Dealing with the problem of global climate change is not just about reducing emissions; it’s also about finding ways to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Plants already help with this, with rainforests, savannahs, and forests removing carbon dioxide from the air as part of the normal life process of trees. But plants can’t keep up with the amount of carbon dioxide that humans have created since the industrial revolution, and we need to find some way to help them out.
One scheme that has been suggested is to sequester carbon dioxide away somewhere it can’t impact the environment. This has been done on a very small scale, but to date, no projects that could have a significant impact have been launched, primarily because the data isn’t there to do this correctly.
A recent study by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science has shed some light on the possibility of storing carbon dioxide underground. The idea has been kicked around for a while, so scientists have been studying the Bravo Dome gas field in New Mexico, a naturally-occurring underground reservoir of carbon dioxide.
The Bravo Dome is volcanic in origin, the gas having been trapped there for nearly a million years. Scientists had projected that carbon dioxide would dissolve into saline brine at much higher rates than it has, and thanks to the Bravo Dome, they know better. Originally, researchers had assumed that the pocket was only about 10,000 years old, but figuring out that it’s actually closer to one million years makes the process much slower.
About 20% of the carbon dioxide trapped there has been dissolved, meaning that a human project would have a much longer timetable than previously thought. But the interesting thing is that about half of that dissolution happened when the carbon was injected into the reservoir. What this means, pending more research, is that with the right technique–and the right reservoir–we could eliminate a large amount of carbon dioxide right off the bat, while the rest of it lowly dissolves over millions of years.