Broken Beams

By photosearth / May 25, 2015

By Nick Houtman

Fred Kamke is site director for a new wood composites research center at Oregon State University.

Engineers like to break things. In my years reporting on university research, I’ve seen them bend reinforced wood beams as wide as my front door until they shatter. They’ll pummel stud walls repeatedly until the nails cry uncle. Bunker-sized concrete bridge beams will crack from one end to the other as they are stressed with the pounding that a real bridge might see over 100 years.

It’s more than just the joy of destruction. How and when things break yields information that manufacturers use to build better structures. So it’s no surprise that the companies that make the things we live in, ride over and depend on support research that tells them just how far their products will take us.

Last July, eight of these companies (Arclin; Ashland, Inc.; JELD-WEN; Hexion Specialty Chemical, Inc.; Henkel; Weyerhaeuser Co.; Georgia Pacific Chemicals; and Willamette Valley Co., mostly international wood products manufacturers) had signed on and ponied up to support a new Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, a partnership between Oregon State University and Virginia Tech. The National Science Foundation set the stage with a $ 2.2 million five-year grant to the Wood-Based Composites Center, which is led by Virginia Tech.

Fred Kamke, site director at OSU and professor of wood science (holder of the JELD-WEN Chair in Wood-Based Composites Science), describes the emphasis as “pre-competitive.” Companies want information that will move the whole industry forward. Stress testing is still on the agenda, but the emphasis for the past decade has been on the small details, the molecular bonding between wood, adhesives and synthetic materials such as carbon fiber and reinforced polymers. Businesses succeed by leveraging advances in basic science.

“Wood products are now a global, intensely competitive industry, and we believe that advanced research will help keep the U.S. at the forefront of that industry,” Kamke told OSU news writer Dave Stauth in July. “This will help both existing and new companies stay competitive while they create innovative new products and jobs.”

Just as important for the companies, he adds, is work force development. By providing graduate students with the resources to specialize in these areas, businesses are creating their future talent pool.

Kamke has been a leader in this field for more than a decade. Before coming to OSU, he led Virginia Tech’s Wood-Based Composites Center. Among his accomplishments at OSU: a more efficient and effective way to increase resilience and strength in weak woods, a process known as viscoelastic thermal compression, or VTC.

The vision for the new center includes collaboration with two other leaders in the field: the University of Maine’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center and the Forestry Sciences Centre at the University of British Columbia.

The post Broken Beams appeared first on Terra.


VICTORY! Walker’s Proposed Wisconsin Great Lakes Mine Perched Above Lake Superior Defeated

By photosearth / May 25, 2015

EcoInternet led the international campaign to stop the Gogebic mine

EcoInternet led the international campaign to stop the Gogebic mine

The project’s collapse is a major blow to Governor Scott Walker’s anti-science environmental policies. The only question remaining is whether the governor must now return the $ 700,000 bribe paid by the out-of-state developers for its approval.

“It shows that when Progressives and Greens unite Scott Walker can be beaten.” ― Dr. Glen Barry

(Green Bay, Wisconsin) – Plans for a major Wisconsin iron ore mine perched in the Penokee Hills above Lake Superior have been cancelled [1]. The proposed Gogebic taconite mine had from the beginning been incautious regarding the potential to destroy tribal rice lands, foul the Great Lakes, and rife with corruption. This is a major blow to all-but-announced Presidential candidate Scott Walker, stopping his anti-science attacks upon Wisconsin’s environment for the benefit of out-of-state funders, even as his demagoguery against workers and education continues [2].

“I guess this means my old college buddy Scott Walker will have to give back the $ 700,000 bribe from his out-of-state backers,” notes Dr. Glen Barry sarcastically. “This is a major loss for Governor Walker’s authoritarian demagoguery, and shows the weakness of his anti-science environmental policies. It shows that when Progressives and Greens unite Scott Walker can be beaten.”

EcoInternet is deeply gratified that our efforts to internationalize the campaign successfully amplified solid tribal and local opposition. Over a hundred thousand protest emails were sent through EcoInternet to virtually all parties constructing or approving the mine [3]. This is EcoInternet’s second major victory in 2015, after we successfully spearheaded international protest that led to the protection of tens of thousands of years old cave art and surrounding rainforests in Papua New Guinea [4].

