How scientists in Iceland turned harmful greenhouse gases into rocks.

For a modern-day climate scientist, this rock could be magical.

A basalt core with carbonate crystals growing inside. Photo from Annette K. Mortensen/University of Southampton.


Humans release at least 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, which can be tough on the environment.

But what if, alchemy-like, we could take all that carbon dioxide and turn it into rock?

At Iceland's Hellisheidi power plant, that's what they've been trying to do.

Photo from Árni Sæberg/University of Southampton.

Hellisheidi is a geothermal plant, which means it uses volcanically-heated water to run turbines, but the process isn't perfectly emission-free — it can bring up volcanic gases, including carbon dioxide.

And while the amount of those gases it generates are only a tiny fraction of what a coal plant would produce, the power plant still wanted to get rid of it.

So in 2012, they started a pilot program, Carbfix, to try putting that carbon back in the ground.


An early injection site. Photo by Kevin Krajick/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used with permission.

How do they do it?

They capture the plant's carbon dioxide, mix it with water, and inject it nearly a half-mile down into the volcanic basalt.

This futuristic-looking space bubble is actually the newer injection site for the Carbfix project. Photo by Kevin Krajick/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used with permission.

There, the carbon dioxide reacts with chemicals naturally found in the basalt and turns from a gas into chalky, white carbonate.

University of Iceland geologist and study co-author Sandra Snaebjornsdottir holds up a piece of basalt covered in carbonate deposits. Photo by Kevin Krajick/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used with permission.

Some previous projects have tried pumping carbon dioxide into sandstone or aquifers, but that was essentially just hiding the carbon dioxide. This process transforms it.

That's great! But the truly amazing thing is that the process works hundreds of times faster than anyone predicted.

Two scientists inspect some of the rock samples. Photo by Kevin Krajick/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used with permission.

We knew this chemical reaction was theoretically possible, but previous studies guessed that it'd take hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years to work.

But Hellisheidi blew that timeline away. Within two years, 95% of the carbon dioxide pumped down had been turned into rock. The researchers just published these astounding findings in the journal Science.

This is amazing because it's not just Iceland that can do this. We could do this anywhere there's basalt.

At Iceland's Black Falls, water pours over columns of pure basalt rock. Photo by Kevin Krajick/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used with permission.

Basalt is formed from volcanoes. Most of the sea floor is made of basalt and about 10% of continental rocks are too.

The Iceland scientists aren't being too hasty though. The next step is to try again at a larger scale.

The Hellisheidi power plant from a distance. Photo by Kevin Krajick/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used with permission.

The project is currently injecting 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. They're planning to double that rate this summer and see how it works.

They're also being careful about any unintended consequences.

A rock core covered in slime. Photo by Kevin Krajick/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used with permission.

Some of the cores contained a greenish slime, for instance, which may be biological. Microbiologists are going to study this slime to learn how the Carbfix process might affect underground microbes.

And all of this research is key if we're going to stop climate change.

Carbon capture is a needed bridge to help us while we transition to clean energy.

The 38th Session of the IPCC. Photo from Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images.

In 2014, the International Panel on Climate Change included carbon capture in their list of options to help us limit climate change.

There's still a lot we need to do to stop climate change, but this technique could be a huge step forward.

There are many things we can personally do — such as limiting energy use and using our cars less — but we need action at the systematic level too.

"We need to deal with rising carbon emissions," said Dr. Jeurg Matter, lead author of the paper, in an article from Columbia University.

"This is the ultimate permanent storage — turning them back to stone."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less