Weather Wonders From NASA

NASA just released this spectacular animation of the atmosphere during hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean.

NASA: The Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has developed the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS), a family of mathematical computer models.  Combined with data from NASA’s Earth observing satellites, these supercomputer simulations enhance our scientific understanding of specific chemical, physical, and biological processes occurring in our atmosphere.

This GEOS simulation shows how Aerosols (fine dust, smoke and salt particles), move through the atmosphere to make hurricanes .  It is a huge step forward in our understanding of the earth’s atmosphere, weather and climate.

Watch the hurricanes (salt) and the vast plumes of dust coming off Africa, the western wildfire smoke, Hurricane Ophelia; an unusual hurricane moving NE as it picked up smoke from Portugal’s extensive fires streaming it north into the UK and Ireland as a post tropical cyclone.

Exciting and incredible work by NASA.

Look for more NASA GEOS videos on You Tube to learn about our climate from the experts.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl



Don’t Waste Earth Day This Year


April 22nd is Earth Day.   In connection with Arbor Day,  April is Earth Month.  Events happen all over the globe to support initiatives that will make living on our planet more beneficial for all of us.  A good place to get information about activities is through the Earth Day Network.  Their goal is to build the world’s largest environmental movement.

The mission for Earth Day Network is to broaden and diversify the environmental movement worldwide, mobilize the movement to build a healthy and sustainable environment, address climate change, and protect the Earth for future generations.

Many climate change experts would suggest that green initiatives and public policies are moving too slowly in the wrong direction to make any meaningful impact on our current survival challenge.  NPR reporter and author, Wen Stephenson unpacks the issue in his book What We Are Fighting For Now Is Each Other.

He’s calling for a radicalization of the mainstream.  “At this late hour, to be serious about climate is to be radical, because it’s really a radical situation. It requires us to go to the root of the systems that have created this. That’s not going to happen until enough people come to terms with and face up to the radical nature of the situation.”

In 1970, the first Earth Day activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement.  Passage of landmark, groundbreaking, environmental laws such as the Clean Air ActClean Water ActEndangered Species Act soon followed and Richard Nixon became known as the Environmental President by setting up the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 1990,  Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage.  Today, more than 1 billion people participate in Earth Day activities each year.  This is the largest civic observance in the world.

Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 50,000 partners in 196 countries, (the total of all countries in the world) to build environmental democracy working through a combination of education, public policy, and consumer campaigns.  They broaden the definition of “environment” to include issues that affect our health and our communities, such as greening deteriorated schools, creating green jobs and investment, registering voters and promoting activism to stop air and water pollution.

With partner organizations, EDN provides civic engagement opportunities at the local, state, national and global levels around the world.  Recognizing that climate change impacts our most vulnerable citizens first and most severely, EDN often works with low income communities to bring their voices and issues into the movement.

When the global population reached four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987, six billion in 1999 and seven billion in October 2011, according to United Nations, we have an enormous challenge ahead of us.  Our population is expected to grow to 10 billion by the end of this century.  Yet the earth’s capacity to provide space, produce food, supply energy and water all remain limited.

How You Can Help:

Until next week,178696_beers-outer-space-earth-relaxing-carlsberg-moon-landing-astronaut-1920x1200-wallpaper_wallpaperbeautiful_41

Garbage Girl

Space Waste


Orbital debris around earth

This week, NASA found liquid water on Mars, elevating our hopes that we will find life there.   Since NASA plans to put people on the Red Planet, Ridley Scott worked closely with them to take his film beyond science fiction.

Since 1960, there have been 43 successful and failed space missions to Mars.

Each time we send a rocket into space, we leave traces of ourselves behind.  NASA and The Department of Defense are tracking more than 500,000 pieces of space junk orbiting the Earth.  At speeds of up to 17,500 mph a relatively small piece of orbital debris can damage a satellite or a spacecraft.  The increasing amount of space debris is a danger to the International Space Station, space shuttles and all spacecraft with humans aboard.

NASA takes the threat of collisions with space debris seriously.  They have specific guidelines on how to deal with each one. These guidelines specify when the proximity of a piece of debris increases the probability of a collision enough that evasive action or precautions to ensure the safety of the crew are needed.

