Benthic megafauna and CO2 bubble dynamics observed by underwater photography during a controlled sub-seabed release of CO2

In 2012, a controlled sub-seabed release of carbon dioxide (CO2) was conducted in Ardmucknish Bay, a shallow (12 m) coastal bay on the west coast of Scotland. During the experiment, CO2 gas was released 12 m below the seabed for 37 days, causing significant disruption to sediment and water carbonate chemistry as the gas passed up through the sediment and into the overlying water. One of the aims of the study was to investigate how the impacts caused by leakage from geological CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS) could be detected and quantified in the context of natural heterogeneity and dynamics. To do this underwater photography was used to analyze (i) the benthic megafaunal response to the CO2 release and (ii) the dynamics of the CO2 bubble streams, emerging from the seabed into the overlying water column. The frequently observed megafauna species in the study area were Virgularia mirabilis (Cnidaria), Turritella communis (Mollusca), Asterias rubens (Echinodermata), Pagurus bernhardus (Crustacea), Liocarcinus depurator (Crustacea), and Gadus morhua (Osteichthyes). No discernable abnormal behavior was observed for these megafauna, in any of the zones investigated, during or after the CO2 release. Time-lapse photography revealed that the intensity and presence of the CO2 bubble plume was affected by the tides, with the most active bubbling seen at low tides and the larger hydrostatic pressure at high tide suppressing CO2 bubbling from the seabed.

Continue reading ‘Benthic megafauna and CO2 bubble dynamics observed by underwater photography during a controlled sub-seabed release of CO2′

Impact and recovery of pH in marine sediments subject to a temporary carbon dioxide leak

A possible effect of a carbon dioxide leak from an industrial sub-sea floor storage facility, utilised for Carbon Capture and Storage, is that escaping carbon dioxide gas will dissolve in sediment pore waters and reduce their pH. To quantify the scale and duration of such an impact, a novel, field scale experiment was conducted, whereby carbon dioxide gas was injected into unconsolidated sub-sea floor sediments for a sustained period of 37 days. During this time pore water pH in shallow sediment (5 mm depth) above the leak dropped >0.8 unit, relative to a reference zone that was unaffected by the carbon dioxide. After the gas release was stopped, the pore water pH returned to normal background values within a three-week recovery period. Further, the total mass of carbon dioxide dissolved within the sediment pore fluids above the release zone was modelled by the difference in DIC between the reference and release zones. Results showed that between 14 and 63% of the carbon dioxide released during the experiment could remain in the dissolved phase within the sediment pore water.

Continue reading ‘Impact and recovery of pH in marine sediments subject to a temporary carbon dioxide leak’

Impact of sub-seabed CO2 leakage on macrobenthic community structure and diversity

A sub-seabed release of carbon dioxide (CO2) was conducted to assess the potential impacts of leakage from sub-seabed geological CO2 Capture and Storage CCS) on benthic macrofauna. CO2 gas was released 12 m below the seabed for 37 days, causing significant disruption to sediment carbonate chemistry. Regular macrofauna samples were collected from within the area of active CO2 leakage (Zone 1) and in three additional reference areas, 25 m, 75 m and 450 m from the centre of the leakage (Zones 2, 3 and 4 respectively). Macrofaunal community structure changed significantly in all zones during the study period. However, only the changes in Zone 1 were driven by the CO2 leakage with the changes in reference zones appearing to reflect natural seasonal succession and stochastic weather events. The impacts in Zone 1 occurred rapidly (within a few days), increased in severity through the duration of the leak, and continued to worsen after the leak had stopped. Considerable macrofaunal recovery was seen 18 days after the CO2 gas injection had stopped. In summary, small short-term CCS leakage events are likely to cause highly localised impacts on macrofaunal communities and there is the potential for rapid recovery to occur, depending on the characteristics of the communities and habitats impacted.

Continue reading ‘Impact of sub-seabed CO2 leakage on macrobenthic community structure and diversity’

Modelling large-scale CO2 leakages in the North Sea

A three dimensional hydrodynamic model with a coupled carbonate speciation sub-model is used to simulate large additions of CO2 into the North Sea, representing leakages at potential carbon sequestration sites. A range of leakage scenarios are conducted at two distinct release sites, allowing an analysis of the seasonal, inter-annual and spatial variability of impacts to the marine ecosystem.

Seasonally stratified regions are shown to be more vulnerable to CO2 release during the summer as the added CO2 remains trapped beneath the thermocline, preventing outgasing to the atmosphere. On average, CO2 injected into the northern North Sea is shown to reside within the water column twice as long as an equivalent addition in the southern North Sea before reaching the atmosphere.

Short-term leakages of 5000 tonnes CO2 over a single day result in substantial acidification at the release sites (up to -1.92 pH units), with significant perturbations (greater than 0.1 pH units) generally confined to a 10 km radius. Long-term CO2 leakages sustained for a year may result in extensive plumes of acidified seawater, carried by major advective pathways. Whilst such scenarios could be harmful to marine biota over confined spatial scales, continued unmitigated CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are predicted to result in greater and more long-lived perturbations to the carbonate system over the next few decades.

