Ocean iron fertilization CO2 sequestration experiment a blooming failure

Ocean iron fertilization. Source: Woods Hole

From the best laid plans of mice and men department.

In the late 1980’s, the late John Martin advanced the idea that carbon uptake during plankton photosynthesis in many regions of the world’s surface ocean was limited not by light or the major nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, but rather by a lack of the trace metal iron. Correlations between dust input to the ocean (which is the major source of iron) and past climate changes and CO2 levels, led Martin’s to exclaim “Give me half a tanker of iron and I’ll give you the next ice age”.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute wrote a paper about it Effects of Ocean Fertilization with Iron to Remove Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere Reported April 2004 News Release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

From Slashdot and New Scientist:

Earlier this month,  the controversial Indian-German Lohafex expedition fertilised 300 square kilometres of the Southern Atlantic with six tonnes of dissolved iron.

This triggered a bloom of phytoplankton, which doubled their biomass within two weeks by taking in carbon dioxide from the seawater. The dead phytoplankton were then expected to sink to the ocean bed, dragging carbon along with them. Instead, the experiment turned into an example o f how the food chain works, as the bloom was eaten by a swarm of hungry copepods.

The huge swarm of copepods were in turn eaten by larger crustaceans called amphipods, which are often eaten by squid and whales. “I think we are seeing the last gasps of ocean iron fertilization as a carbon storage strategy,” says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University.

While the experiment failed to show ocean fertilization as a viable carbon storage strategy, it has pushed the old “My dog ate my homework” excuse to an unprecedented level.

h/t to Dan Watts (no relation)

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CodeTech

I can’t even IMAGINE anyone being even remotely surprised by this. Not even remotely. Not even the tiniest little bit.
In the future, I will be referring to this as the ultimate example of a ridiculous idea that almost everyone not involved could see wouldn’t work, and a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences. Even with only high school biology I knew this was going to go something like this.
Also, in the future these types of things (and we will see more of them) will be referred to as a sort of “crazy time”, when reason and sanity took a back seat to the hype and hyperbole of “climate change” and “mitigation”. Maybe we just need giant leeches to “bleed” the planet…

WWS

Wouldn’t it have been easier to go to the corner pet store and buy 6 tons of fish food to dump into the ocean? Same result!!!

crosspatch

Well this is what global warming is really all about:

A United Nations document on “climate change” that will be distributed to a major environmental conclave next week envisions a huge reordering of the world economy, likely involving trillions of dollars in wealth transfer, millions of job losses and gains, new taxes, industrial relocations, new tariffs and subsidies, and complicated payments for greenhouse gas abatement schemes and carbon taxes — all under the supervision of the world body

Jack Green

It’s illegal to feed wild animals.

rob wykoff

And the unintended consequences of the study, was a huge increase in the incidence of diabetes in squid.

Pamela Gray

It only works when all other necessary conditions are right. All the other nutrients from colder deeper water have to be mixed into the warmer upper layer. Predator populations have to be low (because they eventually starved after eating up the plankton and died out to lower numbers) as the blooms begin. And dust needs to be a continuous feed, not a once and we’re done thing. The article answered some of the questions that lead scientists to understand natural phenomena. Not a bad thing. But spin will destroy this important bit of information and we will walk away still scratching our heads, knowing nothing. The null hypothesis proven is as instructive as the null hypothesis not supported. This narrowly defined study with its narrowly defined hypothesis, inadvertently revealed a major finding if eyes are open to it.

Roger Knights

I think we are seeing the last gasps of ocean iron fertilization as a carbon storage strategy,”
But it’s great for the whales, so maybe when the threat of CAGW is debunked, greenies will embrace this fertilization technique.

Power Engineer

Sounds to me like all they did was give a boost to the food chain by providing an abundance of the lowest organism on it, while simultaneously eliminating the idea of carbon capture by these means.
Ever hear of two birds with one stone?

