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Geophysical Monograph Series



  • Carbon sequestration
  • Carbon cycle (Biogeochemistry)

Index Terms

  • 6620 Public Issues: Science policy
  • 1847 Hydrology: Modeling
  • 1699 Global Change: General or miscellaneous



Looking ahead: Research agenda for the study of carbon sequestration

Brian J. McPherson

The purpose of this chapter is to summarize the greatest scientific obstacles faced by the geologic sequestration community at this time and to suggest a research agenda that addresses the major scientific and policy gaps. This chapter focuses on geologic sequestration because although underground storage appears to lack the tremendous political resistance faced by deliberate oceanic sequestration, it poses a greater set of technical challenges than surface (terrestrial) sequestration. Geologic sequestration faces several major obstacles. Probably the greatest obstacle lies with risk assessment of fundamental CO2 trapping mechanisms, including hydrostratigraphic trapping, solubility trapping, residual gas trapping, and mineral trapping. New research is particularly needed to provide better resolution of trapping failure modes. Another major scientific challenge is effective monitoring of the “intermediate zone,” defined as the section between the top seal of the intended storage reservoir and ∼100 m from the surface. Another scientific challenge of geologic carbon sequestration is induced seismicity. Previous and ongoing injection projects illustrate that induced seismicity is a real risk, but careful characterization and engineering should facilitate the ability to control it. On the other hand, previous studies suggest it is easier to predict where earthquakes will not occur than where they will occur. Thus, a critical research need is to identify how and why some sites are more prone to induced seismicity than others. Finally, with respect to the practical application of geologic sequestration and associated policy, this chapter identifies major gaps and simple suggestions to fill those gaps. These gaps include the lack of a thorough carbon sequestration site rating and certification system that fulfills all possible technical and nontechnical requirements. Finally, at the time of publication of this book, standard risk assessment protocols and capacity estimation protocols do not exist; accordingly, most ongoing test projects utilize different approaches. Establishing rigorous and consistent protocols for risk and capacity should be a priority for the community, before large-scale geologic sequestration projects are implemented. This chapter summarizes these and other basic research needs for geological sequestration to advance. Commercial-scale geologic sequestration is possible, but only with effective science and engineering as well as meaningful regulations to guide deployment.

Citation: McPherson, B. J. (2009), Looking ahead: Research agenda for the study of carbon sequestration, in Carbon Sequestration and Its Role in the Global Carbon Cycle, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 183, edited by B. J. McPherson and E. T. Sundquist, pp. 335–358, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/2008GM000792.


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