Use oceans to combat climate change: 200 scientists

Invest in research and development of marine carbon dioxide removal technologies, argue the experts.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of the ocean.jpg
Representational image of the ocean.


In July of 2022, IE published an interview with Ulf Riebesell, Professor of Biological Oceanography at the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. The researcher claimed that the ocean could be used to combat climate change.

"At some point in my career, I felt that I needed to turn around and find options on how the ocean could be a solution to mitigate climate change. I didn't have to look too deep, as it already plays an enormous role by absorbing most of the heat — 93 percent. It is also taking in 25 percent of the yearly carbon dioxide emissions. So, in a way, the ocean is already part of a solution," said Riebesell at the time.

A light at the end of the tunnel

He pointed to marine carbon dioxide removal (CDR) strategies as a potential light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, 200 scientists from around the world have signed an open letter on Ocean CDR Science stating that “society must advance responsible research, development, and field testing of ocean-based carbon dioxide removal techniques to determine their potential to help restore the climate and the ocean.”

According to The Verge, the letter is supported by some famous names in climate science such as David King, an ex-chief scientific UK adviser, and James Hansen, a former NASA scientist known worldwide for testifying about climate change to US Congress in 1988 long before climate activism became popular.

The document refers to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that has long warned “that large-scale carbon dioxide removal is needed this century to stay below or return to the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming threshold — the goal set out in the Paris Agreement. Carbon dioxide removal is the only tool that can remove the legacy carbon dioxide pollution that otherwise will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, continuing its debilitating effects in the ocean and on the planet.”

And the ocean, they argue, is ideally suited to store all that carbon.

The largest exchangeable carbon reservoir

“The ocean is the largest exchangeable carbon reservoir on the planet; the ocean’s carbon content is fifty times larger than what is in the atmosphere. Its sheer size also means that ocean-based climate solutions can be scaled to significantly mitigate climate risk,” they write.

However, they warn that tech to undertake such activities is currently at its infancy and could prove damaging for humanity. That’s why more research and development is needed, a lot more.

As such, the scientists call for a “research portfolio” to safely examine all ocean-based CDR options and lay down some guidelines for going about this important work. These included suggestions such as undertaking control field trials and third-party reviews.

The letter is a dire warning as much as it is a call for help. If we do not invest in these technologies the repercussions may be many, none of them good.

“For the sake of our children, their children, and all the other life forms on this beautiful blue planet, we are called to do everything in our power to arrest and reverse the climate crisis–including looking to the ocean to continue to sustain and restore our world,” write the experts in their conclusion.