Masdar: The Carbon-free City

Abu Dhabi’s plan is to build the world’s largest and first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city. The project symbolizes the capacity of this powerful United Arab Emirate to be a leader in renewable energy. It will also show the world that independence from fossil fuels is possible (once the project is complete). Building a carbon-free city hasn’t been without its trials.

masdar city glass

A rendering of Masdar City from The National.

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Interview with Christy Rollinson

Dr. Christine Rollinson is the perfect example of a scientist with an atypical career. She works in the non-profit sector, as lead Forest Ecologist at The Morton Arboretum in Illinois. She grew up in the central Appalachian Mountains, received her Bachelor’s at Oberlin College of Ohio, and went on to complete her Master’s and PhD at Penn State. Finally, she did a Postdoc at Boston University.

head shot of christy rollinson

Personal photo from Christy Rollinson.

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The Global Carbon Cycle

What is the world’s largest natural carbon sink? Wetlands. But what is the world’s largest carbon stock? The ocean. My adoration of wetland ecosystems is not hindered by the fact that oceans are a larger carbon stock, though. Wetlands still win at sequestering the largest amount of carbon per year in peat. We can detect this because of something called a “carbon sink”. Carbon sinks have net negative carbon emissions. On the opposite end, carbon sources have positive emissions.

carbon source versus sink

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Things Marie Kondo and Bacteria Have In Common

Horizontal gene transfer was first discovered in 1928, but like many topics in the science realm there is still so much to learn about it. A talk I attended recently highlighted the fact that up to 10% of bacterial DNA wasn’t originally their DNA. Bacteria have the ability to “shop around” for bacteria, adding genes that spark joy to their initial DNA. After a few generations the unuseful DNA tends to get deleted, but certain bacteria may choose to keep it. This is one way that bacteria “evolve” even though they don’t undergo meiosis (combination of an egg & sperm).

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The Nocturnal Boundary Layer

selective focus photography of tree leaves

Photo by Egor Kamelev on

Science calls it a phenomena. But the word “phenomena” makes it sound as though the Nocturnal Boundary Layer (NBL) is something inexplicable. In reality, we know that it is a relatively thin layer of cool air separate from the rest of the Boundary Layer which appears at night. Its creation is spurred by net radiative loss from Earth’s surface. In the unique case of the solar eclipse of 2017, the NBL appeared from the lack of sun in under a half-hour. We also know there is an effect from cooling of the air after sunset, but the Earth constantly emits longwave radiation (infrared) into the universe.

“Many interacting processes can occur within the statically stable nocturnal boundary layer: patchy sporadic turbulence, internal gravity waves, drainage flows, inertial oscillations, and nocturnal jets.”
American Meteorological Society

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Atmospheric Water Generators

Typical Atmospheric Water Generators (AWGs) don’t work well in environments with low humidity or temperature. Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found a way to extract water from soil in the driest biome in the world- the desert. Using an air-cooled sorbent-based atmospheric water harvesting device, the research group predicted that over a quarter-liter of water could be extracted per kilogram of metal-organic framework (MOF) each day.

experimental setup

Image from supplementary documents of MIT study.

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Hello, Madison!

Map of Wisconsin from Google Earth.

The pain of waiting for an answer is over: I’ve been accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Land Resources. The bustling capital city is located between two frequently-kayaked and very fishable lakes, Monona and Mendota. The city is sustainable in that biking and walking are the main methods of transportation, and places to eat, live, study, and be entertained are all very close to each other. A highly centralized city like Madison is a great environment for a grad student without a car, such as myself. The average apartment here rents for around $800/month but according to students, the price of living is increasing as people are discovering this secret city. Here are some pictures from the plane, a map of Wisconsin, and the view of the “West Side” from the top of the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) building at the University. Continue reading