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back to article Ocean-seeding experiment re-ignites geo-engineering debate

German researchers have re-ignited debate over geo-engineering by saying that “seeding” oceans with iron is an effective way to lock up CO2. While the principle behind seeding is simple enough – the iron acts as a fertilizer for phytoplankton, which multiply and consume carbon dioxide as they grow – the topic is fiercely debated …

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Mushroom

red tide algal bloom

I wonder is the Ocean seeding projects are the cause of this?

Am I right in thinking that this is not the first study into iron seeding

I vaguely recall something similar in 2004-5

http://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CGIQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.niwa.co.nz%2Fpublications%2Fwa%2Fvol13-no2-june-2005%2Feye-in-the-sky-tracking-harmful-algal-blooms-with-satellite-remote-sensing&ei=Jb0IUJrDOYuziQeoysDZCQ&usg=AFQjCNEPdTpEA0L2eP76Jqwq_yej_6mjbQ&sig2=qf6RegTw8I_TV1eQVxNXHQ

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Re: red tide algal bloom

Nothing to do with these ocean seeding projects - that's a side effect of incautious agriculture, where vast amounts of fertilizer and eroded topsoil flow into the sea and provide a nutritional bonanza to algae. These algal blooms can then have all sorts of unpleasant results, like red tides.

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Anonymous Coward

What could go wrong

You'll never know until you try

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Making new oil?

Granted, it'll be a while until it's ready to use.

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Stop

Fallen Angels?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallen_Angels_(science_fiction_novel)

Don't try and sequester plant food on a large scale - until you're absolutely sure what you're doing. If you take direct action that without doubt lowers temperature - do you accept legal liability for people that freeze to death?

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Pint

They'd addressed this concern already, at least for this phase.

Dust storms in Australia and such can dump millions of tonnes of red oxide dust into the ocean. As long as we keep within some reasonable ratio of what nature does, the risk is low.

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Alert

Re: They'd addressed this concern already, at least for this phase.

Sort of implies its a wasted effort then - if millions of tonnes are already being dumped to no appreciable effect then how much would we have to dump! Keeping it to a reasonable ratio might be 'safe' but if it has little effect then what is the point?

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Re: They'd addressed this concern already, at least for this phase.

Red oxide dust is not iron sulphate (which was used in this experiment).

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Facepalm

"Red oxide dust is not iron sulphate" ????

That is irrelevant.

The dust contains iron oxide.

The iron sulphate is more soluble but iron is iron.

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Re: "Red oxide dust is not iron sulphate" ????

"The dust contains iron oxide." Yes, ferric oxide to be precise.

"The iron sulphate is more soluble ..." Yes, it's infinitely more soluble, since ferric oxide is not soluble in water. Also, it will be ferrous sulphate, that's the soluble one.( Ferric sulphate is not very soluble.)

"... iron is iron." Yes it is, but they are not adding iron to the water, they are adding ferrous ions, (and sulphate ions of course.) Are you saying that the exact form of the iron is not relevant? Doesn't it matter if it's a large lump of metal, a fine metal dust, chemically bound as ferric oxide, free ferrous ions,..... it doesn't matter because they all have the same effect?

Whatever, you seem to think that adding a small concentration (large amount spread over a very large area) of insoluble ferric oxide will have the same effect as adding a high concentration (small amount over a small area) of soluble ferrous sulphate. I wonder why they didn't use cheap and readily available 'red oxide dust' for this experiment instead of the more expensive ferrous sulphate? Maybe I need to think about this some more.

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Pint

Re: They'd addressed this concern already, at least for this phase.

Who said that the natural sources have "no appreciable effect"? I recall reading that the boffins first noticed all this from the plankton blooms caused by the natural dust storms.

On your other misconception: It's such a huge system that tweaking it by a fairly small ratio might completely counterbalance all human CO2 emissions. The key fact is that the natural carbon cycle (even just the annual turnover) is several orders of magnitude larger than annual human CO2 emissions. Small tweak is all that's required, such as (perhaps) spiking container ships' fuel with iron supplements.