William

Maybe the Japanese can use this as a “whale hunting offset.” Dump the Iron, Save the Whales!

NormD

I don’t understand how the experiment is a failure. The goal was to take CO2 out of the air and grow biomass in the ocean. Why does it matter what the form of the biomass takes? Eventually all biomass dies and goes to the bottom. What am I missing?

3x2

Lohafex researchers say the results suggest that using iron fertilisation to increase the ocean carbon sink would rely on a complex chain of events, making it difficult to control.

“complex chain of events”, “difficult to control”. All that is missing here is the crackling and interference on the last radio message sent by the group.
More worrying is that as the hype gets shriller and the “schemes” get more insane eventually some real damage will be done.
A quick glance here (centre of page) has a host of top doom mongers arguing about a scheme to take land from those not using it correctly and cover it in “biochar” to remove excess CO2. Apparently it will be cooked up on an industrial scale using huge microwave ovens – you just couldn’t make this stuff up.

Hah! Last year I wrote a note for a local newspaper (Milenio) talking about the generation of this problem from “fertilizing” the oceans with iron. As always, this people think that the Universe is static. They have to be thankful their luck for not have caused a major disaster, eutrophication, for example. This failure reveals how little those people know on nature works. They’re doing the same on climate and physics.

tehdude

Well at least plankton grew initially to support part of his hypothesis. Cloud seeding remains, of course, the most down and dirty practical way of actually cooling the earth of we needed to.
Not that nature isn’t helping recently…

Gary

Phytoplankton are not massive enough to sink very fast. Some research has shown that their remains (diatom frustules) are transported to depth in copepod fecal pellets. But even the recycling of those in upper water layers probably is significant. One would expect a very slow sequestration of carbon anyway, based on the fact that average worldwide sedimentation rates are only a couple of cm per millennium. Fertilization is for farming. Somebody might want to try fishing in that 300 sq km test plot.

bsneath

Could this be a way of feeding the world’s population? “Fertilize” the oceans with iron dust, increase biomass and let the food chain do the rest? Sounds interesting.

Where y’all are seeing a failure of carbon sequestration, I’m seeing a potential deep-sea aquaculture opportunity. Assuming, of course, that you could a) control the critters reaping the bloom, b) keep the predators at bay before you harvested and c) resolved the ownership issue of your open-sea cropland.
‘Cause $600 worth of fertilizer for even a minor harvest of giant shrimp or some other commercial shellfish off of three hundred square miles of area sounds like a pretty good deal.

I propose a massive government program to educate the amphipods on the value of becoming vegetarian.
The copepods will still eat the phytoplankton (being vegetarians themselves), but will then be allowed to live full, productive copepod lives before finally taking the carbon with THEM to the bottom when they die.

WakeUpMaggy

I would think red dust blown into the oceans from deserts would be the natural version of this experiment.

Now that’s funny! We’re going to change climate with a half tanker of iron. The earth is um, big guys!

Jeff C made an amazing discovery on the antarctic paper.
http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/auto-matic-correlation/

geo

I guess I’m missing something. Can someone tell me why it matters if the carbon ended up in amphipods rather than at the bottom of the ocean?

Kevin P.

Maybe six tons in 300 sq. km. was too much? They really need to do the experiment on a curve varying levels of iron. There might well be a lower threshold in which results may be more favorable.

crosspatch

I just recently saw a program where they were talking about the deep ocean “abyssal snow”. It seems that the dead bodies of the various plankton end up getting stuck together in clumps which causes them to fall more rapidly.
But what bothers me is that these are the same people that complain about ocean acidification and adding this iron probably results in a local acidification that changes the pH and allows those plankton to absorb nutrients better.
Adding iron is an easy way to lower pH in soils, I would expect it to work the same way in ocean water.

