Seaweed Farming Could Be An Important Tool In The Fight Against Climate Change

It may surprise you to learn that agriculture is a major cause of climate change, but the facts bear out that statement, as NPR has reported:

“Humans must drastically alter food production to prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming, according to a new report from the United Nations panel on climate change.

“The panel of scientists looked at the climate change effects of agriculture, deforestation and other land use, such as harvesting peat and managing grasslands and wetlands. Together, those activities generate about a third of human greenhouse gas emissions, including more than 40% of methane.”

But when most people think of the word “agriculture,” they tend to consider crops grown in the ground. But the oceans are also part of that equation, and it turns out that marine agriculture (also known as aquaculture) could wind up playing an important role in helping to mitigate climate change.

Science Daily notes that a report from the University of California – Santa Barbara explains that seaweed farming may be a major contributor to reducing the global climate crisis, with Halley Froehlich, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, remarking:

“‘It’s not a silver bullet, nor an industry that exists yet. But it has huge potential.'”

Yes, seaweed — viewed by many as little more than marine detritus we see on the beach — has a remarkable carbon offsetting potential.

In fact, seaweed, the researchers explain, could work in a way that has never been considered before:

“The process would involve cultivating seaweed and harvesting it for the purpose of sinking the algae in the deeper ocean, where the carbon stored in its tissues would remain ‘buried.'”

Professor Froelich and her team focused on the food sector, finding that aquaculture may be one of several ways we’ll reduce carbon emissions in the near future.

Consider the harvesting potential when it comes to seaweed: There are roughly 48 million square kilometers where seaweed could be farmed and the study shows that even a tiny portion of that, 0.001%, would be enough to make the entire aquaculture industry carbon neutral.

It should be noted, however, that farming seaweed alone won’t manage to balance the total emissions from worldwide food production. But it could most certainly be part of a larger plan to reduce carbon emissions.

The study also suggests that seaweed farming would likely have the greatest impact on local and regional goals of reaching carbon neutrality.

Currently, the majority of seaweed aquaculture takes place in Southeast Asia. The United States effort remains in the infant stages. But considering that the U.S. is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the need for solutions to reaching carbon neutrality is more urgent for nations that are currently doing the most when it comes to contributing to climate change.

Seaweed farming also has other benefits, Froelich noted:

“We like to call it ‘charismatic carbon’ because it has additional benefits. Such as potentially providing habitat for fish and other marine life, reducing ocean acidification and oxygen depletion, and taking up excess nutrients in local areas.”

While cultivating seaweed may seem to be something that cannot possibly do enough to counter the enormous problem of global climate change, it’s worth keeping in mind and old saying: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

 

Featured Image Via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Andrew Bradford
 

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