Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

CO2 removal cannot save the oceans – if we pursue business as usual

04.08.2015

Greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities do not only cause rapid warming of the seas, but also ocean acidification at an unprecedented rate. Artificial carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere has been proposed to reduce both risks to marine life.

A new study based on computer calculations now shows that this strategy would not work if applied too late. CDR cannot compensate for soaring business-as-usual emissions throughout the century and beyond, even if the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration would be restored to pre-industrial levels at some point in the future. This is due to the tremendous inertia of the ocean system.


Ocean acidification affects the shells of plankton like Pteropods. Photo: Alexander Semenov / clione.ru

Thus, CDR cannot substitute timely emissions reductions, yet may play a role as a supporting actor in the climate drama.

“Geoengineering measures are currently being debated as a kind of last resort to avoid dangerous climate change – either in the case that policymakers find no agreement to cut CO2 emissions, or to delay the transformation of our energy systems,” says lead-author Sabine Mathesius from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “However, looking at the oceans we see that this approach carries great risks.”

In scenarios of timely emissions reductions, artificially removing CO2 can complement efforts. “Yet in a business-as-usual scenario of unabated emissions, even if the CO2 in the atmosphere would later on be reduced to the preindustrial concentration, the acidity in the oceans could still be more than four times higher than the preindustrial level,” says Mathesius. “It would take many centuries to get back into balance with the atmosphere.”

Corals and shellfish: acidification can affect ecosystems

About one fourth of the CO2 produced by humans each day is being taken up by the oceans, resulting in a chemical reaction leading to a higher acid content in the water. In the long run, this can threaten marine life forms such as corals or shellfish as the acidification reduces the shell and skeleton production. This would affect biodiversity and the intricately interwoven food webs. Thus the CO2 uptake by the oceans is a danger for marine life.

Therefore hopes have been placed on carbon dioxide removal measures. One option: huge amounts of biomass – for instance fast growing trees such as poplar - consuming CO2 during growth could be burnt in bioenergy plants where the CO2 gets captured and stored underground (CCS). While this technology is not yet proven at an industrial scale and would have to be carefully balanced against land needs for food production, one major intended benefit would be to preserve the oceans from acidification.

“In the deep ocean, the chemical echo will reverberate for thousands of years”

“We did a computer experiment and simulated different rates of CO2 extraction from the atmosphere – one reasonable one, but also a probably unfeasible one of more than 90 billion tons per year, which is more than two times today’s yearly emissions,” says co-author Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, USA, who worked on this issue during a research stay at PIK. The experiment does not account for the availability of technologies for extraction and storage. “Interestingly, it turns out that after business as usual until 2150, even taking such enormous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere wouldn't help the deep ocean that much – after the acidified water has been transported by large-scale ocean circulation to great depths, it is out of reach for many centuries, no matter how much CO2 is removed from the atmosphere.”

The scientists also studied the increase of temperatures and the decrease of dissolved oxygen in the sea. Oxygen is vital of course for many creatures. The warming for instance reduces ocean circulation, harming nutrient transport. Together with acidification, these changes put heavy pressure on marine life. Earlier in Earth’s history, such changes have led to mass extinctions. However, the combined effect of all three factors has not yet been fully understood.

“In the deep ocean, the chemical echo of this century’s CO2 pollution will reverberate for thousands of years,” says co-author John Schellnhuber, director of PIK. “If we do not implement emissions reductions measures in line with the 2°C target in time, we will not be able to preserve ocean life as we know it.”

Article: Mathesius, S., Hofmann, M., Caldeira, K., Schellnhuber, H. J. (2015): Long-term response of oceans to CO2 removal from the atmosphere. Nature Climate Change (online) [DOI:10.1038/nclimate2729]

Weblink to the article once it is published: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2729

Media contact:

PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
E-Mail: press@pik-potsdam.de
Twitter: @PIK_Climate

GEOMAR, Communications & Media
Maike Nicolai
Phone: 0431 600-2807
E-Mail: presse@geomar.de

Jonas Viering | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
Further information:
http://www.pik-potsdam.de

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Volcanoes and glaciers combine as powerful methane producers
20.11.2018 | Lancaster University

nachricht Massive impact crater from a kilometer-wide iron meteorite discovered in Greenland
15.11.2018 | Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First diode for magnetic fields

Innsbruck quantum physicists have constructed a diode for magnetic fields and then tested it in the laboratory. The device, developed by the research groups led by the theorist Oriol Romero-Isart and the experimental physicist Gerhard Kirchmair, could open up a number of new applications.

Electric diodes are essential electronic components that conduct electricity in one direction but prevent conduction in the opposite one. They are found at the...

Im Focus: Nonstop Tranport of Cargo in Nanomachines

Max Planck researchers revel the nano-structure of molecular trains and the reason for smooth transport in cellular antennas.

Moving around, sensing the extracellular environment, and signaling to other cells are important for a cell to function properly. Responsible for those tasks...

Im Focus: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Optical Coherence Tomography: German-Japanese Research Alliance hosted Medical Imaging Conference

19.11.2018 | Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helping to Transport Proteins Inside the Cell

21.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Meta-surface corrects for chromatic aberrations across all kinds of lenses

21.11.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Removing toxic mercury from contaminated water

21.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>