Perhaps partially due to the strength of opposition, the project was found to be “unfeasible” and the mining exploration and office are being shutdown (all but one staff member, so we must remain vigilant). The mine would have devastated the Bad River watershed, which flows north through tribal lands and empties into Lake Superior. A major industrial accident by Walker cronies who had never mined iron ore before could have conceivably fouled the Great Lakes which hold 20% of the world’s freshwater.

The harm wrought by Walker’s reactionary attacks upon Wisconsin’s environment – including slashing funding for the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ science activities – will linger for some time, as environmental laws and local control regarding mining have been gutted, meaning there exists an opportunity for further pay-to-play mining in Wisconsin.

### ENDS ###

[1] Gogebic dropping plans for massive iron mine : Journal Sentinel

[2] Scott Walker, Authoritarian Anti-Science Demagogue , essay by Dr. Glen Barry

[3] ALERT! Demand Full EPA EIS for Wisconsin Mine to Be Poised Over Lake Superior

[4] VICTORY! Thrilling Rainforest Victory for Karawari Indigenous Cave Art , the Great Nation of Papua New Guinea, and EcoInternet

For more information and how to support Dr. Glen Barry’s and EcoInternet’s pioneering work in political ecology in Wisconsin, the Pacific Islands, and globally please visit:


GREEN LIBERTY is the Antidote to Authoritarian Corporatism and Global Ecological Collapse

By photosearth / May 25, 2015

Earth is dying

Earth is dying

Humanity has so massively overshot planetary ecological boundaries, that already there is an impact upon jobs and consumption; and as a result of diminishing expectations, neo-fascism is rising. It is likely humanity’s cumulative huge demands upon ecosystems, which we seek to prolong at all costs for a huge population base, will collapse the entire biosphere as societies and economies crash. To avoid such a fate we must have fewer children, end fossil fuels, and restore natural ecosystems. Green Liberty – a political re-alignment of progressives, greens and libertarians who value ecology, justice, equity, and small governments and corporations – is the only pathway within existing sovereignty to achieve global ecological sustainability.

Humanity’s inability to stop destroying nature can only lead to profound human suffering as all known life’s one shared biosphere collapses, falling into nothingness, but not before we undergo an authoritarian corporatist hell on Earth. – Dr. Glen Barry


Ecological science has known for some time, and I have written and spoken at length, how Earth’s biosphere is collapsing and dying as global ecosystems and atmosphere are overwhelmed by human growth. How and over what time frame biosphere collapse will play out is less known though certain aspects are becoming increasingly apparent as environmental decline progresses. Lack of easily exploitable natural ecosystems to destroy in order to access resources to feed industrial growth has led to a downturn in jobs to fuel highly consumptive lifestyles, and the concurrent rise of political demagoguery and resurgence of authoritarian corporatism (of many types, under many names) to exploit the situation.

Threats to our shared biosphere’s health far exceed abrupt climate change as natural ecosystems which create the conditions for a habitable biosphere – such as old growth forests, soil, water, and oceans – are being pillaged and collapsing. A plethora of emerging science over the last several decades has shown the extent to which key planetary boundaries have been exceeded, leading to a state of global ecological overshoot that can only end in disastrous collapse.

In addition to climate and biodiversity loss having already surpassed planetary boundaries, my own peer-reviewed science has highlighted how 66% of Earth’s land must remain as natural or semi-natural ecosystems to sustain the biosphere, though 50% has already been lost [1]. Given Earth is already well beyond her limits, I foresee several trends intensifying including further false techno-solutions and rising neo-fascism, which virtually ensure horrific biosphere collapse, which I will briefly review here. A political re-alignment necessary to achieve global ecological sustainability termed “Green Liberty” is again proposed. I continue to seek funding to complete a long-pending book on these matters.


The global ecological system is collapsing and dying as humanity overruns natural ecosystems and climate. Incautious human growth wantonly spills forth its filth, destroying natural ecosystems, and the very land and air that make life possible, to allow us to go shopping for things we often don’t need, and not everyone can have. Humanity faces a choice between more of the same chimerical techno-fixes to maintain such conspicuous consumption, such as proposals to engineer the biosphere and further false claims of sustainable old-growth forest logging, or to embrace the ecologically rigorous policies sufficient to achieve global ecological sustainability discussed here.

