Geo-engineering and ocean acidification

[UPDATE: Ken Caldeira has responded in the comments, so be sure to read his response.]

[I intended to post on this Monday, but personal obligations as well as the remarkable events in Iran and online, have been taking up a lot of my time. Then the NPR piece posted on Tuesday, and so on. This isn't a finished post, just the bones of it.]

Jamais Cascio has a piece in the Wall Street Journal regarding the need to seriously address geo-engineering. It’s a familiar call to arms, one that seems driven by genuine alarm about our lack of short term ability to do anything about climate rather than the tired geo-engineering instead of mitigation anti-regulation smokescreens of the past. And bonus points to Cascio for at least paying lip service to the drawbacks of schemes like sulfate-injections into the stratosphere, including two[!] mentions of ocean acidification:

Also, neither would do anything to solve other problems that arise from excessive levels of carbon dioxide, such as oceans becoming more acidic from increased carbon loading.

Still, we can’t forget: Geoengineering is not a solution for global warming. It would simply hold temperatures down temporarily, doing nothing about the causes of climate change, let alone ocean acidification and other symptoms of a carbon overdose.

In contrast Graeme Wood has a new article on geo-engineering in The Atlantic Monthly that simply doesn’t mention ocean acidification at all (although it nods to consequences from increased acid rain). And NPR has a brief piece on geo-engineering, also focusing on the sulfate aerosol flavor, including some quotes from Ken Caldeira among others that likewise makes no mention of ocean acidification.

This is all the more interesting because Caldeira and Long Cao have of late been doing a lot of work on ocean acidification- I cited one of their more eye-poppingly entitled papers (Coral reefs may start dissolving when atmospheric CO2 doubles) in the Idso/Climate Realists acidification post and Caldeira’s Revelle lecture was basically dedicated to it. To top it off, along with lead author Damon Matthews, they have a new paper out in GRL, Sensitivity of ocean acidification to geoengineered climate stabilization (or here) explicitly addressing this glaring flaw in any sulfate aerosol geo-engineering “solution”.

[The Matthews paper is an interesting read, and I'd have liked to spend more time on it.] Perhaps surprisingly, Caldeira remains a fairly vocal proponent of aggressive geo-engineering research despite his express knowledge that it doesn’t address “the other CO2 problem”; one that his Revelle lecture makes clear he takes quite seriously. Is this a testament to how much worse he thinks warming alone will be, reflective of a concern about tipping points/thresholds, etc., or something else? That’s something I’d love to see addressed the next time someone writes an article on geo-engineering and/or interviews Caldeira.

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8 responses to “Geo-engineering and ocean acidification

  1. Unless we cut greenhouse gas emissions very deeply and very soon, I think that Arctic ecosystems and coral reefs will be a thing of the past. These ecosystems may be just the tip of the melting iceberg.

    We need to eliminate CO2 emissions — about this there is no question in my mind. There is also no question but that CO2 emissions are increasing more rapidly than was anticipated in any of the IPCC emissions scenarios.

    I do not see intentional climate intervention approaches as an alternative to CO2 emissions reductions, but it may be something we need to do to, for example, prevent great ice sheets from sliding into the ocean. These approaches may be able to partially save Arctic ecosystems but will do nothing to save coral reefs.

    When a patient is brought into the intensive care unit, doctors try to stabilize blood chemistry to avoid additional organ failure while trying to resolve the fundamental causes of those blood chemistry imbalances. We may at some point find that we need to bring our planet into the intensive care unit.

    Obviously, we need to work, by eliminating CO2 emissions, to keep out planet out of the ICU, but things have progressed far enough to make me question whether we will be sufficiently successful in this endeavor.

  2. Thanks for your comments, much appreciated.

    Was acidification just something that didn’t come up in the NPR interview? As many of us have seen over the last few years, it seems to be quite rarely addressed by the popular press on its own, much less in the context of geo-engineering.

    I don’t know if you’ve read previous posts here on the subject, but I think I’m pretty much on the same page in terms of making sure we know whether we have a viable tool in geo-engineering to use in the event it’s needed, e.g. here or here.

    Thanks again for stopping by.

  3. Marion Delgado

    The two I read the most about both involved the ocean, 1 was seeding the seas with iron, the other was the “little boats spraying water into the sky to form clouds” Von-Neumann Machine-style fix.

  4. Marion Delgado

    I have seen lots of denialism on reefs – including a lot of crowing about the Great Barrier Reef not being hurt as badly or bleached as badly as before thought, and recovering better. By denialism, I mean literally saying that “coral bleaching is unproven.”

  5. Thanks for this, TWTB and Ken. The oceans are in serious trouble, both from acidification and commons over-exploitation.

    Perhaps a focus on oceans instead of climate would help with traction?

  6. Microwave plasmafication is the key.

    This is our solution
    http://brutal86.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/30hello-world/#comments

    Pumping CO2 into the Ocean or storing it along the Western States Ocean bed is just crazy .
    This what can happen .
    http://www.seanbuckley.ca/blog/2007/05/22/lake-emits-carbon-dioxide-bubble-kills-1800-people/

    This new technology can be used in developing nations as a source of energy to break down CO2 .

  7. Fertilizing the ocean with iron would reduce ocean acidification
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification
    by incorporating carbon dioxide into algae rather than carbonic acid
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbonic_acid
    Some of the algae, and the things that eat the algae would sink to the bottom of the ocean for thousands or millions of years.

    • Unfortunately, mesoscale experiments of this geoengineering technique have failed to demonstrate the necessary level of “permanent” carbon sequestration to make this a viable option. The plankton bloom, CO2 is initially drawn down, but it fails to significantly sequester in the deep ocean, and instead remains in the surface and near surface ocean carbon cycle.

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