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
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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