CodeTech

geo –
The big deal is that the result of the experiment was different from the prediction. In “science” this makes it a complete failure… (but what does “science” have to do with AGW, anyway? Other than its perversion.)
And I agree, this is a great way to accomplish other tasks, but although not a hand-waving leftist environmentalist loon, I still think it is a BAD PRECEDENT to start dumping chemicals of any kind into the ocean for any reason. Imagine the outcry if I was dumping old cars out there!

JeffK

Sorry, but I must dissagree with the findings of the report – the experiment *did* work!! The whole point was to transfer the carbon which was in a gasious solution in the water (I believe that is the correct way to explain it) to a solid form in the phytoplankton and this *did* occur. Just because it wound up in the stomach of a fish instead of the sea floor is not the issue. The transfer from a gas to a solid took place…which was the whole point. It is the gasious form of the carbon which is increasing in the atmosphere.
Think about that,
Jeff

P Folkens

The study may hint at why/how the CO2 lags temperature as seen in the Vostok Ice Cores. Climate warms by some mechanism (Milankovitch Cycles, solar irradience, whatever). Ocean area available for primary production increases as sea ice diminishes. Land area warms up as the seas remain relatively cool. The greater difference in temperatures increases winds. The winds facilitate upwelling in the oceans, bringing cold, nutrient-rich deep water to the surface. Plankton blooms soar (due perhaps helped by fertilization by stuff on the wind) using CO2 in the oceans (not the air). This facilitates increased population growth of the lower animal life, which in turn causes higher ocean fauna to flourish. The winds bring moisture-laden air to the land. Rain falls. Terrestrial plant flourish while erosion brings more minerals down from the mountains and out onto the shelf waters further helping the plankton blooms. All those critters on land and sea eating the flora and the lower form of fauna emit CO2 into the atmosphere. CO2 in the atmosphere rises AFTER things warm up and primary production ramps up producing more life.
Somebody please point out the big flaw in that explanation. Otherwise, it works for me.

bsneath

Crosspatch – you are correct. Nearly all AGW “wanna-believers” in fact have a bias against (or an envy of) development & growth, technological progress, corporations, capitalism, success, etc.
Branding CO2 to be an evil poison just fits too nicely into their belief systems. Accordingly, they chose not to question the validity and will always accept it to be a fact.
This is not to imply that these folks are in any way disingenuous. It is the nature of the human mind to readily accept information that supports strongly held beliefs and to just as readily filter out information that is contrary.
We who question AGW are also guilty. Don’t we get a much greater “serotonin rush” when the monthly global temperatures fall, thus validating our belief that it is more about the Sun and nature and not so much about CO2?
Fortunately, over time, wisdom prevails. It will prevail when those in middle, whose minds can be changed understand the truth. We all can thank Mr. Watts (and perhaps a very dormant Sun) for shortening the amount of time that this will take.

crosspatch

“Just because it wound up in the stomach of a fish instead of the sea floor is not the issue”
If it made it to the stomach of a fish, it will make it to the sea floor, albeit in different form.

I think the origin of all these newly concocted theories is the need for survival of the involved scientists: they propose a research to be made (whatsoever you can imagine…you got to live!), then they get, if well or appropriately concocted, the funding.
What happens afterwards….you see, just “roses, roses”
Thanks god there are people who really work, like, you know, Thomas Alva Edison, etc. and thanks god, and fortunately, those newly babyboomers scientists can not change what they thought they could, like climate or planet venus temperature. 🙂

Symon

For the posters who don’t get it. The experiment is a failure because the fish return almost all the CO2 back to the environment by burning the phytoplankton in their bodies. Just like humans burn wheat in their bodies.

John Galt

Does this mean there is a biological aspect to life on earth? Could biological issues also affect the climate?
[Sarcasm off]
My understanding is Lohafex wanted to sell carbon offsets. It doesn’t matter if the experiment worked or not. It only matters if they can make a profit on it. If government mandates are in play, then it still may be profitable.

John Galt

Jim Watson (07:31:17) :
I propose a massive government program to educate the amphipods on the value of becoming vegetarian.
The copepods will still eat the phytoplankton (being vegetarians themselves), but will then be allowed to live full, productive copepod lives before finally taking the carbon with THEM to the bottom when they die.

