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Experiments to Sequester Carbon

A fascinating article in the November 2023 issue of National Geographic tells about several projects around the world that are experimenting with ways to remove carbon from the air. "Clearing the Air" was written by Sam Howe Verhovek. It discusses many projects for sequestering excess carbon, which can overheat the planet enough to threaten life itself.


One such project in Iceland is working to capture carbon dioxide in porous basalt, in essence turning carbon into stone. The article also focuses on a project in Arizona that uses a mechanical tree to capture and store carbon. There's another project in Australia focused on trapping carbon dioxide and locking it in crevices under the earth.


Another project along Long Island's Little Peconic Bay in New York experiments with using a special green sand in an effort to remove carbon from the oceans. The sand is finely ground olivine, a type of magnesium iron silicate common in Earth's upper mantle. Still another project aims to use seaweed that, pound for pound, can sequester up to 40 times as much carbon as trees.


Carbon is not our enemy. It is essential to life. Plants need it for photosynthesis. The problem is that now there's too much of it in the atmosphere. That excess carbon became a problem when massive amounts of it were released when fossil fuels were mined, drilled for, or extracted in other ways.  If the planet gets too warm, it could threaten life on Earth.


Because my blogs focus on trees, I was especially intrigued by the mechanical tree project in Tempe, Arizona.  It is a form of direct air capture. Physicist Klaus Lackner has been working on the project for a long time. Lackner runs the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University.


What he calls mechanical trees are three-story tall devices that suck in carbon, filter it, and store it. Lackner says the mechanical trees are about 1,000 times more efficient than actual trees in their ability to sequester carbon dioxide. Unlike trees that release their carbon dioxide when they die, the mechanical trees keep it locked away.


To learn more about the fascinating carbon sequestering projects being developed right now, head for your local library and read the article, "Clearing the Air," in the November 2023 issue of National Geographic. It left me feeling hopeful that so many intelligent, creative, passionate people are dedicating part of their lives to solving a significant problem.

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Southern Live Oaks

Where I live in northwest New Mexico, I don't see southern live oak trees. They grow in southern states and have their own special look. Their trunks lounge along the ground, then lift into the air, creating a maze of designs. Some are draped with moss.


Thanks to the April/May 2023 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, I learned some interesting things about these trees whose artistic limbs beckon children to climb them.


According to the article written by Shannon Sims, the southern live oaks are very strong. When hurricanes uproot some trees, people have safely ridden out the storms by clinging to oak limbs. The trees' deep roots hold fast to the ground.


Not only are the trees strong, but they can live a very long time. Some of them are more than a thousand years old. They are also a food source. The trees' acorns have been ground into meal as far back as during pre-Columbian America.


The U.S. Navy has used southern live oaks to build ship hulls because the wood is so sturdy. Way back in 1797, the Navy launched the USS Constitution. It's still afloat today. During the War of 1812, it earned the nickname "Old Ironsides" because its hull withstood attacks from British cannons.


The trees are especially good at absorbing carbon, which helps to combat climate change. The more carbon that trees can absorb, the less stays in the atmosphere. That helps to keep the earth from warming quite so fast.


The Louisiana Garden Club Federation has an organization called the Live Oak Society. There is only one human member. Her name is Coleen Perilloux Landry. She helps to protect the trees from being cut down when just a trim would be enough to satisfy the needs of, for example, utility companies. The president of the society is a 1,200-year-old oak with a trunk more than ten feet around.


You can see southern live oaks in other states too, among them Virginia, Texas, Arizona and South Carolina. One of the most famous live oaks is called Angel Oak. It's on Johns Island in South Carolina and is estimated to be more than 400 years old.


Southern live oaks provide shelter for many interesting woodland creatures. Two of them are the barking tree frog and the ferruginous pygmy owl. The owls like to build nests in holes that woodpeckers left in the trees. Barking tree frogs have fingers and toes that create a lot of suction, so they can jump around in the trees like acrobats.

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Nature Park in Singapore Saves Wildlife, Nature, and Improves Human Conditions

Mangrove forests store more carbon than other trees, stop erosion, and help coastal cities stay above water during rise of sea levels.
Mangrove tree

Trees play such an important role in the health of our planet and of our own selves. Because of that, it's especially nice to learn that some people are promoting projects with positive results far into the future. One of those projects is happening in Singapore. It was reported in the Singapore newspaper, Mongabay, this Oct. 9. To learn more about the newspaper, go to https://news.mongabay.com. It provides news and inspiration from nature's frontline.


