New Research Highlights The Key Role Of Tiny Marine Animals For Ocean-Based CO2 Removal

New Research Highlights The Key Role Of Tiny Marine Animals For Ocean-Based CO2 Removal - Carbon Herald
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Recently published research highlights a crucial but previously overlooked factor in ocean-based carbon dioxide (CO2) removal: the appetite of tiny animals at the base of the food chain could significantly impact carbon storage.

Plankton play a critical role in ocean carbon cycling. Phytoplankton, like land plants, use sunlight and CO2 for photosynthesis, and zooplankton, tiny animals that consume phytoplankton, have diverse appetites.

Uneaten phytoplankton and zooplankton waste can sink, locking carbon away for centuries.

The new study, published last week in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, examines how zooplankton appetites influence the biological pump, the process transferring atmospheric carbon to the ocean.

Using a computer model, the authors simulated phytoplankton growth and found zooplankton appetites vary widely, affecting the biological pump’s strength.

The research found that including realistic zooplankton diversity actually reduced carbon storage by a billion tons annually, co-authors Tyler Rohr, Ali Mashayek and Sophie Meyjes explained in a comment on independent website The Conversation.

In its latest report, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explored 230 pathways to keep global warming below 1.5°C, all requiring CO2 removal.

Promising CO2 removal technologies, funded in the US, UK, and Australia, aim to enhance the ocean’s vast carbon storage potential. These include fertilizing tiny plants and adjusting ocean chemistry.

Relevant: New Study Questions Effectiveness Of Ocean-Based Carbon Removal Methods

Ocean-based approaches are appealing because they could store carbon at a fraction of the cost of direct air capture (DAC), which involves energy-intensive machines. However, the marine carbon cycle is complex.

Therefore, Rohr, Mashayek and Meyjes insist that scientists need to understand the natural processes affecting the efficiency and safety of ocean-based CO2 removal before it can be widely implemented.

Ocean-based CO2 removal technologies, like ocean iron fertilization and ocean alkalinity enhancement, alter phytoplankton composition, potentially changing zooplankton appetites and affecting carbon storage.

Understanding these dynamics is thus crucial for predicting the effectiveness of these technologies.

Future CO2 removal companies will need to demonstrate permanence, safety, and accurate monitoring of their technologies.

Establishing standards now is essential for developing a reliable regulatory framework for this emerging industry, the authors warned.

Their research indicates that understanding zooplankton dynamics is key to accurately predicting and monitoring ocean-based CO2 removal technologies, paving the way for a significant and necessary industry.

Read more: Advancing Ocean CDR Summit To Gather Industry Leaders In Boston From 9-11 July

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