Limits and CO2 equilibration of near-coast alkalinity enhancement

Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement (OAE) has recently gained attention as a potential method for negative emissions at gigatonne scale, with near-coast OAE operations being economically favorable due to proximity to mineral and energy sources. In this paper we study critical questions which determine the scale and viability of OAE: Which coastal locations are able to sustain a large flux of alkalinity at minimal pH and ΩArag (aragonite saturation) changes? What is the interference distance between adjacent OAE projects? How much CO2 is absorbed per unit of alkalinity added? How quickly does the induced CO2 deficiency equilibrate with the atmosphere?

Using the LLC270 (0.3deg) ECCO global circulation model we find that the steady-state OAE rate varies over 1–2 orders of magnitude between different coasts and exhibits complex patterns and non-local dependencies which vary from region to region. In general, OAE in areas of strong coastal currents allow the largest fluxes and depending on the direction of coastal currents, neighboring OAE sites can exhibit dependencies as far as 400 km or more. We found that within relatively conservative constraints set on ∆pH or ∆Omega, most regional stretches of coastline are able to accommodate on the order of tens to hundreds of megatonnes of negative emissions within 300 km of the coast. We conclude that near-coastal OAE has the potential to scale globally to several GtCO2/yr of drawdown with conservative pH constraints, if the effort is spread over the majority of available coastlines.

Depending on the location, we find a diverse set of equilibration kinetics, determined by the interplay of gas exchange and surface residence time. Most locations reach an uptake-efficiency plateau of 0.6–0.8mol CO2 per mol of alkalinity after 3–4 years, after which there is little further CO2 uptake. The most ideal locations, reaching an uptake of around 0.8 include north Madagascar, San Francisco, Brazil, Peru and locations close to the southern ocean such as Tasmania, Kerguelen and Patagonia, where the gas exchange appears to occur faster than the surface residence time. Some locations (e.g. Hawaii) take significantly longer to equilibrate (up to 8–10 years), though can still eventually achieve high uptake. If the alkalinity released advects into regions of significant downwelling (e.g. around Iceland) up to half of the OAE potential can be lost to bottom waters.

He J. & Tyka M. D., in press. Limits and CO2 equilibration of near-coast alkalinity enhancement. EGUsphere. Article.

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