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Do it

could be a right laugh.

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Pint

Re: Do it

You attitude intrigues me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

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Mushroom

Your Byline

I take extreme exception to your byline.

"Destroy the planet to save it…"

This is a clear slander of the scientists and engineers who are working toward an engineering solution to maintain an optimal climate for humanity and the natural systems that are important to us. Maybe their research will be fruitful and save thousands of lives, or maybe the whole idea is garbage, but how the hell will we know unless someone studies it? The last thing those scientists need is some know-nothing snarky reporter making snide comments clearly designed to poison readers' attitudes against the research. Watch it in the future, please. Your biases need to be kept to yourself and should *never* be reflected in your writing.

By the way, if I misunderstood you (which I sincerely hope is the case) I apologize.

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Re: Your Byline

Sorry, that should be subheading, not byline.

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Re: Your Byline

"Your biases need to be kept to yourself and should *never* be reflected in your writing."

Funnily enough, I'd never thought of El Reg as being unbiased peer review reporting. Maybe I missed something whilst reading my copy of Climate Denier Monthly.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Your Byline

"Funnily enough, I'd never thought of El Reg as being unbiased peer review reporting. Maybe I missed something whilst reading my copy of Climate Denier Monthly."

I don't any more, but I used to. Oddly, the times I find myself thinking "why am I still reading this propaganda" invariably coincide with when I'm reading one of El Reg's more biased pieces. It'd be nice to get back to merely tongue-in-cheek bias, rather than shoving personal politics down our throats.

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FAIL

Re: Your Byline

"This is a clear slander of the scientists and engineers who are working toward an engineering solution to maintain an optimal climate for humanity and the natural systems that are important to us. "

Because, of course, that's a perfectly acceptable form of buggering about with our environment and cannot possibly cause any harm to the Earth's ecosystem.

And, of course, we know so much about our planet's oceans! Why, we know more about them than we do about space!

Oh, no, wait: it's the other way round, isn't it?

Climate Control / Stasis is a far more dangerous option than simply adapting to the climate's natural changes. Humans are good at adapting to different environments. The same cannot be said for all the other species of plant and animal life we share our planet with.

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Mushroom

Truly astounding hubris to think that the problem here is Mr. Chirgwin -- who by the way knows his job rather better than you do, I imagine -- but there's nothing at all of concern with this bunch of God-damned scientistic utopians who are perfectly delighted to carry out potentially devastating experiments on a running system which can't be backed up, can't be rebooted, can't be reinstalled, can't be rolled back, and on which we all depend for our very lives. "Scientistic" there is deliberate, by the way; don't be ashamed to look it up, and until you can explain how it is possible to run controlled experiments on a planetary ecosystem of which we have access to only the one, don't try to tell me I'm wrong to use it.

Not that the question of risk to mere bipedal primates is a concern for utopians, of course, many of whom loathe themselves and by extension humanity, even unto the desire for an engineered replacement (soi-disant "transhumanism", a true example of which would be to us as we were to the Neanderthal), or simply to exterminate us all outright. (In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that the essential motivation of utopianism has self-hatred as its wellspring.) That such deformities of personality, and the deranged behavior they produce, are considered admissible in public and even respectable, rather than being rightly despised for the perversity they are, suggests to the savvy observer just how badly wrong things have gone on this poor planet in the last few hundred years, roughly since the mob traded Charles I in for Cromwell. (I know it doesn't suggest that to you, but what can a religious fanatic be expected to understand?)

Of course, your political religion originated as such only about four hundreds of years ago, and though you know it but little and care less still, there is a lot more to human history than a mere four centuries. I abide in the hope that, one day, you God-damned Roundheads will fall. When that day comes, I hope to heaven you fall so hard that no one dare confess your faith again for the next ten thousand years. Given the ever-increasing magnitude of your atrocities, and our ever-increasing ability to record and perpetuate knowledge, I think that at least somewhat likely. Maybe then we can have real government again -- the kind which, unlike democracy, works for everyone, whether he have faith in it or not. Do I doubt it? Of course. But that's what hope is for; even if I can't see how, someday maybe things will change for the better.

