Meeting climate targets by direct CO2 injections: what price would the ocean have to pay?

We investigate the climate mitigation potential and collateral effects of direct injections of captured CO2 into the deep ocean as a possible means to close the gap between an intermediate CO2 emissions scenario and a specific temperature target, such as the 1.5 °C target aimed for by the Paris Agreement. For that purpose, a suite of approaches for controlling the amount of direct CO2 injections at 3000 m water depth are implemented in an Earth System Model of intermediate complexity.

Following the representative concentration pathway RCP4.5, which is a medium mitigation CO2 emissions scenario, cumula-tive CO2 injections required to meet the 1.5 °C climate goal are found to be 390 Gt C by the year 2100 and 1562 Gt C at the end of simulations, by the year 3020. The latter includes a cumulative leakage of 602 Gt C that needs to be re-injected in order to sustain the targeted global mean temperature.

CaCO3 sediment and weathering feedbacks reduce the required CO2 injections that comply with the 1.5 °C target by about 13 % in 2100 and by about 11 % at the end of the simulation.

With respect to the injection-related impacts we find that average pH values in the surface ocean are increased by about 0.13 to 0.18 units, when compared to the control run. In the model, this results in significant increases in potential coral reef habi-tats, i.e., the volume of the global upper ocean (0 to 130 m depth) with omega aragonite > 3.4 and ocean temperatures be-tween 21 °C and 28 °C, compared to the control run. The potential benefits in the upper ocean come at the expense of strongly acidified water masses at depth, with maximum pH reductions of about −2.37 units, relative to preindustrial, in the vicinity of the injection sites. Overall, this study demonstrates that massive amounts of CO2 would need to be injected into the deep ocean in order to reach and maintain the 1.5 °C climate target in a medium mitigation scenario on a millennium timescale, and that there is a trade-off between injection-related reductions in atmospheric CO2 levels accompanied by reduced upper-ocean acidification and adverse effects on deep ocean chemistry, particularly near the injection sites.

Reith F., Koeve W., Keller D. P., Getzlaff J. & Oschlies A., 2019. Meeting climate targets by direct CO2 injections: what price would the ocean have to pay? Earth System Dynamics (ESD) Discussions. Article.

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