Monday, May 07, 2007

Recruiting Plankton to Fight Global Warming

In an effort to ameliorate the effects of global warming, several groups are working on ventures to grow vast floating fields of plankton intended to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and carry it to the depths of the ocean. It is an idea, debated by experts for years, that still sounds like science fiction — and some scholars think that is where it belongs.

But even though many questions remain unanswered, the first commercial project is scheduled to get under way this month when the WeatherBird II, a 115-foot research vessel, heads out from its dock in Florida to the Galápagos and the South Pacific.

The ship plans to dissolve tons of iron, an essential plankton nutrient, over a 10,000-square-kilometer patch. That’s equivalent to 2.47 million acres (3,861 square miles on land or 2,912 square nautical miles). When the trace iron prompts growth and reproduction of the tiny organism, scientists on the WeatherBird II plan to measure how much carbon dioxide the plankton ingests.

Planktos — along with Climos, a competitor started by a former dot-com millionaire whose mother is one of the nation’s top oceanographers — wants to commercialize ocean fertilization. Planktos believes that it can make a healthy profit if it receives $5 a ton for capturing carbon dioxide.
Another attempt at the "Geritol" solution. I will be interested to see the research results on how much CO2 is captured per ton of iron dropped.

I also wonder how this trickles up the food chain. How many tons of plankton are created per ton of iron, and how many tons of anchovies does that support, which in turn supports how many tons of tuna?

Given that the world is right about at its limit of how much fish we can sustainably harvest, I wonder if this would be economically feasible not based on carbon sequestering but rather in how much additional tuna and other fish could then be caught each year. Does $100 worth of iron lead to $200 of additional fish? If that were true seems like we ought to do this regardless of how much CO2 gets captured. Not sure who would pay for it though. Ideally you would want the fisherman to pay for it if they are the ones who will benefit, but I am not sure how you would get them to pitch in.

via NY Times

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