.10.2016 | University of California - Santa Cruz
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.10.2016 | Process Engineering