According to the article, between 1953 and 2018, Singapore lost nearly 90 percent of its mangrove trees to urban expansion and other human activities. To help turn that around, Singapore launched a new nature park. It covers 990 acres in an area where migratory birds stop to refuel. They fly from Russia and Alaska to Australia and New Zealand along the East Asian-Australasian flyway. It is also home to oriental hornbills, otters, crocodiles and many other species. The nature park is part of a larger effort to plant one million trees across the city-state of Singapore by 2030. The reforestation will not only add wildlife habitat, but will help sequester carbon, lower the city's temperature, and help to reduce erosion and rising sea levels, and improve living conditions for human residents.


In August 2020, the Singapore government announced the launch of the new nature park, which is called the Sungei Bulon Park Network, located in the northern part of the island. The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is home to smooth-coated otters, who were found there in the 1990s after they were thought to be locally extinct. It's also home to 11 of the 200 critically endangered Eye of the Crocodile trees in the world. The Sungei Buloh Park Network triples the size of the protected area and aims to protect the biodiversity of many areas, among them the Kranji marshes, the Mandai mangrove and mudflat, and the coastal Lim Chu Kang Nature Park. Within these habitats, researches have recorded 279 bird species. They include many different kinds of ecosystems. In Lim Chua Kang Nature Park are mangrove, woodland, scrubland and grassland habitats. It attracts many coastal birds, among them the gray-headed fish eagle and the baya weaver.


Thirty-five different plant species of mangroves have been found in Singapore, while in the United States, only three different species of the mangrove plant species have been found, according to geography professor Dan Friess from the National University of Singapore. He has studied mangroves for 11 years, and he heads the university's Mangrove Lab. It focuses on studying coastal wetlands in Southeast Asia.


Because of the many different species in Singapore, those mangroves have an important ecological impact. Twenty species new to science have been found by researchers in the Mandai mangroves alone. Now, visitors can view the Sungei Buloh wetlands from boardwalks and watchtowers. That will change in 2022, when they can watch migratory birds from hides near the Mandai mudflat.


In the 19th century, Singapore lost much of its primary forest to logging. A fast-growing population and rapid urban development in the 20th century caused the removal of many trees for land reclamation and to build reservoirs for water security. As a result of that development, mangrove forests, which in 1953 covered about 24.5 square miles, covered only 3.1 miles by 2018. Singapore's goal is to replace its losses by turning areas used for industry and infrastructure back into landscapes that look more natural.


Part of that effort includes the One Million Trees project launched on March 4, 2020. It involves restoring both inland and mangrove forests. The trees are coming from Singapore's tree banks, which include nurseries and trees salvaged from construction sites. Transport and housing projects could result in the removal of up to 13,000 trees over the next 15 years, but the government plans to replant one tree for every tree removed. The One Million Trees project will be placed in parks, on university grounds, rooftop gardens, roadsides and on outlying islands. The project will also create therapeutic gardens for aging people in Singapore. It is the city's goal, when the project is completed in 2030, that every household will be within a 10-minute walk of a park. It is hoped that the trees will help to cool the environment and attract butterflies, garden birds and small mammals so that biodiversity and nature can be enjoyed in an urban landscape.


Mangrove trees have characteristics that make them especially beneficial in this project. Their roots help to stop erosion by holding in the soil. They also reduce the impact of waves on the shore. They trap sediment between their roots and create their own soil. That could help coastal cities like Singapore stay above water as global warming leads to the rise of sea levels – if that rise does not occur too quickly.


Research indicates that mangroves can sequester more carbon that rainforests do. Friess said that mangrove trees can store three to five times more carbon per hectare than other forest types of trees do. A hectare equals 2.47 acres. That ability could reduce excess carbon in the atmosphere around the world where reforestation projects take place.


In the Mongabay article, Friess is quoted as saying, "In a normal forest, leaves and branches would die, fall to the forest floor, and quickly get broken down by bacteria and fungi, which releases the carbon back into the atmosphere. Mangrove soils are waterlogged so they have a different microbial community, so organic matter is not broken down and the carbon stays locked up in the soils."


A key to successful mandrake reforestation projects is to grow the right species at the right sites. For other cities, states or countries who decide to try reforestation projects, a key is to ask reforestation experts which species are the right kinds to plant in which areas.


If Singapore can carry out this bold and planet-healing project, then other places around the world with the will to do so also could create their own reforestation projects. Even on a much smaller scale, reforestation projects could make a positive difference. Trees are even more important for our health and welfare than many of us realize.

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