More Than Just a Snack – How Seaweed Tackles Climate Change

Imagine you are swimming in the ocean and something soft touches your leg. Startled you take a look and realize it was just some seaweed… You guessed it, this week’s climate story is about seaweed.

Did you know last Thursday was Seaweed Day? Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the United Nations Global Compact launched a seaweed manifesto. During the launch, short, inspiring talks from companies, non-profits, research institutions and UN agencies highlighted how important seaweed is.

Besides being a sustainable option for food and feed, packaging and even biofuels, seaweed could also play an important role in capturing greenhouse gases. One of the speakers at Seaweed Day was Jorunn Skjermo, a scientist at SINTEF Ocean in Norway. During her talk she covered three ways in which seaweed is beneficial to the climate.

The first way is replacing fossil-based products like fuel or plastics with seaweed-based fuels and plastic. By replacing fossil-based products with sustainable alternatives, a lot of greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided.

Her second point is about food. We need protein in our diet and meat production has a big carbon footprint. Vegetarian options such a soy protein have a much lower carbon footprint. Seaweed has by far the lowest carbon footprint. It grows in the ocean without the need of deforestation, watering, or fertilizing. Besides being an extremely sustainable food option, this superfood is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

The third way seaweed is beneficial to the climate is by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This is how it works:

On the left side you see how carbon dioxide gets absorbed by the ocean surface. In the water, seaweed transforms carbon dioxide into oxygen, just like land plants. On top of that, seaweed stores carbon dioxide in its biomass. Pictured on the right side is what happens when seaweed dies off. It sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where it stays for hundreds of years, storing the carbon dioxide.

During her talk Jorunn showed a map of Norway with a small rectangle off the coast. The size of that rectangle was a 20.000 square kilometer area. A seaweed farm that size could offset Norway’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions.

A restored ocean and seaweed farming forests should be considered carbon sinks to mitigate climate change

http://www.seaweedmanifesto.com/

How would that work in practice? I envision offshore seaweed farms that produce seaweed for food, feed, packaging or other uses. Seaweed forests clean the ocean and make the water less acidic. If a percentage of the seaweed is cut so it can sink, big amounts of carbon dioxide could be stored.

Seaweed day was packed with insightful talks, from selling seaweed snacks in Japan to blue bonds in Portugal. What I liked most about the seaweed manifesto is how teams from all over the world worked together. It lists milestones and success criteria for a successful seaweed industry. Let’s hope we can accelerate pilot projects and build more seaweed farms soon so we can restore ocean health and mitigate climate change.

How Whales Could Offset Global Warming

To stop global warming we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I have been writing about different ways to do this, from planting trees, restoring wetlands, to capturing carbon. Although I have been writing about the importance of seaweed, I haven’t looked at marine animals before. So here we go…

Imagine you are on a boat off the San Diego coast. The sun is shining, and you are looking over the calm water. Suddenly there is a splash and a huge whale comes out of the water and dives back in. What an incredible experience.

Turns out, besides being amazing animals, whales help to offset global warming. An article from the International Monetary Fund explains how they do this and what monetary value whales have.

Whales store carbon in their bodies and help phytoplankton growth. Wherever whales are, phytoplankton increases. What do these tiny microorganisms have to do with climate change? Let’s find out…

Basically, whales are natural fertilizers. They move from cold, nutrient rich water where they feed to nutrient poor water, such are surface waters, stimulating phytoplankton growth. They also migrate from cold, nutrient rich waters to warm waters for breeding and stimulate phytoplankton in the process.

Phytoplankton not only contribute at least 50 percent of all oxygen to our atmosphere, they do so by capturing about 37 billion metric tons of CO2, an estimated 40 percent of all COproduced

https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2019/12/natures-solution-to-climate-change-chami.htm

Before whaling there we 4-5 million whales, now there are only 1.3 million left. This is how whales could help tackle climate change:

Even a 1 percent increase in phytoplankton productivity thanks to whale activity would capture hundreds of millions of tons of additional CO2 a year, equivalent to the sudden appearance of 2 billion mature trees

https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2019/12/natures-solution-to-climate-change-chami.htm

Beside stimulating phytoplankton growth, whales themselves store massive amounts of carbon dioxide. When whales die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean where this carbon is stored for hundreds of years.

What I like most about the article is that they show the economic benefits of restoring whale populations. They value an average great whale at $2 million. Subsidizing whale’s greenhouse gas sequestration would be worth $13 per person a year.

Whales are helping to restore ocean health and capture massive amounts of greenhouse gases. What’s stopping us from helping whale populations to grow right now?

Healthy, Delicious, and Climate-Positive

A few weeks ago I went to Blue Tech Week. The talks about sustainable ocean and water technologies were amazing. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks. But today I’ll write about the lunch I had there.

While I was grabbing food at the buffet, I noticed that every dish had seaweed as an ingredient. The rice, the chicken, the salad, even the dessert. And it was delicious!

While eating, I chatted with Wenhao, who was sitting next to me. I asked him how he was connected to the conference and he answered: “Through the food”.  I was intrigued so he told me more: He has a farm in Hawaii and the sea asparagus in the salad was from his farm.

