Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
My friend Matt was kind enough to forward me some links to a new scheme for sequestering carbon in the areas of the ocean that have very little chlorophyll, which means areas with little of the oceanic green plant life called “phytoplankton”. Phytoplankton are the tiny chlorophyll-producing plants that are the foundation of all sea life—everything that lives in the open ocean either eats phytoplankton, or eats something that eats phytoplankton, or eats something that eats something that eats phytoplankton, ad infinitum. Without phytoplankton, the ocean is clear blue and lacks life.
The scheme involves the work that a company called MyOcean Resources is doing to solve what they call the “Global Warming and Ocean Acidification problems” in one go. They plan on building something called “ECOPIA”, which stands for “Earth Climate Optimisation Productivity Island Array”. ECOPIA is supposed to increase oceanic carbon sequestration. Information about ECOPIA is available as a PDF from the link above.
(A short digression. These acronyms like “ECOPIA” make me laugh. I’ve worked a few times as a consultant to the US Government. When you write a government report, they want a glossary of the acronyms at the end. So I invented an acronym, “SPREVELUA”, and put it into my glossary, claiming it meant the “Society for the PREservation of VEry Long Useless Acronyms” … of course, none of the bureaucrats who read my report ever noticed. But as I said, I digress, let’s set sail again on the marvelous ocean …)
Matt sent the information to me because he knows I’m a data guy, as well as an erstwhile commercial fisherman and bluewater sailor. I’ve sailed across some of the very areas of low chlorophyll that their scheme covers. So I set out to see if I could replicate their finding that the low-chlorophyll areas of the ocean are expanding.
The information he sent me included two studies which were most interesting, here and here. Both studies claimed that the areas of the low-chlorophyll parts of the ocean are getting bigger. So I decided to see if I could replicate their findings. I used a different dataset, the AQUA satellite chlorophyll dataset available here, because it is the longest one available. Here are the average chlorophyll levels from the first of the two studies, for the period 1998 – 2013.
And here are my results, for 2002 to 2021:
I’ve used a log scale, as did the paper above, to encompass the range of the data. As you can see, I get results that are virtually identical to the results from their study, despite the different time periods and data sources. So that finding is totally replicated. The area-weighted average chlorophyll level globally is 0.38 mg/liter.
However, I was totally unable to replicate their results regarding their claim that the least productive areas are expanding. Here are my results showing the decadal trends in the chlorophyll level.
There are several things of note here.
• Some areas are indeed losing chlorophyll, and some are gaining. However, they are only loosely related to the areas of least productivity shown above, particularly in the southern hemisphere.
• Overall the oceanic chlorophyll is increasing, not decreasing. The global average increase is about 0.012 mg/liter per decade.
• The trends are generally small compared to the average chlorophyll level of .38 mg/liter.
• The biggest gains are in the extratropics, particularly the sub-polar regions, and the tropics on average is basically neutral.
Having replicated one but not the other of those claims, I took a look at the ECOPIA concept. Their plan is to sequester 9 gigatonnes of carbon per year. Their claim is that a glass lens 1m in diameter plus a few hundred meters of fiber optic cable will sequester 50 kg of carbon per year. And they airily say they just need to “scale up building of structures”. Yeah, like that’s so easy to do. Here’s their graphic of the lens plus the fiber optic cable.
Their plan is to pipe light down deep into the ocean, to increase phytoplankton growth. Let me note that if light was all that was needed to increase phytoplankton growth, we’d find phytoplankton at the surface … but we don’t, because the necessary nutrients (mostly iron) aren’t available. Their claim is that the lower end of the assembly will be down below the “thermocline”, which is the dividing line between the wind and wave mixed surface waters and the next deeper layer. They say there are nutrients aplenty in that deeper water.
As an aside, it’s far from clear that hanging something like this down below the thermocline will work. The problem is that the currents in the mixed layer are often going in a different direction from the currents below the thermocline … and when that happens, the fan arrays will be dragged in a different direction, and may well get pulled at an angle to the point where they are no longer below the thermocline …
In addition, it’s also much colder down below the thermocline, so it’s not clear where these cold-adapted phytoplankton will come from, since none live there naturally
However, I find no indication anywhere that they have actually tried this concept to see if it works … which is curious, because it could be “proof-of-concept” tested for a few ten-thousands of dollars or so. Makes a man wonder.
In any case, assuming that 50 kg/year of carbon sequestered per assembly is the case (they don’t present any actual experimental figures), this oh-so-simple “scaling up” to sequester 9 gigatonnes of carbon would require the manufacturing of no less than 180 billion 1-meter glass lens plus fiber optic cable assemblies.
(By comparison, about 90 million cars and 135 million toasters roll off the assembly line each year. So if we could build these lens/fiber assemblies at the rate of say 500 million per year, it would only take 360 years for the buildout … but I digress.)
Then they say these assemblies will be enclosed by “Ring Donut shaped artificial islands with a diameter of 50KM with an internal moon pool of 46KM diameter” … here’s their graphic of the concept.
