Responsible CDR research

Interactive tool by carbon-science watchdog (carbon)plan for understanding Verification Confidence Levels (VCLs) for carbon dioxide removal (CDR)

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Exploration tools

Environmental DNA

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is the genetic material shed by organisms in the water column. By collecting samples of mucus, feces, or tissue particles, scientists can process eDNA to make new discoveries about marine life.

How does it work?

A scientist collects water at a location using water sampling tools such as a Niskin bottle, which can be attached to a CTD rosette or remotely operated vehicle. The samples are labeled with their latitude and longitude, depth, and filter material, as well as the salinity and temperature of where the water was collected. The eDNA is then separated from the water with a cellulose nitrate membrane filter and run through other cleaning processes. Then, each eDNA sample is either frozen or preserved in a buffer, which is an aqueous solution that both prevents degradation of the sample and makes DNA soluble (dissolvable). This allows the DNA to be stored for several years, which is important when scientists come across an unknown species and need to revisit samples.

What happens next?

After collection, eDNA samples are sent to a lab for DNA sequencing. DNA strands have four bases – adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine, known by their first letter for short – and every organism has a different pattern of A, G, C, or T. Scientists barcode, or label, each base sequence in a process called metabarcoding. These samples are then compared to others in a DNA database and the organism can be identified down to its family, genus, or species.

Why is it used?

eDNA is an emerging technology that will help answer many questions about the water column and seafloor. For example, scientists may want to know what species are present in a particular location, what the biodiversity of the area is, and if any invasive or endangered species are present. eDNA can identify these organisms and characterize their role in the area’s food web and ecosystem. DNA barcoding has even been used to link larvae to their adult organisms that were previously thought to be separate species because of their appearance differences. Other organizations also use eDNA to monitor water quality and the amount of harmful bacteria in the water samples, and commercial fisheries can use it to inform their location selection and fishing practices.

eDNA also has many benefits that complement traditional sampling efforts. eDNA does not require interacting with living organisms, making it a non-invasive sampling technology. It can also offer a window into the lives of organisms that have not been captured on video footage or may ordinarily shy away from the lights of a remotely operated vehicle or other platform. eDNA can detect a wide diversity of marine life, from bacteria to vertebrates, greatly expanding the scope of an expedition.

NOAA Ocean Exploration's Science & Technology

Geographic Information System (GIS)

A geographic information system, or GIS, is a computer-based conceptualized framework used for organizing and analyzing data related to positions on Earth’s surface. 

By organizing data spatially along with tabular data (also referred to as attribute data), GIS can increase our understanding of the ocean. Instead of just displaying data in a spreadsheet, GIS provides a digital platform for viewing and processing layers of spatial information using maps and three-dimensional scenes. Given enough data, a GIS can essentially create a virtual ocean inside of a computer.

How Does It Work?

Building a GIS requires a computer with specialized software and spatial data. Two of the most commonly used forms of data in GIS are vector-based and rasters. Vector data use X and Y coordinates to define the locations of points, lines, and polygons (or areas). Points can be representative of the locations of cities, lines may represent rivers and roads, and an example of a polygon would be the boundary of a national park.

Bathymetric datasets, which include information about the depths and shapes of underwater terrain, can be raster files. Rasters are datasets comprised of pixels (also known as cells) that have unique assigned values.

Specialized software is used to analyze spatial location and organize layers of information into visualizations using digital map overlays. Users can use the software to integrate and analyze relationships among all types of data inputted into the GIS.

As a GIS user, you can manage the tools of ocean exploration in much the same way that a conductor leads an orchestra. A conductor manages the unique sounds produced by a number of different musical instruments so that they blend together into a rich, multilayered symphony. Likewise, a GIS user manages unique spatial information produced by a wide variety of ocean-sensing instruments, such as satellites, buoys, sonar, submersibles, traps, trawls, underwater cameras, and other devices, until they be combine to form a multilayered reconstruction of geographic reality.

Why Is It Important?

Eutrophication in the Caspian Sea (algae blooms) in December 2021, seen using Ulyssys Water Quality Viewer (UWQV), a water quality visualization script for Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3 imagery data.

GIS has a wide variety of applications, from land-use planning, scientific research, public health management, and even to aid in national defense. Within NOAA, GIS is used for everything from mapping oil spill trajectories to tracking the paths of historic hurricanes.

In terms of ocean exploration, spatial information collected using a wide variety of ocean-sensing instruments, such as satellites, buoys, sonars, submersibles, traps, trawls, underwater cameras, and other devices, can be captured in a GIS to generate a multilayered reconstruction of geographic reality.

The maps and visualizations generated using GIS can help us easily communicate, perform analyses, share information, and solve complex problems around the world.

NOAA Ocean Exploration's Science & Technology