Environmental Protection

What is carbon sink?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. The porous rocks deep beneath Earth's surface aren't the only places where large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) can be absorbed and stored safely. In fact, Earth's oceans actually absorb considerable amounts of CO2 on their own, storing it in reservoirs known as carbon sinks, in a process scientists call carbon sequestration. (Plants, converting CO2, are also carbon sinks.) So far, so good, right? The downside is that even the oceans have their limits: Some oceans simply are not absorbing as much CO2 as they used to. Instead of sinking to the bottom, large amounts of CO2 are staying on the surface of the ocean, which raises the acidity level of that area. The more acidic an ocean becomes, the harsher its effects on the local marine life. So, while the ocean might seem the perfect place to steer human-made emissions, it's important to ensure that an area of the ocean can tolerate CO2 before dumping large amounts of the gas there.

    Another caveat with any carbon sequestration method that targets undersea storage is that it can be quite dangerous. Much like storing CO2 underground, a potential underwater leak could have dire consequences for the world around it. Scientists point to a 1986 event in Cameroon, where an underwater volcanic eruption caused large amounts of CO2 to escape from a lake, killing 2,000 people and causing catastrophic damage to the lake's marine population.

    That doesn't mean people are giving up on carbon sequestration, though. Obviously, any method for CO2 absorption that could help mitigate atmospheric greenhouse gases is going to get its share of attention in some government circles, and carbon sequestration is on the mind of the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The group's Carbon Sequestration Program is targeting 2020 for the commercial deployment of several technologies that it says will be able to perform economical, large-scale and safe capture, storage and mitigation of CO2 emissions [source: NETL].

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