About 20 months ago, an American businessman conducted a massive ocean fertilisation test, fertilizing around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off Canada’s coast, it has emerged the Canadian government may have known about the geoengineering scheme and not stopped it. Satellite images confirmed the claim by Californian Russ George that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometres. Now it appears that the fish catch in the area was boosted by over 100,000 tons.
UPDATE – Pink salmon mature in two years. Salmon can add a pound a month if they are well fed in the ocean. 2013 had the largest pink salmon run in 50 years.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has completed compilation of preliminary values for the 2013 commercial salmon fishery. Powered by a record pink salmon harvest of 219 million fish, this year’s harvest ranks as the second most valuable on record. At $691.1 million, 2013 is only exceeded by the 1988 harvest value of $724 million. In addition to setting a record for pink salmon, the total number of salmon harvested also set a new record at 272 million fish.
The SE Alaska Pink catch in the fall of 2013 was a 170 million fish more than were expected. The Fraser river and the Canadian catches were also boosted.
The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, financed it with $2.5 million of their own savings, and used it to support the efforts of American scientist-entrepreneur Russ George to demonstrate the feasibility of open-sea mariculture — in this case, the distribution of 120 tons of iron sulfate into the northeast Pacific to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom which in turn would provide ample food for baby salmon.
The number of salmon caught in the northeast Pacific more than quadrupled, going from 50 million to 226 million. In the Fraser River, which only once before in history had a salmon run greater than 25 million fish (about 45 million in 2010), the number of salmon increased to 72 million.
Iron sulphate dumping returned over 100 times the value in fish in one year versus the cost of the dumping
Iron sulphate dumping returned about 1000 times the weight in increased fish versus the amount of dumped iron sulphate
Millions of tons of plastic and junk are dumped into the oceans and rivers every year. Iron Sulphate dumping could restore or even increase fish catches beyond historical levels
David Brin points out that ocean-fertilization is the inverse of irrigation. You are adding “land” to water in the form of nutrients.
10,000 years ago we learned to irrigate and make deserts bloom with crops. Add water to land, and life burgeons… but add it WRONG and you poison the land! As happened to the Fertile Crescent, which irrigators un-knowingly covered with salts, transforming paradise into desert.
What irrigation requires – we learned painfully across millennia – is drainage to ensure that the water you are adding will ALSO wash salts away. That’s the difference between the Euphrates Valley, which was choked by poor drainage, and the Ganges and Nile which are still fertile after 5000 years of irrigation.
Fertilize into very strong currents that are rich in Oxygen? That is exactly how upwellings along the Chilean coast or the Grand Banks engender the world’s greatest fisheries. Fertilizing other strong currents would be like well-drained irrigation. It could work, if carefully watched.
At least, that is a reasonable interpretation of all that we can see. Why not do the validation experiments scientifically and openly, instead of leaving this to fly-by-nighters?
The maximum possible result from iron fertilization, assuming the most favorable conditions and disregarding practical considerations, is 0.29W/m2 of globally averaged negative forcing, which is almost sufficient to reverse the warming effect of about 1/6 of current levels of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It is notable, however, that the addition of silicic acid or choosing the proper location could, at least theoretically, eliminate and exceed all man-made CO2.
Role of iron
About 70% of the world’s surface is covered in oceans, and the upper part of these (where light can penetrate) is inhabited by algae. In some oceans, the growth and reproduction of these algae is limited by the amount of iron in the seawater. Iron is a vital micronutrient for phytoplankton growth and photosynthesis that has historically been delivered to the pelagic sea by dust storms from arid lands. This Aeolian dust contains 3–5% iron and its deposition has fallen nearly 25% in recent decades.
The Redfield ratio describes the relative atomic concentrations of critical nutrients in plankton biomass and is conventionally written “106 C: 16 N: 1 P.” This expresses the fact that one atom of phosphorus and 16 of nitrogen are required to “fix” 106 carbon atoms (or 106 molecules of CO2). Recent research has expanded this constant to “106 C: 16 N: 1 P: .001 Fe” signifying that in iron deficient conditions each atom of iron can fix 106,000 atoms of carbon, or on a mass basis, each kilogram of iron can fix 83,000 kg of carbon dioxide.
