GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 220-1
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-1:00 PM


LEE, Cin-Ty, Department of Earth Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005 and LITTLE, Mark, Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599

As the impacts of anthropogenically induced climate change become more evident, it is becoming more apparent that action must be taken. Corporations, institutions and nations have announced goals of achieving C neutrality within the next several decades. The path to carbon neutrality involves transitioning to non-fossil fuel-based energies and offsetting any remaining fossil fuel emissions by C offsets. However, numerous challenges lie ahead, and while surmountable, the paths to carbon neutrality must be developed carefully to avoid unintentionally exacerbating environmental impacts. Here, we focus on possible impacts to biodiversity. To make the transition to renewable energies, the main challenges lie in energy storage and in efficient transfer of electricity from source to point of use. Such infrastructure requires the extraction of limited mineral resources, such as Li and Co for batteries and Cu for transfer of electricity. These elements are constrained by limited reserves, geopolitically unfavorable supply chains, and sometimes unfavorable geographic distribution. For example, most of the new Co deposits proposed for opening are associated with laterites formed on ultramafic protoliths. We show that most of these Co deposits are found at low latitudes, often in orogenic environments, as these are the conditions that tectonically exhume appropriate source rocks and favor the warm and wet climates needed to make laterites. We also show that low latitude mountainous regions are the most biodiverse regions in the world in terms of species richness and endemism. An inevitable negative of Co mining will be the destruction of the immediate environment. While these and other impacts could be offset by environmental mitigation or C offsets, quantifying these efforts will be challenging, and if not done properly, could allow for additional environmental damage or fraud. For example, monitoring the amount of C stored in biomass and soil at the scale needed will be challenging. Even more challenging will be to quantify how well C storage improves ecosystems as C storage (e.g., tree farms) is not the same as habitat restoration. Regulation of C offset programs will require accurate methods of quantifying ecological health, not just C storage. We will discuss different methods of monitoring biodiversity and ecological health at scale. In particular, we will show how passive acoustic monitoring of the environment (e.g., soundscapes) provides a cheap, efficient and robust measure of biodiversity at scale and in real time.