Effects of sub-seabed CO2 leakage: short- and medium-term responses of benthic macrofaunal assemblages


• A significant impact on community structure, abundance and species richness was observed in the short-term exposure.
• Significant impact of on macrofaunal assemblages occur mainly over short time periods.
• Individual taxa showed idiosyncratic responses to acidification.
• This study gives a step forward into the cost-benefit analysis of CCS strategies.


The continued rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels is driving climate change and temperature shifts at a global scale. CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies have been suggested as a feasible option for reducing CO2 emissions and mitigating their effects. However, before CCS can be employed at an industrial scale, any environmental risks associated with this activity should be identified and quantified. Significant leakage of CO2 from CCS reservoirs and pipelines is considered to be unlikely, however direct and/or indirect effects of CO2 leakage on marine life and ecosystem functioning must be assessed, with particular consideration given to spatial (e.g. distance from the source) and temporal (e.g. duration) scales at which leakage impacts could occur. In the current mesocosm experiment we tested the potential effects of CO2 leakage on macrobenthic assemblages by exposing infaunal sediment communities to different levels of CO2 concentration (400, 1000, 2000, 10,000 and 20,000 ppm CO2), simulating a gradient of distance from a hypothetic leakage, over short-term (a few weeks) and medium-term (several months). A significant impact on community structure, abundance and species richness of macrofauna was observed in the short-term exposure. Individual taxa showed idiosyncratic responses to acidification. We conclude that the main impact of CO2 leakage on macrofaunal assemblages occurs almost exclusively at the higher CO2 concentration and over short time periods, tending to fade and disappear at increasing distance and exposure time. Although under the cautious perspective required by the possible context-dependency of the present findings, this study contributes to the cost-benefit analysis (environmental risk versus the achievement of the intended objectives) of CCS strategies.

Amaro T., Bertocci I., Queiros A. M., Rastelli E., Borgersen G., Brkljacic M., Nunes J., Sorensen K., Danovaro R. & Widdicombe S., 2018. Effects of sub-seabed CO2 leakage: short- and medium-term responses of benthic macrofaunal assemblages. Marine Pollution Bulletin 128: 519-526. Article (subscription required).

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