David Koweek, PhD
Chief Scientist, Ocean Visions
CEO, Ocean Visions
Momentum around carbon dioxide removal (CDR) has grown tremendously in recent years, sparked by scientific consensus that removing legacy carbon pollution is now critical for achieving global climate targets. Given the vast scale of the ocean and its carbon cycling capacity, marine carbon dioxide removal (mCDR) has generated a growing interest.
While our understanding of mCDR pathways has increased, and a number of small-scale trials are underway, legitimate uncertainties remain about ecological and social impacts and the potential for real and durable removal at climate-relevant scales. In order to expeditiously answer these fundamental questions, the pace and scale of research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) must grow substantially.
Ocean Visions’ High Level Road Map
Ocean Visions’ new high level road map outlines a comprehensive program to advance the science, technology, and policy priorities needed to rigorously evaluate mCDR. This is our thesis about what needs to happen by 2030 in order to generate the base of information that justifies scaling and deploying mCDR pathways as climate solutions, or shutting down investment in pathways unable to demonstrate effective and safe CDR. In short, this road map centers around three interconnected pillars of needed investment and work:
Doing the science and engineering at the appropriate scales to answer important outstanding questions about mCDR technologies.
Development of enabling environments that allow for accelerated research and development.
Improvement and optimization of mCDR technologies to increase their potential to achieve climate-relevant scale and impact.
The road map serves as a starting point to coordinate and integrate diverse global actors and actions, advance the necessary pieces, and create synergies among and coordination between various efforts. It is intended to be a living document which will be routinely updated.
Critical questions to be answered include those that require a series of controlled field trials:
Does the mCDR activity generate a measurable reduction in atmospheric and/or seawater carbon dioxide concentration?
Can net additional ocean uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide be tracked in response to the mCDR activity using a combination of sensors, platforms, and models?
What are the impacts to marine ecosystems of mCDR activities and are they acceptable when compared with the impacts of the no-action alternative or of other feasible mitigation measures?
What are the range of impacts to human populations and are they acceptable when compared with the impacts of the no-action alternative or of other feasible mitigation measures?
Other questions equally fundamental to the scalability of mCDR approaches, but that do not require field trials to be answered:
What are the necessary materials for scaling an mCDR approach and can they be sourced, transported, and delivered to key regions with acceptable cost and environmental impact (from a lifecycle perspective)?
What is the required suite of technical, economic, social, and political enabling conditions required to permit growth of a given mCDR technology to the scale of gigatons of annual CDR and what is needed to establish them?
With a massive coordinated global effort this decade, we can generate the rigorous information necessary to determine which mCDR approaches, if any, are ecologically, ethically, and economically viable at scale to help address the climate crisis and restore ocean health.