Geologists have a term called ground truth. It’s what one gets upon augmenting models, speculations, inferences, and other indirect ways of interpreting what a formation or geological unit is made of – and just going right up to it and, hammers banging away, taking a look. That is pretty much what has just happened in deep underground carbon sequestration speculation. Models had suggested that if one pumps coal plant CO2 deep into rock, it eventually mineralizes into solid carbonates – much better, common sense said, than if it dissolved into ground water and thus had the mobility to work its way back up. But no one knew for sure what kept it down there.
The cover of Nature this week shows a stone with a jet of stuff squirting out of it. It’s a surface CO2-saturated geyser vent in Utah. Such things evoke the bogeyman of sequestered CO2 making a jail break. The image goes with some ground-truth work reported in the journal by University of Manchester researchers and int’l colleagues. They examined CO2 samples from deep drilling. They carried some bad news: Most of it had been dissolved in deep water in the pore space of the bedrock. Relatively little turns to stone. And the good news: The worries over such things’ leakiness may have been overwrought. The ancient fields of seltzered water show that CO2 can reliably say there through extended geological time. For such interesting work – and on the cover of Nature to boot – the results have relatively light media pickup. The topic is a bit arcane, and takes some explaining to get readers up to speed to appreciate it.
- Telegraph (UK) Louise Gray : Carbon capture and storage moves a step closer ; Very tidy summary of this news’s context at the top, and then the news. The hed shows respect for readers, to use such a slightly wonky term as CCS (spelt out), while expecting the public to grasp it. Also, a fine quote on turning computer models on their heads.
- Canadian Broadcasting Corp : Nature’s underground carbon stores aren’t rock solid ; No byline on this somewhat more skeptical account – which says, accurately enough – that the study shows that sometimes dissolved CO2 stays in deep storage…and sometimes it does not. The piece admirably includes some of the analytic methods used. Helium-3, carbon isotopic ratios, etc., get some discussion.
- Independent (UK) Steve Connor: Solution to the carbon problem could be under the ground / Hope for the fight against climate change as study finds greenhouse gas can be buried without fear of leaking ; Connor writes confidently that “researchers believe .. it will be possible to inject vast amounts of carbon dioxide” deep underground “where it will remain undisturbed for at least as long as it will take mankind to completely abandon fossil fuels and generate clean, carbon-neutral electricity.” One sees what he’s getting at: it’ll stay there a long time. But as we’d better get off fossil CO2 emission inside a century, and as it’ll take 1,000 years or more for what’s already there to clear, the stuff we bury needs to stay down long after we’ve cleaned up our carbon economy. The story includes commendable technical detail. And, he has his own good news, bad news application.
- Reuters – Michael Kahn: Underground water absorbs CO2 emissions: study ; The hed manages to say a big truth while saying somehting that’s literally not. Such are the perils of concision. The big truth is that emissions could probably be stored that way. The little untruth is to ignore that, today, underground water’s absorbed CO2 is natural, not the mankind-caused sort implied by the word “emission.”
- PhysicsWorld – James Dacey: Keeping carbon out of sight but not out of mind ; This Brit Institute of Physics specialty pub has, to little surprise, a more sophisticated handling of the topic than most. It’s straight journalism, too, and all in plain English.
Grist for the Mill: