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A review of existing and potential blue carbon contributions to climate change mitigation in the Anthropocene

Cite this dataset

Gao, Guang et al. (2022). A review of existing and potential blue carbon contributions to climate change mitigation in the Anthropocene [Dataset]. Dryad.


The atmosphere concentration of CO2 is steadily increasing and causing climate change. To achieve the Paris 1.5 or 2 oC target, negative emissions technologies must be deployed in addition to reducing carbon emissions. The ocean is a large carbon sink but the potential of marine primary producers to contribute to carbon neutrality remains unclear.

Here we review the alterations to carbon capture and sequestration of marine primary producers (including traditional ‘blue carbon’ plants, microalgae, and macroalgae) in the Anthropocene, and, for the first time, assess and compare the potential of various marine primary producers to carbon neutrality and climate change mitigation via biogeoengineering approaches.

The contributions of marine primary producers to carbon sequestration have been decreasing in the Anthropocene due to the decrease in biomass driven by direct anthropogenic activities and climate change. The potential of blue carbon plants (mangroves, saltmarshes, and seagrasses) is limited by the available areas for their revegetation. Microalgae appear to have a large potential due to their ubiquity but how to enhance their carbon sequestration efficiency is very complex and uncertain. On the other hand, macroalgae can play an essential role in mitigating climate change through extensive offshore cultivation due to higher carbon sequestration capacity and substantial available areas. This approach seems both technically and economically feasible due to the development of offshore aquaculture and a well-established market for macroalgal products.

Synthesis and applications: This paper provides new insights and suggests promising directions for utilizing marine primary producers to achieve the Paris temperature target. We propose that macroalgae cultivation can play an essential role in attaining carbon neutrality and climate change mitigation, although its ecological impacts need to be assessed further.


To calculate the parameters presented in Table 1, the relevant keywords "mangroves, salt marshes, macroalgae, microalgae, global area, net primary productivity, CO2 sequestration" were searched through the ISI Web of Science and Google Scholar in July 2021. Recent data published after 2010 were collected and used since area and productivity of plants change with decade. For data with limited availability, such as net primary productivity (NPP) of seagrasses and global area and NPP of wild macroalgae, data collection was extended back to 1980. Total NPP and CO2 sequestration for mangroves, salt marshes, seagrasses and wild macroalgae were obtained by the multiplication of area and NPP/CO2 sequestration density and subjected to error propagation analysis. Data were expressed as means ± standard error.