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Re: Your Byline

El Reg is propaganda, but the IPCC report is factual, unbiased, and trustworthy. Bless your heart.

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Banded iron deposits for the distant future!

Awesome variation of recycling :-)

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Linux

Oi, Smetacek...

...use your own backyard (like the North Atlantic) instead of stuffing around in the Southern Hemisphere just to see what happens.

We Antipodeans are not impressed with folk experimenting in areas which are 'not well understood'.

I suspect all we'll end up with is a great deal of rusty phytoplanctonic water. The Penguins don't like it, you know.

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Re: Oi, Smetacek...

You antipodeans aren't as green as you think you are, you want to check out the size of your mining operations.

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Re: Oi, Smetacek...

He didn't say he was "green". He said he was unimpressed with "geo-engineering" fucking around with his part of the planet, and I find it hard to blame him.

And before you piss and moan too much about those mines, consider that some of what comes out of them most likely goes into the computer you're using right now. Oh, you're upset about mountaintops being blown off to get coltan, but you own a computer and a cellphone and every other bit of consumer-electronics tat your twisted little heart desires? Get thee behind me, hypocrite.

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jjk
FAIL

Who the f*ck is Alfred Wagner?

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

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

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Coat

Re: Who the f*ck is Alfred Wagner?

An opera composer?

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Anonymous Coward

What the...Wagner!

When stone meets stone, Collosus survives!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What the...Wagner!

Thumbs down to the reference to a story in the Fantastic (UK rebrand of Marvel) annual of c. 1969. Jeez there are some people with their heads up their arses here these days! I mean, there always were, but it is getting ridiculous.

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Anonymous Coward

It's very hard to understand a system

when you're part of it.

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"The core of the argument is also simple: it’s probably impossible to predict what other environmental impacts phytoplankton fertilization would have."

Let me see if I've understood this argument. Dumping CO2 in the atmosphere is bad because it might (on extreme scenarios) turn the Earth into Venus Mk2 and will almost certainly lead to very bad things happening. But doing anything about it is bad because we don't understand what the environmental impact would be.

So I suppose we're just left with reducing CO2 output. But this has two tiny flaws:

1. it won't happen - at least, not by dictat or voluntary action, though we will inevitably run out of carbon to burn in the very long term;

2. it has very bad consequences of its own, i.e. civilisation ends.

What am I missing?

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Anonymous Coward

Civilisation doesn't have to end. 'Wasteful mass consumerism' is not the same as 'civilisation'.

But I'm totally with you on the first point. We always take the cheap and easy out, and that is -in short- burning stuff.

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Describing it as 'wasteful' is begging the question. We can all agree that waste is bad, by definition, and should be minimised. But minimising waste would at best result in a few percent reduction in CO2 output, not the 30,50,90% that would be needed to avoid the ecopocalypse (if you believe in that sort of thing). And what constitutes waste is debatable. Is my holiday in Bali 'wasteful'? I certainly don't require it in order to survive, but I think it improves my life sufficiently to justify the cost, and I'm not sure that's a decision I'd be happy for someone else to take for me.

And I suppose civilisation doesn't have to end, for a sufficiently small value of 'civilisation'. Medieval Europe had a civilisation that could build beautiful giant cathedrals (many of which fell down - we don't see those, of course - but let that pass). I'm sure life could be quite pleasant if you were a member of the elite of court or the church, but life basically sucked if you weren't (that would be >>90% of society). And even the elite didn't have a lifestyle much better than a poor (defined as 60% median wage) person in Europe today; and far worse if you were unlucky enough to have toothache or an infected scratch or get pregnant.

The real problem is that such civilisations could only support (at best) 10% of the current global population. I've come across a lot of hand-wringers claiming that population levels are far too high and something should be done about it, but I haven't yet met any prepared to make their own contribution to solving the problem.

