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Carba, Wha?? The Intern Speaks

This post was written by Daisy Rocha, Nature of Things Intern at the Utah Museum of Natural History. I share it with you because this UintahMom believes that there is nothing as meaningful as on-the-job learning!
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So, I’m the intern. For those of you who have never been one, it’s kinda like being a coffee girl on a movie set…only having no idea what movie is being shot…or what coffee is. In other words, it is a perpetual state of confusion.

Yet, it is a quick-as-you-can-learn on your feet, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that’s for sure. Every day I accomplish things that if you would asked me a week ago were possible, I would have laughed and shook my head. Like what? Well like when my boss asked me to prepare an interview for Dr. Brian McPherson, an “international leader” on Carbon Sequestration, on the topic of what else, Carbon Sequestration. An interview about what? Carbon Se-ques-tra-tion. Oh that.

Now I’m a pretty smart girl, I like to nose a Britannica just as much as the next egghead. But how was I to quickly create questions for an expert about something I had never heard of and could barely pronounce? Hmmm…what is a lowly intern to do? Hit the books of course, 2010 style…Google it baby!

Here’s what I gleaned in a tiny little nutshell: Carbon Sequestration, specifically Carbon Capture and Storage, is a technology. This technology captures nasty, yucky, man-made CO2 from X source (think coal plants) and redirects it. The idea is to get it away from our fragile atmosphere and pump it into an alternate location. Some forms of Carbon Sequestration suggest injecting the excessive CO2 into flora, soil and/or the ocean. Which is bit unsettling to me but then I think, “How is pumping it into the atmosphere any better?!”

There are also other forms of Carbon Capture out there, like Dr. McPherson’s specialty, ones that propose pumping it thousands of feet underground into tightly sealed receptacles for long-term storage. From what I gather, this is not meant to be a permanent solution to climate change, not a “silver bullet”, but rather a temporary mitigation, more to provide an immediate band-aid like relief to the gaping wound of global warming.

As I read on, I discovered that Carbon Sequestration is not just something scientists in white coats are sitting around a table theorizing about, but it is actually happening, this very moment, here, in Utah.

Dr. McPherson has received a $67 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to spearhead a multi-state project testing the feasibility of the geologic sequestration of CO2. McPherson is the Principal Investigator of the Southwest Regional Partnership on Carbon Sequestration and the partnership is one of only seven nationwide DOE funded inquires. In fact, in a Salt Lake Tribune opinion editorial, McPherson described how his project is the largest single-injection storage project in the U.S. Set in a site near Price, Utah the research injects one million tons of liquid CO2 per year and uses sophisticated monitoring to determine the safety of the technology.

All this to mitigate human impact on climate change, to provide some kind of sustainable development for the future. Yet McPherson himself says that it is not entirely a technological issue, but a political and market-driven one too. How we deploy various technologies will depend on consumer behavior and citizen choice. Really? I have a say?

As a young adult, with yet unborn children before me and days of running barefoot in the grass and climbing trees behind me, I realized that I do have some power in that decision. The future of many so many technologies and solutions lies within my purchasing and voting choices…I’m suddenly more sincerely motivated to learn about Carbon Sequestration at Dr. McPherson’s lecture…that and all the other alternatives I can’t pronounce.  The earth that my children and grandchildren will know is being chosen today, by us, one new idea at a time.

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UintahMom’s Note: Dr. Brian McPherson, a USTAR associate professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering,  will be speaking on Thursday, February 11, 2010, on the University of Utah campus as part of the Nature of Things Lecture Series, hosted by the Utah Museum of Natural History. Complete information on the lecture is found at www.umnh.utah.edu/nature.  And, yes, I am “the boss” that gives unspecific yet challenging projects! The Museum takes one Nature of Things intern each Winter/Spring term.  Contact us, if you can handle it…