Monday, 23 June 2008

Deep-sea carbon storage must be tested, says leading scientist

"Scientists must start dumping carbon dioxide into the deep ocean to see whether it provides a safe way of tackling global warming", a leading expert on climate change has said.

An article in the Guardian today suggested that in order to test the theory that carbon dioxide stripped from the exhaust gases of power stations and dumped in deep water would stay there for hundreds of years, large quantities, a series of experiments of around 1 tonne each, of CO2 should simply be "dumped" in to the ocean.

Wallace Broecker, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at New York's Columbia University, says experiments must be carried out "promptly" and has called on environmental campaigners to drop their opposition to such schemes.

Writing for the Guardian, Broecker says: "While we know enough to say with confidence that deep ocean disposal of CO2 is certainly feasible, unless small-scale pilot experiments are conducted, information necessary to assess the impact [on sea life] will remain obscure. It is my view that a series of experiments involving one-tonne quantities of CO2 should be conducted."

He goes on to say "480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide could be safely dumped directly into the waters of the deep Pacific, equivalent to the carbon pollution from about 16 years of the world's current fossil fuel use".

Well to this statement all I can say is........ How do we know? Who says that it will stay there for hundreds of years and what happens when, at some point in the future the CO2 is re-released from the depths of the oceans into the atmosphere? If the situation in 300 years time is as critical as it is now.... and there is no reason to believe that politicians and world leaders will have been any more successful at combating climate change or curbing CO2 emissions then than they are now, the result of 480 billion Tonnes of CO2 being re-emitted into the atmosphere could be catastrophic.

Broecker then goes on to say "Worms and other organisms on the sea bed directly beneath the storage site would be killed" and says that the impact would be "trivial" compared to that of the fishing industry.

I am amazed at this cavalier attitude to the destruction of benthic life from someone of Broecker's standing and although I appreciate that research is vital to address the issues of climate change and CO2 emissions more research needs to be carried out on the long term effects of what amounts to the mass destruction of benthic communities and the effects of increased ocean acidity as a result.

Dumping CO2 into the oceans merely a stop-gap, a short term solution to a long term problem. If the general public believs that dumping excess CO2 into the oceans solves the problem, they will simply continue churning out CO2 in the belief that it can be just dumped and the problem will go away.

There has understandably been opposition to this proposal. Bill Hare of Greenpeace said: "The urgency of reducing emissions of CO2 has never been greater. But just as with an emergency in a heavy passenger jet, the crew should never rush in to hasty actions that will ultimately make a very bad situation a lot worse. Ocean disposal of CO2 is one such option. The position of Greenpeace and of other groups opposed to this option was based on research into the effects of ocean disposal of CO2."

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