Understanding the Earth and its Resources
Understanding the Earth and its Resources

Understanding the Earth and its Resources

We all share a common planet. We depend on the Earth both as a place to live and as a resource for many aspects of our lives. That is why facing some of our biggest challenges depends on forming a better understanding of the Earth and finding ways use its resources responsibly. Science can help us with these challenges. This section of Frontiers for Young Minds will include articles from across the fields of Earth science, energy research, marine science, climate science, and environmental science as it relates to the Earth system. Because these concepts relate to so many other disciplines - from chemistry to engineering - there will also be articles from scientists in other subject areas whose work helps to study these issues. Understanding the Earth and its Resources wants to provide the most up-to-date research to the next generation who will live with, and study, these planet-wide questions.

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Core Concept

How Does Photosynthesis Take Place in Our Oceans?

The food we eat is ultimately sourced from plants, either directly or indirectly. The importance of plants as the global kitchen can never be underestimated. Plants eat sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce their own food and for the millions of other organisms dependent on them. A molecule, chlorophyll, is crucial for this process since it absorbs sunlight. However, the way land plants produce their food is very different from the one in the oceans. Since light finds it harder to reach underneath the water in the oceans, food production, scientifically called photosynthesis, becomes very slow. Phycobiliproteins make this job easier, by absorbing the available light and passing it on to chlorophyll. These phycobiliproteins are found in tiny, invisible organisms called cyanobacteria. Their ‘food-producing’ reactions are critical for the survival of many living organisms like fishes, birds and other sea life. It is, therefore, very important for everyone to understand how cyanobacteria make their food and what important roles do the phycobiliproteins play in the process.

Authors

Tonmoy Ghosh / Sandhya Mishra
Reviewed by Matilde
Reviewed by Emilia
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Core Concept

“Boiling Water Is Not Too Hot for Us!”—Preferred Living Spaces of Heat-Loving Microbes

Do you like to stay at the beach on a hot summer day? Sun bathing, chilling and playing beach games! If it is getting too hot, one can quickly refresh in the lukewarm ocean. Can you believe that there are living organisms on our planet that would still freeze on the hottest day of the year? These tiny creatures are heat-loving microbes, which do not grow at temperatures around 50 degrees Celsius, but feel most comfortable in boiling water near volcanoes at the ground of the ocean or in terrestrial hot springs. Because of their strength and endurance, they are of certain relevance for industrial and scientific applications. And can you imagine that most of these hot places are not located in deserts, but on volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean and near the North Pole?

Authors

Skander Elleuche / Carola Schröder / Nadine Stahlberg / Garabed Antranikian
Reviewed by Ecole Moser Genève
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New Discovery

Measuring the Methane Leaks to the Air from Three Large Natural Gas Production Regions

In the coming years, humans will have choices to make about where we get the fuel that powers our lights for us to see at night, our stoves for our hot meals, our water heaters for our warm baths, and even our cars. These choices will affect the air we breathe: burning fuel often causes pollution, like the smog found in cities, and almost always leads to more greenhouse gases in the air. This in turn affects the way the Earth cools itself. One choice we have today is whether to use coal or natural gas as a fuel for power plants. In a recent study, my colleagues and I measured the greenhouse gas emissions from three of the largest natural gas fields in the United States. We found that using that natural gas instead of coal to fuel power plants could lead to fewer greenhouse gases in the air.

Authors

Jeff Peischl
Reviewed by Ecole Moser Genève
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Core Concept

Understanding Marine Microbes, the Driving Engines of the Ocean

When you hear the word microbes, what comes to your mind? Something much too small to see and that makes you fall ill? Just because some microbes cause diseases this does not mean they are all evil. For example, in the marine environment the vast majority of microbes are among the good ones. They are the driving engines of the ocean and are essential for the health of our whole planet. Unfortunately, most of the microbes and their interactions with the marine environment are poorly understood. Consequently, it is important to get an idea who is helping us and how they are doing this. This will provide the knowledge to fight against big global challenges like climate change and ocean acidification. Unfortunately, it is very hard to study marine microbes due to their microscopic size, huge diversity and their big home – the ocean. Therefore we would like to engage everybody helping us to sample marine microbes and identifying them.