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Anonymous Coward

Cue...

...the population loonies.

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Anonymous Coward

Holiday in Bali

Leaving aside the bit about the decision somebody else makes, the cost you justify is not yours to justify, is it? And what it costs now is not the point, it is what it costs in time to come.

As for contributions to solving population problems, beyond getting Governments to do so - and the only one I ever heard of with the nerve to even consider it was China, possibly the worst Government on the planet - are you proposing hand-wringers become mass neck-wringers then?

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"What am I missing?"

Nuclear. When safely done, it's plenty sustainable and green as you like -- no carbon emissions here! -- and can even be used to crack water for hydrogen gas that we can compress and use to run cars on.

But, of course, we all know that every atom of uranium has a teeny-tiny demon of Satan's hosts at the center of its nucleus, so instead of sensible nuclear and hydrogen that could keep our current infrastructure running roughly forever, we'll get wind and hamsters and austerity and starvation, and we'll have to listen to our lords and masters telling us how goddamned virtuous they are all the while.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Holiday in Bali

It's be okay if the downvoter posted their objection so I could put them straight. As it is I suspect someone made an ASSumption and someone who is terminally emotionally-challenged thinks everybody else must themselves be frothing at the mouth. Or a China apologist.

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I claim my £5

I'm not the downvoter, Chalky. But I'm not clear who you think should determine the cost of my holiday. Or how we'd factor in its future cost. I often think it's as well that no-one thought to ask of the renaissance, the enlightenment or the industrial revolution: 'but is it sustainable?' If they had, we might still be living in the medieval state I described.

The Chinese approach to population control - the 'one child per family' policy* - was a pretty desperate response to a pretty desperate problem. It has succeeded in containing their population growth, but left them with major demographic imbalances in both age and gender. As to the Malthusians who believe that the solution to all the world's problems is population reduction, I notice none of them ever volunteer for euthanasia. In my more cynical moments, I sometimes think that 'population reduction' is code for getting rid of large numbers of darker-skinned humans, while leaving those of European descent untouched.

* With suitable exemptions for members of the elite, of course

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I claim my £5

As far as your holiday goes I'm just trying to say that it is an unknown, while by definition - in the context - the cost to any one person is irrelevant (but not to worry, King Juan Carlos'll deal with that!). Otherwise I suspect I pretty-much agree with you.

Over-population is clearly a problem and will become critical, mostly down to destruction of the rain forests and poisoning of ground water in the developing world and for which those of European descent bear considerable responsibility if only for the grossly unfair relative consumption of finite resources. I don't think that will change because even if the majority in the West make a genuine effort not to hog them, the rich and powerful will just take more (with one or two honourable exceptions). Even if Governments took it upon themselves to try to enforce measures deemed to have a realistic chance of success, I don't know of a nation in the industrialised world I would trust to do anything such as redistribution of resources - or population control - fairly. Or a Government in the developing world that wouldn't line it's own pockets at the expense of it's people. Anyway, what is this 'cynical' you mention?

I've put your £5 in the slot in the front of the tower, so you should be receiving it any day now!

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Re: Holiday in Bali

You're getting repeatedly downvoted because it's blindingly obvious that you are the ass and since like most leftists, you've had your mind cast in steel reinforced concrete, there's no putting you straight.

There's exactly one person who has the right to determine whether or not Chris Miller should be allowed to take a vacation in Bali: Chris Miller.

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how much carbon is burned

to make the iron sulphate? There's loads of iron pyrites about but to stick a couple of oxygen molecules on it takes a bit of energy.

Then there's always the possibility of living creatures eating the plankton bloom before it falls to the ocean floor.

Or some company working out how to harvest plankton for power.... That may sound daft Halifax Nova Scotia runs its buses on fish oil...

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Coat

Re: how much carbon is burned

"That may sound daft Halifax Nova Scotia runs its buses on fish oil..."

Er, cetacean needed?

