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Seaweed washed up on the shore in the Caribbean

Sargassum litters a beach on Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands. A study of a Sargassum bloom that spread across the Atlantic Ocean in 2017 and 2018 casts doubt on seaweed farms’ capacity to curb global warming. Credit: Alyson Myers

Biogeochemistry

The world’s biggest seaweed patch sows doubt about a climate fix

Data from the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt suggest that floating seaweed farms are no climate panacea.

Seaweed absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but large seaweed farms in the ocean might not be the climate fix that many scientists have proposed.

To test seaweed farms’ potential impact on climate, Lennart Bach at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia, and his colleagues analysed a natural analogue: the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, a floating seaweed bloom in the north Atlantic Ocean. The team estimated the belt’s carbon uptake during a major bloom in 2017 and 2018 and considered biological knock-on effects. For example, photosynthetic plankton that the bloom displaced reduced their carbon intake, and microscopic animals that attached to the seaweeds increased their release of carbon dioxide.

The team’s calculations suggest that these effects offset 20–100% of the 810,000 tonnes of carbon accumulated by the Sargassum bloom. The team also thinks that the bright Sargassum belt could affect climate by reflecting large amounts of solar radiation into space and by releasing organic matter into the atmosphere, thereby increasing cloud cover. The size of such effects is uncertain, raising questions about seaweed farming as a climate intervention strategy.

More Research Highlights...

Selected materials found in the gut contents of Tollund Man

The intestinal contents of a man killed in a prehistoric ritual (clockwise from upper left): barley, charred food that had been encrusted in a clay pot, flax seeds and sand. Credit: Peter Steen Henriksen, the Danish National Museum

Archaeology

The guts of a ‘bog body’ reveal sacrificed man’s final meal

Tollund Man, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, ate well before he was hanged.
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