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Dumping iron at sea can bury carbon for centuries, study shows

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CiSTM

Banned
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jul/18/iron-sea-carbon
Dumping iron into the sea can bury carbon dioxide for centuries, potentially helping reduce the impact of climate change, according to a major new study. The work shows for the first time that much of the algae that blooms when iron filings are added dies and falls into the deep ocean.

Geoengineering – technologies aimed at alleviating global warming – are controversial, with critics warning of unintended environmental side effects or encouraging complacency in global deals to cut carbon emissions. But Prof Victor Smetacek, at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, who led the new research, said: "The time has come to differentiate: some geoengineering techniques are more dangerous than others. Doing nothing is probably the worst option."

Dave Reay, senior lecturer in carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, said: "This represents a whole new ball game in terms of iron fertilisation as a geoengineering technique. Maybe deliberate enhancement of carbon storage in the oceans has more legs than we thought but, as the scientists themselves acknowledge, it's still far too early to run with it."

A 2009 report from the Royal Society, the UK's science academy, concluded that while cutting emissions is the first priority, careful research into geoengineering was required in case drastic measures – such as trying to block sunlight by pumping sulphate into the atmosphere – were one day needed.

Prof John Shepherd, chair of the report, said on Wednesday: "It is important that we continue to research these technologies but governance of this research is vital to protect the oceans, wider environment and public interests."

Smetacek's team added seven tonnes of iron sulphate to the ocean near Antarctica, where iron levels are extremely low. The addition of the missing nutrient prompted a massive bloom of phytoplankton to begin growing within a week. As the phytoplankton, mostly species of diatom, began to die after three weeks, they sank towards the ocean floor, taking the carbon they had incorporated with them.

The scientists chose the experiment location carefully, within a 60km-wide self-enclosed eddy in the ocean that acted as a giant "test tube". This meant that it was possible to compare what happened within the eddy with control points outside the eddy. After a month of monitoring nutrient and plankton levels from the surface to the depths the team concluded at least half of the bloom had fallen to depths below 1,000m and that a "substantial portion was likely to have reached the sea floor" at 3,800m.

The scientists conclude in the journal Nature that the carbon is therefore likely to be kept out of the atmosphere for many centuries or longer.

A dozen other experiments have shown that iron can prompt phytoplankton blooms, but this is the first study to show that the carbon the plants take up is deeply buried. Other researchers recognise the significance of this but warn of other issues that might prevent the iron fertilisation of the ocean as being a useful geoengineering technique.

"The ocean's capacity for carbon sequestration in low-iron regions is just a fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and such sequestration is not permanent — it lasts only for decades to centuries," said Ken Buesseler, at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US.

Smetacek said ocean iron fertilisation could bury at most 1 gigatonne of CO2 per year compared to annual emissions of 8-9Gt, of which 4Gt accumulates in the atmosphere. But sequestering some CO2 could make the difference between crossing a climate "tipping" point, where feedback effects lead to runaway global warming, he said: "I don't see what will stop Arctic sea ice from decreasing."

Michael Steinke, director of marine biology at the University of Essex, said: "Will this open up the gates to large-scale geoengineering using ocean fertilisation? Likely not, since the logistics of finding the right spot for such experiments are difficult and costly."

Smetacek responded that ocean iron fertilisation is much cheaper than other possible geoengineering techniques. He acknowledged more experiments were needed over longer periods to examine, for example, how many of the diatoms were eaten by krill, and then by whales, meaning they did not fall to the ocean floor.

On the ethics of geoengineering, Smetacek, who is a vegetarian, told the Guardian: "We could reduce emissions significantly and increase the scope for sequestration on land [by freeing grazing land for forestry] if we managed to convert the global population to vegetarianism. Would that be geoengineering?"
I found the article and the whole idea fascinating, have to look up more info about this. At the moment feels like wild idea!
 
While I'm rather adverse to tinkering with the ocean's chemistry, something needs to be done about sequestering the carbon in the atmosphere. We need to do more than just reduce output at this point.
 

