Does the ocean need its version of the International Space Station?
A Canadian research center in Halifax says the answer is yes, promoting an ambitious observation system for the North Atlantic.
“The North Atlantic Carbon Observatory is a structure that allows countries as a consortium to invest in ocean observation, as they do in the International Space Station or with a number of international telescopes,” said Anya Waite, CEO and scientific director of the Ocean Frontier Institute. †
The North Atlantic, and in particular the Labrador Sea, is one of the largest carbon sinks in the world, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it deep in the ocean.
Understanding its role in reducing greenhouse gases lies behind the proposed carbon observatory and one of the topics at an Ocean Frontier Institute conference taking place this week in Halifax.
Scientists say more research is needed
“We need to reduce uncertainty in carbon uptake,” Katja Fennel, a professor in the oceanography department at Dalhousie University, told the conference Tuesday. Fennel has been awarded a $3 million Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant to deploy Argo autonomous floats in the North Atlantic to measure changing ocean conditions.
“We need a better predictive understanding of carbon accounting projections, monitoring and verification of carbon dioxide reduction.”
So are companies like ecommerce company Shopify.
It was the first to buy carbon credits from Nova Scotia-based Planetary Technologies, which aims to use purified mining waste to neutralize ocean carbon.
Stacy Kauk, chief of sustainability at Shopify, said it’s a gamble on a good idea, but companies like hers need more certainty when carbon credits are based on promised ocean benefits.
“We’re basically buying an odorless, colorless gas that’s stored in the ocean,” Kauk told the conference. “You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. You can’t feel it. And we don’t actually do the work. We buy an environmental asset.
“To make sure this is something we can rely on to map our company carbon footprint in the future, we need monitoring, reporting and verification protocols to give us the confidence to be a buyer.” .”
How do you make an ocean space station?
These are big questions, and the Ocean Frontier Institute is promoting its observatory as a way to coordinate and expand international efforts already underway to better understand carbon absorption and what to do about it.
“It’s about getting that global reach and that integration, then coming up with a solution and figuring out the design how to run it next,” Waite says.
Tension at DFO about who pays?
In briefing notes dated May 27, 2021 prepared for then-Secretary of Fisheries Bernadette Jordan, officials were hesitant to commit to the project, saying DFO “does not have additional resources to scale up ocean observation capacity from existing levels”.
The note was in preparation for a meeting with Clearwater Seafood founder and billionaire John Risley, who lobbied for the observatory project.
The note said proponents suggested the cost to Canada’s Environment and Climate Change would be $40 million, but Risley told the previous minister it was too early to discuss potential resources.
The note was obtained by News through an information access request.
“Because the NACO has not yet been investigated. It is not possible to estimate the implications of the resources for DFO. Although Dr. Waite has indicated that the environment and climate change cost Canada $40 million; it is clear that Mr. Risley then ECCC Secretary Wilkinson said it was too early to discuss potential resources,” the briefing note reads.
Who has been notified of the cabinet?
DFO Minister Joyce Murray, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault have been informed. But Canada has not committed to the project.
Guilbeault didn’t even mention it in his opening speech at the Halifax conference.
Waite said the project is making progress with the federal government.
“We’re now working with three or four ministries. We’ve talked to ministers, but also the researchers and the modellers. I think what’s happening is that the conversation is getting more intense and we’re starting to work out what are the roles of federal agencies in such a large program.”