CORVALLIS, Ore. –  Several Oregon State University researchers are receiving federal funding to study potential solutions for removing carbon dioxide in marine environments.

The grants, part of a $24.3 million federal investment to address gaps in knowledge related to marine carbon dioxide removal, were recently announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is the first large-scale public investment into research specifically focused on marine carbon dioxide removal approaches.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the oceans have absorbed nearly 200 billion tons of carbon in the form of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. This has changed the chemistry of the oceans in a process known as ocean acidification, which causes ocean pH to decrease and makes it harder for organisms like oysters, mussels and clams to form shells.

The harmful effects of ocean acidification can be reduced by increasing the alkalinity of the ocean. One proposed mechanism to add alkalinity to the ocean involves adding minerals to the ocean. This is a challenging process because natural alkaline minerals do not dissolve effectively in seawater, and the industrial production of soluble alkaline minerals often leads to more CO2 being released to the atmosphere, which eventually gets taken up by the oceans.

Oregon State researchers aim to study aspects of ocean alkalinization enhancement through two projects funded by the new grant program.

A team led by Burke Hales of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences has been awarded $2.1 million for a three-year project to combine laboratory studies and ocean modeling to investigate the risks, limitations and benefits of ocean alkalinization enhancement.

The research team includes Oregon State’s Yvette Spitz and George Waldbusser of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences; Bryson Robertson and Bret Bosma of OSU’s College of Engineering; Kelsey Stoerzinger of the University of Minnesota; and Dick Feely and Simone Alin of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

The project includes development of an alkalinization system for seawater that would be powered by wave energy. It also incorporates Oregon State’s effort to develop an open-source wave energy converter, the Laboratory Upgrade Point Absorber (LUPA), for testing at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Energy Lab on the Oregon State campus.

The researchers’ work will also help inform the development of a potential regulatory permitting strategy to guide future alkalization efforts. The project does not include any environmental release of alkalized water but would set the stage for a potential pilot project in the future, Hales said.

“It’s become clear that some level of active human intervention will be necessary to reduce environmental carbon dioxide,” he said. “This project will demonstrate proof of concept that alkalinity enhancement and wave power systems could be used in tandem to do that.” 

Also receiving funding is Oregon State’s Jennifer Fehrenbacher, an associate professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, who is a co-principal investigator on a $510,000 award led by Vassar College’s Laura Haynes.

Fehrenbacher, Haynes and co-principal investigator Emily Osborne of NOAA will study how a key group of marine organisms would respond to ocean alkalinity enhancement. The marine organisms, a type of plankton called foraminifera, or forams, make shells that take up alkalinity and could make ocean alkalinity enhancement less efficient, Fehrenbacher said.

“We need to understand how marine organisms like forams would respond to various ocean alkalinity enhancement approaches – not only for assessing the effectiveness of these approaches for marine carbon dioxide removal, but also to gain insights into their potential negative impacts on marine ecosystems,” she said.

Nina Bednaršek, an assistant professor, senior research at Oregon State’s Cooperative Institute for Marine Ecosystem and Resources Studies, is a co-principal investigator on a nearly $1 million award led by Andrew Dickson of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

That team will assess chemical and biological implications of alkalinity enhancement using carbonate salts from captured carbon dioxide to mitigate ocean acidification and enable marine carbon dioxide removal.

The grants were awarded through NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program on behalf of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program. The National Oceanographic Partnership Program facilitates partnerships between federal agencies, academia and industry to advance ocean science research and education. In all, 17 projects received funding through the marine carbon dioxide removal funding opportunity.

College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences

About the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS): The college is renowned for research excellence and academic programs that span the earth, ocean and climate sciences, as well as the human dimensions of environmental change. CEOAS inspires scientific solutions for Oregon and the world.

Story By: 

Michelle Klampe, 541-737-0784, [email protected]


Burke Hales, [email protected]; Jennifer Fehrenbacher, [email protected]

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