Profound ecological denial is occurring regarding what it will take to stop biosphere collapse. Unfettered, incautious application of techno-optimistic solutions to human needs and wants is precisely what has unleashed overpopulation’s and inequities’ never ending demands upon natural systems. As we seek technophile approaches such as geoengineering – rather than hitting at the root causes of overpopulation, inequitable consumption, and unsustainable rousting of resources from natural ecosystems – we continue to dig ourselves further into an ecological hole with diminished options for recovery.

Social, economic, and environmental policy to achieve just, equitable ecological sustainability must resist greenwash and doing more harm, while being truly on the scale of necessary solutions. The only type of geoengineering that may be acceptable if done carefully is for humanity to protect and enlarge natural ecosystems such as old-growth forests, buffered by semi-natural permaculture agriculture, in an attempt to reconnect frayed patterns of ecological connectivity upon which virtually all global scale ecological processes depend.

At this late date, as several planetary boundaries have been exceeded, only sufficient policies can turn back the overwhelming forces of seven billion super predators having overgrazed their habitat. Either together we limit our numbers, keep fossil fuel carbon in the ground, and protect and restore standing and connected old-growth forests, or alone we each face horrific biosphere collapse as society and economics unravel, authoritarian demagoguery rises, and being ends.


The global ecological system is collapsing and dying as natural ecosystems and the atmosphere are overrun. Overpopulated humanity has surpassed the biosphere’s carrying capacity, and there are not enough resources and ecosystems for more over-consumption by all. Our scramble for ever more stuff is causing a rise in tyranny as more are left behind, many unable even to realize basic human needs. Together we simplify and share, and resist the urge to fight for the right to pillage Earth’s final intact ecosystems, or being ends.

Failure to recognize virtually all global societal problems – from poverty, to unemployment, and including racism – have an ecological component means a worsening of conditions, for the formerly bourgeoisie in particular, which leads to anger and lashing out. Thus we are witnessing the rise of a new sort of authoritarianism, distinct from past corporatist fascism, but sharing many of the elements and more.

Across the globe liberal democracies again face the scourge of worker vilification, capture of governance by corporations, education cuts, scapegoating minorities, nationalistic militarism, and other textbook examples of fascism. Most recently, fascism has included denial of basic ecological science such as climate change to prop up an ecocidal worldview that enriches a few at the expense of the well-being of the many and the very existence of our shared biosphere.

As declining economies are not properly attributed to diminished land bases, abrupt climate change, and reduction of other ecosystems, more authoritarian corporatist bought political mouthpieces blame perceived societal decline on numerous false factors. In the United States, far right wing politicians scapegoat any number of forces – be it unions, atheists, gays, blacks, you name it – anything but correctly linking reduced consumption to its root cause of ecosystem decline. It is human nature to try any and all means – be it perma-war, worker wage slavery, injustice and inequity – to maintain a comfortable lifestyle that was not designed to last.

Modern industrialism destroys itself through diminishment of the ecological fabric of nature which makes Earth habitable. From Syria to the Ukraine, from Wisconsin to California, and nearly all places in between, abrupt climate change is causing ecosystems to collapse and tyranny to rise. As climate abruptly changes and ecosystems collapse petty tyrants like Walker and Putin rise to demagogue ecological collapse for self and oligarchic enrichment. The twin crises of authoritarian corporatism and global ecological collapse are inexorably entwined, you only solve the latter by eliminating the former.

Green Liberty is the answer. Greens, progressives and libertarians (the reasoned sort that understand ecology) coming together to reduce the size of government and corporate control over humanity and Earth, is the only means within existing sovereign political structures to stop ecosystem collapse and achieve just and equitable global ecological sustainability. Either we embrace green liberty and commit to protecting ecosystems and remaining free at all costs using all means necessary, or we face horrific authoritarianism as our one shared biosphere collapses and being ends.


Earth is a living organism. It has long been known, before science by indigenous worldviews going back eons, that Earth as a whole depends upon the health, nutrient and energy cycling, and ecological regulation by its parts such as intact natural water, air, land, and ocean ecosystems. How did humanity forget that like any other animal we are entirely dependent upon this ecosystem habitat for survival? How can such simple and observable facts like the global environment is finite, yet human demands on ecosystems and biosphere continue to grow exponentially, be ignored? Doing so can only end in ecological collapse.

Humanity’s inability to stop destroying nature can only lead to profound human suffering as all known life’s one shared biosphere collapses, falling into nothingness, but not before we undergo an authoritarian corporatist hell on Earth.

