UC Merced Connect: Coal mining practice scrutinized

February 12, 2013 

School of Engineering Professor Elliott Campbell has co-written a paper finding that mountaintop removal mining will dramatically accelerate the regional effects of global warming.

Campbell found that such mining turns natural carbon sinks into sources of carbon emissions, some within the next 15 years. That switch is an issue that could prompt policy-makers to reconsider where they stand on mining.

The mining practice, which has been used since the 1970s, incorporates heavy equipment and explosives to remove hundreds of vertical feet of mountaintops to expose coal seams.

Campbell's finding comes at a time when the federal government is at least partially focused on energy sources and President Barack Obama takes an "all of the above" approach to supplying the country's power needs.

Campbell's research provides another entry point into the conversation about what some call "clean-coal technology."

The paper has been named one of the year's best in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Campbell's work is one more way UC Merced is contributing to the rapid growth in knowledge about climate change and the ability to predict its consequences.

"These new scientific insights are framed by historic events including the first voluntary phase-out of mountaintop removal by a major mining company -- the Patriot Coal Corp., on Nov. 15, 2012 -- and a fundamental shift in the economics of coal and natural gas," Campbell said.

"The mounting scientific evidence could also provide fodder for Obama's Environmental Protection Agency, which took the highly unusual step in 2011 of revoking a mountaintop removal permit.

"This moment appears to be an inflection point with respect to science, industry and policy surrounding mountaintop removal," Campbell said.

Wave glider design could win $50,000

A UC Merced professor is one of five finalists in an international challenge that could win him a $50,000 research grant and free access to a record-setting, oceangoing robot.

Professor Michael Beman, with the School of Natural Sciences, entered the PacX Challenge, a competition designed to encourage scientists and students to make use of data gathered by a wave glider.

The contestants will use data gathered by the wave glider, called the "Papa Mau," which traveled autonomously from San Francisco to Australia over the past year. Papa Mau finished its yearlong journey Dec. 6 in Australia, setting a world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle.

Beman and his four competitors will complete their proposed research projects over the next six months. If Beman wins, he gets to use a wave glider at no cost for another six months to conduct his research, and he gets a $50,000 research grant.

"If I win, this would have a strong multiplier effect on my research, because I could use the grant to financially support students and staff, and their research," Beman said. "I'd incorporate the wave glider time into my current research projects and those that I'm developing, so it would add new, novel and complementary data to my research."

Beman, who studies biogeochemistry, microbial ecology, oceanography and global environmental change, is competing against researchers from UC Santa Cruz, University of Texas and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and a software developer from Boston.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, email communications@ucmerced.edu.

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