Orbital debris is any man-made object in orbit around the Earth which no longer serves a useful function.  Such debris includes nonfunctional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris and fragmentation debris.

There are more than 20,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth.  There are 500,000 pieces of debris the size of a marble or larger.  There are many millions of pieces of debris that are so small they can’t be tracked.

Even tiny paint flecks can damage a spacecraft when traveling at these velocities.  A number of space shuttle windows have been replaced because of damage caused by material shown to be paint flecks.

“The greatest risk to space missions comes from non-trackable debris,” said Nicholas Johnson, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris.

With so much orbital debris, there have been surprisingly few disastrous collisions.

  • In 1996, a French satellite was hit and damaged by debris from a French rocket that had exploded a decade earlier.
  • On Feb. 10, 2009, a defunct Russian satellite collided with and destroyed a functioning U.S. Iridium commercial satellite. The collision added more than 2,000 pieces of trackable debris to the space junk inventory.
  • China’s 2007 anti-satellite test used a missile to destroy an old weather satellite and added more than 3,000 pieces to the debris problem.

NASA and the DoD cooperate and share responsibilities for monitoring the satellite environment.  An imaginary box, about a mile deep by 30 miles across by 30 miles long around any space craft predicts that the debris will pass close enough for concern.  Mission Control in Houston and Moscow work together to develop a course of action.

For example, these encounters can be known well in advance allowing time to move the space station slightly to keep the debris outside of the box.  This is cleverly called a “debris avoidance maneuver”.   Other times, the tracking data isn’t precise enough to warrant such a maneuver or the close pass isn’t identified in time to make the maneuver.  In those cases, the crew is moved into the Soyuz spacecraft that are used to transport humans back and forth from the station. They can isolate themselves from the station by closing hatches or they could leave the station if the collision caused a loss of pressure in the life-supporting module or damaged critical components.  The Soyuz act as lifeboats for crew members in the event of an emergency.

Mission Control also has the option of closing hatches between some of the station’s modules.

Debris avoidance maneuvers are usually small and occur from one to several hours before the time of the conjunction. Maneuvers with the shuttle can be planned and executed in a matter of hours. Maneuvers with the space station require about 30 hours to execute because the station has Russian thrusters. The same is true if the propulsion systems on one of the docked  spacecraft are needed because they are Russian or European.

Several debris avoidance maneuvers with the shuttle and the space station have been conducted during the past 10 years.  In a few hundred years the amount of debris will be so great that space operations will be severely limited.

Will Mars end up looking like earth, marked with debris?
Everything we send there will not be coming back.  And, only two Viking landers in 1976 were sterilized enough to kill Earth microbes.  NASA’s next Mars rover, scheduled to launch in 2020, won’t be any cleaner because sterilization adds to the cost and complicates the design.
The Jet Propulsion Labs in Arizona took this beautifully pristine image of Mars’ liquid water.

This image shows Mount Everest. Visitors produce about 12,000 pounds of human waste a year.  A lot of it IMG_0992_3_4_tonemapped-1030x685ends up in waterways that nearby villages rely upon,  Alton Byers, director of science and exploration at the US-based Mountain Institute, told VICE News.

How You Can Help:

I don’t know! American Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko spent more than 170 days on board the International Space Station producing 180lbs of faeces.  Nasa said this will ‘burn up in the atmosphere and look like shooting stars’.  What can I say after that?

Until next week,images

Garbage Girl



Plasma Gasified Waste

700-acre Columbia Ridge Landfill in Arlington, Oregon processes 35,000 tons of household trash weekly by train from Seattle and by truck from Portland.  It is owned by Waste Management.

As of November 2014, not all the trash arriving at Columbia Ridge got buried.  Some of it was destined for a special kind of treatment—one that could redefine how we think about trash.

“Our goal is to extract as much value as possible from waste and this project will help us recover resources to generate clean fuels, renewable energy and other beneficial products,” said Dean Kattler, area vice president for Waste Management Pacific Northwest.

