Can Geoengineering Save The Coral Reefs?

We are risking loosing coral reefs forever. Jung Hsuan/Shutterstock

With 50 percent of the Great Barrier Reef now dead or dying, the acidification of the ocean has become an unprecedented environmental catastrophe. As a potential solution, a team of Dutch scientists is looking at a way to counteract the phenomenon.

Francesc Montserrat of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and his colleagues are testing the use of olivine, a magnesium silicate mineral, to reduce the CO2 in seawater into an innocuous bicarbonate ion.

In the lab, they constructed a 1-meter cube (35 cubic feet) marine ecosystem containing living organisms, and they set the pH to the value currently observed in the ocean. The team ground up olivine and applied a 1.5-centimeter (0.6 inches) layer on top of the natural sediment, and observed the seawater’s pH increasing to acceptable levels without negatively affecting the aquatic life.

“We’re trying to put some numbers on the table so that if politicians decide that we need to do this in 10 to 15 years’ time, the research is there and we can say, ‘here are the problems you might be dealing with’,” said Montserrat, as reported by New Scientist.

The result is definitely worth considering but geoengineering cannot be taken lightly, and it is often seen as a temporary patch rather than a long term solution to human impact. The researchers themselves acknowledge that the process is very sensitive and far from foolproof.

When the team repeated the test with twice the amount of olivine, creating a 3-centimeter (1.2-inch) layer, lugworms and the other sediment-dwelling organisms suddenly died. It is not clear what exactly caused it, either toxic elements contaminating the olivine or too great a change in pH.

Oceans are now 25 percent more acidic than their pre-industrial revolution value, and this threatens the extinction of corals, shellfish, and mollusks. While both scientists and governments are very cautious about geoengineering, there’s been a growing interest in these technologies as extreme remedies in case unforeseeable problems occur.

[H/T: New Scientist]                                                                           

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