The gap between environmental
This startling fact appears in Nature in a peer reviewed study of the annual outburst of sea life that teems in the waters upwelling around Kerguelen Island : Effect of natural iron fertilization on carbon sequestration in the Southern Ocean.
Debate about its future policy implications is already off to a false start. Science news is, by definition, new , and the research first surfaced on April 23 in Nature News . a free website more simply written and widely read than the erudite (and expensive) science journal it summarizes. Few will read what Stephane' Blain and forty-six colleagues wrote. What counts instead is headline hype. Quintin Schiermeier's news article leads off like a purple tyrannosaur lecturing tots in a nanny state nursery:
Only Mother Nature Knows How To Fertilize The Ocean
Its subheads are minor masterpieces of Green tabloid
'Natural input of nutrients works ten times better than manmade injections' dis-informs readers by inverting the math -- 'manmade injections' still enjoy 10,000 to 1 leverage in carbon sequestration. The other speaks for itself :
Geo-engineering the ocean won't work
Despite the headline , that's not the scientific article's subject--or its conclusion. It's about biogeochemistry from top to bottom ,and Schiermeier's polemic dismissal of iron fertilization is a manifest example of op-ed engineering. Instead of
the 46 authors of the peer-reviewed Letter To Nature, he quotes only one marine scientist , Ulf Riebesell , who "has been involved in one previous ocean fertilization experiment."
Nature News offers only Riebesell's contention that: "What the team has observed is probably the optimal efficiency of carbon export achievable, you just can't achieve nature's efficiency...That's why geo-engineering the ocean won't work." It also states of fertilization studies at sea "An estimated 80-95% of the iron in these experiments has been 'lost.' This negative spin contrasts with the Biogeochemistry review by New Zealand oceanographer Philip Boyd in the magazine ,which notes both the difference between continuous mixing of deep waters and brief fertilization experiments, and that the new study of natural iron accounts for only 20% of the plankton bloom's uptake.
The study of optimizing iron delivery in synergy with oceanic plant nutrients has barely begun. Yet though speculation about its economic future needs taking with a rather large grain of ferrous sulfate enriched salt. One entrepreneur quoted in today's Times story has an interesting track record , but Nature itself concedes that , even in its present infant form--chucking raw iron salts over the transom of research vessels -- , ocean fertilization could reduce CO2 in the air by 3%--that's 1.4 billion tons annually.
No reasonable scientist expects a
new species of engineering , Geo- or otherwise, to converge on the
of nature and practicality in the first few tries. Ocean water comes in
many flavors and unique
phytoplankton communities have evolved to take
advantage of the
taste of each. It took decades of research on land to develop the
soil-specific targeted micronutrients ( E.G. boron and copper ) that
enable the Green Revolution to fend off
famine in human communities too poor to afford bulk nitrogen and
If anything should make mother nature queasy , it's the odor of 19th century Vitalism permeating Nature News' anemic coverage of iron's huge carbon offset return. The premise that iron atoms touched by man somehow differ from those upwelling from the deep green sea may appeal to Dark Greens, but it too much recalls the metaphysical aversion to biotech of the religious Right, and pop ecologists who blanch at ocean fertilization while exhorting us to eat farmed salmon raised on a Geritol spiked diet.
Half a century ago , Al Gore's erstwhile mentor, atmospheric scientist Roger Revelle observed that in pouring CO2 into the air "human beings are now carrying out a large scale geophysical experiment."
Engineers instead ask how best to design the experiment .Climate change is not a matter of one generation, and neither is technology. Its permanance as an evolving human institution necessarily requires an ever growing understanding of of our interaction with nature , including the biogeochemical cycle of iron. From colloid chemistry ( the Victorian term for nanotech ) to nutritional ecology, the task of learning the limits of our capacity for constructive environmental change remains largely unpaid for and undone.
This seems lost on Al Gore. His response to the promise of geo-engineering has been to propose a Wayback Machine instead. His call to cut CO2 90% by 2050 means turning the energy clock back to 1880--and waving goodbye to much carbon-based civilization has achieved in the century since Revelle's scientific forebears launched the Challenger Expedition.By ignoring the technical depth of this new controversy , Nature News has created an hazard to scientific navigation too. Nature is a flagship journal many media leaders follow like The Economist, presuming its rigorously peer-reviewed wake will lead to safe harbor. Suffering Nature News online to pop off Green flares risks luring them all onto the scientific rocks.
So please read the whole thing-- Nature is available in any science library-- to get past the Post-Earth Day, Pre-IPCC report press conference bits and access both the Biogeochemistry review and Blair et al.