Humanity has so far overshot planetary ecological boundaries that it is possible, indeed likely, we will collapse and kill the biosphere as ecosystems and society crash. Many ecosystems including the climate, terrestrial ecosystems, and the biosphere as a whole bifurcate between extremes just prior to collapse, something seen across scale in natural ecosystems, and which we are now routinely experiencing at the regional and global scales. Humanity is not only destroying our own potential longevity and advancement, but is also pulling down the biosphere threatening a dead, uninhabitable world.

The general perspective is that while humans may go extinct, life and Earth will go on. Possibly, but this is not assured. Humanity is in a state of ecological overshoot, whereby the full impacts of our current ecological damage, much less continuing as we are, has not become fully apparent. Our actions diminishing ecosystems today are multi-faceted, and have long lag times before being fully realized. We continue to dig ourselves deeper into a hole, and every indication is that we are going to incautiously try all types of techno-optimist solutions such as geoengineering and nanotech to try to build and maintain a biosphere. Such efforts are merely the last in a line of increasingly desperate ecocidal hubris and will fail.

We show every indication of destroying every last natural ecosystem, trolling oceans of all life, cutting every old-growth forest, disturbing every bit of soil, in a quest to maintain levels of over-consumption experienced while still plentiful virgin ecosystems were being liquidated for resources. As numerous planetary boundaries are unprecedentedly crossed all at once, it is conceivable if not probable that thresholds of planetary ecological regulation in terms of habitability for organic life will be crossed.

That is, Earth may die.

Perhaps some extremophiles will continue around deep sea benthic vents, or some dandelions will persist, but much like hair and fingernails continue growing when humans pass, the Earth will be dead. There have only been five previous mass extinctions of which we are aware, and while life re-radiated evolutionarily, there is no assurance this will necessarily occur. Particularly if the boundaries wherein life has evolved for billions of years are pushed outside of the range of biogeochemistry required for habitability.

Unless authoritarian denial of basic science that impedes ecologically sufficient policies is stopped, it is highly likely that many humans will continue their assault on the natural environment that nurtures us, right up until the last moment when we collapse socially and economically, and that the sheer mass of human inertia will pull down the living biosphere with us.

There is NO guarantee Earth’s environment recovers post human collapse, so find no false comfort there.


Food and water crises of unimaginable proportions loom as the biosphere collapses from ecosystem loss and climate change. I have been trying to figure out myself what to do in a dying world, and have settled upon a middle route. For any hope of surviving the coming transition, you simply must have a piece of land to make a last stand. Find a livelihood that helps meet human needs with a minimum of impact upon the natural world. Live as simply (work on being debt free) as one can focusing upon organic foods, minimizing your use of automobiles, and nurturing the ability to move agilely and adapt.

Efforts to avert biosphere collapse and achieve global ecological sustainability are no less than an epic battle between good and evil. Commit to affinity actions with others to protect and restore natural ecosystems, and leave fossil fuels in the ground. And please use birth control and limit your fertility to 1 or at most 2 children. It is what the Earth can bear.

Somehow coming together in markets to exchange our surplus became perverted into usury intent upon growth in profits at all cost including our shared habitat necessary to survive and thrive. We cannot afford to be anti-business, as nearly all social change has been achieved by usurping rather than eliminating opposition. But we can insist that business strive for a steady state economy while disavowing fossil fuels and ecosystem destruction, and boycott and urge the dismantling of all that fail to do so. We need both smaller corporations and smaller government in order to return control over our lives to democratic governance free of corporate and big brother’s control, with a political system committed to serving requirements for equitable and just sustainability of local bioregions.

We must also realize that there are large existing movements that each highlights one aspect of authoritarian inequitable ecological collapse. The Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, Idle No More, climate change and hundreds of other local and regional movements are all struggles for truth, justice, equity and sustainability. Those profiting from pillaging the Earth and demagogueing the consequences shudder at the thought of these movements uniting to seize power and force implementation of required social change for a just, equitable, and sustainable Earth.

Every day the ruling oligarchy works to keep us divided.

Western culture and its adherents please slow down, catch your breath, and realize that perhaps working harder to consume more material stuff at the expense of natural ecosystems is not as important as your and our one shared planet’s long-term needs for nature as the basis for well-being.