Don’t laugh when somebody proposes to kill off the copepods in order to save the planet.

terry46

Off topic but has anyone noticed the lack of coverage about the snow in Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas? Forcast of 8to14 in. along the entire pan handle with life threatening conditions for anyone caught out in this storm.They mention the snow in Denver but nothing about the other states or how rare this is given it’s spring.And as for the flooding in North Dakota I pray for those people but nothing is mentioed as to what caused it to begin.They have had a record snowfall season beating it by over 25 inches.Where is the coverage on this or lack there of?You know it just does’t go with AGW propaganda .

WakeUpMaggy (07:34:04) :
“I would think red dust blown into the oceans from deserts would be the natural version of this experiment.”
Yes, Of course!. And all the rivers that discharge on the 7 seas. Could you imagine how many times nature outnumbers fools’ experiments, and..of course nature uses ferric oxides instead of ferrous sulphate.

Jim

JeffK,
If the gaseous CO2 was converted to ‘solid’ carbonates and then eaten, the digestive acids would then redissolve the solid carbonates back to gaseous CO2. This would have been re-released back into the ocean.
The net effect, I believe, would be very little sequestration ending up on the ocean floor due to the iron experiment. Just a recycling back to dissolved ocean gas as it was in the beginning.
Jim

P Folkens

Roger Knights (07:02:35) : “But it’s great for the whales, ”
There is an academic article out there that raised concern about whale flatulence increasing methane in the atmosphere. The biomass of the large whales makes them a noticeable contributor of atmospheric CO2 through respiration and a carbon sink through lunch.
It appears to me that a robust cycle of life through primary and secondary production naturally leads to increased CO2. If one’s obsessive fear is of that minor gas and the only way to assuage that fear is to reduce it, the logical solution is to curtail the cycle of life.
Note: whale do not take CO2 out of the atmosphere, but do emit tonnes daily. Perhaps the AGW folks in Greenpeace would therefore advocate killing all the whales. (Paul Watson would violently oppose that notion.)

deadwood

I like Dyson’s engineered trees better.

crosspatch

“If the gaseous CO2 was converted to ’solid’ carbonates and then eaten, the digestive acids would then redissolve the solid carbonates back to gaseous CO2”
Some, yes, but not all. Fish excrement contains a rather high concentration of calcium carbonate.

The new findings show that fish are actually responsible for producing between three and 15 per cent of marine calcium carbonate.
The researchers from Canada, the U.S. and U.K. say the estimate is conservative and that it could actually be three times higher.
By continuously drinking sea water, fish are ingesting an excess of calcium, which they turn into calcium carbonate crystals in the gut. They then excrete these unwanted “gut rocks” in a process that’s separate from digestion and production of feces.
The fish that produce calcium carbonate are “bony fish,” a group that includes 90 per cent of marine fish species, but not sharks or rays.

So the more dissolved calcium in the water, the more the fish make “gut rocks” that end up on the ocean floor.

joshua corning

The big discovery here is the find that copepods never ever poop….even bigger was the discovary that animals that eat copepods don’t ever poop either.

AnonyMoose

Some of the carbon ends up as flesh on the predators. If there is more food, the predators grow more quickly and/or there are more predators more quickly than without the fertilization. More waste from the predators ends up on the ocean floor more quickly. There should be some increased carbon sequestration, although it is harder for the researchers to quantify.
The research was a failure only in producing the result which the researchers expected. The result was more complex than they expected, but the researchers do seem to confirm that there was an increase of the small creatures of the food chain after their fertilization.

Ohioholic

Symon (08:02:02) :
For the posters who don’t get it. The experiment is a failure because the fish return almost all the CO2 back to the environment by burning the phytoplankton in their bodies. Just like humans burn wheat in their bodies.
So living creatures are CO2 sinks?

