Spartan Research Addresses 5 Big Questions About Climate Change | MSUToday
As the planet experiences the effects of climate change, questions arise about the future of our planet and everyday life in general. Many of the major challenges related to climate change and its impact on society have led Spartans at Michigan State University to work on solutions.
A group of MSU scientists and researchers studying critical areas explain how their research addresses five big questions about climate change.
If solar panels reduce our energy dependence on fossil fuels, why doesn’t everyone have solar panels in their homes?
“We have a lot of solar potential in the United States, but a lot of people don’t have $15,000 to $20,000 to pay to install a solar panel on their roof,” says Annick Anctilassociate professor at College of Engineering, which studies the performance and environmental benefits of solar panels. “If people could see how much money they would save, I think that would help. But it still lacks the ability to predict the savings and value of solar energy. »
A researcher working to make solar panel technology more ubiquitous is Richard LuntEndowed Johansen Crosby Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU College of Engineering and College of Natural Sciences. Lunt has created transparent solar panels that look like ordinary windows but use ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths outside the visible spectrum to generate electricity. Some of these signs were installed last summer above the entrance to MSU’s Biomedical and Physical Sciences building. The panels must generate enough electricity to help illuminate the atrium inside the entrance.
While rooftop solar panels have the potential to power 40% of the country, Lunt’s transparent photovoltaic panels have the potential to double that figure. By combining both regular solar panels and Lunt panels, these technologies could meet the electricity needs of the entire country.
“Living more sustainably is something that has been close to my heart all my life,” says Lunt. “Finding solutions that have the most potential to have the greatest impact. You can offset about two-thirds of the carbon dioxide generated by all the energy we consume by using or converting only solar and battery power.
If trees and plants can absorb the extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, then why not just plant more of them? Aren’t rising temperatures and carbon dioxide good for plants?
Trees play an important role in the Earth’s carbon cycle, and estimating how much carbon dioxide trees absorb is one of the biggest uncertainties in climate change research. MSU Kyla Dahlin uses data collected from satellites and aircraft to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by different types of trees.
These technologies are making data available that were not previously possible and could be a game-changer for measuring the amount of carbon stored in forests around the world.
“With climate change, there’s no perfect roadmap for what to plant now, because what grew in an area historically may not be the best choice now,” says Dahlin. , assistant professor at College of Social Sciences. “I would recommend planting something that will be there in 100 years given the location, climate, potential diseases and insects. The longer a tree can stay healthy, happy and loved, the more carbon it will absorb.
Gregg Howeteacher at College of Natural Sciences and with MSU’s DOE Plant Research Laboratory, aims to make plants healthier by strengthening their natural defences. He studies a plant defense hormone called jasmonate, which acts like our body’s immune system and helps defend plants against leaf-munching insects.
“We found that as temperatures increased, the insects became more voracious and ate almost all the leaves of the tomato plants overnight,” Howe explains. “Surprisingly, one of the negative effects of increased jasmonate levels inside plants is that it causes the pores or stomata of the plant to close, causing the plants to overheat. We are working to find a way to protect the plant from insects and prevent it from overheating.
One year there is a flood and the next year there is a drought. How big of a problem is water availability?
Yadu Pokhrelassociate professor at College of Engineering, uses climate and hydrological models to assess and predict how the total amount of water available on earth would change under different climate change scenarios (low, medium and high carbon emissions). After running 80 simulations, Pokhrel found that by the end of the 21st century, two-thirds of the planet’s land will see a sharp decrease in water availability.
“This includes places that are already facing water availability issues, drought and places that have never had one before,” Pokhrel said. “Climate change will continue to increase the number of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts around the world. The level of concern should be high.
How to detect and prevent coastal erosion?
MSU Ethan Theuerkauf trains residents of six of Michigan’s coastal communities to become citizen scientists who can fly drones and capture images of coastal areas before and after major storms. The goal is to create a historical record to help city residents and managers plan and prepare for the effects of future climate change in their region. Most areas have collected six to 12 months of data for the project and Theuerkauf and his team are already analyzing lake level differences and erosion in different areas. While Theuerkauf’s research focuses on Michigan, other scientists are using drones to survey coastlines in the United States and other countries.
“We want to know how coasts change, but we can’t physically be in all of these places at once,” says Theuerkauf, an assistant professor at the College of Social Sciences. “With this project, we can document these changes and build a network of data that can be shared with other communities so that residents and city managers can make the best decisions for their community.”
Can geoengineering cool the planet?
Phoebe Zarnetskeassociate professor at College of Natural Sciencesis part of an international team of scientists from the Climate Intervention Biology working group, which is examining the potential consequences for ecology if geoengineering were to be implemented to temporarily cool the Earth’s surface.
Geoengineering consists of several methods to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or the amount of solar radiation reflected from the Earth’s surface into the atmosphere. One idea is Stratospheric Aerosol Intervention, or SAI, where sulfates would be injected into the atmosphere to block some of the sun’s solar radiation, similar to how volcanic eruptions cool the planet.
“SAI could cool the Earth’s surface if we continue to reduce our emissions, but there are many unintended consequences that would have significant impacts on ecology and ecosystem services, including uneven cooling, changes in precipitation, reductions in ozone and associated increases in surface UV and ocean acidification,” says Zarnetske. “Although climatologists have studied geoengineering scenarios for decades, the potential impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems are unknown.”