Ocean carbon sequestration: The world’s best bad idea

Putting carbon dioxide in the ocean is a terrible way to deal with climate change. Maybe we should do it.

Nestled on the narrow neck of a rocky peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean, the Seto Marine Laboratory is one of Japan’s oldest facilities for studying the abundant fish, marine invertebrates and seaweeds that have sustained people here for centuries. These days, the resort hotels that line the coastline of Shirahama — the name means “white beach” — are a far more important lifeline for the region’s economy than fishing. But in the laboratory, amid a welter of bubbling tanks and clattering pumps, a marine biologist named Yoshihisa Shirayama and his staff and student researchers are trying to understand how aquatic creatures adapt to a habitat in rapid flux. To that end, he and his colleagues have built an infrastructure that mirrors a changing ocean; with a few swipes across a touch-screen control pad, he can adjust the concentration of carbon dioxide in tanks that hold sea urchin larvae.

An urchin larva looks like a delta-wing fighter plane, albeit on a microscopic scale. It’s difficult to keep these creatures alive for long in the lab, but for a few days, as they begin their growth, they are splendid barometers of their environment. They need calcium carbonate, dissolved in seawater, to begin growing their hard shells. The amount of carbonate in water is a direct function of the concentration of carbon dioxide; as the oceanic CO2 level increases, the water becomes more acidic, and structures made of calcium carbonate begin to dissolve. And the carbon dioxide level, in the open ocean, directly mirrors that of the air.

Peter Friederici, Miller-McCune, 11 October 2010. Full article.

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