Authors

Anna Kopf / Julia Schnetzer / Frank Oliver Glöckner
Reviewed by Conniston Middle School
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New Discovery

Removing Harmful Greenhouse Gases from the Air Using Energy from Plants

Carbon dioxide (written as CO2) releases from fossil fuels cause climate change, a warming of the earth that causes more intense heat waves, extreme weather, and other negative impacts on our world. How can we stop future climate change? One option is to remove CO2 from the air around us. Here, we describe an original carbon dioxide removal technology called Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (BECCS). BECCS produces energy from plants, grasses or trees while removing CO2 from our atmosphere. Scientists are just beginning to understand the role that BECCS can play in reducing climate change. We describe recent research that shows how the world might build electricity systems—a network that delivers electricity to your home—that remove, rather than release, CO2. These systems are very different from our current electricity systems, which use large amounts of fossil fuels.

Authors

Daniel L. Sanchez / Daniel M. Kammen
Reviewed by International School of Lausanne
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New Discovery

Computer-Aided Search for Materials to Store Natural Gas for Vehicles

Most cars use gasoline as a fuel. But cars can run on other fuels, such as natural gas, the same gas that is used for cooking and for heating our homes. Natural gas is cheaper and possibly better for the environment than gasoline. However, gasoline is much more dense than natural gas since gasoline is a liquid and natural gas is a gas. So, to run a car on natural gas, we need to increase its density so that we can fit enough natural gas in the fuel tank to drive a similar distance as with a tank of gasoline. Researchers around the world are working on synthesizing materials that act as sponges that adsorb natural gas. By putting these sponge-like materials inside of the fuel tank, we can increase the density of natural gas to efficiently store it onboard the vehicle. In our study, we show how computers can be used to search for the most promising sponge-like materials to store natural gas.

Authors

Cory M. Simon / Jihan Kim / Diego A. Gomez-Gualdron / Yongchul G. Chung / Richard L. Martin / Rocio Mercado / Michael W. Deem / Dan Gunter / Maciej Haranczyk / Randall Q. Snurr / Berend Smit
Reviewed by Kate
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New Discovery

Break it Down! How Scientists are Making Fuel Out of Plants

You’ve seen people fueling up their cars at your local gas station, and you have probably used plastic before. But did you know that both the fuel and raw material to make plastic come from deep inside the earth? Fossil fuels like gasoline and the chemicals in plastics are made from ancient, decomposed plant matter – and the earth’s supply of them is limited. That’s why scientists and engineers are looking for other sources of fuel and fossil-based chemicals, and living plants are one possibility. Fuels and chemicals made from fresh plant matter – or biomass – are called biofuels and bio-products. We have discovered a new chemical solvent called GVL that is really good at breaking down the stems, stalks and leaves of different plants, so that we can convert them into these biofuels and bio-products.

Authors

Celia E. S. Luterbacher / Jeremy S. Luterbacher
Reviewed by French American International School
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New Discovery

Plastic Solar Cells: Understanding the Special Additive

Solar cells use freely available sunlight to make electricity. At the present time, solar electricity does not come cheap, because solar panels are rather expensive. Now imagine that we could reduce costs by printing solar panels like we print newspapers! We can do just that with plastic solar cells. In this article, we explain the basic working principles of these novel plastic solar cells and then show how a stunning three-fold increase in solar energy efficiency can be achieved by including a special additive to the printing ink. The function of such a special additive seems almost magical, but as scientists we know that true magic is really rare and we simply had to find out why and how it works. That was the subject of our recent investigations and in this article we describe how we divulged the secret of the special additive.

Authors

Jacobus J. van Franeker / René A. J. Janssen
Reviewed by French American International School
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