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Could volcanic ash help combat global climate change?

Mon, 5 Oct 2020, 09:05
09:05 AM | BY: ELEANOR
Volcanic ash settling on south Pacific Ocean following eruption (Image: USGS)
Volcanic ash settling on south Pacific Ocean following eruption (Image: USGS)
A recent study published in Anthropocene by the University of Southampton reveals the significant role volcanic ash may have in atmospheric carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas removal, finding it to be a cheaper, simpler and less invasive method than previously proposed alternatives. With anthropogenic induced climate change one of the modern world’s greatest challenges, it has now been internationally recognised, through policies such as the 2015 Paris Agreement, that methods of active greenhouse gas removal (GGR) are fundamental to win the fight against climate change. GGR techniques aim to reduce the greenhouse effect, thus slowing climate change and providing a longer time frame for society to adapt and mitigate.

Oceans are ‘carbon sinks’ – absorbing carbon dioxide emissions created by human activity. With many of the world’s volcanoes located in proximity to the oceans, every year millions of tonnes of volcanic ash is erupted and deposited into the oceans where it settles on the ocean floor and increases carbon storage in marine sediments, therefore reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The carbon dioxide is locked away in the form of calcium carbonate and organic carbon – the recent modelling carried out by scientists at University of Southampton suggest this natural process of carbon sequestration may be enhanced by artificially inputting more volcanic ash to the oceans. The scientists state that ‘offshore ash addition could sequester 2750 tonnes of carbon dioxide per 50,000 tonnes of ash delivered for a cost of approximately $55 per tonne of carbon dioxide sequestered’.

Although further research is needed to test the efficiency of this GGR technique, it demonstrates the continued interaction between volcanic eruptions and Earth’s processes – volcanism has helped stabilise the climate throughout Earth’s history and this new research suggests that once again volcanoes could help in the current battle against climate change.
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