Earlier in the year a spokesperson for the World Wildlife Fund suggested the plan may violate international agreements on marine protection because the algae growth from the iron pollution would result in eutrophication, defined as a proliferation of plant life that reduces oxygen content in water and eliminates other sea life. Some no doubt had images of Blue whales turning belly-up from such a misguided intervention.
The plan was described as the biggest trial ever of iron fertilization, a technology which could stop global warming at very little cost.
Such has been the increasing interest in technological fixes that even the American Meteorological Society has plans for a ‘Geoengineering Statement’ including advice on how to better regulate such proposals.
Anyway, despite protests, the German government gave the green light and a 300-square-kilometre (115-sqare-mile) area of ocean was fertilized with six tonnes of dissolved iron earlier this year.
As expected, the iron stimulated growth of algae, in particular phytoplankton.
The original idea was that the short-lived phytoplankton would die and drop to the bottom of the ocean and become a form of sequestered carbon.
But instead the German scientists observed the phytoplankton eaten by krill which were in turn probably eaten by Blue whales. So instead of ending up dead, the Blue whales have likely benefits from the iron ‘pollution’.
Natural systems are complex, and in this case evidently highly resilient including to manipulation through geoengineering. It seems dumping six tonnes of iron was, well, “just another drop in the ocean”. Certainly it didn’t stop climate change or despoil this pristine environment.
There is so much we don’t understand about the oceans, ocean ecosystems, and also climate.
Recent findings published in ‘Global Biogeochemical Cycles’ suggest a 50 percent decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the North Atlantic Ocean over the last ten years. It’s not krill that is considered at fault here, but rather changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation; which is also thought to control the strength and direction of westerly winds and storms in this region.
There is also the worry that because the oceans absorb and emit carbon dioxide depending on their temperature, that if the world’s oceans start to cool as suggested by recent data from the three thousand free-floating Argo buoys there will be less carbon dioxide emitted from the oceans. Hang-on, this could be good news and reduce the need for all sorts of immediate solutions to the claimed global climate crisis.
Notes and Links
The American Meteorological Society defines geoengineering as the deliberate deployment of large scale changes to the earth system in the hope of counteracting the worst effects of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission.
Thomas et al. Changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation influence CO2 uptake in the North Atlantic over the past 2 decades. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2008; 22 (4): GB4027 DOI: 10.1029/2007GB003167
Graph of estimated emissions from worldwide fossil fuel use and the annual increase in atmospheric CO2 sourced from http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/contents.htm , via Tom Quirk. Click on the image for a larger – better view.