Carbon sequestration or carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is the long-term removal, capture or sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow or reverse atmospheric CO2 pollution and to mitigate or reverse global warming.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is naturally captured from the atmosphere through biological, chemical, and physical processes. These changes can be accelerated through changes in land use and agricultural practices, such as converting crop and livestock grazing land into land for non-crop fast growing plants. Artificial processes have been devised to produce similar effects, including large-scale, artificial capture and sequestration of industrially produced CO2 using subsurface saline aquifers, reservoirs, ocean water, aging oil fields, or other carbon sinks, bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, biochar, ocean fertilization, enhanced weathering, and direct air capture when combined with storage.
The likely need for CDR has been publicly expressed by a range of individuals and organizations involved with climate change issues, including IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri, the UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres, and the World Watch Institute. Institutions with major programs focusing on CDR include the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, and the Climate Decision Making Center, an international collaboration operated out of Carnegie-Mellon University's Department of Engineering and Public Policy.
Biosequestration or carbon sequestration through biological processes affects the global carbon cycle. Examples include major climatic fluctuations, such as the Azolla event, which created the current Arctic climate. Such processes created fossil fuels, as well as clathrate and limestone. By manipulating such processes, geoengineers seek to enhance sequestration.
- Peatland Peat bogs act as a sink for carbon due to the accumulation of partially decayed biomass that would otherwise continue to decay completely. There is a variance on how much the peatlands act as a carbon sink or carbon source that can be linked to varying climates in different areas of the world and different times of the year. By creating new bogs, or enhancing existing ones, the amount of carbon that is sequestered by bogs would increase.
- Forestry Afforestation is the establishment of a forest in an area where there was no previous tree cover. Reforestation is the replanting of trees on marginal crop and pasture lands to incorporate carbon from atmospheric CO2 into biomass. For this carbon sequestration process to succeed the carbon must not return to the atmosphere from mass burning or rotting when the trees die. To this end, land allotted to the trees must not be converted to other uses and management of the frequency of disturbances might be necessary in order to avoid extreme events. Alternatively, the wood from them must itself be sequestered, e.g., via biochar, bio-energy with carbon storage (BECS), landfill or 'stored' by use in e.g., construction. Short of growth in perpetuity, however, reforestation with long-lived trees (>100 years) will sequester carbon for substantial period and be released gradually, minimizing carbon's climate impact during the 21st century. Earth offers enough room to plant an additional 1.2 trillion trees. Planting and protecting them would offset some 10 years of CO2 emissions and sequester 205 billion tons of carbon. This approach is supported by the Trillion Tree Campaign. Restoring all degraded forests world would capture about 205 billion tons of carbon in total (which is about 2/3rd of all carbon emissions). In a paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability, researchers studied the net effect of continuing to build according to current practices versus increasing the amount of wood products. They concluded that if during the next 30 years new construction utilized 90% wood products that 700 million tons of carbon would be sequestered.
- Urban forestry Urban forestry increases the amount of carbon taken up in cities by adding new tree sites and the sequestration of carbon occurs over the lifetime of the tree. It is generally practiced and maintained on smaller scales, like in cities. The results of urban forestry can have different results depending on the type of vegetation that is being used, so it can function as a sink but can also function as a source of emissions. Along with sequestration by the plants which is difficult to measure but seems to have little effect on the overall amount of carbon dioxide that is uptaken, the vegetation can have indirect effects on carbon by reducing need for energy consumption.
- Wetland restoration Wetland soil is an important carbon sink; 14.5% of the world's soil carbon is found in wetlands, while only 6% of the world's land is composed of wetlands.
- Agriculture Compared to natural vegetation, cropland soils are depleted in soil organic carbon (SOC). When a soil is converted from natural land or semi natural land, such as forests, woodlands, grasslands, steppes and savannas, the SOC content in the soil reduces by about 30–40%. This loss is due to the removal of plant material containing carbon, in terms of harvests. When the land use changes, the carbon in the soil will either increase or decrease, this change will continue until the soil reaches a new equilibrium. The decreasing of SOC content can be counteracted by increasing the carbon input, this can be done with several strategies, e.g. leave harvest residues on the field, use manure as fertiliser or include perennial crops in the rotation. Perennial crops have larger below ground biomass fraction, which increases the SOC content. Globally, soils are estimated to contain >8,580 gigatons of organic carbon, about ten times the amount in the atmosphere and much more than in vegetation.
- Carbon farming Carbon farming is a name for a variety of agricultural methods aimed at sequestering atmospheric carbon into the soil and in crop roots, wood and leaves. Increasing soil's carbon content can aid plant growth, increase soil organic matter (improving agricultural yield), improve soil water retention capacity and reduce fertilizer use (and the accompanying emissions of greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O).As of 2016, variants of carbon farming reached hundreds of millions of hectares globally, of the nearly 5 billion hectares (1.2×1010 acres) of world farmland. Soils can contain up to five per cent carbon by weight, including decomposing plant and animal matter and biochar.
- Bamboo farming Although a bamboo forest stores less total carbon than a mature forest of trees, a bamboo plantation sequesters carbon at a much faster rate than a mature forest or a tree plantation. Therefore the farming of bamboo timber may have significant carbon sequestration potential.
- Deep soil Soils hold four times the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere. About half of this is found deep within soils. About 90% of this deep soil carbon is stabilized by mineral-organic associations.
- Ocean-related Natural iron fertilisation events (e.g., deposition of iron-rich dust into ocean waters) can enhance carbon sequestration. Sperm whales act as agents of iron fertilisation when they transport iron from the deep ocean to the surface during prey consumption and defecation. Sperm whales have been shown to increase the levels of primary production and carbon export to the deep ocean by depositing iron rich feces into surface waters of the Southern Ocean. The iron rich feces causes phytoplankton to grow and take up more carbon from the atmosphere. When the phytoplankton dies, some of it sinks to the deep ocean and takes the atmospheric carbon with it. By reducing the abundance of sperm whales in the Southern Ocean, whaling has resulted in an extra 200,000 tonnes of carbon remaining in the atmosphere each year.
- Seaweed Seaweed grow in shallow and coastal areas, and capture significant amounts of carbon that can be transported to the deep ocean by oceanic mechanisms; seaweed reaching the deep ocean sequester carbon and prevent it from exchanging with the atmosphere over millennia. In addition, Seaweed grows very fast and can theoretically be harvested and processed to generate biomethane, via Anaerobic Digestion to generate electricity, via Cogeneration/CHP or as a replacement for natural gas. One study suggested that if seaweed farms covered 9% of the ocean they could produce enough biomethane to supply Earth's equivalent demand for fossil fuel energy, remove 53 gigatonnes of CO2 per year from the atmosphere and sustainably produce 200 kg per year of fish, per person, for 10 billion people. Ideal species for such farming and conversion include Laminaria digitata, Fucus serratus and Saccharina latissima.