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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
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LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 04 December 2008
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QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
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Thursday 04 December 2008
Monitoring methane on Flitwick Moor, Bedfordshire
Monitoring methane on Flitwick Moor, Bedfordshire

Wetlands and the Carbon Cycle

Wetlands cover 8.5% of the land surface of Earth and play an important part in the exchange of greenhouse gasses with the atmosphere.

Colin Lloyd of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is completing a major report on their role in the global carbon cycle.

Peat bogs have been studied in detail and there are fears that, with climate change, they could dry out and become sources rather than sinks for carbon.

Colin tells Quentin how he measures carbon dioxide 20 times a second above a bog and translates the results into regional statistics.

But Northern wetlands are well studied, he says, because they are close to research institutes. Coastal wetlands and rice paddies could play an important role too, especially at a time of climate change and rising sea level.

Methane is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, yet the processes by which it is produced in wetlands is little understood. Dr. Vince Gauci at the Open University is interested in how methane-producing bacteria behave and interact with other microorganisms in wetlands under changing environmental conditions.

He has already discovered that when acid rain falls in wetland regions, the production of methane by the soil organisms is reduced. So does this mean that acid rain could actually reduce the production of greenhouse gases?

Hot Rocks

When oil prices rise, there are queues at the petrol station and the whole world goes into panic.

But could the cheap energy we’re looking for be right beneath our feet?

99.9% of the Earth is hotter than 100 degrees Centigrade, meaning that tapping into geothermal sources could be the ideal solution.

And we won’t even have to move to Iceland. Geologists working in the wake of the 1979 oil crisis found that 3km-deep boreholes in Cornwall could provide both electricity and heat energy for towns nearby. Unfortunately, the availability of cheap North Sea gas in the 80s meant that the idea never really took off.

It’s only with climate change, rising fuel prices and better drilling technology that ‘hot dry rocks’ are back.

Geophysicist Ryan Law from Ove Arup and Partners joins Quentin Cooper to discuss how pumping water deep into the Earth’s surface to heat it and then turn it into energy is an idea worth investing in. Jon Busby from the British Geological Survey explains how we can tell what’s under the ground and which areas of the UK can benefit most from geothermal power.

Next week - The bubonic plague, Kazakhstan gerbils and mankind ... 
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