Continue reading ‘Modelling large-scale CO2 leakages in the North Sea’

Response of the ammonia oxidation activity of microorganisms in surface sediment to a controlled sub-seabed release of CO2

The impact of a sub-seabed CO2 leak from geological sequestration on the microbial process of ammonia oxidation was investigated in the field. Sediment samples were taken before, during and after a controlled sub-seabed CO2 leak at four zones differing in proximity to the CO2 source (epicentre, and 25 m, 75 m, and 450 m distant). The impact of CO2 release on benthic microbial ATP levels was compared to ammonia oxidation rates and the abundance of bacterial and archaeal ammonia amoA genes and transcripts, and also to the abundance of nitrite oxidizer (nirS) and anammox hydrazine oxidoreductase (hzo) genes and transcripts. The major factor influencing measurements was seasonal: only minor differences were detected at the zones impacted by CO2 (epicentre and 25 m distant). This included a small increase to ammonia oxidation after 37 days of CO2 release which was linked to an increase in ammonia availability as a result of mineral dissolution. A CO2 leak on the scale used within this study (<1 tonne day−1) would have very little impact to ammonia oxidation within coastal sediments. However, seawater containing 5% CO2 did reduce rates of ammonia oxidation. This was linked to the buffering capacity of the sediment, suggesting that the impact of a sub-seabed leak of stored CO2 on ammonia oxidation would be dependent on both the scale of the CO2 release and sediment type.

Continue reading ‘Response of the ammonia oxidation activity of microorganisms in surface sediment to a controlled sub-seabed release of CO2′

Dissolution, ocean acidification and biotic extinctions prior to the Cretaceous / Paleogene (K/PG) boundary in the tropical Pacific

The several million years preceding the Cretaceous/Paleogene (K/Pg) boundary has been the focus of many studies. Changes in ocean circulation and sea level, extinctions, and major volcanic events have all been documented for this interval. Important research questions these changes raise include the climate dynamics during the warm, but not hot, time after the decay of the Late Cretaceous greenhouse interval and the stability of ecosystems prior to the mass extinctions at the end-Cretaceous.

I document several biotic perturbations as well as changes in ocean circulation during the Maastrichtian stage of the latest Cretaceous that question whether the biosphere was being preconditioned for the end-Cretaceous extinction. The first event at Shatsky Rise in the tropical North Pacific was the brief acme of inoceramid clams at ~71 Ma, followed by their abrupt extinction during the “mid-Maastrichtian event” at 70.1 Ma. The second is an intriguing dissolution event that began ~67.8 Ma at Ocean Drilling Program Site 1209 (2387 m). The dissolution event is marked by very poor planktic foraminiferal preservation and sharply reduced calcareous plankton diversity. The shift into the dissolution interval was initially gradual, then rapid. Within the late Maastrichtian dissolution interval, the planktic/benthic (P/B) ratio is low, planktic foraminifera are highly fragmented, larger taxa are mostly absent, small taxa are relatively abundant, and planktic foraminifera and nannofossil species richness are low. The event is followed by an abrupt recovery in carbonate preservation ~300 kyr prior to the K/Pg boundary. Was the dissolution event caused by a change in deep water circulation, migration of the site out of the high productivity tropical belt, or ocean acidification associated with Deccan Traps volcanism? Our data show that changing deep water masses, coupled with reduced productivity and associated decrease in pelagic carbonate flux was responsible for the dissolution interval, while Deccan Traps volcanism may have caused surface ocean acidification ~200-kyr prior to the K/Pg mass extinction event.

Continue reading ‘Dissolution, ocean acidification and biotic extinctions prior to the Cretaceous / Paleogene (K/PG) boundary in the tropical Pacific’

MBARI team earns XPRIZE to measure ocean acidity (text & audio)

Burning fossil fuels dumps excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global warming and increasing acid levels in the ocean. Scientists call ocean acidification “the other CO2 problem.” Teams from around the world competed for the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE to build the best sensor to measure acid levels, also known as pH.

On July 20, a team including scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), won prizes in the contest.

“Getting involved in the XPRIZE is a way to compare my sensor versus everybody else’s,” says Ken Johnson, a member of the team.

Predicting Changes Requires Data

The competition started with 18 teams. After several rounds of testing, five teams made it to the finals offshore of Hawaii, which just finished. Johnson is a member of Team Durafet, one of the finalists in the contest to assess ocean acidification. “Some of the biggest names did not make it,” he says.

Scientists already understand the basic principles of ocean acidification. Humanity has dumped more than 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The ocean soaked up about one third of that CO2, turning it into acid. That increased acidity can dissolve the shells of tiny ocean plankton, mussels, clams, and other shellfish.

Continue reading ‘MBARI team earns XPRIZE to measure ocean acidity (text & audio)’


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