Realistic solutions
Innovative approaches to mitigating big impacts of climate change
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“The coastal communities that make their livelihood off the ocean feel the impacts of climate change every day. This project can not only mitigate these impacts but also result in an overall healthier ocean.”
Kelly Hawboldt
University Research Professor, Department of Process Engineering, Memorial University
Memorial University

Transforming climate action

An ocean-first approach

Emerging science reveals the ocean's ability to absorb CO2 and regulate temperatures is changing in ways we don’t understand. These critical shifts are not accounted for in climate targets – a risk we can no longer take. With support from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, Dalhousie is leading an ocean-first approach to tackle climate change and equipping Canada with the knowledge, innovations, and opportunities to secure a positive climate future.

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Photo credit: Erik Mclean

Dr. Kelly Hawboldt’s family grew up near the ocean in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As a result, better understanding the impacts of climate change on the Earth’s most precious resource means a lot to her.

“My mother's family made their life from the ocean, as many coastal communities have,” Dr. Hawboldt said. “I want to see those communities grow and thrive and the healthier the ocean is the more likely this is.”

An internationally recognized researcher from Memorial University’s Department of Process Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Dr. Hawboldt is part of a cross-disciplinary team examining ways to sustainably mitigate climate change impacts on the ocean and the communities that depend on it.

“In the past researchers have studied these areas independently and you really need to look at the whole if you want realistic solutions,” she said. “Also, any policy development on ocean management requires this multidisciplinary approach. This project does this.”

Capturing carbon

For example, although Dr. Hawboldt is looking at the engineered processes to mitigate carbon, she cannot do that work unless she understands what the inputs of carbon are, where they are coming from and how they circulate in the ocean.

“Any solution our groups come up with has to consider the impacts and technology we develop will have on ocean activities and communities, from fishing to shipping,” she said. “Our research is looking at how we might capture carbon from point sources like ship stacks, municipal outfalls, etc., before it enters the ocean.”

Dr. Hawboldt notes that carbon is all around us – including in exhaust gases from things such as transportation, fishing vessels and processing operations, and sewage outfalls.

“Carbon is problematic in the air – as CO2 and methane – but it’s actually a really useful compound if you can capture it before it gets into the air.”

As part of this work, she is looking at green processes to absorb carbon. That includes using ‘waste’ biomass – byproducts from the forestry and fishery industry – to adsorb carbon.

“This byproduct is usually discharged to the ocean or put in a landfill where it would be a carbon source through degradation. By using the byproduct, we not only prevent it from becoming a carbon source, we use it to capture and use carbon from other sources.”

Dr. Hawboldt says the research is important because for the foreseeable future, the world is going to keep generating carbon while people work on the ocean – whether if its shipping, cruises, or fish harvesting and processing.

“We need solutions now to capture that carbon and not just store it but use it,” she points out. “The ocean is critical in the carbon cycle, as well as every other nutrient we need for life. The impacts of climate change on ocean plants and animals are less visible to us but will be felt worldwide, if we don't understand the potential and try to mitigate them. The outcomes are not just negative for sea life but for the Earth as a whole.”

Student in lab
Student working in lab

Range of expertise

Dr. Hawboldt is working with a diverse group of researchers. At Memorial, teams from the departments of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Earth Sciences and Chemistry in the Faculty of Science, as well as colleagues from Process Engineering and Civil Engineering from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, are contributing, along with researchers from other institutions.

Dr. Hawboldt says they want to develop a Canadian-made approach to solving a pressing issue facing our world. She says communities across the country are feeling the effects of climate change so their insight and knowledge are needed now more than ever.

Understanding impacts

“We are surrounded by ocean on three sides, even if you are in Saskatchewan you are impacted by the ocean either though weather patterns due to a warmer ocean or fish at your local market,” she noted.

“The coastal communities that make their livelihood off the ocean feel the impacts of climate change every day. This project can not only mitigate these impacts but also result in an overall ‘healthier’ ocean.”

In an everchanging world, Dr. Hawboldt says the ocean sometimes feels forgotten – a place where we play, get food or even dump waste – “an endless reservoir that we benefit from without much thought about the impacts,” she said.

“The animals and plants that are feeling the impacts of climate change are not on many of our radars, and they should be,” she added.

“We don't ‘see’ many of the impacts we have on the ocean and we are not great at responding to things unless they are right in front of us. This project will help bring the ocean ‘in front of us’ on what we are doing and what we can do for a healthy ocean.”

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