Scientists urge exploration of ocean-based carbon removal

The call for comprehensive research on the ocean’s role in climate restoration

Oceanic processes have long been viewed as a critical component in the global climate system. In a recent letter, more than 200 scientists from around the world stress the need for responsible research and development of ocean-based carbon dioxide removal techniques. These methods have the potential to greatly mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change while preserving ocean health.

“Society must advance responsible research, development, and field testing of ocean-based carbon dioxide removal techniques to determine their potential to help restore the climate and the ocean,”

Ocean CDR Science

The urgency of reducing emissions

The current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, primarily driven by fossil fuel production, have created a warming effect of 1.1 degrees Celsius globally. The scientists emphasize that reducing current and future emissions of greenhouse gases remains an urgent priority, citing data from the IPCC’s Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis report.

Carbon dioxide removal

Besides the ongoing efforts to reduce emissions, the scientists advocate for the development of carbon dioxide removal methods. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), large-scale carbon dioxide removal is essential to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Methods of ocean carbon storage Natalie Renier©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Buffer against the worst impacts

The ocean has acted as a significant shield against climate disruption by absorbing 90% of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases and about 26% of all carbon dioxide emissions. However, this buffering effect has come with a severe toll on ocean health, leading to warming, acidification, and deoxygenation.

Potential but not without risks

Ocean-based carbon removal techniques offer enormous potential for mitigating climate risks due to the ocean’s large size and carbon content. However, the scientists note that society lacks sufficient information on the effectiveness or impacts of these methods. They cite a research strategy by the National Academies as a framework for accelerated and responsible research.

The scientists collectively call for:

  • Accelerated engineering and environmental optimization for each potential ocean-based carbon removal pathway
  • Controlled field trials in diverse ocean settings
  • Rigorous monitoring frameworks
  • Third-party independent reviews
  • Inclusive governance structures
  • The science letter is supported by Ocean Visions, a non-profit organization that advances solutions for ocean-climate restoration.

Ocean’s restorative potential

As we look to the ocean for its restorative potential, it becomes clear that its role extends beyond just being a repository for carbon.

The ocean is integral to the planet’s biodiversity, food supply, and climate regulation. As such, responsible and coordinated efforts in understanding and potentially utilizing its carbon removal capabilities can offer a pathway for a more stable climatic future.


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