I have a great idea for a common sense, sober, and reserved approach to climate change—let’s do nothing at all to curb our fossil fuel use, and simply “fertilize” vast areas of the ocean with dissolved iron!!  That’ll stimulate the growth of microorganisms—which will absorb millions upon millions of pounds of carbon. Then, when the wee beasties die, they’ll sink to the ocean floor, carrying all of their carbon with them! 

Yep, that’s the painless, no-risk solution to protecting the planet—involving no sacrifice, and nothing more than a bit of pluck and elbow grease. 

But unfortunately, some enterprising folks just ran a huge ocean fertilization experiment—and New Scientist reports that it failed miserably:

Earlier this month, the controversial Indian-German Lohafex expedition fertilised 300 square kilometres of the Southern Atlantic with six tonnes of dissolved iron. The iron triggered a bloom of phytoplankton, which doubled their biomass within two weeks by taking in carbon dioxide from the seawater. Dead bloom particles were then expected to sink to the ocean bed, dragging carbon along with them.

Instead, the bloom attracted a swarm of hungry copepods. The tiny crustaceans graze on phytoplankton, which keeps the carbon in the food chain and prevents it from being stored in the ocean sink. Shrimp - flickr user George MorganResearchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research reported that the copepods were in turn eaten by larger crustaceans called amphipods, which serve as food for squid and fin whales.

In other words, shrimp ate their climate change homework—gobbling up hopes for massive “carbon offsets” from ocean fertilization.

Which brings us back to plan A—stop burning so many dang fossil fuels!  Nutty, I know, but it just might work.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user George Morgan.  And it’s probably not the same kind of shrimp—it’s just the best picture I could find.