Ocean-Based Alkalinity Enhancement: Mitigation Potential, Side Effects and the Fate of Added Alkalinity Assessed in an Earth System Model

Monday, 15 December 2014
Miriam Ferrer Gonzalez and Tatiana Ilyina, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Ocean biogeochemistry, Hamburg, Germany
Artificial ocean alkalinization (AOA) has been proposed as a mean to mitigate climate change and ocean acidification. Whilst the mitigation potential of this geo-engineering technology may sound promising, it poses environmental risks. Within the Priority Program “Climate Engineering” of the German Science Foundation (DFG), we investigate the mitigation potential of AOA to reduce atmospheric CO2 and counteract the consequences of ocean acidification. We are particularly interested in the residence time of the added alkalinity at the ocean surface because it must stay in the upper ocean in order to increase the oceanic CO2 uptake. The mitigation potential, risks and the unintended consequences of this geo-engineering method are also exhaustively studied. These questions are tackled through the analysis of different alkalinity enhancement scenarios in the state-of-the-art Earth system model of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-ESM) in a configuration based on the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). Model scenarios are designed so that AOA is performed to keep the atmospheric CO2 concentrations similar to values of the stabilization scenario RCP4.5, while fossil fuel CO2 emissions follow the pathway of the high-CO2 scenario RCP8.5. Alkalinity is added globally into the upper 12 meters of the ocean in different seasons and years. We found that on the time scale of relevance (i.e. from years to decades), season and location are key aspects to take into account in the implementation of AOA. This is because of inhomogeneous vertical mixing of added alkalinity due to the mixed layer depth which is established by the season. We also show that the rate of addition greatly determines impact and outcome of this geo-engineering method. Changes driven by the implementation of this method in the ocean biogeochemistry are also discussed. For instance, the associated changes in the carbon cycle, marine oxygen levels, saturation state of carbonate minerals, nutrient cycles and marine biota.