A Vast Repository for Greenhouse Gas?

ResearchBlogging.orgAdmittedly, before reading the actual paper I was a little uneasy about the latest paper in PNAS by Goldberg et al. The paper describes a deep-sea basalt formation that would allow for storage of anthropogenic carbon dioxide. The area is the Juan de Fuca plate of the Oregon and Washington Coasts. The authors suggest that the area

provides unique and significant advantages over other potential geological storage options, including (i) vast reservoir capacities sufficient to accommodate centuries-long U.S. production of fossil fuel CO2 at locations within pipeline distances to populated areas and CO2 sources along the U.S. west coast; (ii) sufficiently closed water-rock circulation pathways for the chemical reaction of CO2 with basalt to produce stable and nontoxic (Ca2+, Mg2+, Fe2+)CO3 infilling minerals, and (iii) significant risk reduction for post-injection leakage by geological, gravitational, and hydrate-trapping mechanisms.

The new proposed site is a 78,000 square kilometer part of the ocean floor 2500m down. Under 200m of basalt the plan would be to pump as much as 150 years of the U.S CO2 production. Will it work? At current the technology still needs work but the proximity to shore makes the Juan de Fuca at least semi feasible. However, we are still looking at 5-10 year time frame at the minimum. The chemical process between basalts and CO2 convert it into a solid benign chalk material. The scientists here even mapped out specific areas that they say are isolated from earthquakes, hydrothermal vents or other factors that might upset the system. Unreacting CO2 would not rise up through the formation and even if it did the formation is capped with clay sediments.

The environmental impacts are harder to assess but if CO2 escapes during the injection process there could be significant local mortality. The nearby Juan de Fuca ridge is a active volcanic spot lined with many hydrothermal vents and their associated communities. Are there unforseen impacts of to these systems? How geologically stable is the site actually? Is this potential for local impact worth the removal of 150 years of CO2 from the atmosphere? Are we trading one habitat or organism for another?

Hard questions to answer. Of course I don’t feel these are faults of the study or the author. However you can see why I feel uneasy. But there is more…

First it seems that the move is into the deep. We ran out fish…go to the deep! We need oil…get it from the deep! What do we do will all this rubbish…put it in the deep! Where can we get precious metals…from the deep! Where do we put all of our excess carbon dioxide we generate…into the deep! All of these share one thing in common as solutions, besides relying upon the deep sea, they don’t actually address the cause of any of the problems…overfishing, overpopulation, reliance on fossil fuels, pollution, etc. It is easier it seems to put a band aid on the issue than to address the issue itself.

Goldberg, D.S., Takahashi, T., Slagle, A.L. (2008). Carbon dioxide sequestration in deep-sea basalt. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804397105

Dr. M (1800 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.


3 Replies to “A Vast Repository for Greenhouse Gas?”

  1. “It is easier it seems to put a band aid on the issue than to address the issue itself.”

    It seems we need to do BOTH … you are very correct in saying we ought to work towards not emitting CO2, but, until we reach that goal (which I think will take at least a few decades), we can explore ways to mitigate the problem. I’m not sure the deep sea is the answer either … but these studies are important for addressing technical/scientific feasibility outside the context of whether we actually decide to do it. And, hopefully, research in this realm will unconver yet-unknown deep-sea processes and biology.

  2. One benefit these studies have is the conversation they generate. I agree its like scurrying around the root cause of the issue. I also agree with Brian that we need to do both (improve upon the root causes while dealing with the damage at hand).

    But the more people study putting crap in the deep, the more evidence there is against it. One of these days, people will run out of studies and realize dumping everything into the deep is the solution. Then perhaps a wake up call will occur and people will re-address the root causes.

  3. We are near the point where we have to consider the possibility that in the near future we will only have available to us solutions that will take us from a horrible future situation to merely a much worse situation compared to the present climate.

    Seatbelts don’t affect the rate of accidents, but only sometimes make them less worse.

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