Phytoplankton to the rescue?

In a press release yesterday, ocean restoration firm Planktos, Inc. announced what it claims to be a truly green and effective answer to global warming and ocean decline.

The company will initiate commercial scale pilot projects this summer to demonstrate that marine plankton restoration can significantly lower atmospheric CO2, increase oxygen production, lessen coral-lethal ocean acidity, replenish the marine food chain and generate enough profits in the process to sustain the endeavour until the corner is turned.

Recent doom-drenched global warming headlines show the media and public are finally awakening to the enormous harm climate change can and will inflict upon our societies and countless creatures on our earth. However, the greatest and most immediate CO2 peril now facing the planet is the systemic poisoning of the seas.

The atmosphere’s increasing carbon dioxide burden are now acidifying the ocean, slowing oxygen production, and starving innumerable species.

Although Earth Day ceremonies will highlight much important progress in recycling, hybrids, and lists of “50 simple things,” no one has yet advanced truly viable policies, safe technologies or even realistic plans to effectively address either our marine or terrestrial threats, let alone both at once. No one, that is, until Planktos, Inc. stood up.

The Planktos approach aligns five little-known facts that chart a hopeful new course for green activism and investment.

1)Marine phytoplankton are the lifeblood of the planet, producing most of its oxygen, removing an equal amount of CO2, and feeding all larger ocean life. Yet NASA scientists have now found that 6~9% of these tiny plants have died off globally just since 1980 and their numbers continue to plunge. (The loss in the North Pacific is already up to 26%.)

2)NASA also reports that atmospheric dust from arid lands and ocean dust deposition have fallen over 25% during the same period. This is critical because plankton desperately require that dust, which carries the vital iron micronutrient they need to photosynthesise and grow; and blue ocean plankton get it no other way.

3)Simply restoring the plankton that have died off since 1980 by replenishing this iron would take 3 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, which equals half of our greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. It would also buffer ocean acidity and contribute many billion tons of nourishing biomass to the marine food chain helping to revive our fisheries, many endangered sea mammal & bird species, and the great whale populations as well.

4)In otherwise nutrient-rich but iron starved waters (like the southern ocean and equatorial seas), adding one ton of iron will fix 367,000 tons of CO2 in a plankton bloom that grows and subsides in three to four months. Since at least 10~20% of that plankton carbon sinks and is removed from the atmosphere for centuries or longer, we could halve our modern impact on the climate — and the sea — with a modest fleet of iron dust delivery boats.

5)Planktos has proven technology to produce this effect, and the carbon that is thereby “sequestered” in the ocean deep can be sold in the emerging international carbon offset markets to profitably finance the ocean restoration effort.

In other words, replenishing perishing plankton with inexpensive iron micronutrient dust can radically help to revive sea life, protect coral, increase oxygen, and turn climate change around. And rather than costing the public exchequer billions of dollars, it can be run as a green business and make money for those who help.