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Major conversations about climate change focus primarily on one thing: how much carbon is in the air – and, by extension, how to reduce it. However, what is less talked about but may become very important is the amount of carbon in our oceans. there 50 kali There is more carbon in the ocean than in the atmosphere. Some climate researchers believe that if we can slightly increase the amount of carbon that the oceans can absorb from the atmosphere, we can avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.

This may sound unusual when you first hear it, but think about it a little longer. Almost covered the ocean 70 percent From the earth’s surface, it naturally absorbs carbon dioxide – effectively dissolving it. Phytoplankton In the ocean, it uses carbon dioxide and sunlight to carry out photosynthesis like land plants. Oxygen is produced through this process – phytoplankton are actually responsible for approx 50 percent oxygen in our atmosphere.

Some climate researchers have suggested that if we could increase the amount of phytoplankton in the oceans, we could pull more carbon out of the atmosphere. A well-known method of producing phytoplankton blooms is to introduce them iron, an essential nutrient for the plankton community, for water. Many parts of the ocean low ironso even a relatively small addition of iron could theoretically produce a lot of phytoplankton and thus remove a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Give me a half-iron tanker, and I’ll give you an ice age,” John Martin, oceanographer at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, write in 1988. At that time, most people were new to the idea of ​​climate change as we know it today. But it was also at a time when people started thinking about how iron enrichment could affect the growth of phytoplankton, thereby changing the level of carbon in the atmosphere.

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Although climate scientists have spent a lot of time discussing this strategy among themselves, there has not been a concerted effort to explore it further and take it seriously. Ken Busseler, marine radiochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, a scientist who conducted some research in iron enrichment at sea. He and his team looked at whether introducing iron could “alter the flow of carbon into the deep ocean” and found that there was an important carbon sequestration effect.

Buesseler told The Daily Beast that his research was carried out nearly 20 years ago, and not much has been done since.

“What happened 20 years ago was we started to spin and propagate the chemical form of iron and look for phytoplankton – the plant response – and it really showed very clearly that if you increase iron, you can make more carbon dioxide uptake,’ said Busseler “The difference between now and 20 years ago is I think the climate crisis is more visible to the public.”

Phytoplankton blooms off the coast of Iceland, as observed from space.


Using the oceans to combat climate change has been a much-discussed topic among climate scientists in recent years, and Buesseler was part of a group of scientists releasing report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine late last year looked at options, including increasing levels of phytoplankton.

“We have a big reservoir. It already consumes a third of greenhouse gases. The question most people ask today is what can we do to improve it?” Buesseler said. “Let’s get out. Let’s experiment.”

The experiments themselves won’t harm the ocean’s natural ecosystems, Buesseler said, but they can tell us a lot about how getting more iron into the ocean on a much larger scale will affect these ecosystems in the long term. He doesn’t think doing it on a large scale will cause much harm, but it’s important to do some research so we can find out for sure. He said a “very conservative” estimate was that up to gigatons of carbon dioxide could be absorbed annually if the process were carried out on a large scale.

“It will change the types of plants and animals that grow, but it really does happen with changes in temperature and acidity,” Busseler said.

Iron enrichment is also easy, David Siegel, professor of marine science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told The Daily Beast. You can simply get a 120 foot fishing boat and start spreading the iron as it will be most effective at stimulating the growth of phytoplankton.

This can be done relatively inexpensively. Every iron atom you add in the right places can immobilize tens of thousands of carbon atoms, which means water absorbs them. “Quite effective,” said Siegel. “You can scatter pots that release iron oxide into the water – even just iron ore in the water – and you can make flowers that you can see from space. We know that.”

The effect will occur quite quickly. Scientists who have infused iron into seawater in the past have suggested that phytoplankton blooms can start appearing within the first 24 hours. The ideal place to enter iron is a less abundant place, which would be part of the oceans – especially in the southern hemisphere – not close to Earth. Usually iron appears that ends up in the ocean from dust which blows into the sea from the land.

Both Buesseler and Siegel stress that this should not be seen as a substitute for ending the use of fossil fuels. This is still important in terms of having a chance to beat climate change. But avoiding the worst impacts of climate change also requires developing decarbonization strategies to reduce the greenhouse gas load in the air.

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“Even if we remove carbon from our economy, there will still be about 20 gigatons of carbon dioxide that must be removed from the atmosphere to keep us close to the Paris Agreement targets,” Siegel said.

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