In 2009 biological oceanographer Victor Smetacek tried to sink our global warming problem in the sea. The researcher, his scientific team and the crew of the ship RV Polarstern sailed to the Southern Ocean and poured a solution of iron into a small eddy. Iron, a nutrient, triggered a phytoplankton bloom, and the tiny photosynthesizers sucked carbon dioxide from the sky as they grew. When the plankton died, they drifted like snow to the bottom of the ocean, entombing CO2 in their tiny corpses. Although the technique, if used widely, could bury a billion metric tons of this greenhouse gas every year, the experiment drew the ire of environmentalists. Such iron fertilization was condemned by organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature and the ETC Group, some other scientists, and Germany's environment minister, who worried about unforeseen and toxic side effects, such as plankton growth harming the food chain. Smetacek, who had received prior approval from the governments of Germany and India, eventually stopped pursuing the idea after an international treaty against ocean dumping added cautions about such experiments. We need to get over the environmentalist skittishness that thwarts these small tests of climate manipulation. Civilization may depend on such geoengineering methods as the planet keeps warming. We need tests to get them right—and stop people from doing them wrong. Humanity is on pace to raise the planet's thermostat by four degrees Celsius by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its latest report states that technology to pull CO2 from the air will be needed to avoid that rise. More via Scientific American.
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