Fw: [CCG] Attempt to Sequester CO2 Via Phytoplankton
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From: Green Bean <greenb3an@...>
To: All Energy <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, 5 Feb 2004 15:38:15 -0800 (PST)
Subject: [CCG] Attempt to Sequester CO2 Via Phytoplankton
Climate test sets sail
Will throwing iron in the ocean help stop global
26 January 2004
Researchers have embarked on a test to see whether
dumping iron into the ocean can help remove carbon
dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, possibly
alleviating global warming.
The controversial idea has been tested in small-scale
projects before. But it has never been clear whether
it would actually work, in part because it is
difficult to track exactly what happens to the
ecosystem after iron is added to the water. Now
scientists intend to watch a large patch of ocean for
a relatively long period of time in an attempt to find
The iron is expected to feed the growth of
phytoplankton - single-celled algae that live in the
sunlit upper layers of the sea - in areas where they
are limited by little natural iron in the water.
As phytoplankton grow, they absorb CO2 from the
atmosphere in order to photosynthesize. Phytoplankton
are currently responsible for almost half of the
overall photosynthetic activity on Earth. Some
researchers think that increasing their activity would
be a good way to reduce the concentration of CO2 in
the atmosphere, helping to slow the rate of global
But the phytoplankton will only remove CO2 from the
air permanently if they die and sink to the bottom of
the sea, says Victor Smetacek, a biological
oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute for
Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany.
This might not happen. Instead, the phytoplankton
could be eaten by zooplankton - miroscopic
invertebrates that feed on algae. The zooplankton
could in turn be eaten by larger sea creatures, which
would release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere
by respiration. In that case, adding iron to the ocean
would not decrease the amount of CO2 in the
Smetacek and 48 colleagues set sail last Wednesday on
the German research vessel Polarstern to investigate
what really happens.
The team plans to dissolve an iron sulphate solution
in a in a 150-200 square-kilometre patch of the
Southern Ocean, near Antarctica, where currents are
expected to keep the iron within a limited area. The
team will then monitor the growth of phytoplankton
from a helicopter, and examine which kinds of algae
and other creatures flourish for a period of eight to
"We need to find out whether the algae die after the
bloom and sink down to the ocean floor," says
Smetacek. "Only then we can be sure that the carbon is
permanently removed from the atmosphere."
Researchers caution that even if the plan does prove
capable of reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, many
ecologists are concerned that interference with the
marine food chain could have a dramatic and negative
impact on ocean ecology1. Further studies will be
needed to resolve those issues.
1. Schiermeier, Q. Climate change: The oresmen.
Nature, 421, 109 - 110, doi:10.1038/421109a (2003).
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