Carbon-absorbing olivine 2.0

The carbonate sedimentary rock limestone

The atmospheric carbon dynamic is changing. Experts say it’s flattening.

I look at this and right away I’m thinking human CO2 contribution. Which, on the surface, sounds really hopeful. I mean, we’ve been pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for how long now?

But, what’s good about this is that in the context of an expanding world population, this suggests carbon-emissions-reduction progress is being made. I see that as a good thing.

What needs to be kept in mind is that, where the climate and temperature are concerned, not only is it prudent to reduce the atmosphere’s carbon content, but this should not be done in isolation, meaning, we can ill-afford to allow other greenhouse gas emissions like methane and perfluorocarbons in the air, for example, to keep building. It is recommended, again, by the experts, that these be lowered as well.

So, on Jul. 20, 2023 I wrote about olivine and its ability to naturally sink carbon from the air and store it there.

In the post I wrote: “In the larger context, the intent, as I understand it, is to spread quantities of this so-called ‘green sand’ on various beaches around the world. It is when dissolved in seawater that olivine is highly effective at removing airborne CO2 and keeping it permanently stored away, as information at notes. As long as the olivine remains in its undisturbed state, the absorbed carbon is permanent. The possibility exists also that given a long enough time, the volcanic material that olivine is, could return to the source from which it originally came.”

“The mineral’s cleansing abilities, meanwhile, go beyond just this. Olivine helps neutralize ocean acidity.”

But, I also had questions. A key one was this:

“Any carbon that is stored in olivine’s crystalline structure, what happens to that upon the vulcanized substance being ground up into sand?” (See: “Ocean-deposited olivine could help turn tide regarding climate-influencing activity”).

Well, in the interim, I went searching for answers and here is what I learned.

From the “Olivine against climate change and ocean acidification,” study by R.D. Schuiling and O. Tickell, here is some of what was conveyed.

“It has been claimed by Raymo & Ruddiman (1992) that the rapid exposure of large volumes of fresh rock in Eocene times in the Himalayas and the Tibet plateau has caused an enhanced weathering coupled to decreasing CO2 levels of the atmosphere. According to these authors, this has led to a gradual global cooling, and ultimately to the onset of the current Quaternary Glaciation, approximately 2.5 million years ago.

“A very similar conclusion was reached by Saltzman and Young (2005) who explain the late Ordovician glaciation by the uplift of the Appalachians, which increased the area of fresh exposed rocks, and the resulting decrease in atmospheric CO2 levels. In a later paper (Young et al. 2009) the authors discuss the role of increased volcanism. Briefly summarized, while during the most active period of volcanism CO2 emission levels and increased weathering of volcanic rocks more or less balanced, after the end of the period of active volcanism the huge volumes of fresh volcanic rock captured huge volumes of CO2, lowering its atmospheric level and causing a new glaciation period.”

Enhanced rock weathering holds tremendous potential as a cleansing agent where removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is concerned, provided this method is proven to not be destructive or disruptive to either marine- or soil-ecosystem life. And, should that criteria be met, as long as the process of enhanced-rock-weathering sequestering of atmospheric carbon can be scaled to the point where it produces positive returns, then my last question would be: What are we waiting for?!

Above and corresponding, connected home-page-featured images: Jim Stuby via Wikimedia Commons

Updated on Aug. 24, 2023 at 5:05 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

⁃ Alan Kandel

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