Recently, the British Royal Navy made an interesting discovery off the coast of Antarctica. The melting icebergs were releasing iron into the ocean, which in turn lead to large blooms of carbon-absorbing algae. Once the algae were full of CO2, they would sink into the ocean, taking the CO2 with them. Basically, a natural form of carbon sequestration was happening, as though the earth was trying to stabilize itself.
Now scientists want to see if they can ramp up this natural sequestration by fertilizing the ocean off of South Georgia Island with several tons of iron sulfate, hopefully creating even larger algae blooms and even greater absorption of CO2. The real test is whether the algae sinks far enough (at least two miles) to actually keep the CO2 out of the atmosphere and if so, if it stays underwater long enough to slow down global warming.
If it does work, scientists think iron fertilization could slow global warming enough for us to make the changes to stop it in its tracks. Because the process was already happening naturally, scientists have been able to make sure aquatic life isn't affected by the increase in iron.
While I think the idea of the earth "wanting to save us" as one scientist put it, is an incredibly romantic notion, I do think that if the planet already has an effective system in place, it's a good idea to go with it. In some ways, this idea is as logical as saying, "trees absorb CO2, so let's plant a lot more trees." Yes, carbon sequestration is still on shaky ground, but this could be a real true test of its potential. The algae is just doing its job. Now we just need to observe.
written by Michael, January 12, 2009
written by Michael, January 13, 2009
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