Looming abrupt climate change, ecosystem loss, and global biosphere collapse demand urgent, sufficient solutions that are commensurate to the threat posed by looming global ecosystem collapse such as ending fossil fuels, having fewer kids, protecting and restoring ecosystems, and sharing more as end war. Green Liberty calls for you to fight for ecosystems, climate, and freedom; or passively accept biosphere collapse, tyranny in the face of scarcity, and the end of being. Choose.


[1] Barry, Glen. “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse.” Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal 25.5 (2014): 542-563.


ALERT! Urge Hawai’i to Cancel Telescope on Sacred Mauna Kea or Face Tourism Boycott

By photosearth / May 25, 2015


#WeAreMaunaKea and the TMT Telescope will never be built

TAKE ACTION HERE showing your Love of the Land (Aloha ‘Aina) here:

A controversial telescope project on the top of the often snow-covered Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai’i would further desecrate land that is sacred to native Hawaiians and is environmentally sensational. There are already 13 telescopes scarring the mountain; and the newest, called the Thirty-Meter Telescope, would destroy an additional five acres of land, and intensify human waste and toxics entering the sensitive ecosystem. For weeks protestors have camped out on the top of the mountain creating human blockades, there have been recent arrests, as well as numerous affinity protests nationally and across social media including on Twitter at #WeAreMaunaKea and #ProtectMaunaKea. Standing with Hawai’i’s native peoples and in the spirit of Aloha`Aina (love of the land), please send protest emails (and optionally tweets) to Hawai’i’s Governor and state land managers, letting them know they must stop the University from further telescope development on Mauna Kea, or they face the threat of a boycott of Hawai’i’s lucrative tourism industry.


Friction Means Antarctic Glaciers More Sensitive to Climate Change Than We Thought

By photosearth / May 25, 2015

News Writer: 
Ker Than

Credit: Courtesy Karen Heywood

One of the biggest unknowns in understanding the effects of climate change today is the melting rate of glacial ice in Antarctica. Scientists agree rising atmospheric and ocean temperatures could destabilize these ice sheets, but there is uncertainty about how fast they will lose ice.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is of particular concern to scientists because it contains enough ice to raise global sea level by up to 16 feet, and its physical configuration makes it susceptible to melting by warm ocean water. Recent studies have suggested that the collapse of certain parts of the ice sheet is inevitable. But will that process take several decades or centuries?

Research by Caltech scientists now suggests that estimates of future rates of melt for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—and, by extension, of future sea-level rise—have been too conservative. In a new study, published online on March 9 in the Journal of Glaciology, a team led by Victor Tsai, an assistant professor of geophysics, found that properly accounting for Coulomb friction—a type of friction generated by solid surfaces sliding against one another—in computer models significantly increases estimates of how sensitive the ice sheet is to temperature perturbations driven by climate change.

Unlike other ice sheets that are moored to land above the ocean, most of West Antarctica’s ice sheet is grounded on a sloping rock bed that lies below sea level. In the past decade or so, scientists have focused on the coastal part of the ice sheet where the land ice meets the ocean, called the “grounding line,” as vital for accurately determining the melting rate of ice in the southern continent.

“Our results show that the stability of the whole ice sheet and our ability to predict its future melting is extremely sensitive to what happens in a very small region right at the grounding line. It is crucial to accurately represent the physics here in numerical models,” says study coauthor Andrew Thompson, an assistant professor of environmental science and engineering at Caltech.

Part of the seafloor on which the West Antarctic Ice Sheet rests slopes upward toward the ocean in what scientists call a “reverse slope gradient.” The end of the ice sheet also floats on the ocean surface so that ocean currents can deliver warm water to its base and melt the ice from below. Scientists think this “basal melting” could cause the grounding line to retreat inland, where the ice sheet is thicker. Because ice thickness is a key factor in controlling ice discharge near the coast, scientists worry that the retreat of the grounding line could accelerate the rate of interior ice flow into the oceans. Grounding line recession also contributes to the thinning and melting away of the region’s ice shelves—thick, floating extensions of the ice sheet that help reduce the flow of ice into the sea.

According to Tsai, many earlier models of ice sheet dynamics tried to simplify calculations by assuming that ice loss is controlled solely by viscous stresses, that is, forces that apply to “sticky fluids” such as honey—or in this case, flowing ice. The conventional models thus accounted for the flow of ice around obstacles but ignored friction. “Accounting for frictional stresses at the ice sheet bottom in addition to the viscous stresses changes the physical picture dramatically,” Tsai says.

