Will Ocean CO2 Removal Work? | Great Potential

Washington (GGM) Analysis | January 24, 2022, by Noreen Wise, Founder & CEO of Gallant Gold Media, and author; Image Credit Noreen Wise

Following the December 10, 2021 super tornado that cut a path of destruction through 8 states, with winds ranging from 90 mph to as high as 300 mph in at least one Kentucky location, and catastrophic damage totaling $3.9 billion, climate scientists again sounded another urgent call for immediate action as we rang in 2022.

“Make no mistake, we have been seeing an increase in these massive tornado outbreaks that can be attributed to the warming of the planet.” 

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.

The warming of the planet. Thousands of scientists and innovators rushing to find solutions that can be scaled up quickly. The main source of our extreme weather events is the rise in ocean temperature. According to National Geographic, the oceans make up 71% of the Earth’s surface, and 97% of the world’s water is found in our oceans. Yet a staggering 80% of our massive seascape has never been explored. At this critical moment, as we rush to save humanity and stay below 1.5ºC global warming, coming to grips with what we don’t know about our oceans is becoming a primary focus.

“Until we reach net zero emissions, that heating will continue, and we’ll continue to break ocean heat content records, as we did this year.” 

Michael Mann, co-author of a new study on hot oceans that appeared in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, during an interview with The Guardian

The goal is to decrease legacy atmospheric carbon levels by channeling much more carbon into our oceans, preferably the deep sea, where scientists hope it can be safely stored for thousands of years. Simultaneously, they will explore ways to cool the ocean temperature which may help protect what’s left of our icecaps. Again, this is to reduce our legacy carbon that has slowly accumulated in the atmosphere across the last 170 years. We as individuals, and in our communities, have to work hard to drive down our annual carbon emissions so we don’t add anymore carbon to the legacy load.

Does this grand vision seem impossible?

It very well might be, but there is a lot of science that suggests otherwise.

I remember working on a middle school project about the lost city of Atlantis, an advanced civilization that disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean thousands of years before Plato. Apparently, the lost city of Atlantis was fiction, an allegory crafted by Plato to explain lost civilizations. 

However, Atlantis was the first thought that sprang to mind while reading the news about the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic island in Tonga exploding and collapsing into the Pacific Ocean on January 15, 2022. I couldn’t help but wonder if explorers will one day discover a piece of an ancient carved stone pillar from Atlantis on the ocean’s floor. At age 12, I was absolutely certain Atlantis was a true story, and a real island. I spent many perplexed hours lying on the grass, staring up at the sky, imaging what it must have been like living there and how was it possible for an island to just sink into the sea like that.

At the very least we should be able to find the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 that disappeared off radar on March 8, 2014. Aerospace engineer Richard Godfrey claims to have located the wreckage in the Indian Ocean using weak signal propagation.

What made this heartbreaking 52 day search for flight 370 so challenging were the many cavernous trenches, mountain ranges, and volcanoes beneath the ocean surface in the Pacific. Mountain ranges much higher than Mt. Everest. The deepest point on Earth is the 7 mile Mariana Trench near Guam. 

On land, mountain ranges and caverns store a significant amount of carbon. They are difficult for humans to destroy, (although strip-mining has obliterated many beautiful mountaintops in coal country). The challenging terrain protects nature, making it easy for carbon to stay locked in the soil and in plants for a very long time. 

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution 170 years ago, we’ve emitted 555 billion tons pf carbon (GtC) into the atmosphere, 25% of this has been sequestered in the oceans. Carbon can stay sequestered in the ocean floor for thousands of years. 

This extremity, 138.75 GtC, has increased ocean acidity by 30%. Ocean acidification impacts marine species and marine food chains, which in turn effects our human food supply. Oceans have certainly borne the brunt of Mother Nature’s fury, particularly the Atlantic and Southern Oceans. Ocean acidity also boosts the water temperature. Scientists will have to be very, very careful with what and how they test Ocean Carbon Dioxide Capture (CDR).

As mentioned, the oceans significantly impact extreme weather events. The warmer ocean waters result in significantly greater evaporation and more torrential rainfall. Rain bombs are blinding and can drop a significant amount of rain all at once. For example, we saw this with the Ida remnants that flooded NYC and New Jersey, pouring into basement apartments in just a few minutes and killing those who couldn’t flee fast enough.

Discovering new methods for channeling carbon into the deep, mysterious and unexplored parts of the ocean is quite exciting. It generally takes hundreds of years for carbon to reach the deep sea. Innovators are searching for ways to expedite the natural flow of carbon in the currents. We still have little knowledge about our oceans. This should inspire exploration. Uncovering what questions to ask, and then finding the answers, might prove to be one of the game-changing silver bullets that can help solve the climate crisis. Do you remember what happened 500 years ago during the age of Exploration?

Terrestrial CO2 sequestration has been galvanized for several decades by the soil health movement, outlined in the award-winning documentary Kiss the Ground. There have been no adverse side-effects related to this particular silver bullet. Only benefits through simple steps:

  • No till.
  • Diverse cover crops to lock in moisture and nutrients.
  • Little or no pesticides or fertilizers.
  • Context.
  • Cattle grazing and dung.
  • Compost and biochar.

If scientists and innovators can duplicate mimicking the natural processes that we’ve seen increase terrestrial soil health and carbon drawdown, as well as biodiversity restoration and its carbon sequestration, and apply this to our oceans, it will be a big leap in the right direction. Again, our oceans are massive. And the ocean floor is nearly 150 million square miles of potential carbon storage.

Four companies have begun focusing their attention on dramatically increasing the farming of seaweed in oceans, specifically kelp, to sequester more carbon. Kelp stores more carbon than trees and is a keystone species for many underwater ecosystems.

KELP:

  • High nutritional value.
  • Is being fed to cows to reduce methane.
  • Stores more carbon than trees.
  • Absorbs pollution (like nitrogen) making ocean water much cleaner.

The four companies working hard on the seaweed front:

New tech ideas being considered for Ocean CDR:

  • Direct application of alkaline minerals to the open ocean as well as coastal beaches. It’s anticipated that these alkaline minerals would remove carbon from the atmosphere through several key reactions, and store the carbon as bicarbonate and carbonate molecules which when persevered would result in the ocean storing more carbon.
  • Using controlled reactors to accelerate the weathering of limestone and silicate rock which creates a negative feedback loop that stabilizes climate over the long term. (This might cause unintended consequences similar to solar geo-engineering.) 
  • Electrachemical seawater treatment facilities. (Anything with the word “chemical” attached to it has a tendency to become controversial for obvious reasons. ) 

Let’s keep our eyes on our enormous oceans and their ability to store a significant amount of carbon if we can just figure out their mysteries in time. These emerging innovations and potential climate silver bullets are likely to pan out in one form or another. 

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