On September 7, 2023, the U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA announced $24 million for projects that will tackle the climate crisis by researching marine carbon dioxide removal strategies, as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.
$14 million from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the largest climate investment in history, will go toward 10 projects that examine how effectively and safely strategies like enhancing ocean alkalinity or sinking seaweed remove carbon from the atmosphere.
An additional $10 million in funding, provided by NOAA’s appropriation for the National Oceanographic Partnership Program; NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program; NOAA’s Global Ocean Monitoring and Observing Program; the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management; DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office; the Office of Naval Research; the U.S. National Science Foundation and the ClimateWorks Foundation will support seven more marine carbon dioxide removal research projects.
“As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis and making our country more climate resilient, we need to understand all of the tools available to us,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “Making smart investments in America is a key pillar of Bidenomics, and this funding will support critical research to help us develop new and innovative solutions to pressing climate challenges.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changeoffsite link considers removing carbon dioxide and storing it on land, underground and in the ocean to be an essential approach to limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius (34.7° Fahrenheit).
Despite the ocean’s large potential to store carbon, there are many unknowns about the scalability, effectiveness and cost of marine carbon dioxide removal strategies, and their possible social and ecological impacts.
These projects will expand our understanding of various aspects of marine carbon dioxide removal, and the potential associated benefits and risks. They will also provide the science needed to build policy and regulatory frameworks for testing and scaling up these technologies.
Projects range in location and scale. Many focus on reducing the impacts of ocean acidification while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A group based in Hampton Roads, Virginia, for example, will look at the possibility of manipulating wastewater treatment plant procedures and discharge to enhance carbon removal as an effective way to deliver alkalinity to the coastal ocean in the future.
Another project, based in Rhode Island, will examine the impacts of terrestrial liming, a common agricultural practice, on neighboring bodies of water in the coastal zone.
Lime may influence neighboring bodies of water, foster carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere and also could help mitigate local ocean acidification. The research team will monitor the chemical composition of a small coastal lagoon before and after the application of the lime to a nearby golf course. They will also examine the impact on the ecosystem, including clams, and explore the scalability of similar terrestrial liming along the East Coast of the U.S.
Other projects will explore the ability of seaweed to mitigate ocean acidification and remove carbon from the atmosphere in seaweed farms, the effectiveness of adding rocks with ultrabasic minerals to coastal areas in conjunction with coastal restoration and modeling the impacts of potential carbon dioxide storage on the deep sea ecosystem.
“NOAA’s successful track record with this partnership and our strong inter-agency and public-private relationships place us in a unique position to tackle the tough questions regarding marine carbon dioxide removal,” said NOAA’s Chief Scientist, Sarah Kapnick, Ph.D.
NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program led this funding opportunity on behalf of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program. It will support projects with partners from 47 institutions as part of the Investing in Coastal Communities and Climate Resilience provision under NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System IRA priorities.
Successful deployment of responsible marine carbon dioxide removal projects will require strong and effective permitting, efficient regulatory regimes, meaningful public engagement early in the review and deployment process and measures to safeguard public health and the environment.
These newly-funded projects include lab-scale demonstrations, modeling, community engagement and field trials to understand the impacts and effectiveness of various marine carbon dioxide removal strategies and to ensure these strategies are responsibly scaled in a timely manner, while maintaining the integrity of public health, the environment and the economy.
These new projects expand NOAA’s involvement in carbon dioxide removal research. In June, NOAA released its Carbon Dioxide Removal Strategy. The strategy does not endorse any specific technique.
Rather, it outlines NOAA’s potential research contributions in four key areas to understand the feasibility and impacts of carbon dioxide removal techniques: 1) observing networks; 2) modeling the impacts of carbon dioxide removal pathways; 3) environmental impacts; and 4) decision support.
Photo shows glacial silt in Glacier Bay National Park, 2022. Glacial silt in coastal waters increases marine alkalinity, enhancing ocean carbon storage. (Image credit: NOAA/Univ. of Washington)