Science and Mother Nature on the Same Team

oceansIt was only the other day where I commented on some of the plans involving dumping various chemicals into the waters. The plans, to increase the ability to combat algae blooms and eat carbon were risky, untested and highly controversial. Today, however, much to my relief and surprise, I found a story that may put all of that to waste.

A joint research project between Penn State and Harvard has been published in today’s (November 7th) issue of Environmental Science and Technology. The method being described is a way to enhance what Mother Nature has already been doing.

“The technology involves selectively removing acid from the ocean in a way that might enable us to turn back the clock on global warming,” says Kurt Zenz House, graduate student in Earth and planetary sciences, Harvard University. “Essentially, our technology dramatically accelerates a cleaning process that Nature herself uses for greenhouse gas accumulation.”

The process consists of manipulating the natural weathering of volcanic silicate rocks. Such natural weathering creates an increase in carbon dioxide, which is then dissolved in fresh water forming weak carbonic acid. The carbonic acid then – like a coffee – percolates through the soil and rocks, and then converts to a solution of alkaline carbonate salts.

This alkaline water then flows into the oceans, mixing in and increasing the alkalinity. The subsequent rise in the oceans alkaline levels allows the ocean to hold carbon, while an acidic ocean – as we are creating and perpetuating today – repels carbon, leaving it in the atmosphere.

In time, the more weathering that occurs, the more the above process will occur, and the ocean will soon be able to begin storing carbon in the sea-bottom sediments.

So how does this natural process work with the new method? “In the engineered weathering process we have found a way to swap the weak carbonic acid with a much stronger one (hydrochloric acid) and thus accelerate the pace to industrial rates,” explains House.

Their revised natural weathering process – minimizing the damage done to the environment by mimicking environmental processes – according to House could reduce the time needed to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to decades, rather than millennia.

But the method does not only increase carbon storage, but will also counteract the acidification of the oceans. These problems are causing havoc for coral reefs – like the Great Barrier Reef of the east coast of my country, Australia – and their biological communities.

The process is also global, rather than local, but will cost a lot, according to the team. It’s ambitious as well, and leaves the research teams with even more research on any additional environmental effects that would prove damaging.

“This work shows how we can remove carbon dioxide on relevant timescales, but more work is be needed to bring down the cost and minimize other environmental effects,” says Christopher H. House.

All that being said, three cheers for a group of people providing answers in a world of questions.

Penn State via Phys Org – Scientists enhance Mother Nature’s carbon handling mechanism

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Up, down or in? Where does our carbon go?

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