Seaweed. Its significance does not simply lie in being a part of marine ecosystems, or a source of flavor and nutrients for humans. Seaweed may not bring about the most pleasing first thoughts. Many of us likely associate the thought of seaweed with the piles that get washed up onto the shore and attract thousands of kelp flies. However, seaweed may be a hidden treasure in terms of helping combat a certain greenhouse gas-carbon dioxide. This may not come as a surprise to some, considering the ocean covers more surface area than land on earth and is also one of the largest carbon sinks.
Greenhouse gasses (GHG) are essential in moderating our earth's temperatures, but now we are beginning to see the results of excess GHG emissions on the environment. The buildup of greenhouse gas emissions at a continuously accelerated rate has been done through the increased use of fossil fuels to generate electricity and operate transportation required in the global economy.
The use of non-renewable sources of energy has become an integral aspect of life for many developed and developing countries. Although carbon dioxide is not the most detrimental of the top greenhouse gasses, it is the one with the highest concentration in the atmosphere aside from water vapor. Carbon dioxide has been and continues to be, emitted at an unsustainable rate.
Because CO2 is the GHG with the longest lifetime, the concentration of carbon dioxide already existing in the atmosphere will persist beyond a single human lifetime. The damage that has been done will not see a reversal on its own. According to the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has experienced a 47% increase since the start of industrialization.
As the effects of climate change are seen to be progressing, we are also seeing an increase in innovation in the world of carbon sequestration!
By now, most people have heard mentions of carbon credits, and planting trees, amongst some other popular methods of carbon dioxide emission reduction and mitigation. Another carbon consumer that has been increasing in popularity is seaweed!
Seaweed can contribute towards a future of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, so let's hone in on some of its major applications.
A very informative podcast "Inside Seaweed", by Fed DeGobbi, delves deep into the growing industry of Seaweed cultivation, and the future of the industry. To hear more about the specialties, Episode #1 is highly insightful, and captures the fundamental components of seaweed and the realistic ways in which it can be used to assist in combating climate change. In this episode the misinformation that gets thrown around to sensationalize seaweed as a solution to carbon dioxide emissions and its true capacity to sequester carbon are explained.
Is Seaweed the Solution?
Ultimately, seaweed can grow in the renewable resources sector, as it provides a plethora of uses outside of solely sequestering carbon.
Seaweed cultivation can provide wonderful alternatives to fossil fuel-based materials and aid in carbon sequestration, but it is not the solution. The scale at which seaweed would need to be cultivated would have to be researched more. Rather than spending time and money in the seaweed industry as a solution, we must focus on developing policies and regulations on emissions.
There will be many barriers along the way to finding ways to sequester an adequate amount of carbon in a short period of time. We also can't expect a single mass-scale cultivation of particular biomass to be a solution to our climate change problem. Essentially, we should incorporate seaweed as a means of reducing carbon emissions, as opposed to relying on it as a source of removing carbon emissions; due to the ambiguity of the time involved in the process of 'sequestering'.
As far as being able to count on seaweed to help in combating climate change, we need to change our perception of investing in potential. Seaweed expert Dr. Thierry Chopin, from the podcast mentioned previously, phrases this perfectly by saying "seaweeds are great, but let's not promise the moon".