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CSULA researchers study the effects of planting carbon underground
Changes in water and soil quality at Mammoth Mountain to help realize potential hazards of CO2 sequestration
The team of researchers, fueled by funding and staff support from the University’s Center for Energy and Sustainability (CEaS), are utilizing a natural field site to study chemical changes to water and soils in an area where CO2 from a now-dormant volcano is seeping through the Earth’s crust.
The site is a unique case study location for exploring carbon sequestration, or the practice of stockpiling CO2—which has been converted from gas to liquid—underground as a means for mitigating the effects of global warming and achieving “clean coal” use. Experts note that capturing and sequestering CO2 below the Earth’s crust is both technically feasible and affordable. Still to be investigated, however, are the hazards or concerns that may exist if the gas were released through the soil and made its way above ground.
“There have been a few articles but no one has really sat down to study it in detail,” said CSULA’s Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences Andre Ellis, who has joined Civil Engineering Professor Crist Khachikian and Biological Sciences Professor Tina Salmassi of CSULA in researching the topic. “Whatever we produce will be very useful to any community or country as they look to carbon sequestration. We will be able to provide some insight on what happens biologically and chemically to an entire ecosystem if the chemistry of the soil and water changes.”
Together, the faculty and student researchers are studying everything from how the presence of elevated carbon levels affect mineral weathering and the acidification of the soil, to the quality of groundwater. In the area of the leakage, which has been ongoing since 1989 earthquakes created openings for magmatic CO2 to escape, some vegetation has already died out.
“This is a big deal,” said CSULA graduate fellow Rose Santilena, who is analyzing water chemistry in Horseshoe Lake. Santilena said that before joining the research team, she didn’t know how “clean coal” technology worked or what potential side effects existed.
“Now, I am part of the conversation,”
CEaS was established in fall 2009 through a five-year, $5 million Centers for Research Experience in Science and Technology (CREST) grant funded by the National Science Foundation. This multidisciplinary science and technology research center at CSULA encompasses four areas of study: fuel cells; photovoltaic cells (high-efficiency cells); combustion (burning diverse fuels and examining combustion efficiency); and carbon sequestration (capturing carbon from the atmosphere and pumping it into the ocean or the land).