Carbon removal solutions: NOAA’s land, marine, and coastal approaches
Climate change poses a significant threat to modern society, impacting various sectors including agriculture, environment, economy, public health, safety, and political stability. The IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report emphasizes the need for aggressive action to limit global warming to 1.5 – 2 °C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. To achieve these goals, mitigation strategies must include deep emissions reductions, a shift towards renewable energy, and the implementation of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies.
As the body of research around CDR techniques grows, it becomes evident that there is a gap between the knowledge required for upscaling the industry and the current pace of innovation. In light of the potential economic and climate benefits, the Biden Administration has set a goal of net-zero emissions from the United States by 2050, with the Infrastructure Innovation and Jobs Act highlighting the importance of CDR for both climate and economies.
NOAA’s role in CDR research
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is well-positioned to lead the analysis of the impact, effectiveness, feasibility, and risk of various CDR techniques. NOAA’s expertise in Earth system science, environmental stewardship, and connections to regional and local stakeholders make it a trusted agent for assessing the effectiveness of CDR approaches.
Below is an outline of key established techniques for carbon dioxide removal in land, marine, and coastal settings, defined by NOAA’s existing research.
- Direct Air Capture (DAC): DAC technologies capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere and store it in stable forms or long-lived reservoirs. While these methods require high energy inputs and significant land use, they hold promise for large-scale carbon removal.
- Soil Carbon and Biospheric Approaches: These methods involve agriculture, forestry, and other land-use activities that store carbon in forests and soils. Terrestrial systems can store significant amounts of carbon, but monitoring and verification are essential for ensuring their effectiveness.
- Macroalgal Cultivation for Carbon Sequestration: This approach uses rapidly growing marine plants, like macroalgae, to capture CO2 from surface waters. Cultivating macroalgae through aquaculture and habitat restoration can sequester carbon, but further research is needed to evaluate its potential.
- Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement: This technique aims to increase the ocean’s storage capacity for carbon by raising seawater alkalinity. While this approach can sequester carbon for up to 100,000 years and help mitigate ocean acidification, potential drawbacks include high costs, trace element contamination, and unknown biological effects.
- Direct Ocean Capture (DOC): DOC techniques remove and capture CO2 directly from ocean water. Benefits include scalability, potential to locally mitigate ocean acidification, and the possibility of turning captured CO2 into valuable commercial products.
- Biological and Physical Carbon Pump Enhancement: These methods aim to increase the transfer of CO2 from the atmosphere to the ocean by enhancing the ocean’s carbon sink. Techniques include ocean fertilization, artificial upwelling, and downwelling, but potential drawbacks need to be considered.
- Coastal Blue Carbon: This approach focuses on carbon sequestration and storage in coastal wetlands, such as salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds. Wetlands store carbon at a much greater rate per unit area than terrestrial habitats and provide additional benefits.
- Marine Ecosystem Biomass (Blue Biomass): This method involves the carbon stored in living marine ecosystems, both wild and farmed. Increasing carbon storage in living marine ecosystems can be achieved through enhanced protection and restoration of coastal habitats and through sustainable aquaculture practices.
Advancing carbon dioxide removal approaches
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) approaches are crucial in the fight against climate change. NOAA plays a vital role in advancing these approaches through their atmospheric monitoring, data analysis, and CarbonTracker capabilities. By providing decision support tools, NOAA can help assess the effectiveness, scalability, costs, risks, and co-benefits of various CDR techniques.
NOAA’s involvement in research and development, and funding for coastal wetland restoration all contribute to the advancement of CDR approaches. However, further collaboration and development are necessary for optimal efficiency and effectiveness.
Expanding NOAA’s capabilities through increased funding, advanced modeling and observational tools, and interdisciplinary research, NOAA can continue to play a leading role in the fight against climate change.