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."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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