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Scientists to fight global warming with plankton
ONE of the Earth's major natural barriers to global warming could be
strengthened by the first commercial venture to grow vast plankton blooms.
US eco-restoration firm Planktos intends to drop tonnes of powdered iron into
the Pacific in a two-year project which aims to induce the growth of plankton.
Some scientists believe the iron seeding technique will help reduce the amount
of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere after research published on Friday showed
that atmospheric carbon dioxide is no longer being absorbed by the Southern
Ocean at the rate it used to be.
“The ocean's rising acidity and surface water temperatures and most of all the
dwindling wind-borne supply of vital iron micronutrients have literally
decimated the marine plankton plants which generate half the planet's oxygen,
remove half its CO2 and feed every higher form of ocean life,” said Planktos CEO
“However, public concern with the climate change issue may finally highlight and
help reverse this crisis as more people recognise that simply restoring these
plankton back to known 1980 levels can remove 3-4 billion tonnes of atmospheric
CO2 or approximately half of our global warming surplus today.
“We are trying to demonstrate that this restoration is not only achievable and
affordable with targeted iron dust replenishment, it is absolutely necessary to
rehabilitate the ocean's health.”
Each decade since 1981, the ocean has soaked up between 5 per cent and 30 per
cent less of the greenhouse gas than experts had predicted and has unloaded more
carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the international team led by Dr Corinne Le
Quere, from the University of East Anglia and British Antarctic Survey, said.
Like the rainforests, the Southern Ocean is one of the most important carbon
“sinks” that together remove half of all man-made emissions of carbon dioxide.
It acts like a huge sponge, trapping carbon from the atmosphere.
“We (Planktos) are now launching a two-year series of commercial-scale pilot
projects that will seed and track six large forest-sized plankton blooms in
various ocean regions,” George said.
“Based on the science derived from 10 earlier international research trials,
each of these blooms should regenerate tens of millions of tons of plankton life
and deep ocean sequester 3-5 million tons of CO2. Most importantly this work can
dramatise that humanity can make a hugely significant climate difference with a
safe, simple and very green natural technology.”
Planktos plans to pour 100 tonnes of iron into the Pacific in a bid to reverse
this trend, despite concerns in the scientific community.
The powdered iron provides a crucial nutrient for plankton growth that is
missing or in short supply in up to 70 per cent of the world's oceans.
Phytoplankton, the plant form of plankton, struggle to grow if there is little
iron - but the extra supplies could mean that as the phytoplankton grow they
will photosynthesise and absorb carbon that, when they die and sink, will be
trapped on the seabed, where it will be out of the system.
The project will take place in international waters 500km west of the Galapagos
Islands and Planktos hopes to create a bloom of 50-60 million tonnes of which,
it estimates, up to 20 per cent will sink and take 3-5 million tonnes of carbon
If it is a success, it could open up iron seeding to the carbon offsetting
industry, giving companies an alternative to planting trees to compensate for
carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
But experiments on a much smaller scale have already been carried out and their
findings cast doubt on the likely success of bigger carbon-removal projects.
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