The Challenges of Trapping Carbon Dioxide

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One way to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is to pump the CO2 into saline aquifers deep below the surface. Such aquifers are thin but stretch over large areas and are sometimes gently sloping. Since carbon dioxide is relatively buoyant, it may migrate up-slope after injection and potentially leak elsewhere. Dissolving the carbon dioxide into the groundwater helps prevent this undesirable migration. The video above shows a laboratory analog of the fluid instability at the heart of this trap. Imagine the video tilted by a few degrees so it slopes upward toward the right. The initially buoyant carbon dioxide, represented by the dark fluid, rises on the left and moves rightward, up-slope. As the CO2 dissolves into the ambient groundwater, the water becomes denser and fingers of the CO2-rich water drift downward, effectively halting the carbon dioxide’s escape. This is known as convective dissolution. (Video credit: C. MacMinn and R. Juanes)

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