Are the oceans one of the solutions for the climate problem?

Author: Manu Steens

In this contribution I give my own opinion, not that of any organization.

A Chemical principle

In my search for solutions to all kinds of problems, I came across a chemical principle. Namely, the gases in the atmosphere and the gases in the water of the oceans are in equilibrium. This means that the ratio of CO2, O2, N2, noble gases , etc. in the atmosphere is identical to the ratio of them, dissolved in the water.

A negative effect

This has a negative effect on planting trees as a solution to the rising CO2 problem. Because according to the idea, if we capture CO2 from the atmosphere with trees, whatever they do, then the ocean-atmosphere system will seek a new equilibrium and thereby, to equalize the partial pressures again, emit CO2 into the atmosphere, and absorb O2. That wouldn’t be a big deal, if it weren’t for the fact that every M3 of seawater absorbed several M3 of gas throughout history, making the amount of CO2 accumulated in the water vastly more than that accumulated in its entirety in the atmosphere. That is the difference between the proportions and amounts of CO2 in the water and in the atmosphere of our planet. And it is to our disadvantage with trees as a solution. 

In his book, Bill Gates describes that just planting trees is not the quick fix. Moreover, the area of ​​forestable earth surface is much less than the amount of water surface, so that the new equilibrium will be established very quickly, and it will take a very long time before trees have sufficiently absorbed of the CO2 at hand. Besides the fact that forests also have other uses, there is then the question of what we should do with all that wood, and where we could still grow food…

A sketch of the problem

Here’s a sketch of the problem. I also have little faith in any technology that extracts the CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it somewhere underground. How quickly will such technology be ready, and how can we also recover the O2 from the CO2 ? Which we also need. And here too, with this solution, the water will create a new equilibrium. Then the amount of O2 may be compromised, as energy production continues. So I find this suggestion even less gallant as a solution.

So the problem is that we have to reduce CO2, recover O2 from it, like trees do, but trees are not the only solution. Then there is the problem of overfishing, dying oceans, world hunger which can become one of the next problems … a lot of problems in a row. And the extraction of O2 from CO2 must be done on a large scale and fast.

And maybe that can be done at sea.

The oceans, a solution?

The oceans cover about 2/3 to ¾ of the surface of the earth. Part of this could be used to cultivate seaweed. The idea is that seaweed could be grown in large farms at sea, to prevent it from sinking to great depths, where sunshine diminishes. In addition to growing massive amounts of seaweed to convert CO2 to O2 both in the oceans and in the atmosphere that is in equilibrium with it, it can be used to:

  • produce hydrocarbons as fuels (which, by the way, is already being researched),
  • produce food for humans (which is already happening) and animals,
  • create employment on these sea farms,
  • maybe it may even be possible to create fertilizers from it for existing agriculture.

A multiple gain?

That would be a multiple gain, provided that good seaweed types can be selected that meet the preconditions for useful use.

However, there are questions that can arise, such as, how do we secure a farm so that it does not sink in a storm? How do we place the farms in the oceans so that there is a minimum burden on shipping? How do we bring people from the farm to the shore and vice versa, from the shore to the farm to work or inspect, etc.? In which legal system does one include farms located on international waters? How can efficient harvesting and processing be done, and how can the harvest be efficiently brought to the shore? Which country gets which rights to the proceeds? Can these farms function fully mechanically, or is one or another form of energy (electricity with solar panels, wind energy) required? Does the marine flora breeding farm also need marine fauna ?

People you need are people with enthusiasm like Elon Musk to achieve a lot in a short time, the views of scientists to make it realistic in terms of using seaweeds and in terms of operation on a large scale and a global politics with the will to make it work.

And if it turns out to be technically or politically unfeasible, then it was still a great idea.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields.

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