California researchers attempt ocean climate solution
At the Port of Los Angeles, engineers have built a floating laboratory on a 100-foot barge to test if seawater can be cleaned of carbon dioxide and then returned to the ocean to absorb more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The ocean, which absorbs carbon dioxide, has already helped significantly as a giant carbon sink, but absorbing the greenhouse gas has come at a cost, making oceans more acidic, destroying coral reefs and harming marine species. In an effort to harness the ocean’s natural capabilities, the technology called SeaChange developed by the University of California, Los Angeles’ school of engineering, sends an electrical charge through seawater that flows through the barge’s tanks, which then traps the greenhouse gas and calcium carbonate in a solid mineral before the seawater returns to the ocean to pull more carbon dioxide out of the air.
Scaling the project
Data collected at the Port of Los Angeles, along with plans for another demo site in Singapore, are expected to help design larger test plants to be up and running by 2025. Scientists estimate that at least 10 billion metric tons of carbon will need to be removed from the air annually starting in 2050 and the pace should continue for the next century. It would take at least 1,800 industrial-scale facilities to capture 10 billion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year, according to the UCLA team. But this project, along with other initiatives, will not be enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and prevent catastrophic changes in ecosystems. Hence, scientists are exploring other ideas, such as fertilizing the ocean surface to trigger a bloom of tiny carbon-absorbing phytoplankton, or spraying beaches with minerals that could be washed away by tides or deposited on shoreline beds to increase the alkalinity of seawater.