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To Fight Climate Change: Grow a Floating Forest, Then Sink It

I’m Teresa Carey, and that is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science.

“In a few weeks, these tanks will be full of little baby oysters, the size of a piece of quinoa. But right now, they’re still in the larval stage.”

Adam Baske strolls by way of a warehouse on the coast of Harpswell, Maine. Surrounding him are trays of oysters with water circulating between them in small tubes. In one other room stands rows of eight-foot-tall tanks of algae rising at completely different levels. The algae might be meals for the oysters. If you’ve by no means seen a shellfish hatchery, this one seems fairly typical. But it’s not. This 12 months, they’re planning to reap one thing new—atmospheric carbon.

His firm, referred to as Running Tide Technologies, plans to develop huge portions of seaweed in drifting ocean mini-farms—farms that the corporate plans to sink to the underside of the ocean.

“So this is basically taking the emissions of our fossil-fuel burning, locking them back up into the structure of the kelp and sending it back to the bottom of the ocean, where, you know, it’s at least locked up for hundreds to thousands of years because of the great pressure and the slow movement of the water in the deep ocean.”

Kelp, like different vegetation, makes use of photosynthesis to extract carbon dioxide from the environment. Colette Feehan, a marine ecologist at Montclair State University, who doesn’t work with Running Tide Technologies, says that kelp is a no-brainer in relation to carbon sequestration. 

“The productivity of kelp forests has been found to be comparable to tropical rain forests, meaning that they put on a great deal of biomass, and that biomass is stored carbon.”

It can do that as a result of it grows quick (about a foot per 30 days). It additionally shortly sinks to the seafloor. Once there, it degrades very slowly.

Trees, alternatively, retailer carbon however in the end launch it again to the environment after they die and decompose. Kelp can keep successfully buried, its carbon entombed by the crushing strain and lack of oxygen, for tons of, possibly hundreds of years. 

“As a climate change mitigation strategy, there’s mounting evidence that this is a good approach. These forests aren’t taking up land that would otherwise be used for agriculture or housing. So there’s really no negative side to growing kelp forests.”

How it really works is that Running Tide Technologies hangs a kelp mini-farm tube from a biodegradable buoy, which they set adrift within the ocean currents. Over a number of months, the kelp absorbs carbon, rising longer and heavier till it sinks to the underside, taking the saved carbon with it. They are nonetheless experimenting with buoy’s materials—attempting out glass, cellulose and different supplies.

Baske is Running Tide Technologies head of enterprise growth. He says the challenge continues to be in its early levels, with about 1,600 buoys. This 12 months they’re centered on assessing the challenge’s impression—searching for issues like whale entanglement and evaluating the feasibility with sensors and trackers. In the long run, they’re aiming for thousands and thousands of micro-farms, sponging up billions of tons of carbon, which they plan to promote within the carbon offset market.

“Some of the biggest companies in the world already have net-zero commitments—are hungry for permanent, verifiable carbon offsets. And that doesn’t mean they have net-zero emissions. It means they’re offsetting their emissions while they’re also reducing their emissions.”

Shopify, an e-commerce firm for on-line shops, might be one of many first corporations to purchase carbon offsets from Running Tide Technologies.

“This can be one of the many solutions we need to employ to have a chance in this fight. You know, we need to mobilize the troops for this war. And if we don’t build the infrastructure and the knowledge base to give us a fighting chance, then we might as well give up now.”

Running Tide Technologies is drawing from the sturdy fishing custom on the Maine coast—and casting a web for carbon.

“Very few people on the planet have an appreciation for the scale of our oceans: 70 percent of our planet. It’s just such an incomprehensible number, I think, for a lot of people. The opportunity to put that surface area to work in helping us solve the biggest challenge facing humanity—I can’t think of a more inspiring or motivating mission.”

Thanks for listening. For Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, I’m Teresa Carey.

—Teresa L, Carey

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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