CO2 removal with enhanced weathering and ocean alkalinity enhancement: potential risks and co-benefits for marine pelagic ecosystems
Humankind will need to remove hundreds of gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere by the end of the twenty-first century to keep global warming below 2°C within the constraints of the global carbon budget. However, so far it is unclear if and how this could be achieved. A widely recognized idea is to accelerate weathering reactions of minerals that consume CO2 when they dissolve. Acceleration could be realized by pulverizing and distributing gigatons of these minerals onto land (termed “enhanced weathering (EW)”) or sea (termed “ocean alkalinity enhancement (OAE)”) thereby largely increasing their reactive surfaces. However, the desired consumption of atmospheric CO2 during dissolution would inevitably be accompanied by a release of mineral dissolution products (alkalinity, Si, Ca, Mg, Fe, Ni, and maybe others). Here, we approximate their maximum additions to assess potential consequences for pelagic communities (mainly primary producers) and the biogeochemical fluxes they control. Based on this assessment, we tentatively qualify the potential to induce positive and/or negative side effects to be high for Fe, Ni, Si, intermediate for alkalinity, and low for Ca and Mg. However, perturbation potentials are always higher at perturbation hotspots and would be different for EW than for OAE. Furthermore, ecological/biogeochemical consequences of EW/OAE largely depend on the minerals used. We hypothesize that mainly calcifiers would profit in a scheme where CaCO3 derivatives would be used due to beneficial changes in carbonate chemistry. Figuratively, this may turn the blue ocean into a white(r) ocean. When using silicates, the release of additional Si, Fe and Ni could benefit silicifiers and N2-fixers (cyanobacteria) and increase ocean productivity ultimately turning the blue ocean into a green(er) ocean. These considerations call for dedicated research to assess risks and co-benefits of mineral dissolution products on marine and other environments. Indeed, both EW and OAE could become important tools to realize CO2 removal at the planetary scale but associated risks and/or co-benefits should be revealed before deciding on their implementation.
Publication titleFrontiers in Climate
Department/SchoolInstitute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
PublisherFrontiers Research Foundation
Place of publicationSwitzerland
Rights statementCopyright 2019 Bach, Gill, Rickaby, Gore and Renforth. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/