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. Researchers 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.
Matt the Engineer
That’s not so bad. All we have to do now is poison most of the squid and fin whales and hope they sink. (worries sarcasm will be read wrong by short-sighted profiteers)
And where is the problem with that ? More squid ? Even that is a help because more CO2 is sequestered in the organisms rather than being dissolved in the water .Great idea Matt the Engineer 🙂
Thank you for pointing out some of the potential pitfalls of ocean fertilization. However, forgive me for correcting the taxonomy represented in your post. Copepods are Crustaceans (as are shrimp, crab and amphipods), but copepods are certainly not considered shrimp. Copepods are significantly smaller than shrimp, and furthermore, you don’t mention anywhere in your post where “shrimp” are in this food chain (although you could make that connection). Amphipods are morphologically more similar to shrimp than copepods, but it is still unclear whether you intend to name amphipods, copepods, or shrimp as the culprit for eating the phytoplankton (the press release from AWI press release cites both copepods and amphipods, in different studies). – naomi, zooplankton ecologist, University of Washington