Plumbing the Depths: Can the Ocean Save Us From Climate Catastrophe?

Photo by Silas Baisch

The newly released World Ocean Review explores the potential for oceans to aid in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it safely, in an effort to combat climate change.

The eighth edition of the report, published by the non-profit maribus gGmbH and leading German marine research institutions, focuses exclusively on carbon dioxide removal techniques involving the oceans. It synthesizes current scientific knowledge on the topic and aims to initiate debate on whether humanity should pursue ocean-based solutions.

“If the warming of the Earth continues at the present rate, a collapse of nature and society is inevitable,” said Nikolaus Gelpke, initiator of the World Ocean Review project and Managing Director of maribus. “In order to reach our climate target, we must resort to methods which are equally impactful and existential.”

The report describes the urgent need for climate action, explaining how oceans naturally absorb and store carbon dioxide, taking up about 25% of human-caused emissions. Marine carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods would augment the ocean’s natural uptake.

While avoiding emissions remains crucial, the report argues CDR will also be necessary to meet climate goals. It weighs the risks and benefits of leading proposed ocean-based CDR techniques:

  • Restoring coastal ecosystems like mangroves and seagrass meadows to increase natural carbon absorption
  • Enhancing ocean alkalinity to boost carbon storage capacity
  • Storing carbon dioxide deep under the seafloor

The report notes the lack of scientific consensus around ocean intervention. Opponents argue CDR carries unknown ecological risks and that damaged oceans cannot sustain more human interference.

But proponents say immediate action is essential. “CDR can claw back the time we need to develop low-carbon living,” said Dr. Mary Carson, a carbon cycle scientist at the University of Edinburgh.

The report aims to further understanding of ocean-based CDR and spark debate on its role fighting climate change. “WOR 8 describes measures which can be or are already being implemented, as well as those which should be assessed,” said Prof. Ulrich Bathmann, Chair of the German Marine Research Consortium.

The World Ocean Review is published every two years and targets policymakers, businesses, and civil society. The latest edition is available for free download at https://worldoceanreview.com.

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