Stinkles

Clothed, sober, cooperative
Wouldn't a massive increase in vegetarians create new arable and grazing/forestry land problems?
 
yea, and what are the consequences of adding tons of that shit to the ocean?

what happens during an underwater earthquake that shakes all that shit lose?
 

mingus

Member
How much iron would that take? How does the sudden presence of a ton of iron on the ocean floor affect the organisms that feed on detritus? There's an equally pressing issue of acidification of the oceans due to the higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere, what happens if the stored CO2 gets released? Geoengineering is an awesome endeavor but sometimes it strikes me as doing more harm than good.
 

GrizzNKev

Banned
If it doesn't work as intended it could significantly contribute to ocean acidification and completely destroy ecosystems. Like the article says, much more experimentation is needed but it doesn't really seem all that viable.
 

Bolshevik

Banned
We discussed this in my oceanography class this year. I actually wrote a paper on iron fertilization of the coast of Australia and its effects on phytoplankton. Although this technique does put away some carbon it is very inefficient. To summarize this for people, the iron works as a fertilizer for phytoplankton, the phytoplankton reproduce at higher than normal rate and when they do they take carbon out of the air to use in thier bodies. Then they die and float to the bottom and are burried along with thier carbon. The problem is much of the dead is gobbled up by other organisms or dissolved by the water. It would be really inefficient to do this and isn't a viable solution to global warning. Atleast not as of now.
 

elkayes

Member
Wouldn't a massive increase in vegetarians create new arable and grazing/forestry land problems?


No. Edit:
It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat, and even fish in fish farms must be fed 5 pounds of wild caught fish to produce one pound of farmed fish flesh, which in turn are either caught in the wild or grown in fish farm with grains. All animals require many times more calories, in the form of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn, than they can possibly return in the form of animal flesh for meat eaters to consume.

About 20% of the world's population, which is about 1.4 billion people, can be fed solely with amount of the grain and soybeans that goes to US beef production.

And: Article in the NYT about the cost of meat production
 

maomaoIYP

Member
Dude do you know how much iron costs? Good luck trying to get it dumped.

It's ridiculously cheap in comparison to other high tech methods used to deal with reducing carbon.

I'm wondering if the boom in plankton will lead to a boom in the number of organisms that eat it, thus reducing its effects.
 

Bear

Member
Wouldn't a massive increase in vegetarians create new arable and grazing/forestry land problems?

Nope, it would alleviate those problems.

A non-vegetarian population uses much more (iirc, around 7x) as much land as a vegetarian one. The amount of food an animal produces is much less than what it needs to consume. Meat is only produced because people want it, not because it is an effective use of resources.
 

Famassu

Member
Wouldn't a massive increase in vegetarians create new arable and grazing/forestry land problems?
Uhh... no? The land area we'd need to feed one human being would be much less than the land area we need to FIRST feed the cattle before they can be killed to be fed to humans.
 

Binabik15

Member
Instead of dumping iron into the ocean, maybe people should look into isolation for their homes (with government incetinves) and not upgrading their damn cell phone every couple months.
 

ItAintEasyBeinCheesy

it's 4th of July in my asshole
Might work

The conventional concept is that the banded iron layers were formed in sea water as the result of oxygen released by photosynthetic cyanobacteria (bluegreen algae), combining with dissolved iron in Earth's oceans to form insoluble iron oxides, which precipitated out, forming a thin layer on the substrate, which may have been anoxic mud (forming shale and chert). Each band is similar to a varve, to the extent that the banding is assumed to result from cyclic variations in available oxygen.

It is unclear whether these banded ironstone formations were seasonal, followed some feedback oscillation in the ocean's complex system or followed some other cycle.[5] It is assumed that initially the Earth started out with vast amounts of iron dissolved in the world's acidic seas.

Eventually, as photosynthetic organisms generated oxygen, the available iron in the Earth's oceans was precipitated out as iron oxides.[citation needed] At the tipping point where the oceans became permanently oxygenated, small variations in oxygen production produced pulses of free oxygen in the surface waters, alternating with pulses of iron oxide deposition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banded_iron_formation

Happened during the Precambrian age

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precambrian

This is kinda how Iron was formed originally, it uses up oxygen though. I Iron particles in the water basically rusted and sank to the bottom forming the deposits we have now.
 

