An elevated view of the San Pedro waterfront at sunrise.

Touring Ocean-based Carbon Removal with the California Legislature

Anchoring science in California's exploration of this emergent climate mitigation strategy

By Kevin Travis

From lab-based research in the Bay Area to in-water field testing off the Port of Los Angeles, a number of projects have branched out of California’s academic and scientific institutions in recent years aiming to harness the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the midst of this growth, Ocean Science Trust conducted a series of educational tours with the California Legislature toward the end of 2023 to explore these projects and examine the potential role of ocean-based or marine carbon dioxide removal (mCDR).

The proposed climate mitigation strategy aims to amplify the ocean’s natural ability to absorb “legacy” carbon dioxide –remaining from past emissions– through various technological, chemical and biological processes. Scientists worldwide have acknowledged the potential of ocean-based methods in contributing to a portfolio of carbon removal pathways, in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

The educational tours provided policymakers with a first-hand look at these emergent technologies, showcasing their research, development, and early testing in California, as well as holding honest dialogue about the potential environmental, ecological, and social implications of each proposed strategy at scale, including critical science needs and unknowns. The first tour featured Ebb Carbon and was hosted by State Senator Josh Becker and with remarks from Assemblymember Diane Papan. The second tour was hosted by State Senator Steven Bradford at AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, where both Captura and Equatic are operating pilot projects.

Six people sit and stand at the front of a beige room. A Powerpoint presentation is visible on the screen behind them.
OST Senior Science Officer Dr. Lauren Linsmayer leading the scientific panel with Ebb Carbon in November.
Six people sit backlit by a bank of bright windows.
OST Science Officer Kevin Travis moderating the scientific panel with Captura and Equatic in December.

Policymakers interacted directly with leading scientists and experts in the field, spanning perspectives from academia and industry to NGOs and climate finance. Some main messages included:

  • Carbon removal alone will not get us to our climate goals, and must only be advanced in tandem with significant emissions reductions.
  • California is poised to lead on mCDR research, development, and demonstration (RD&D), setting precedent on how mCDR projects can be responsibly tested and evaluated.
  • Private investment must be met with public support, partnership, and direction to responsibly pursue any promising mCDR strategies.
  • Significant investment in ocean observing, monitoring, and modeling is necessary to evaluate mCDR efficacy and safety, which will also serve to improve our overall understanding of the ocean-climate system.
  • An investment in basic research for mCDR also requires an investment into the next generation of scientists, where workforce development and economic benefits can be directed toward underserved communities.

With mCDR efforts ramping up in California and elsewhere, these educational tours provided a timely, neutral platform to dive deeper on both policy questions and science needs behind this burgeoning industry. As an independent science entity in the state, we will continue to equip policymakers and state managers with the best available information, ensuring the responsible advancement of ocean-based climate solutions. More information about our work ahead on ocean-based carbon removal can be found here.

< Back