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Limits and CO2 equilibration of near-coast alkalinity enhancement

In this work we study critical questions which determine the scale and viability of ocean alkalinity enhancement (OAE): Which coastal locations are able to sustain a large flux of alkalinity at minimal pH and aragonite saturation changes? What is the interference distance between adjacent OAE projects? How much CO2 is absorbed per unit of alkalinity added? How quickly does the induced CO2 deficiency equilibrate with the atmosphere?
Using the LLC270 (0.3deg) ECCO global circulation model we find that the steady-state OAE rate varies over 1–2 orders of magnitude between different coasts and exhibits complex patterns and non-local dependencies which vary from region to region. Neighboring OAE sites can exhibit dependencies as far as 400 km or more. We show that near-coastal OAE has the potential to scale globally to several GtCO2/yr of drawdown with conservative pH constraints, but only if the effort is spread over the majority of available coastlines.
Depending on the location, we find a diverse set of equilibration kinetics, determined by the interplay of gas exchange and surface residence time. Most locations reach an uptake-efficiency plateau of 0.6–0.8mol CO2 per mol of alkalinity after 3–4 years, after which there is little further CO2 uptake. Some locations (e.g. Hawaii) take significantly longer to equilibrate (up to 8–10 years), but can still eventually achieve high uptake. If the alkalinity released advects into regions of significant downwelling (e.g. around Iceland) up to half of the OAE potential can be lost to bottom waters.


Jing He1, Michael Tyka2
1MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Science and Engineering, Cambridge, MA, 02139, USA; 2Google Inc., United States of America
GeoBerlin 2023