Renewable subsidies at around $66 billion in 2010 (one year of world subsidies). This added less than 5% of world energy over decades for solar and wind energy.
The iron dumping paid off over 100 to 1. $2.5 million for over 1 million tons of sequestering of CO2 using 120 tons of iron sulphate and get over way over $200 million of extra fish. $25 billion for 1.2 million tons of iron sulphate to sequester 10 billion tons of CO2 (about 30% of world CO2) and more than double the $217 billion in world fish (140 million tons of fish farming and wild catch).
Ten other ways to reduce emissions that are not geoengineering
The following are my list of top ten technologies that would have a big effect on reducing emissions. These will reduce the unintentional effects on the environment and climate but are not classified as geoengineering. Although current emissions from cars, buildings, agriculture and industry all apparently effect the climate.
1. China Broad Group making “Can be built” factory mass produced high rises and skyscrapers. Deployment of 5 times improved energy efficiency by 2020 with many partners (30% of new construction) would save 400 million tons of CO2 per year
2. Black Carbon free cookers for 700 million households would save 18% of black carbon soot. Equal to about 10% (3 billion tons) of today’s CO2 in warming effect. Current target is 100 million households by 2020 for the equivalent of about 400 million tons of CO2 per year in warming reduction.
3. Diesel particulate filters for cars and trucks and other diesel engines can reduce the 14% of black carbon from transportation. Majority of vehicles are existing older cars and trucks already on the road and would need retrofits
4. Massive amounts of electrification of vehicles could reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions. There are 150 million electric bikes and scooters (mostly in China). This could increase to 500 million electric bikes and scooters by 2020. This will reduce the usage of 2 billion regular cars and vehicles. There will at best by 20 million electric or hybrid cars without massive change.
5. A variety of DOE and other approaches to retrofitting existing buildings for efficiency could increase energy efficiency by about 20%. Perhaps 1 billion tons of CO2 per year worldwide by 2020.
6. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions from concrete. 5% of world total. There is green cement which can absorb carbon dioxide. Green cement is unlikely to be deployed on a wide scale by 2020 because of the need for long term studies to prove develop and prove the safety of the new materials. Also, the new material have to be scaled up.
7. Scaling up of regular nuclear power and hydro power. The world will add about 1000 TWh of hydropower and about 1200 TWh of nuclear power before 2030
8. Nuclear fission technology advances –
* Annular fuel (MIT invented, being commercialized in South Korea (can boost existing and future reactors by 20-50%)
* factory mass produced pebble bed reactors (China under 210 MWe being built, first 2016-2018)
* factory mass produced breeder reactors Russia, first in 2018-2025
Should be big impact from 2018-2030
9. Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University estimates that by switching to slash-and-char from slash-and-burn agriculture, which turns biomass into ash using open fires that release black carbon and GHGs, 12% of anthropogenic carbon emissions caused by land use change could be reduced annually, which is approximately 660 million tons of CO2-eq. per year, or 2% of all annual global CO2-eq emissions.
Lighter roads and roofs too
From now until 2040, if you want to have a 0.75 degree celsius increase instead of a possible 1.25 degree celsius temperature increase then soot mitigation should be targeted. Measure against CO2 would have an effect by around 2070.
Soot makes the ice darker and melt faster and increases the amount of heat that is absorbed instead of reflected.
Geoengineering is simple and cheap
The cost to construct a Stratospheric Shield with a pumping capacity of 100,000 tons a year of sulfur dioxide would be roughly $24 million, including transportation and assembly. Annual operating costs would run approximately $10 million. The system would use only technologies and materials that already exist—although some improvements may be needed to existing atomizer technology in order to achieve wide sprays of nanometer-scale sulfur dioxide particles and to prevent the particles from coalescing into larger droplets. Even if these cost estimates are off by a factor of 10 (and we think that is unlikely), this work appears to remove cost as an obstacle to cooling an overheated planet by technological means.
HIGH-FLYING BLIMPS, based on existing protoypes, could support a hose no thicker than a fire hose (above) to carry sulfur dioxide as a clear liquid up to the stratosphere, where one or more nozzles (below) would atomize it into a fine mist of nanometer-scale aerosol particles.
The iron dusting and algae bloom sinking method would be used if you also want to prevent ocean acidification.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.