Fine but what’s wrong about storing carbon in whales? 😉 A whale is a natural gadget that does a lot of work more efficiently than the devices envisioned by many geo-engineers. We can grow a few million of cute and lovely whales (and sharks) who will store the carbon for us. 🙂

timetochooseagain

Thank god. These geoengineering kooks scare the crap out of me.

realitycheck

Re: 3×2 (07:19:01) :
“More worrying is that as the hype gets shriller and the “schemes” get more insane eventually some real damage will be done.”
This worries me a great deal as well. The fact that the experiment failed only adds weight to the arguement that these clowns have no clue what they are doing and they will get us all killed.
These environmental fundamentalists are cursing the western world for the evil artifical tinkering of the atmosphere through CO2 emissions. Why is their tinkering any different? I’d argue its worse, because its a much more dramatic step-change perturbation to the climate system than a slow increase of life-benefiting gas over a long period of time. Their tinkering is the equivalent of poking an atomic pile in a nuclear reactor with a stick.
Someone, please stop these idiots now….

gary gulrud

Ken Caldeira at Stanford! The hollowing out of Academia is more advanced than I’d feared.

Paul

NEWSFLASH…NEWSFLASH…NEWSFLASH…NEWSFLASH…
Scientists find complex system of unknown and unpredictable interactions behaves nothing like their models predict.

John Luft

This kind of abject stupidity must be stopped in its tracks. In fact, these clowns should probably be thrown in jail. Have these so-called “scientists” not learned from experiments like introducing cane toads in Australia and other such idiotic concepts?

JeffK (07:46:22) :
Sorry, but I must dissagree with the findings of the report – the experiment *did* work!! The whole point was to transfer the carbon which was in a gasious solution in the water (I believe that is the correct way to explain it) to a solid form in the phytoplankton and this *did* occur. Just because it wound up in the stomach of a fish instead of the sea floor is not the issue. The transfer from a gas to a solid took place…which was the whole point. It is the gasious form of the carbon which is increasing in the atmosphere.
We must also consider the large amount of methane released in fish flatulencies, rotting of zooplankton and fish corpses, etc. 🙂

Crosspatch 06 55 08
has posted probably one of the most significant links ever to appear in this Blog. I followed it through to the UN paper which-if true-is dynamite and IMHO warrants a thread by itself so as not to hijack this one.
Here is the link right through to the UN Discussion document
http://www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/032709_informationnote.pdf
it is indeed a UN document to reorder the world
Whilst everyone should scrutinise each line in order to see what we had always believed was an agenda behind the IPCC (they couldn’t seriously believe all their models could they) some highlights are
Page 6 item 17
page 8 item 25 and 27
page 9 item 34
page 10 item 37
page 14 item 60
Conclusions on p15
Any comments from anyone?
Tonyb

WakeUpMaggy (07:34:04):
I would think red dust blown into the oceans from deserts would be the natural version of this experiment.
Adolfo Giurfa (08:09:19):
WakeUpMaggy (07:34:04) :
“I would think red dust blown into the oceans from deserts would be the natural version of this experiment.”
Yes, Of course!. And all the rivers that discharge on the 7 seas. Could you imagine how many times nature outnumbers fools’ experiments, and..of course nature uses ferric oxides instead of ferrous sulphate.

Indeed… Red and black winds also drag virus which kill corals. Another experiment, although no natural, has been the discharges of detergents and other organic wastes to rivers, creeks, lagoons, etc. The final effect is similar. Something worrisome is the consumption of oxygen dissolved in water, which is consumed quickly by the excessive population of animals and aquatic plants causing an acceleration of the ecological succession.

Mitchel44

Same effect as the one here?
“When deep water is vented, it brings not only CO2 to the surface but nutrients. Phytoplankton consume the extra nutrients and multiply.”
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/03/12/wind-shifts-may-stir-co2-from-antarctic-depths/
It also looks at plankton spikes, which means biomass increase. Hard to see how it could be all bad, more fish food = more fish.