Trees can help with climate change and CO2 emissions but we would need about 150 Brazilian rain forests to offset current global emissions. This would be about 50 trillion trees. A more powerful biological offset would be to use kelp forests. Kelp can grow thirty times faster than trees. 40% of the world’s land is used for agriculture. We will need to use 9% of the oceans to offset global warming emissions.
Every long term plan for global warming has massive negative emissions beyond 50-100 years. Negative emissions means pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. This happens now by growing plants.
There are also industrial plans for capturing CO2 and then piping the CO2 back into the ground. Capturing CO2 is a massive reversal of the entire current oil, gas and coal industries. Currently, we have pipes to move oil and gas around North America and the world. Those are one-way pipes from the oil and gas fields to power plants. Industrial carbon capture would be to build equipment at the top of every smokestack and then send CO2 along a reverse pipeline network to store back in the ground.
C$1.5 billion was spent on a carbon capture project in Weyburn. They captured just over 46 per cent of the emissions of a coal plant. The plant has captured 1.75 million tonnes instead of the three million tonnes expected. The coal plant with carbon capture is 6 times more expensive than natural gas. It would be far easier and faster to scale up the growth of kelp than to spend trillions on industrial carbon capture.
Australia will plant a billion trees by 2050 as part of a new forestry plan the government says will help the country meet its Paris Agreement climate targets. This will removal of 18 million tonnes of greenhouse gas per year by 2030 in a country currently producing in excess of 500 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent per year.
Industry, energy and transportation emitted 37.1 billion tons of CO2 in 2018. Global non-CO2 emissions are about 18 billion tons of CO2 equivalent. Australia’s emits about 550 million ton of CO2 each year.
Climate Impact Brazilian Rainforest
The Brazilian rainforest has about 390 billion trees and absorbs 2.2 billion tons of CO2 while emitting 1.9 billion tons of CO2.
A seven-year-long NASA-led study confirmed that natural forests in the Amazon remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit, therefore reducing global warming.
Fernando Espírito-Santo, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), combined satellite data, airborne lidar (laser surface imagery) and tree counts to compare carbon consumed by living trees with emissions from dead trees.
Australia Sized Ocean Kelp Farm Would Offset All Human CO2
Kelp can grow at 2 feet per day. This is 30 times faster than the growth of trees and plant on land.
A kelp farm that is four and half times the size of Australia would produce sufficient biomethane to replace all of today’s needs in fossil fuel energy and removing 53 billion tons of CO2 per year from the atmosphere. This would offset current emissions.
The kelp would provide a home for fish and would feed 10 billion people with 200 kilograms of fish per year. It would also reduce ocean acidification and increase ocean primary productivity and biodiversity.
Growing Kelp in the Open Ocean
Giant kelp does not grow naturally in the open ocean because kelp normally needs an attachment at about 10-20 meters of depth. Key nutrients are not at the surface in the open ocean and would have to be supplied for an open ocean kelp farm.
Marine Bioenergy received a $2.1 million ARPA-E grant to develop an ocean kelp farm system.
Kelp Forests Need Help
A 2016 global analysis revealed that 38% of the world’s kelp forests have been in decline over the past five decades.
Marauder Robotics is working on robots to clear purple urchins from Kelp Forests. The Northern California coast experienced a sudden surge of purple urchins. The pest ate 93 percent of the coastline’s kelp forest. Similar urchin outbreaks are occurring all over the world, from California to Maine to Australia.
The robot can dive down to a maximum of 120 feet and is approximately the size of a large dog, has computer vision to identify the different types of urchins. The pilot will help them validate their navigation assumptions and how to facilitate interactions with the urchins.
Once collected, the team will distribute the urchins through appropriate channels for use in food, animal feed or construction materials.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.
2 thoughts on “The Oceans and Kelp are Critical to Solving Climate Change”
The carbon does not go right back into the atmosphere. This article does a brilliant job of describing what happens to the carbon in the kelp life-cycle and supports the idea that nurturing kelp forests could help reverse climate change: https://carboninstitute.org/kelp-and-carbon-sequestration-bringing-terrestrial-carbon-accounting-to-the-deep-sea/
Kelp farms are a good short-term fix, but what happens when they die? Their CO2 goes right back into the atmosphere. Brian says it can be used for energy to replace oil use. Same thing. Goes back into the atmosphere. (Although at least we wouldn’t be adding more from fossil fuels. But maybe there is some way of harvesting the kelp and storing its CO2.
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