Monday, June 22, 2009

The Geritol Solution

Photo courtesy of Manicore.

My loyal reader and friend, K, has given me a challenge - do a couple blogs on the methods being considered to make the ocean a more effective carbon sink.

What is a carbon sink? Wikipedia says this:
A carbon sink is a natural or manmade reservoir that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period.

The main natural sinks are:
• Absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans
• Photosynthesis by plants and algae

The main manmade sinks are:
• Landfills
• Carbon capture and storage proposals

The process by which carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is known as CO2 sequestration or carbon sequestration. Public awareness of the significance of CO2 sinks has grown since passage of the Kyoto Protocol, which promotes their use as a form of carbon offset.

Algae is very effective at storing carbon dioxide; so, scientists feel that seeding the ocean with iron dust to encourage algal growth will cause the oceans to hold more carbon. While algae do remove carbon from the atmosphere; and, the more algae blooms, the more carbon is captured – there is much more to this story than meets the eye!

My first concern is the location they have chosen to seed. Planktos (an eco-restoration organization with long-standing financial woes) couldn’t have chosen a more environmentally-sensitive environment in which to begin this test project if they had tried. In my mind, the location they chose – the Galapagos Islands – is enough to brand them eco-terrorists not eco-restorationists. After the Galapagos, the research ship and its potential crew of 17 (including eight scientists) plan to sail to the relatively pristine waters of Tahiti, the coast of South America and the South Pacific to do a little seeding there also.

This procedure is untested and should something go wrong, it affects an area of our world that is home to land and marine species that can be found nowhere else on earth. Should anything happen to them or their habitat, there is no way to save them. There are no species elsewhere that we can transplant to the Galapagos nor is there anywhere on earth to which we could introduce any remaining individuals. The Galapagos has no comparable environment anywhere.

Planktos is heralding the research ship Waterbird II as going on a “voyage of recovery” to “seed” the oceans with the iron in the hope of stimulating blooms of phytoplankton.

The organizers are hoping to prove the critical role that plankton plays in maintaining the carbon dioxide balance between the oceans and the atmosphere. Plankton are the microscopic marine plants that soak up sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into organic matter.

Photo of algal bloom (green areas) in Lake Titicaca in South America. Nasa photo courtesy of

Scientists have long postulated that it may be possible to speed up the rate at which the oceans soak up atmospheric CO2 by stimulating the growth of plankton in the oceans with added iron - an essential nutrient for photosynthesis.

Noel Brown, a former director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said, "I cannot overstate the importance of these Planktos pilot projects. If their applied science works as well as the early research indicates, this work will both help restore the neglected oceans and give everyone concerned about global warming truly meaningful hope."

Normally plankton forms vast blooms at certain times of the year that can be seen from space. These blooms only occur when all conditions are right with many scientists believing that the vital factor for a bloom to develop is iron.

A phytoplankton bloom in the Southern Ocean, captured during a break in the clouds by an orbiting NASA satellite.

Zooplankton growth patterns and ocean mixing attributable to winter storms are major factors in the biological carbon pump. Zooplankton range in size from microorganisms to large jellyfish, and include abundant, shrimplike krill, pictured here.

This topic is huge; and, my next blog will deal with other major concerns regarding "The Geritol Solution". Seeding with iron dust was first called "The Iron Hypothesis"; but, was renamed "The Geritol Solution" after an iron-rich tonic for more mature persons promising to stimulate their cells and increase their energy.

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