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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Can we Turn Greenhouse Gases into Water Bottles?

As user experience designers we create customer journeys. In those journeys or scenarios we design how a customer might use our product. Imagine we wanted to design a smartwatch. We don’t just think about the moment someone interacts with the watch but sketch out an entire day. This helps us make better design decisions.

That got me thinking… What is the customer journey of a plastic bottle? We drink the water, but what happens before and after? What is the entire lifecycle of a water bottle? This is what I sketched up…

Lifecycle of a water bottle from production to

Nearly all bottles are made from petroleum. During the oil extraction and the manufacturing of plastic, greenhouse gasses are released into the air. Then during transportation more greenhouse gases are released. After we enjoy the water and throw it away, I sketched five different endings:

  • A. Recycle into other plastics for carpets or tiles (only 7 % of plastic in the US is recycled)
  • B. Greenhouse gases and toxins are released when burning plastic
  • C. It takes hundreds of years to decompose and toxins each into soil and groundwater when put in the landfill
  • D. In the ocean it kills and negatively affects marine life and ends up in our food chain
  • E. When decomposing into microplastics it kills or harms bacteria that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen

I promised you positive and inspiring stories and so far this post has been pretty depressing. In a recent post I featured water pouches made from algae.

Here is another fantastic startup, this time from California.  Cove makes water bottles out of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) – wow, that’s a long word. It’s biodegradable, compostable and produces zero toxic waste.

It is produced by microorganisms feeding on sugar, starches or greenhouse gases. I love this part: Microorganisms can actually turn greenhouse gases, such as waste methane and carbon dioxide, into biodegradable PHA plastics. Companies like Newlight Technologies are developing these kind of bioplastics.

Imagine a plastic-like material that is produced by greenhouse gas eating bacteria! Cove is currently testing how long it will take to break down the bottles in different scenarios. They are launching in California this year, so stay tuned!

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Can Drones Capture Carbon Dioxide?

The British Startup BioCarbon Engineering develops drones to restore wetlands by planting mangroves. Wetlands sequester a huge amount of carbon dioxide in plants above ground and in the soil. In fact, they store five times more carbon dioxide than tropical forest.

The soil of mangrove forests alone may hold the equivalent of more than two years of global emissions—22 billion tons of carbon, much of which would escape if these ecosystems were lost.

https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/land-use/coastal-wetlands

Besides capturing carbon dioxide, mangroves provide protection from storm surges. Once restored, they clean the water and bring back marine animals.

Unfortunately, mangroves are being cleared at an alarming rate. More than half of the world’s mangrove forests have been lost in the last 50 years. That brings me back to BioCarbon Engineering’s drones and how they help to restore coastal wetlands. So, how does it work?

Drone crates a 3d map, drops seedlings, and monitors reforestation

First, a drone flies over the area to create a 3d map. This map is then used to decide where to plant. It drops biodegradable pods that are filled with a germinated seed and nutrients while recording each pod’s location. After planting the drone monitors the progress of the reforestation.

One of BioCarbon Engineering projects is in the Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park in Myanmar. Locals appreciate the restored mangrove forests because they are flood barriers and bring back crabs and fish. Long term success of the restoration can only be achieved with support from locals. Non-profits such as Worldview International Foundation work with local communities to train them to fly drones and monitor progress. Instead of making a living by selling the mangrove wood, locals are now making a living by restoring these wetlands.

And who pays for it? Non profits such as Sustainable Surf are launching projects for consumers and companies all over the world to finance the restoration of coastal ecosystems.

What I like most about BioCarbon Engineering is how the drones can scale up the reforestation of wetlands. We need all the help we can get to balance out our carbon dioxide emissions and this looks like a promising approach.

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Can we Replace Plastic with Seaweed?

Let’s talk plastic again. Plastic is everywhere. Most of it is made from fossil fuels. Project drawdown estimates that 5-6 percent of our global oil production goes into plastic manufacturing. After we use it, only 9% gets recycled! The rest ends up in landfills or in the environment where it emits greenhouse gases. Some of our plastic trash gets shipped to other countries which emits even more greenhouse gases.

So, what if we could replace plastic with a natural material? Something that takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere instead of producing it? Something that doesn’t need water or fertilizer to grow? And something that, while it’s growing, cleans our oceans? You guessed it, I’m talking about seaweed.

The British company Skipping Rocks Lab is working on just that: Replacing plastic with seaweed. This Forbes article covers how these seaweed pouches reduced plastic waste during the London marathon a few weeks ago. Organizers replaced 200.000 water bottles with seaweed pouches.

Skipping Rocks Lab calls these pouches Ooho. They use brown seaweed and remove it’s color, odor, and taste to produce a thin, edible membrane. To produce Ooho they are just using seaweed, calcium and water. The seaweed and calcium react to form a membrane. Here is how it works.

Seaweed pouches mad out of seaweed, calcium and water
Seaweed pouches made out of seaweed, water and calcium

Skipping Rocks Lab has been experimenting with these pouches for a few years now. They are making pouches for drinks and little sachets for sauces and dressings. So instead of a little plastic bag, your ketchup could come in a seaweed package.

Brown seaweed is a sustainable and renewable material. While plastic takes 700 years to decompose, seaweed turns into soil in just 6 weeks.

 “Growing up to 1m per day, it doesn’t compete with food crops, doesn’t need fresh water or fertiliser and actively contributes to de-acidifying our oceans.”

https://www.notpla.com/technology/

What I love most about this is that Skipping Rocks Lab are working on improving the properties and making the packaging better and better. With the marathon they showed they can produce on a scale. Now they are working on nets and plastic wraps made out of seaweed. Imagine how a plastic free future might look like!

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How Studying Temples Lead to Carbon Capture

I read this inspiring afforestation story in one of my favorite books, Drawdown. The story is about Akiri Miyawaki, a Japanese botanist who developed a novel afforestation method.

In the 1970s and 1980s he realized most forest trees where not native trees to Japan. They had been introduced over centuries for timber. He studied original vegetation around shrines and temples and his idea was to reintroduce those native species back to Japan’s forests. This is the method he developed:

5 steps to growing a native forest
The Miyawaki method: 5 steps to growing a native forest

“The Miyawaki method calls for dozens of native tree species and other indigenous flora to be planted close together, often on degraded land devoid of organic matter. As these saplings grow, natural selection plays out and a richly biodiverse, resilient forest results”

Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to roll back global warming, Hawken – Penguin Books – 2018

He became a champion of creating indigenous, authentic forests. They are more resilient to climate change and other threads. Over the years he has planted more than 40 million trees around the world, from Brazil to France, India and China.

What I like most about his approach is that it only takes 2 years of watering and weeding for the plants to become self-sustaining and they are mature after only 10-20 years. These original forests are denser, more biodiverse, and capture and sequester more carbon than plantations. What an inspiring story. Let’s plant more forests!