Experiments on the ocean sequestration
of fossil fuel CO2

Peter Brewer, Ph.D.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Wednesday, July 1, 1998
3:30 p.m.—Pacific Forum


brewer-240.jpg (25067 bytes)The recent adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has accelerated interest in means of disposal, or sequestration, of fossil fuel CO2. We already dispose of fossil fuel CO2 in the ocean, in the amount of some two billion tons per year. The problem is that we put it in the air first, and then allow the global air-sea gas exchange process to take its measured course. The slowness of the air-sea exchange process leads to the accumulation of atmospheric CO2 and the radiative forcing towards a warmer climate.

For several years there has been engineering interest in direct deep-ocean injection of CO2 to ameliorate the impact on climate, and many quite speculative papers have been written. The focus has been on the use of CO2 hydrates as a "permanent" means of disposal. Major international organizations have endorsed this strategy (see http://www.ieagreen.org.uk).

We have carried out the first series of direct ocean-injection experiments to evaluate this process. At depths greater than about 3,000m, the compressibility of CO2 is such that the density of CO2 becomes greater than seawater, and the experiment becomes gravitationally stable. We have used the research vessel Western Flyer and remotely operated vehicle Tiburon to execute this novel deep experiment. The phase behavior found is astonishing, unpredicted, dynamic, and dramatic, and leads to important new insights into this widely discussed phenomenon.

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Last updated: December 19, 2000