There is value in trash if you can unlock it.  S4 Energy Solutions and Waste Management combined and built the first commercial plant in the US that uses plasma gasification to convert municipal household garbage into gas products.

The seemingly sci-fi transformation occurs because the trash is blasted apart by plasma.  Plasma is a cloud of protons, neutrons and electrons where all the electrons have come loose from their respective molecules and atoms, giving the plasma the ability to act as a whole rather than as a bunch of atoms.  Plasma is like gas in that you can’t grip or pour it, but because extreme heat ionizes some atoms (adding or subtracting electrons), causing conductivity, it behaves differently from gas.



Until now, plasma gasification has proven too energy and capital intensive for real world use on everyday trash.  The value of the syngas produced was worth less than the amount of energy required to power the furnaces and melt the trash.

The US generates about 250 million tons of trash a year. Even with recycling and composting facilities tackling an estimated 85 million tons of refuse per year, it would take thousands of expensive new plants to handle the nation’s municipal trash output.

Jeff Surma, cofounder of S4 Energy Solutions may have finally solved that problem. (S4 refers to plasma, the fourth state of matter. The other three are solid, liquid, and gas.)

In 1985, freshly graduated from Montana State University, he was hired by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to work on nuclear waste. Beginning with the Manhattan Project, the US government cooked most of the plutonium for America’s nuclear weapons arsenal with its nine nuclear reactors, giant plutonium processing plants, and buried tanks of radioactive sludge, earning the site the distinction of being one of the most contaminated nuclear waste sites in the Western Hemisphere.

Surma’s first project was to work on joule-heated melters, a method for processing nuclear waste. This chemical process, known as vitrification, immobilizes radioactive materials in an inert form of glass. The team was able to convert all the nuclear waste into four-foot-tall canisters of vitrified glass.

But the facility also had huge quantities of  low-level radioactive trash that couldn’t go to a landfill and wasn’t suited for vitrification.

So, Surma learned about the plasma torch that scientists at NASA were using to mimic the effect of extreme heat on manned spacecraft reentering the atmosphere and that plasma for processing waste was being used in the metal and chemical industries to dispose of their very expensive toxic sludge.

Simultaneously, GE high-voltage engineer, Charles Titus, became convinced that the current technology using metal torches didn’t work because they got damaged by the very heat they delivered.  So, he created plasma with an electric arc strung between two graphite electrodes.

Also around that time, MIT physicist, Dan Cohn, at Plasma Science and Fusion Center was searching for plasma technology’s possible environmental applications.

Cohn, Titus and Surma connected and before long they were brainstorming on how to get the technology to dispose of the billions of tons of common household trash (MSW).

The challenge was the high energy costs, the heterogeneity of municipal solid waste, and the toxins in heavy metals (busted televisions, microwave ovens, dead batteries, broken thermometers, old paints) that aren’t broken down by plasma and need to be safely kept away from all water supplies.

The trio also knew that the massive municipal solid waste market would need a clean system with no harmful byproducts or their project could look like another form of incineration, that has a bad reputation due to the air pollution it creates.

Surma thought they could combine plasma with vitrification to handle the harmful byproducts, but they needed to keep the resulting molten inert glass byproducts at the bottom of the vessel from cooling down and hardening.

Since, this molten glass needs alternating current to maintain steady temperature and the electric arc for the plasma runs on direct current, Titus designed a system that would enable DC and AC to cohabitate within a plasma gasification furnace with a melter.  The team calculated that this approach would provide just enough energy to sustain the plasma, atomize the trash, and keep the glass in a molten state.

Within a few months Jeff Surma, Dan Cohn, and Charles Titus  launched their company, Integrated Environmental Technologies (InEnTec).

Their first commercial units were sold to Boeing and Kawasaki, which produce lots of hazardous waste at a great disposal cost.

“It was always our intent, from the very first patent, to go after the municipal solid waste stream,” Surma said. “But customer pull drew us into more lucrative hazardous- and medical-waste treatment.”

With InEnTec’s chief engineer, Jim Batdorf, they tried to come up with ways to make their technology economically feasible  for the more challenging miscellaneous content of household garbage.

