Slimy, green and unsightly, seaweed and algae are among the humblest plants on earth. A group of scientists at a climate conference in Bali say they could also be a potent weapon against global warming, capable of sucking damaging carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere at rates comparable to the mightiest rain forests.
The seaweed research, backed by scientists in 12 countries, is part of a broad effort to calculate how much carbon is being absorbed from the atmosphere by plants, and figure out ways to increase that through reforestation and other steps.
Proponents say seaweed and algae's rapid rate of photosynthesis, the process of turning carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy and oxygen, is a top factor in its effectiveness in carbon absorption. Some types of seaweed can grow three or four meters (yards) long in only three months. Lee Jae-young, with South Korea's fisheries ministry, said some seaweeds can absorb five times more carbon dioxide than terrestrial plants.
The concept, however, has problems. Skeptics, for instance, say that trees are effective for carbon storage because they can last for many years, while seaweed is cultivated and harvested in cycles of only months, meaning the storage will be hard to measure or control.
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