dimanche 21 février 2010

Carbon Cycle 2.0

Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos formally kicked off the Lab’s Carbon Cycle 2.0 initiative on Monday, February 1, 2010, with a presentation titled “A Call to Action - Berkeley Lab Addressing Global Needs.” Consisting of two hour-long talks by Director Alivisatos and by Bill Collins, head of Berkeley Lab’s Climate Sciences Department, the presentation was the first in a symposium that continues through February 4, aimed at “informing, inspiring and helping to organize” the Berkeley Lab community to become involved in the Carbon Cycle 2.0 initiative and help make it a success.

“We’re faced with a situation in which carbon emissions from human activity are large enough to influence the natural carbon cycle, and as a consequence we have to find a way where our own carbon cycle is as balanced as nature’s,” said Alivisatos, who presented a compelling introduction to the many ways that the Carbon Cycle 2.0 initiative can connect and bolster the impact of the Lab’s basic and applied research. “Right now we are emitting more carbon in the atmosphere than can be removed through natural processes. This is a huge problem facing the nation and the world.”

Starting with its founding by Ernest Lawrence, Berkeley Lab has a tradition of helping our nation solve big problems through science, Alivisatos said. The scope and scale of innovation that will be needed to meet this challenge is “breathtaking,” he said, but “I am confident that, if Berkeley Lab's talented scientists and operations staff organize around Carbon Cycle 2.0, our positive impact in the world will increase dramatically.”

Carbon Cycle 2.0 is aimed at helping to ensure maximum impact for Berkeley Lab research results by providing “better communication and mutual education between the fundamental and applied sciences,” he explained. There are multiple components to balancing the carbon cycle and, like the pieces of a puzzle, these components must be correctly fitted together to provide a solution. For example, it will not be enough to devise highly efficient solar cells without also being able to evaluate the consequences of covering millions of acres of land with those cells. Nor will it be enough to devise cost-effective means of capturing enormous amounts of carbon emissions without also determining safe means of sequestering that carbon.

“The scale of the carbon cycle problem makes it different from any other problem we’ve tackled at this Laboratory,” Alivisatos said. “It won’t be enough to show that something can be done on a laboratory scale, we’ve got to show it can be done on a global scale.”

In closing, Alivisatos stressed the urgency of restoring balance to Earth’s carbon cycle when he stated: “We’re not running out of oil, we’re running out of atmosphere.”

Bill Collins followed with a succinct summary of the scientific underpinnings of global warming and Berkeley Lab’s research in climate change, including major expertise in modeling in areas such as physics-based projections of abrupt climate change.

Collins noted that the supercomputing power available to support the Lab’s modeling work allows detailed characterization of climate change effects down to the level of individual county-sized regions. This should help increase the precision of forecasts about the expected increase in severe weather events such as regional heat waves.

In keeping with the Carbon Cycle 2.0 vision of better integration between the multiple components of the carbon cycle problem, Collins stressed the need for “lateral and bilateral communication” between climate and energy researchers. He also echoed the warning of Alivisatos on the influence of carbon emissions from human activity.

“We need to create an Earth System Model that takes into account the impact of human interactions as well as energy-climate interactions,” he said. “We can then apply this model to the coupled physical, ecological and human system.”

The Lab’s vision for the future in climate modeling revolves around three areas, Collins said: climate forcing, climate prediction, and climate mitigation, including a Lab-wide Center for Biological Sequestration.
Source: Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, 1/02/10

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