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The Ocean Is Part Of The Climate Change Solution, Report Says

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette.
NOAA photo by Benjamin Richards

A U.N. special report on the impacts of climate change on the ocean sparked dire headlines such as UN report on world’ oceans is damning: We’re all in big trouble. Or, from the New York Times: The World’s Oceans are in Danger.

While true, those headlines don’t tell the whole story.

A second report on oceans and climate change released the same week portrayed the ocean as not only a victim of climate change, but also an important part of the solution.

According to that report, ocean-based climate action could do as much to reduce global carbon emissions as eliminating all coal-fired power plants currently on earth.

Some researchers have suggested adding iron to areas of the ocean to spur plankton growth.

“In essence, you have more plant life, more plankton plants growing in the ocean that would remove CO2 and we'd take it down to the deep sea,” said Rick Murray, Deputy Director & Vice President for Research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Murray warned that there’s still a lot of work to be done before that approach becomes a reality.

On the other hand, shoreline marshes and mangroves also have the ability to store a lot of carbon right now.

“Those are very, very dense areas of growth and reducing the decline of those and reestablishing environments where those can flourish…if that ends up being a widespread change or process that we can implement, that would certainly help,” he said.

Another clean near-shore resource waiting to be developed is wind energy, Murray said.

“And one of the ironies… is that the oil and gas industry—energy companies—have a lot of experience in putting big steel infrastructure out on the near the near continental shelf with all their history for drilling for oil,” he said.

“So, energy companies, as they evolve to include more and more offshore wind in their portfolio, they're actually somewhat uniquely positioned in terms of their engineering prowess to make a significant contribution to this.”

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Elsa Partan is a producer and newscaster with CAI. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.