The Climate-Fighting Power of Kelp

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

For all the high-tech solutions proposed to draw carbon out of the atmosphere, the low-tech of the natural world can be just as effective. Planting trees falls into this category. So does farming kelp. As Maine Public Radio reports, Portland-based Running Tide Technologies is growing “massive amounts of seaweed” that will then be buried and keep carbon captured well into the future.

We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net,” Capt. Rob Odlin told Maine Public. The idea is to do the reverse of producing oil: turning plants into carbon-stores, but keeping them in the ground.

Why This Matters: We need an all-of-the-above approach for sequestering carbon, and kelp grows exceptionally fast — up to two feet a day — making it especially effective at sequestration. And because the plant eventually sinks to the bottom of the ocean, it’s less likely that the carbon will be released in comparison to trees. Conceivably, the Running Tide system could move billions of tons of carbon to the seafloor every year. Researchers are still testing the environmental impact of scaling up, but “the no-action alternative is very grim.” 

 

The Gulf of Maine is a climate hotspot: Running Tide Technologies’s maritime venture is based in Portland, which sits on the Gulf of Maine. This body of water is one of the fastest-warming on the planet, making it a living laboratory for studying the impacts of climate change on marine life. Some signs of change in this water body than spans from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia:

  • Tiny crustaceans called copepods that are a key source of food for endangered North Atlantic Right Whales have declined by as much as 90% in the gulf because of warming waters. More data on their movement will likely come out of the recently-resumed plankton survey.
  • Researchers and fishermen are seeing fish that are normally found farther south in historically warmer waters, like butterfish and squid, while cold-seeking species like Atlantic cod are moving farther offshore and farther north
  • Rising temperatures coupled with increasing acidity, and deoxygenation are disrupting marine ecosystems. This is especially dangerous for the shellfish like lobster and oysters in the gulf, whose shells could dissolve with increased acidity. 

Exploring and developing nature-based solutions to climate change will be crucial to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 (or earlier). What’s more is that these approaches are localized, benefiting communities directly and providing much-needed job opportunities.

 

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