Future Tech Watch
Aquatic Robots Deployed to Fight Climate Change

Here’s a bit of hopeful climate news: scientists have developed “micromotors” capable of trawling our planet’s oceans and converting carbon dioxide out of solution into calcium carbonate, the same material that makes up seashells and coral, which could then be stored. Wired reports:

The micromotors, described in a new study, would be powered by the environment itself, using enzymes to move around the sea, converting carbon dioxide into a solid as they swim. “In the future, we could potentially use these micromotors as part of a water treatment system, like a water decarbonation plant,” said Kevin Kaufmann, co-author of the study. […]

In the experiments, the micromotors quickly decarbonated ionised water solutions containing carbon dioxide. Within five minutes, the motors removed 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from the solution. In seawater, 88 percent of carbon dioxide was removed. Converting carbon dioxide to calcium carbonate, a compound found naturally in shells and coral, is currently one of the most environmentally reliable methods for reducing reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in water.

Our oceans absorb roughly one quarter of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and in that sense act as natural “sinks” for storing the greenhouse gas and preventing surface temperatures from rising. Just recently scientists found that the Southern Ocean—the waters surrounding Antarctica—is capable of storing a lot more carbon dioxide than previously thought, and that was good climate news, for a change!

But like so many phenomena in our planet’s climate, oceanic carbon absorption produces a new problem, even as it solves one. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) explains, “the CO2 absorbed by the ocean is changing the chemistry of the seawater, a process called ocean acidification.” Changed chemical compositions can affect oceanic ecosystems in ways we understand (scientist say lower pH water can be harmful to a wide variety of aquatic species) but also, you can be sure, in many other ways we don’t yet grasp.

In other words, this looks like a big problem associated with climate change. That said, like the rest of climate change’s ill effects, its scope shouldn’t intimidate us into thinking we’re helpless—these micromotors could help us mitigate the effects of acidification. We’re constantly reminded of humanity’s culpability for our changing climate, but fear-mongering greens too often ignore the flip side of our species’ ability to effect change. We have an extraordinary capacity to adapt, to innovate, and, above all, to solve problems. True, the sheer size of the problem of climate change is daunting, and it’s one we’re still far from fully understanding, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to lie down and wait to be cooked or to be swept away by rising sea levels, no matter what the eco-Malthusians of the world might have you believe.

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