How Volcanoes can Stop Global Warming

Illustration for article titled How Volcanoes can Stop Global Warming

Click to viewKnown for spewing liquid rock, ash clouds, and noxious gases into the atmosphere, volcanoes seem unlikely candidates for solving Global Warming. But the rocks the fiery mountains leave behind may be exactly that, according to scientists at Columbia University. They say that sequestering carbon dioxide in volcanic rocks beneath the ocean may be the best way yet to socking the CO2 away, out of the atmosphere, and making sure it never haunts us again.

Oil companies currently pump CO2 down into their reservoirs as a way of forcing more oil up to the surface. The process works, but it's on a small scale, and some scientists worry that the carbon dioxide won't stay put — in the case of an earthquake or future drilling, it could come bubbling right back up into the atmosphere.

But David Goldberg and his team at Columbia have figured out a better way — pump the CO2 down beneath 9,000 feet of water and then into volcanic basalts. There the greenhouse gas reacts with the rock, turning into carbonate (aka limestone, aka chalk) so even if there is an earthquake there shouldn't be anything to worry about.


Of course getting any material pumped into rock close to two miles below the surface of the ocean could be tough, but the researchers are targeting a site in the Pacific Ocean offshore of Oregon and Washington that's filled with vast expanses of basalt. They're going to try some land-based trials later this year, but Goldberg says things would go a lot faster if the US cared to up the ante by throwing a little more cash towards carbon sequestration research. From EurekAlert:

The United States currently spends about $40 million a year studying carbon sequestration, but nearly all of that goes to land-based research. "Forty million is about the opening-day box office for Finding Nemo," said Goldberg. "We need policy change now, to energize research beyond our coastlines."

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences via EurekAlert

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Should we toss some virgins into the volcanoes, just to make sure?