Filling the seas with iron

Oil that we find deep in the ground was laid down millions of years ago (it is thought by most geologists) by organic material, particularly algae and zooplankton which died and fell to the bottom of the sea. There over long periods of time the organic material was compressed and heated causing it to form into a waxy mud, and then with more heat the waxy mud turned to gas and oil.

As the algae and other organic material contained that building block of life – carbon – it was nature’s way of sequestrating the carbon deep underground, where it stayed until humans found a way to tap into it.

As humans industrialised and used more and more oil they created ever increasing emissions of carbon dioxide which were released into the atmosphere by burning. This is now titling the carbon balance in the air, as our planet can only sequester about half of the emissions of carbon dioxide.

Scientists have been looking for ways to put the carbon back into the earth in a safe and cost effective way, so as to help stop human caused global warming. They turned their thoughts to seeing of they could use nature’s processes, or at least mimic them.

The theory was if that if we could encourage algae growth, the algae would naturally sequester carbon dioxide and when it died the carbon dioxide would fall back into the sea, extracted from the atmosphere by the algae.

One way of encouraging algae growth was thought to be by “seeding” the sea with iron filings. Apparently iron encourages fast algae growth.

This is a controversial procedure because we do not quite understand what long term damage we may cause by seeding seas with iron. Nevertheless, overriding objections and even lawsuits from many environmental groups a project has now been completed which seeded about six tonnes of iron into the Southern Ocean. It is called the Lohafex Project.

Now the project results have been analysed. Well, they found out that algae did growth faster than normal, but the next stage – of the algae dying and sinking to the bottom of the sea did not happen, or at least did not happen to a significant extent.

The algae were eaten by copepods (small sea creatures) which were in turn eaten by small crustaceans. Very small amounts of algae died and sank safely to the bottom of the sea, taking the carbon dioxide with them.

It seems that the iron in the particular sea caused the wrong type of algae growth. The experimenters say that they only tested the theory in a very small part of the sea – only 300 square kilometres – and tests in other seas with different conditions may provide more successful results.

What the Lohafex experiment proved is that the scientists conducting it did not really understand the complexity of the sea’s ecosystems. It is reasonable to assume that they chose the sea which they thought would provide optimum conditions, but the experiment failed.

It strikes me as foolish to mess around with ecosystems that you do not fully understand; in fact we do not fully understand most ecosystems and they are best left alone. The experimenters want to seed a much larger area of sea with iron filings – perhaps 40,000 square kilometres. This might well cause irreversible damage; certainly after the Lohafex experiment we cannot predict the outcome with any certainty.

Of course it is important to look for ways to reduce the carbon dioxide content in the air, but those ways must be proven safe, before they are unleashed upon the planet. The place for the kind of experiment of seeding the seas with iron is in the laboratory and until the safety and efficacy of the practice is completely proven, we should not mess about with the sea.

3 Responses

  1. I know where there is some iron ore sinter-feed ( Fe 67% approx ) going cheap in Western Australia (740,000 Dry Metric Ton) ! ! ! I think that would do the trick ! ! ! think of the carbon credits all you have to do is dump it all in the sea.

    I have been aware this iron ore experiment so it is getting some publicity.

    Saddam Hussein conducted an experiment into ‘Albedo’ he conducted this by burning the Kuwaiti oil fields and this showed that temperatures under the burning oil fires were as much as 10oC colder than temperatures several miles away under clear skies.

    Also maybe dumping Radioctive waste under the ground is another experiment to increase underground oil production ? ! You have to think that the creation of oil from carbon deposits is catalyzed through both bacteria and high temperatures which are caused by underground radiation.

  2. The world modulates itself, mother nature takes care of these events, we as the human race have interefered with this process to such a lage extent that we have changed the natural process, now science thinks it can rectify these changes, it cannot, the only way things would get back to normal is if we all left the planet and moved somewhere else and let the earth readjust itself, obviously that cannot happen, but all the time there is money to be made for someone by the destruction of this planet it will continue on a downward cycle.

    • Absolutely right, but there are many people who want to do soemthing and will do soemthing. Cummulatively their actions have great potential.


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