In their new study, Tsai’s team used computer simulations to show that even though Coulomb friction affects only a relatively small zone on an ice sheet, it can have a big impact on ice stream flow and overall ice sheet stability.

In most previous models, the ice sheet sits firmly on the bed and generates a downward stress that helps keep it attached it to the seafloor. Furthermore, the models assumed that this stress remains constant up to the grounding line, where the ice sheet floats, at which point the stress disappears.

Tsai and his team argue that their model provides a more realistic representation—in which the stress on the bottom of the ice sheet gradually weakens as one approaches the coasts and grounding line, because the weight of the ice sheet is increasingly counteracted by water pressure at the glacier base. “Because a strong basal shear stress cannot occur in the Coulomb model, it completely changes how the forces balance at the grounding line,” Thompson says.

Tsai says the idea of investigating the effects of Coulomb friction on ice sheet dynamics came to him after rereading a classic study on the topic by American metallurgist and glaciologist Johannes Weertman from Northwestern University. “I wondered how might the behavior of the ice sheet differ if one factored in this water-pressure effect from the ocean, which Weertman didn’t know would be important when he published his paper in 1974,” Tsai says.

Tsai thought about how this could be achieved and realized the answer might lie in another field in which he is actively involved: earthquake research. “In seismology, Coulomb friction is very important because earthquakes are thought to be the result of the edge of one tectonic plate sliding against the edge of another plate frictionally,” Tsai said. “This ice sheet research came about partly because I’m working on both glaciology and earthquakes.”

If the team’s Coulomb model is correct, it could have important implications for predictions of ice loss in Antarctica as a result of climate change. Indeed, for any given increase in temperature, the model predicts a bigger change in the rate of ice loss than is forecasted in previous models. “We predict that the ice sheets are more sensitive to perturbations such as temperature,” Tsai says.

Hilmar Gudmundsson, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK, called the team’s results “highly significant.” “Their work gives further weight to the idea that a marine ice sheet, such as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is indeed, or at least has the potential to become, unstable,” says Gudmundsson, who was not involved in the study.

Glaciologist Richard Alley, of Pennsylvania State University, noted that historical studies have shown that ice sheets can remain stable for centuries or millennia and then switch to a different configuration suddenly.

“If another sudden switch happens in West Antarctica, sea level could rise a lot, so understanding what is going on at the grounding lines is essential,” says Alley, who also did not participate in the research.

“Tsai and coauthors have taken another important step in solving this difficult problem,” he says.

Along with Tsai and Thompson, Andrew Stewart, an assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UCLA, was also a coauthor on the paper, “Marine ice sheet profiles and stability under Coulomb basal conditions.” Funding support for the study was provided by Caltech’s President’s and Director’s Fund program and the Stanback Discovery Fund for Global Environmental Science.

Caltech News tagged with “GPS”

Orphan Elected Fellow of American Academy of Microbiology

By photosearth / May 25, 2015

News Writer: 
Lori Dajose

Victoria Orphan

Professor of Geobiology Victoria Orphan has been elected to the American Academy of Microbiology. Fellows are elected through a highly selective peer-review process to recognize scientific achievement and “original contributions that have advanced microbiology.”

“It’s a great honor to receive this award, and there’s also a nostalgic component,” Orphan says. “The first microbiology conference I attended was the American Academy of Microbiology meeting in New Orleans 20 years ago. This year, the location has cycled back to New Orleans, and that’s where I’ll be receiving this award. It has been a great journey.”

For the past 20 years, Orphan has studied anaerobic marine microorganisms that live within the seafloor and breathe methane. Through their unusual metabolism, these organisms restrict the amount of methane that seeps into the ocean and atmosphere. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so understanding how it cycles through the oceans and atmosphere is an important component of modeling Earth’s climate.

Recently, Orphan and her team discovered evidence that these microbes inhabit not only sediments on the ocean floor but also huge calcium carbonate mounds that can rise hundreds of feet above the seafloor. The mounds represent a previously unrecognized biological sink for methane that could be preventing large amounts of the potent greenhouse gas from reaching the atmosphere.

Orphan is one of 79 other microbiologists elected as fellows to the academy in 2015. She joins current fellows Jared Leadbetter, professor of environmental microbiology, and Dianne Newman, professor of biology and geobiology, and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Caltech News tagged with “GPS”

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