Zaptruder

Banned
What happens if nothing happens?

And that's the line of reasoning that will lead us to the worst outcome.

If we continue to ignore the problems, then we'll hit the tipping point, at which point, we're pretty much screwed - the point where irrespective of what we do, we will not be able to stop the ecological processes in place from compounding and creating an environment to which we cannot adapt quickly enough to avoid utterly catastrophic outcomes for the vast majority of the world.

Unfortunately, we've already hit the point where contemplating such options (untenable as they are to some) have become the necessity - after decades of wallowing and soft cocked action on the issue.

No doubt, we'll continue on soft cocked until either some break through tech solves our problems without any cons (nice to hope, but attitude that will doom us if this doesn't pan out - and it doesn't look like it will), or we hit the tipping point and continue to point the finger of blame at everyone by ourselves.
 

Zaptruder

Banned
Instead of dumping iron into the ocean, maybe people should look into isolation for their homes (with government incetinves) and not upgrading their damn cell phone every couple months.

Are cellphones really the worst example of consumerism? I'd think that of the many things we do consume, that they're the best examples of consumerist efficacy - actual continual functional gains in the devices we get and a continual propulsion towards greater functionality that comes to significantly improve the lives of many all throughout the world.
 

CiSTM

Banned
Instead of dumping iron into the ocean, maybe people should look into isolation for their homes (with government incetinves) and not upgrading their damn cell phone every couple months.

Simple things would make great deal in this situation, and not to mention that our meat industry really needs to change. Bacon GAF won't like it but something must be done with the ridiculous carbon foot print that our meat industry leaves.
 

Jader7777

Banned
It's ridiculously cheap in comparison to other high tech methods used to deal with reducing carbon.

I don't remember the part where being savvy, conservative and efficient with our current use of carbon whoring made us pay more. I don't understand people these days "Boo hoo petrol is sooo expensive" "Have you considered taking the train? Car pooling? Riding a bike?"

Not to mention solar, air, geothermal, nuclear, by-product methane and hydro are sooooo expensive. *sarcastic internet eye roll*
 

Big-E

Member
Might be wrong as it has been awhile since I studied some basics of this stuff in school but the ocean is where most of our carbon is stored correct and doesn't the oceans have a natural cycle that cylces carbon? If we limit this couldn't this potentially fuck us up even more?
 
It's ridiculously cheap in comparison to other high tech methods used to deal with reducing carbon.

I'm wondering if the boom in plankton will lead to a boom in the number of organisms that eat it, thus reducing its effects.

That's not an if, that's a when.
It's as close to a rule as there is in ecology.

If the population of the prey increases, the population of the predators of the prey will too.
If the population of prey get decreased to unsustainable levels, the population of the predators of the prey will die due to starvation and eventually return to the pre-boom population levels.

I guess they're hoping that even a temporary increase in plankton might help reduce carbon.
 

C.Dark.DN

Banned
It only takes Watching Spongebob to know what would happen. It's essentially cloning Plankton for the destruction of the ocean and earth.
 

Stinkles

Clothed, sober, cooperative
I have a feeling that you did not think this through properly. Hint: animals need to eat too.

No, I mean if humans suddenly switched to vegetarian diets, what would agribusiness do to the environment to accomodate? Law of unforseen consequences and all that. I'm not saying it would be worse, I'm saying different and complex problems might emerge.
 

ToxicAdam

Member
Or we could ignore all the Co2 hysteria and instead focus on black carbon, methane and our effect on the hydrosphere.


Why be sensible? Let us spend more energy pontificating on wild geoengineering schemes.
 

Pimpwerx

Member
Sounds cool. Plus, it's just another step towards terraforming. Whatever it takes to keep us alive long enough for a comet or meteor to kill us off. There's never gonna be technology to stop that. PEACE.
 
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