The breakthrough was to stack a conventional gasifier above the plasma-enhanced melter.  The trash gets heated and treated by this preliminary gasifier, then moves into the chamber with the plasma zapper and vitrification.  This strategy improves efficiency because it takes less energy for the plasma to blast materials that are already heated.

The machine is illustrated below by Jim Batdorf.

1: Gasification.  A conveyer belt delivers shredded trash into a chamber mixed with oxygen and steam heated to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit transforming about 80 percent of the waste into a mixture of gases that are piped out of the system.

2: Plasma Blasting.  Material that doesn’t succumb to the initial heat enters a specially insulated cauldron.  An 18,000-degree Fahrenheit electric arc runs between two electrodes creating a plasma zone in the center of the container.  Exposed to this intense heat, almost all the remaining trash gets blasted into  atomic elements and the resulting gases are piped out.

3: Hazmat Capture.  At the bottom of the cauldron sits a joule-heated melter that maintains a molten glass bath to trap any hazardous material left over from the plasma process.

4: Recycling.  The inert molten glass is drawn out of the system to be converted into low-value materials such as road aggregate.  The liquified metals are recycled into steel.

5: Fuel Capture. The sequestered syngas (mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen) is cleaned, sold and converted to fuels like diesel and ethanol, used to produce electricity on sight and off, or used as a substitute for natural gas in heating and electricity generation.

 After a review that lasted more than two years, Waste Management determined that InEnTec was one of the few firms in the world whose plasma gasification technology looked viable.  Waste Management started as an equity interest in S4Energy Solutions LLC, a joint venture with InEnTec Inc., and later became an equity partner in InEnTec. The two companies are developing a plasma gasification plant in Arlington, Oregon, using InEnTec’s plasma enhanced melter (PEM) technology and Waste Management’s Columbia Ridge Landfill.

Carl Rush, a senior vice president at Waste Management says, “The easy answer used to be: Store it in a can, put it in a truck, and then send it to a big hole in the ground.  We’re moving away from that as a society.”

People don’t like landfills, it’s becoming costlier to transport and bury garbage, and even in the spacious American West, landfills are gradually butting up against more backyards and inching their way toward local water tables.

Waste Management, the largest owner of landfills, hopes they will help accelerate the transition to an era in which the very idea of garbage itself is garbage.  And they want to be positioned to profit when that time comes.  Time to invest?

Trash-to-fuel technology has been around since the 1970s.  Burning waste to generate electricity produces a stew of byproducts that need to be disposed of no matter how fancy the emissions scrubbers are.  So, environmentalists and some in the industry have remained skeptical of trash-to-fuel because it doesn’t address concerns for our overconsumption, it diverts resources and focus from recycling programs, and MSW plasma gasification technology is still too new to make any difference.

Construction of the Columbia Ridge plant was recently completed, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued all the permits necessary for the facility to begin operations.  The plant is still so new that it remains to be seen whether the quality and quantity of the syngas can produce fuel good enough to use.  The operation will begin as a small 25 ton per day commercial demonstration plant. That’s 34,825 tons short of the MSW the landfill currently takes in.

So!  Will we get a guilt-free-energy-producing solution to our waste problems?  Some things to consider:

  •     for a DIY home gasifier!  This guy is a true engineer mind.
  • Communities that have installed waste conversion facilities tend to have a more positive opinion of the technologies, according to the EPA.
  • Real-world cost and environmental information is difficult to obtain primarily due to the current stage of U.S. development of conversion technologies.
  • EPA estimates that gasification of MSW saves 6.5—13 MMBtu per ton as compared to landfill disposal.
  • Additional research that could be done in the near term to advance the understanding of conversion technologies might include:  High vs low feedstock BTU value,  Plant energy conversion efficiency,  Recovery of MSW for recycling,  Beneficial uses for different end gases,  Distance to market for syngas,  Market prices for energy products, Market prices for recyclables and other byproducts.

How You Can Help:

Use less—No matter how efficient we make our processes, and no matter how well we deal with waste, we cannot reach carbon neutrality without reducing our resource consumption.

Until next week:images-3

Garbage Girl