ASU, Stanford examine implications of bioenergy crops

January 31, 2012

Editor's Note: Arizona State University basketball will take on Stanford University on Feb. 2. The men’s teams will play at 7 p.m., at Stanford, and the women’s teams at 7 p.m., in Tempe. Read more about ASU's collaborations with Pac-12 schools.

A team of researchers from Arizona State University, Stanford University and Carnegie Institution for Science has found that converting large swaths of land to bioenergy crops could have a wide range of effects on regional climate. Download Full Image

In an effort to help wean itself off fossil fuels, the United States has mandated significant increases in renewable fuels, with more than one-third of the domestic corn harvest to be used for conversion to ethanol by 2018. But concerns about effects of corn ethanol on food prices and deforestation had led to research suggesting that ethanol be derived from perennial crops, like the giant grasses Miscanthus and switchgrass. Nearly all of this research, though, has focused on the effects of ethanol on carbon dioxide emissions, which drive global warming.

“Almost all of the work performed to date has focused on the carbon effects,” said Matei Georgescu, a climate modeler working in ASU’s Center for Environmental Fluid Dynamics. “We’ve tried to expand our perspective to look at a more complete picture. What we’ve shown is that it’s not all about greenhouse gases, and that modifying the landscape can be just as important.”

Georgescu and his colleagues reported their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors are David Lobell of Stanford University and Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science, both located in Stanford, Calif.

In their study, the researchers simulated an entire growing season with a state-of-the-art regional climate model. They ran two sets of experiments – one with an annual crop representation over the central United States and one with an extended growing season to represent perennial grasses. In the model, the perennial plants pumped more water from the soil to the atmosphere, leading to large local cooling.

“We’ve shown that planting perennial bioenergy crops can lower surface temperatures by about a degree Celsius locally, averaged over the entire growing season,” Lobell said. “That’s a pretty big effect, enough to dominate any effects of carbon savings on the regional climate.”

The primary physical process at work is based on greater evapotranspiration (combination of evaporated water from the soil surface and plant canopy and transpired water from within the soil) for perennial crops compared to annual crops.

“More study is needed to understand the long-term implication for regional water balance,” Georgescu said. “This study focused on temperature, but the more general point is that simply assessing the impacts on carbon and greenhouse gases overlooks important features that we cannot ignore if we want a bioenergy path that is sustainable over the long haul.”

Georgescu and Lobell have since started a new and exciting project extending their U.S. bioenergy crop work.

Written by Skip Derra

College of Law, legal community saddened by passing of Justice Michael D. Ryan

February 1, 2012

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan (ret.), “the quiet giant of the court” who was known for his warm demeanor and commitment to public service, died on Monday, Jan. 30, 2012. He was 66.

Justice Ryan, a 1977 graduate of the ASU College of Law, had retired from the bench in August 2010 to spend more time with his family, including wife Karen, three sons and two grandchildren. Download Full Image

Douglas Sylvester, interim dean, of the College of Law said Ryan was a dedicated ally who attended many of the law school’s events and was among the first to register for the 2012 alumni luncheon on Feb. 23.

“Justice Ryan was a great supporter, a true mentor for our students and a splendid example for our alumni,” Sylvester said. “He made the effort to attend every alumni event and fundraising dinner at the law school, taking the time to encourage attorneys who were just starting their careers and to chuckle at the stories of our great veterans. He was a man of carefully chosen words, and so when he spoke, people listened.”

A few years ago, the justice was the convocation speaker at the College of Law, and his message to the new graduates was classic Michael Ryan.

“Accept your successes modestly, express appreciation to those who have helped you, and remember that failure is another word for trying,” he told the class. “Keep your balance and perspective in life. Reach out to your friends, family, community to help you overcome the tough times.”

The law school is working on an appropriate way to honor Justice Ryan’s extraordinary legacy, Sylvester said.

In a statement issued by the Arizona Supreme Court, Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch called Justice Ryan a statesman who “dedicated his entire life to public service.

“He was a wonderful friend and colleague who will truly be missed,” said Berch, a 1979 alumna of the College of Law. “His kind, soft-spoken demeanor masked a brilliant jurist and the consummate gentleman who could always make me smile with his sharp wit. It is difficult to put into words the loss we all feel today.”

Justice Ryan served as a judge in Arizona for nearly 25 years. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Jane Hull in 2002, he served on the Arizona Court of Appeals for more than five years and on the Arizona Superior Court in Maricopa County for more than 10 years.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., he served in the United States Marine Corp from 1967-69. He received a medical retirement because of wounds sustained in combat in Vietnam, and was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.

In his retirement, Justice Ryan, a devoted Minneapolis Vikings fan, continued to serve the state, chairing the Arizona Supreme Court’s Arizona Regulation Committee and the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee.

To read the full announcement from the Arizona Supreme Court, click here.

An article and a commentary about Justice Ryan were posted on The Arizona Republic’s website on Monday evening.