You guessed it: This week’s story brings us to Hawaii. Imagine lush forests with amazing waterfalls, beautiful beaches and crystal-clear water. This is where Wenhao’s company Olakai grows sea asparagus or sea beans. It has a crunchy, salty flavor and is a superfood packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In our case the sea asparagus was fresh in the salad, but it can also be blanched or pickled.

Wenhao told me about how his sustainable farm uses saltwater from the sea to grow seaweed and sea asparagus as well as fish. This is how it works:

Aquaponics provides the fish with feed and oxygen while the carbon dioxide and nutrients (fish poop and leftover feed) naturally fertilize the the seaweed and sea vegetables. It creates the perfect environment for organic farming. And the best thing: No water, fertilizer or pesticides are needed.

What does sustainable farming have to do with climate change? According to project drawdown, crop and livestock production is the source of about 1/8 of greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable farming practices reduce emissions from farming and ranching while also sequestering significant amounts of carbon.

What a fantastic way to grow sustainable food! Let’s hope sustainable aquaponic systems expand to other areas of the world. After that inspiring conversation I had to go back to the buffet and try some more…

How Seaweed Tackles Climate Change

Just your nightly bedtime story? This week’s UN climate change report assesses the state of the oceans. It’s a dire forecast of melting ice sheets, sea level water rise, and acidification of the oceans. The acidification happens as the water takes in more and more human caused carbon dioxide. The report says that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030. Besides reducing emissions we need to work on restoring the oceans. Is there anything hopeful I can write about this week? Yes!

Imagine small scale farms for seaweed and shellfish such as oysters. These plants and animals have the superpower to clean the water, filter out pollutants, and capture carbon dioxide. By working their magic, they put underwater ecosystems back into balance. This week’s story is about a seaweed farm called Ocean Rainforest.

Picture a windy, cloudy and cold place. This story brings us far north to the Faroe Islands. They are situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Norway and Iceland.

This is where the company Ocean Rainforest seeds, grows, harvests, and processes seaweed. They sell four types of seaweed on their website that can be used for food, cosmetics, and packaging. Seaweed farming is extremely sustainable because it doesn’t need fertilizer or water to grow, and doesn’t require deforestation.

By cultivating the seaweed instead of taking from wild stocks, we are sustaining the natural balance of our fjords.

http://www.oceanrainforest.com/

What I love most about Ocean Rainforest is how their farm takes in more carbon dioxide than they use.

As seaweed grows it takes in carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. Pieces of seaweed get washed out to sea and sink to the bottom of the ocean, where they permanently sequester carbon.

Coastal ecosystems sequester away surprisingly large amounts of carbon – they can sequester up to 20 times more carbon per acre than land forests

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/how-kelp-naturally-combats-global-climate-change/

Ocean Rainforest is one of the largest seaweed cultivators in Europe. Let’s hope their success inspires other seaweed farmers to start similar companies all around the world!

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Can Kelp Forests Stop Global Warming?

Imagine diving through an underwater area with a lot of giant algae, a kelp forest. These underwater forests are very productive ecosystems and capture carbon the same way as forests on land. They take in carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and create a healthy ecosystem for plants and animals. Unfortunately, these kelp forests are in danger. As the planet is getting warmer much of that heat is absorbed by warmer surface waters in the ocean. That warm water layer is getting bigger and nutrients from cold currents can’t reach the kelp forests any more. Kelp and marine animals are disappearing and ocean deserts are getting bigger. That sounds terrifying, is there a way to stop that trend? Actually, there is.

Growing back kelp forests may be one of the most extraordinary ways to reverse global warming

https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/coming-attractions/marine-permaculture

Today’s post is about Dr. Brian Von Herzen and his climate foundation. He came up with a way of restoring cold ocean currents to reestablish plankton, kelp, and fish. His invention is a wave powered tube that pumps cold water to an underwater structure to regrow plankton and kelp. This is how it works.

The left picture shows how cold currents naturally work. As wind blows warmer water to the side it gets replaced by cold, nutrient rich water. The nutrients help plankton, kelp, and seagrass to grow and marine animals to flourish. The picture in the middle shows how the warm water layer expands with raising temperatures. Cold, nutrient rich water can’t reach the kelp forest and ocean deserts expand.

The picture on the right shows Brian’s cold water pump. It pumps cold, nutrient rich water from deeper levels closer to the surface. The water flows into a structure where plankton and kelp can grow and bring back other marine plants and animals.

Restoring plankton and kelp sounds like a great idea. The numbers for carbon sequestration are actually massive and could make a real impact! Plankton are tiny but significant.

“They comprise half of the organic matter on earth and produce at least half of the earth oxygen”

http://www.climatefoundation.org/what-is-marine-permaculture.html

As with plankton, kelp sequesters huge amounts of carbon dioxide. On top of that, kelp can be harvested and utilized:

Floating kelp forests could provide food, feed, fertilizer, fiber, and biofuels to most of the world

Paul Hawken, Drawdon

I love this brilliant invention! Climate Foundation is currently testing the pump in Australia and the Philippines. Hopefully this can be adapted more widely soon so that we can restore ocean health, capture carbon emissions, and maybe one day reverse global warming!

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