Some of the nation’s leading ocean and climate scientists are calling on the U.S. government to invest up to $1.3 billion in research on human interventions that could boost the oceans’ ability to suck up planet-warming carbon dioxide in the coming decades.
The recommendation is part of a 300-page National Academy of Sciences publication. reportWednesday’s release details six techniques to accelerate ocean CO2 removal and storage. Some are more radical than others. The potential areas of research include restoration of degraded ecosystems and large-scale seaweed cultivation. You can also dump nutrients like iron or phosphorus in the water to stimulate plankton growth. You can even jolt seawater with electricity to make its acidic.
To provide policymakers with a framework to decide next steps, the report highlights known risks and benefits as well as costs. It does NOT advocate for any specific tool or technology.
“All of these approaches have some combination of tradeoffs and there are substantial knowledge gaps,” Scott Doney, an oceanographer at The University of Virginia HuffPost spoke with the chair of NAS committee that authored this report. “It’s really trying to find investments on the research side that could fill those gaps in a way that would better prepare us to make those decisions.”
Burning of fossil fuels and other human activities have driven atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to their highest point in 800,000 years, and there is a growing consensus among the world’s leading scientists that staving off potentially catastrophic climate change will require more than simply cutting greenhouse gas emissions going forward. A 2019 NAS reportTo limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degree Fahrenheit), the Paris climate agreement, the World Bank has found that there will be 10 gigatons of CO2 in the atmosphere by mid-century.
If it weren’t for the oceans, Earth’s largest carbon sink, the planet would already be significantly warmer. The oceans have absorbed approximately 93%Climate scientists and advocates are increasingly concerned about the heat from climate change-caused excess heat. pushedFor countries to use them to meet climate goals, and reach the 1.5 degree target.
“The ocean holds great potential for uptake and longer-term sequestration of human-produced CO2,” the NAS report states.
Of the six possible techniques, NAS’s initial assessment concluded that nutrient fertilization and introducing electrical currents were among the most likely to prove effective at enhancing CO2 storage. Both of these techniques come with significant environmental risks.
“We want to do it in a thoughtful way that avoids environmental damages, that avoids negative social or ecological impacts,” Doney said. “But there’s an urgency to start reducing emissions relatively soon.”
“I don’t want to be 5 or 10 years from now and not have done some of this foundational research that we’ve recommended on the social dimensions, governance and carbon accounting,” he added.
The NAS panel recommended a funding amount of $125 million for a U.S. program that studies the potential impacts and challenges of ocean carbon reduction. Over the next 10 years, additional funding will be available up to $1.2 billion to support detailed research into each of these six techniques.
Jan Mazurek, senior director of ClimateWorks Foundation, which sponsored the study, called it a “scientific road map for how healthy oceans can cool the climate.”
“The ocean is the heart of our planet, but the world’s fossil fuel addiction has pumped it full of CO2 and turned it more acidic, giving sea life the equivalent of heartburn disease,” she said in a statement. “We cannot live healthily if our oceans are sick.”
This article first appeared on HuffPostThis page has been updated.