UW News

October 29, 2021

UW oceanographer will study how glacial particles remove CO2 from atmosphere

white glacier with ocean in foreground

Prince William Sound, on the southern coast of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, is home to glaciers that make contact with the ocean. The unique marine chemistry in these environments could help scientists understand how glacial particles react with seawater and atmospheric carbon dioxide.Rob Campbell/Prince William Sound Science Center

An oceanographer at the University of Washington is part of a new project to study how glacial particles, created as glaciers grind the rock beneath them into a powder, reacts with seawater to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Alex Gagnon, an associate professor of oceanography at the UW, is one of the investigators on a newly funded project that involves field and lab studies of a natural setting that could help understand the ocean’s role in carbon removal, which many experts believed will need to be combined with emissions reductions to address climate change.

ClimateWorks Foundation, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, and Ocean Visions, a research consortium, announced on Oct. 28 two 18-month grants to evaluate the environmental impacts of ocean-based carbon dioxide removal approaches through the study of natural environments.

Ocean-based carbon dioxide removal analogues are defined as natural marine settings that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via processes that could theoretically be replicated, sped up or done at larger scales.

The team’s $220,000 grant will fund a study near the edge of glaciers that contact the ocean at high tides in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Researchers will measure the rate of addition of alkaline material from rocks surrounding the fjords, where glaciers naturally pulverize rocks and discharge fine-grained particles into the ocean. The study will measure CO2 uptake at various water depths and in the sediments to test the link between adding alkaline powder and atmospheric CO2 removal. The team will also determine how trace metals released by the rocks, such as zinc and iron, affect marine ecosystems.

The project partners are John Crusius, a UW affiliate associate professor of oceanography and research scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center; Rob Campbell, a biological oceanographer and chief science officer at the Prince William Sound Science Center; and Mary Margaret Stoll, a UW graduate student in oceanography.

The team will use the science center’s research vessel, the R/V New Wave, to collect samples, and then analyze them in a UW lab.

The other grant was awarded to a team at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that will study seasonal changes in the Mississippi River’s discharge to the Gulf of Mexico.


For more information, contact Gagnon at gagnon@uw.edu.