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"ironing" out Carbon - one Mans Solution to Carbon Sequestration

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"Ironing" out Carbon Dioxide

Carbon Dioxide plays a key role in the atmosphere. This gas has properties that allow it to sustain and hold in heat, which in turn warms the planet (EIA, 2004). Carbon, the primary component of carbon dioxide; is also the essential molecule for life and is the most basic building block found in all organic compounds. Human activities been blamed for the disruption of the earth's natural carbon cycles and according to some studies, carbon is being added to the atmosphere faster than the natural processes that sequestrate it. The massive carbon sinks that naturally regulated and fixated excess carbon dioxide have been destroyed as humans have deforested ancient forests for the sake of building their cities and supplying lands for agriculture. Research shows that there has been a consistent balance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the past 10,000 years (Hamburg, Harris et al 1999); this balance has shifted rapidly in the last 150 years.

The Problem

Carbon dioxide, produced through combustion and oxidation has become a growing concern in today's society. In industrialized countries greenhouse gases and the effects on our environment are becoming an issue that no longer can be ignored. Changes such as increasing temperatures, the melting of the Arctic ice cap, rising sea levels, and more violent weather activities (hurricanes, droughts, and hotter/longer summers) are becoming more and more evident with each decade. The rapid increase of carbon dioxide appears to be a key component of the in the development of these occurrences, however global warming has sparked much debate because the data that has been collected over the past century has conflicting trends (, 2004). It is difficult to predict the behavior of the earth's climate because it is ever changing and erratic, much to the chagrin of scientific modelers; the earth's climate refuses to adhere to computer models.

Historically temperatures have fluctuated on the surface of the planet; however, with new technology and satellite data collection, conflicts in data have caused scientists to rethink their conclusions on the causes of these temperature fluctuations. What can be proven is that humans are affecting the planet in adverse ways. Mass deforestation, burning of fossil fuels and the introduction of unnatural gases into the atmosphere is resulting in changes. Scientists are grappling with the question of whether human activities are solely responsible for these changes or if our industrious activities have managed to accelerate changes that would have occurred naturally but over a much longer period.

One mans theory: A solution?

In 1990 John Martin an Oceanographer presented the idea that phytoplankton are responsible for almost half of the photosynthesis that occurs on the earth.(Dopyra, 1996) Photosynthesis is an important part of the carbon cycle, fixating carbon from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen as a byproduct of this process. According to Martin's theory, growth is limited by the availability of iron and if the oceans could be made more iron rich, the massive blooms of phytoplankton could fixate massive amounts of carbon dioxide without harm to the environment.

Expectations ran high, and for over 10 years scientists raced to plan and execute experiments to see if his theory would provide a solution for the damage that has been done to our planet through mankind's industrialization efforts. Thousands of papers were submitted and published and experiments were carried out to determine if seeding the ocean with iron was a simple solution to a complex problem.


* The first large scale iron fertilization project was carried out in October 1993 and named Ironex I. The experiment was carried out 250 miles southwest of the Galapagos Islands. The research vessel Columbus Iselin seeded a 40 mile wide patch of ocean with a mixture of iron, hydrochloric acid (to bring the PH down to a level where the iron could dissolve and Sulfur (tracer to keep track of the iron). The experiment area was monitored for 9 days, after this the research team was no longer able to track the iron (it had diluted to an immeasurable level). The phytoplankton responded very well by doubling in numbers and growing at four times the normal rate, thus proving Mr. Martin's hypothesis that phytoplankton growth is limited by iron. However these results were short lived and lasted about 24 hours before the effects of the iron began to dissipate. CO2 levels were measured but surprisingly the amount of CO2 taken up by the patch only measured 10% of the expected amounts leading the Chief scientist to conclude "Apparently the phytoplankton in the patch had not read the literature." Researchers from MIT also concluded that Zinc may also be a limiting factor.

* In May of 1995 a second experiment (IronexII) was carried out in a similar location but under different circumstances. This time they planned to distribute the iron in three servings over the course of a longer period. Initial results looked promising, the clear deep blue sea turned green with growth and secondary feeders emerged to feed on the blooming algae. Phytoplankton reproduced, flourished, and after 10 days had added approximately 900,000 Kg of phytoplankton to the experiment area. The scientists concluded that the 900,000 Kg of increased biomass had pulled around 2.25 million Kg of CO2 out of the atmosphere. The experiment was considered a success, but not a solution for global warming since it was not considered practical. (, 2003)

* The third iron seeding effort occurred in the pristine waters of the southern ocean south of Australia. The experiment was labeled soiree and this time 15,000 liters of an iron-sulfur slurry was dumped into the waters of the southern ocean and mixed by the ship dumping the material. This resulted in an enormous bloom of phytoplankton, especially diatoms. The increase of phytoplankton reached level 10 times what is normally found in these waters and the bloom grew rapidly, much faster than the scientists had expected. It is not known if the amount of mixing, the fragile ecosystem of the southern ocean or the high winds were the cause of the spreading but the phytoplankton bloom spread outward to cover 1100 square Km. The bloom persisted for more than 50 days and was tracked via satellite. No appreciable uptake of carbon could be measured. This experiment showed that fertilizing the southern ocean will cause the algae to bloom on a large scale. It also proved that fertilizing the southern ocean would not be useful in preventing climate change and that it



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