The Oceans Are the Next Frontier For Carbon Removal

The Oceans Are the Next Frontier For Carbon Removal

A new report from the Aspen Institute suggests that the world’s oceans are a promising frontier for carbon removal. The ocean absorbs around 23% of the annual emissions of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions already. Plus, half of the roughly 10-20 trillion tons of CO2 storage capacity on Earth is located offshore, according to Julio Friedmann of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

Why This Matters

Since the start of the industrial age, about 40% of human-made CO2 emissions have been absorbed by the ocean, making it essential to averting the worst of climate change. But the ocean covers over two-thirds of the earth’s surface, meaning it still offers even more potential for carbon removal.

UNCC: The Nature Conservancy - Blue carbon, December 7, 2020.

Next Steps

The Aspen report introduces many ways that the ocean could help store carbon.

  • Planting mangrove forests and kelp in the sea can remove carbon from the ocean.
  • Fertilizing the oceans with dissolved iron could propagate phytoplankton that consumes CO2.

There are still some questions to be answered, especially because nations can only control marine resources for 230 miles past their coastlines. It's also critical that carbon removal projects take the rights of indigenous coastal people into account.

Still, storing carbon in the ocean may be a great solution, but we must be wary of its impact on the sea's ecosystem. "We want to take advantage of what the ocean can offer on carbon removal, but we don't want to do it in a way that compromises ocean ecosystems or somehow makes the problem even worse," Michael Conathan, senior policy fellow for ocean and climate with the Aspen Institute's Energy and Environment Program, told Axios.

UN Environment Programme: Seagrass - An unexpected climate change solution, June 7, 2020.

The Economist: Mangroves: how they help the ocean, March 9, 2020.