Can plankton help us fight climate change?

The planet is now only able to store away half the carbon dioxide that is put into its atmosphere each day. The carbon dioxide that is not stored remains in the air for around a hundred years, creating an ever increasing barrier of insulation around the planet that prevents heat from escaping, causing global warming.  A moment’s thought tells us that we must not hold emissions at any level, but constantly decrease them to below 80% if we are to reverse climate change.

There are many ways in which the planet sequesters carbon dioxide and we can do more to improve sequestration of the green house gas by many processes – for example by planting more trees. However, one way which we understand little about, and which might help in storing carbon, is plankton, which act removes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stores it in its algae bloom, which is then broken down in the structure of the plankton, which then die and the carbon remains locked in the planktons skeletons at the bottom of the sea bed.

Scientists have found that plankton grow best (and therefore are more prevalent and therefore store more carbon dioxide) in areas of the seas where there are naturally high iron concentrations, which arise from iron in underwater rocks being dissolves by the sea. The area of sea that has the most bloom is the Southern Ocean. Scientists are trying to see if the growth of plankton can be artificially stimulated, so that the planet can store away more of the carbon dioxide than it does at present.

The idea is to fertilise the sea with iron filings, thus, it is hoped allowing more plankton to grow. There is one experiment being conducted off the coast of Argentina but the results will not be known for many months.

There are many things that have to be discovered; exactly how much carbon dioxide is sequestered is one key point; another is whether putting large quantities of iron into the seas will adversely affect other sea life; if it does then the carbon storage gains may be offset by other carbon emissions, caused by affecting the sea food chain.

Many environmentalists are concerned that the iron seeding experiments are largely unregulated and want them to be carried out more carefully adhering to strong environmental guidelines and regulations to preserve ecosystems.

Plankton could be an unlikely weapon in the fight against climate change. We need to learn more about what they do, and more about what the effect of putting large quantities of iron into the sea does. It is worth experimenting, but these kinds of experiments should be carried out very cautiously.

4 Responses

  1. i don’t see other people doing much to remove co2 from the atmosphere. but i have been doing it since 1993 = 16 years… when i plant plankton in an ocean, lake, or river, they begin growing, multiplying, and removing co2, while increasing o2. in addition, when i plant them in streams, they remove chemical pollutants from the water, and bury them under sediments…. improving ocean for increased plankton growth,,,
    glen hemerick, 15871 peacock hill rd se, olalla, wa 98359 phone 253-857-7225,

    From: Amrit
    Subject: Re: FW: restoring plankton
    Date: Wednesday, January 28, 2009, 1:48 PM

    Mr. Hemerick,

    Thank you for your contacting Dr. Jane Lubchenco about the well-being of our oceans. She appreciates hearing from you and learning of your views on the uses of plankton.

    Dr. Lubchenco is honored that President-elect Obama has selected her for the extremely important job of NOAA Administrator, and she appreciates the outpouring of support and interest. She is working hard to transition out of her current job and prepare for Senate confirmation.


    Amrit Mehra

    NOAA Administrator-Designee Confirmation Team
    Department of Commerce
    1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20230
    —–Original Message—–
    From: Glen Hemerick []
    Sent: Monday, January 19, 2009 12:42 PM
    To: Lubchenco, Jane
    Subject: restoring plankton

    Dr Lubchenco, I have been collecting, and growing
    plankton since 1960* i have been releasing pure
    cultures of identified plankton, by government
    request, and with government permission since
    2006**… Release of plankton has always been
    followed by desired events, such as prompt, predicted
    return of life to dead zones. *** I would like to
    see other scientists encouraged to try an
    experimental release of food-chain plankton into
    barren regions of the ocean. i have also released
    freshwater plankton into streams to keep toxic
    substances out of oceans.****
    glen hemerick, 15871 peacock hill rd se, olalla, wa
    98359 phone 253-857-7225,,


    ** “Ultican, Shawn”
    wrote: Mr. Hemerick My name is Shawn UItican, and I
    coordinate the local shellfish monitoring program for
    the Kitsap County Health District. I’m interested in
    learning more about your idea. Please explain the
    technique you would use to eradicate the plankton
    that produces Paralytic Shellfish Poison, or “red
    tide”, from Hood Canal. In addition, please explain
    how your technique works to target a particular
    species of plankton. Please keep in mind that any
    “treatment” of waterbodies in Washington state, even
    with beneficial intent, will likely require permits
    and a review and approval process prior to any work
    being done. I look forward to hearing from you.
    Best Regards, Shawn Ultican Kitsap County Health
    District Water Quality Program TEL (360) 337-5622
    FAX (360) 337-5291
    From: Glen Hemerick
    : Monday, October 02, 2006 4:56 PM
    To: Whitford, Stuart;
    Stuart, Shawn, Thanks ,much for visiting. while
    you were here my machine recorded a phone call from
    Laurie Levanter, WA Ecology, 425-649-7039. i
    returned her call and she said we “do not need
    permits for small volumes like 30 gallons. “…
    “Whitford, Stuart” wrote: sounds good to
    us. sw

    Amrit Mehra
    NOAA Administrator-Designate Confirmation Team
    Department of Commerce
    1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20230

    • I think that there are easier ways to remove CO2 – such as large reforestration, where the outcomes are more certain. However, let’s also get those algae working on it, if the outcomes are known and not counter productive.


    • Removing carbon dioxide from the air is the hardest thing; far better not to over pollute the air in the first place. I certainly support research into using plankton, and that research should include research into any as yet unforeseen consequences. people who try to improve things are very importannt – we need many more of them.


  2. Ok. I am here to say something nice about Oma (Len) he has brought new meaning to art for many people and his stick figure drawings have very witty and sometimes wily smiles.LikeLike

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