Assessing the environmental consequences of CO2 leakage from geological CCS: Generating evidence to support environmental risk assessment

Widdicombe, S, Blackford, JC and Spicer, JI 2013 Assessing the environmental consequences of CO2 leakage from geological CCS: Generating evidence to support environmental risk assessment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 73 (2). 399-401.

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At the start of the industrial revolution (circa 1750) the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) was around 280 ppm. Since that time the burning of fossil fuel, together with other industrial processes such as cement manufacture and changing land use, has increased this value to 400 ppm, for the first time in over 3 million years. With CO2 being a potent greenhouse gas, the consequence of this rise for global temperatures has been dramatic, and not only for air temperatures. Global Sea Surface Temperature (SST) has warmed by 0.4–0.8 °C during the last century, although regional differences are evident (IPCC, 2007). This rise in atmospheric CO2 levels and the resulting global warming to some extent has been ameliorated by the oceanic uptake of around one quarter of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions (Sabine et al., 2004). Initially this was thought to be having little or no impact on ocean chemistry due to the capacity of the ocean’s carbonate buffering system to neutralise the acidity caused when CO2 dissolves in seawater. However, this assumption was challenged by Caldeira and Wickett (2005) who used model predictions to show that the rate at which carbonate buffering can act was far too slow to moderate significant changes to oceanic chemistry over the next few centuries. Their model predicted that since pre-industrial times, ocean surface water pH had fallen by 0.1 pH unit, indicating a 30% increase in the concentration of H+ ions. Their model also showed that the pH of surface waters could fall by up to 0.4 units before 2100, driven by continued and unabated utilisation of fossil fuels. Alongside increasing levels of dissolved CO2 and H+ (reduced pH) an increase in bicarbonate ions together with a decrease in carbonate ions occurs. These chemical changes are now collectively recognised as “ocean acidification”. Concern now stems from the knowledge that concentrations of H+, CO2, bicarbonate and carbonate ions impact upon many important physiological processes vital to maintaining health and function in marine organisms. Additionally, species have evolved under conditions where the carbonate system has remained relatively stable for millions of years, rendering them with potentially reduced capacity to adapt to this rapid change. Evidence suggests that, whilst the impact of ocean acidification is complex, when considered alongside ocean warming the net effect on the health and productivity of the oceans will be detrimental.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Subjects: Ecology and Environment
Marine Sciences
Divisions: Plymouth Marine Laboratory > Science Areas > Marine Life Support Systems (expired)
Depositing User: Prof Stephen Widdicombe
Date made live: 03 Mar 2014 11:23
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2017 16:10

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