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Boffin

Re: how much carbon is burned

Very little. The reason is that the soluble iron is like a catalyst for the plankton. It's a shortage of small amounts of iron which limits the rate at which plankton can grow. Supply those small amounts, and a massively greater weight of plankton grows, much of which is carbon. And when it dies, it sinks, taking the carbon to the ocean deeps. (Also the iron, which is WHY it's in short supply in ocean waters).

I wonder if there's a stabilizing feedback mechanism here. We're causing the oceans to become more acidic as they absorb the CO2 we emit. Will the increased acidity increase the amount od iron that the oceans can dissolve out of the dust that the winds blow from land deserts out to sea? If so, that means more plankton dragging more CO2 down to the ocean deeps.

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Boffin

Re: how much carbon is burned

Tom, you might want to review your chemistry again.

Adding oxygen to sulfides is used by some organisms to drive their metabolism and is altogether a process that releases energy, rather than requiring it. Otherwise sulfur would not burn in air once ignited.

Thus, you wont burn very much carbon at all for making iron sulphate. You could simply take a geologist mate and a couple of shovels and find yourself the relevant common mineral (e.g. melanterite or rozenite).

Feel free to have a camp fire between digs if you feel the need to burn carbon.

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Anonymous Coward

You have to be kidding

We cant even predict the weather accurately and now we want to fuck around with it - is there no end to our arrogance?

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Re: You have to be kidding

IRONically we are already geo-engineering with co2

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Re: You have to be kidding

Sure. Why don't you offer to treat my gout with arsenic, next?

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Joke

Re: Why don't you offer to treat my gout with arsenic, next?

Because that's patently ridiculous!

Everybody knows you treat gout with leeches, not arsenic.

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Could be a practical way to slow CO2

Phytoplankton carbon sequestration would seem to hold promise. At reasonable expense, carbon is extracted from the air, and sequestered as carbon snow on the deep sea bed.

Of course there are real risks, so we need to be really sure of the effects of a given amount of iron seeding. My thinking is that, spread over a large expanse of ocean, the negative effects of such seeding might be minimised and acceptable.

Safeguards would need to be in place - monitoring of effects, and capping the level of seeding in any given area of ocean.

Given the potential benefit in slowing the growth of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, I hope this is given serious consideration.

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FFS

"Smetacek is aware of the unanswered questions, and told Nature the Alfred Wegener Institute will not conduct any further fertilization experiments."

That is absolutely fucking ridiculous.

Grr.

OK, so we know iron fertilisation works. This experiment, earlier experiments, the Oz red oxide dust mentioned above, Saharan similar into the Atlantic.

We also know that it could be greatly improved: some areas of the ocean are known to be solely iron deficient. Others are known to be both iron and silicic acid deficient. The addition of both would produce much more sequestration. Quite apart from anything else, it's the silicic acid which limits diatom growth.

The downsides? Sure, only some of the carbon sinks to the ocean floor to become sedimentary rock in due time. The rest is eaten. So, anyone think that creating vast new fisheries is a serious problem? And the fish poop from them goes to the ocean floor again anyway.

But above all else iron fertilisation is so bloody cheap the cost is, by any reasonable scale, nothing.

We are talking of 50 cents to $2 per tonne CO2 sequestrated. Iron just ain't that expensive and 1 tonne into the water gets 3,000 tonnes CO2 into the plankton (of which only a portion is sequestrated). Hell, you don't even need iron. That "red mud" that went splat all over Hungary a couple of years ago would do. 40% Fe and it also provides the silicic acid needed.

Compare this with plastering Germany with solar cells: $1070 per tonne CO2 not emitted.

No, it ain't a complete solution: there's not enough ocean that is iron deficient to absorb all the emissions. But it sure as hell helps and it's the cheapest sodding thing anyone has ever managed to come up with.

And they're going to stop the experiments?

Seriously, are we being ruled by crazed fucking lunatics? Anyone actually serious about climate change would stick £20-£30 million into this immediately.

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