Deep in cracks of hot undersea volcanoes, microbes inhale hydrogen and carbon dioxide and exhale methane. They might help scientists understand life beyond Earth.
Natural gas is a major source of the energy we all use everyday. It’s found deep underground, often in the company of oil. In recent decades, conventional natural gas deposits have been the most practical and easiest to produce. Now costs have fallen to enable a boom in unconventional natural gas not possible a decade ago via a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Industry estimates suggest that $20 trillion will be spent on obtaining unconventional gas and oil between the years 2012 and 2035. Geologist Eric Potter of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin explained the basics of unconventional natural gas – the what, how and why of fracking – with EarthSky’s Jorge Salazar.
Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich is famous for his 1968 book The Population Bomb. Like many before him, Ehrlich said that equal opportunities for women might be key to maintaining Earth’s population at a reasonable level.
Satellite images show big changes happening to Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the U.S., where freshwater meets the sea. EarthSky spoke about it with Peter Claggett, a research geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Eastern Geographic Science Center. Claggett’s team tracks changes in Chesapeake Bay using data from the Landsat program of Earth-observing satellites.
Our mix of energy choices today is in a state of transition, from a system based on cheap oil and coal to a broader energy spectrum. Science and technology have a big role to play in our energy future by addressing inefficiencies in the ways we find, process and use energy, and by finding innovative ways of scaling up successful energy systems.
Scott Tinker is the Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas, Austin. He worked in the oil and gas industry for 17 years in research, exploration, and development, prior to coming to The University of Texas in 2000. He told EarthSky that future energy choices will likely be based on both economic realities and environmental concerns.
In a world that is getting warmer, scientists are studying a technique known as carbon capture and storage to prevent the release of the greenhouse gas CO2 into Earth’s atmosphere from coal-burning power plants and other industries. The idea is to capture the CO2 (carbon dixoide), and pump it underground.
But where on Earth can CO2 from power plants be stored underground? And is the process safe and effective? Researcher Susan Hovorka of the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology has studied many sites on Earth for their potential for carbon storage. She talked with EarthSky about the latest science on this emerging technology.
Surface mining for coal – which can include including strip mining, open-pit mining and mountaintop removal mining – has been widely scrutinized for its potential impacts on water quality, animal development and the health of plants along rivers and streams. Duke University’s Emily Bernhardt and her colleagues have recently published several high-profile papers that are providing cutting-edge science to help inform the debate about mountaintop mining for coal. EarthSky blogger Benjamin D. Duval had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Bernhardt to understand how mining impacts river ecosystems, the policy implications of this research, and about what can be done to restore Appalachian landscapes degraded by coal mining.
Astronomers suggest that rocky planets – not much bigger than Earth – are very common around faint red stars in our Milky Way galaxy. Not only that, but these rocky worlds commonly lie in the habitable zones – orbital zones around stars within which liquid water, and therefore life as we know it, might exist. And that’s really something to think about! EarthSky spoke with Stéphane Udry of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland.
A soy chicken product with something new – what food scientists call ‘the right chew.’ Food researcher Harold Huff of the University of Missouri at Columbia spent over 10 years perfecting the science that quickly transforms dry soy powder into food that has the look and texture of chicken strips. Food critics have been wowed by its good taste.
Scientists have started a project to develop grasses that tolerate drought for use in biofuels. It’s part of a five-year, $12 million study by the U.S. Department of Energy. Andrew Leakey with the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is part of the study. Dr. Leakey told EarthSky:
Our team is really focused on how you produce the greatest amounts of grass biomass. In other words, if you went out and harvested it, how you can produce the greatest amount of dry material at the end of the year – and do that on the smallest possible land area with the smallest possible environmental impact.