I have no idea how to even build such an object in a manner that would withstand a serious storm. Per their description, the surface of the artificial island will be 2 km wide and 160 km long (1.25 by 100 miles), and will be made of … well, further deponent sayeth not. What could it possibly be made of? How will it be made strong enough to withstand flexing from the occasional huge ocean waves?
To give an idea of the size, the top surface area of each artificial island will be about 300 million square meters. The top surface area of the world’s largest container ship is 24,000 square meters, so it would take 12,500 of the world’s biggest ships to cover the area needed.
And assuming the glass lenses are each floating independently, what will keep them from bashing each other to death in the first storm?
Then they claim that these artificial floating islands will be kept from drifting until they crash into the shore somewhere by “magnetohydrodynamics or vertical wings” … seriously? The forces on these structures will be immense. Handwaving about MHD and wings won’t cut it.
And where and how will they construct even one of these gigantosaurs? It’s 50 km (30 miles) across … seems like the only way would be to build it in 12,500 giant ship-sized sections, each weighing a couple hundred thousand tonnes, tow the sections thousands of miles out to sea, and bolt them together … nothing like that has ever been tried, and for very good reason. Tshe towing of just one of these sections will require a small fleet of tugs … and the thought of bolting two 200,000 tonne structures together in mid-ocean while each one is independently bouncing up and down in the waves makes my blood run cold.
I’m getting the sense that some of these folks have never been through a severe storm at sea … not something for the faint of heart.
Next, we have the price. They claim that it can be done for a mere $10 trillion dollars. To start with, they are looking to raise $20 million dollars for the initial funding …
Now, folks generally don’t realize how big a trillion dollars is. So let’s assume that they somehow get their funding so fired up that they are bringing in $20 megabucks each and every day of the year … at that furious rate, how long will it take to raise the $10 trillion dollars?
The answer is, if they are bringing in $20 million dollars per day, it will take them 1,369 years to raise the full $10 trillion.
And even those numbers seem wildly optimistic. They plan to build one hundred of these floating ring-shaped islands, each the equivalent of 12,500 gigantic container ships. These giant ships cost on the order of $200 million each … and the islands will have to be much stronger to take the strains. So the one hundred floating islands will cost on the order of $250 trillion … and even in the unlikely event that they could somehow be built for a tenth of that, it’s still $25 trillion for a hundred of them, which is more than double their estimate for the whole project.
Finally, as a long-time fisherman and seaman, here is what I can guarantee will be the largest problem with this scheme, a problem which they don’t even mention …
Ship’s bottoms are painted with toxic anti-fouling paint to keep all kinds of small marine creatures from taking up residence on the underwater surface—barnacles, limpets, mussels, copepods, and a host of different kinds of zooplankton (tiny animals) and phytoplankton (tiny plants) all love to colonize anything underwater. Some kinds of antifouling paints have had to be made illegal because when there were a number of boats in an area, they were poisoning entire bays and harbors … doesn’t bode well for the ECOPIA idea of increasing sea life …
These underwater surfaces will be heaven for phytoplankton in particular because phytoplankton are plants, and like all plants they need light. The phytoplankton will immediately take up residence on each of the fiber optic strands. And these few phytoplankton will choke off all of the light for the surrounding area that the ECOPIA people are depending on to create the midwater conditions for big plankton blooms … no bueno.
Humans have spent centuries trying to prevent fouling on the undersides of ships, with only limited success. Even the best of antifouling paints needs renewing every few years, and not one of the various kinds of antifouling paints is transparent, as would be required for this application.
And even if some magical transparent antifouling is invented, it’s a near certainty that they’ll still need to reapply it to the 180 billion units say once every three years (although likely much more frequently) … which means you’d need to take a boat up to ten miles out into the “moon pool”, haul out, clean off the fouling, prep the surface, and repaint no less than 164 million of these lens/fiber optic assemblies every day, 24/7/365, forever.
Riiight … so setting the practical impossibility of that aside, let’s assume that including labor and materials and transportation of the same to midocean, it would cost maybe $250 to renew the antifouling for a lens/fiber-optic assembly. It probably would be much more, getting a fender on your car fixed costs more than that, but let’s be wildly optimistic.
That would be a cost of $15 trillion per year … and they claim the whole project will only cost $10 trillion …
Math. Don’t leave home without it.
And moving on, last year we had a drought here in California, and everyone was raving about how it was the result of evil human-caused global warming. But this year, here on our lovely California hillside with a tiny bit of the ocean visible in the distance, we’ve already gotten more rain than we got all of last year (rainfall year, Oct. 1 to Sept. 30). And it’s funny … but nobody is ascribing that most excellent news to global warming.
Go figure. It’s almost like they are rooting for disaster so they can blame it on people … what a bizarre anti-human religion climate alarmism has become.
My very best wishes to all, inlaws, outlaws, climate alarmists and sane people alike, and my thanks to Matt for sending me this interesting koan,
PS: If the inventors of this scheme wish to comment, they are more than welcome to explain and defend their ideas, and to point out any mistakes I may have made.
MY USUAL: I can defend my words. I cannot defend your interpretation of my words. So to avoid misunderstandings, when you comment please quote the exact words you are discussing.