Ocean Fertilization redux… plus the politics of science

My last posting about Climate Change remediation got a lot of attention, positive and negative,  so let me emphasize: I do not consider any form of “geoengineering” to be a substitute for responsibly investing in energy efficiency and finding ways to maintain a great civilization without ruining our planet. Even if a few such methods are found that work well, without crackpot flaws and/or gruesome side effects, that won’t let us off the hook from our shared and individual responsibilities, which include seeking alternate, sustainable forms of energy to replace the irresponsible spewing of greenhouse pollutants into our atmosphere. Those who have been lured into participating in a War on Science must be introduced to its value. But the cynical men who are financing this cult are enemies of humankind.

PushPullOceanPumpsOnly now… some addition insights. A variant on ocean fertilization has been proposed by my friend William Calvin, one of the smartest guys I know. Bill agrees with me that the best approach for geoengineering and partial remediation of carbon driven climate change would be to emulate and enhance the method that Nature herself already uses, to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere.  That means doing it via natural processes at-sea, forming carbon rich solids and letting these settle as sediments to the ocean bottom.  (While, as a side-benefit, stimulating new fisheries.)  See Calvin’s Proposal: Emergency 20-year Drawdown of Excess CO2 via Push-Pull  Ocean Pumps.

Earlier we discussed the drawbacks of the bludgeon-like initial attempts at ocean fertilization, that have created crude plankton blooms by dumping iron powder into currents.  We also saw that care must be taken to make sure that (as when arid land is irrigated) the new zones of fecundity must be “well-drained” like the Grand Banks and Chile, and unlike the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, where “fecundity” can translate into  a poisoned morass of algae and jellyfish.  My conclusion: if you want to emulate the main life-process that removes CO2 from the air, do it by lifting submerged nutrients to higher, sun-lit realms, exactly as Nature does it.  Several methods have been proposed and I showed a couple of them way back in in EARTH (1989).

Let me pause to add that there are non-living process that do the same thing, in parallel.  Even more effective at drawing down atmospheric CO2 is the weathering of continental rocks by the rain cycle, washing silicates to sea via river estuaries and sealing away carbon sediments without intervention by biology. (Indeed, this is the principal driver of the “Gala Balance” that makes a natural ocean world self-regulating.)  I have never seen any proposals to expand continental, river-carried weathering… though I imagine a lot of dust will go to sea if we continue to spread deserts… or if desertification results in nuclear war.

CarbonSoupBudgetBut let’s get back to Bill Calvin’s concept.  He starts with what I’ve been pushing… systems that emulate natural upwellings by bringing up nutrients from below, using either windmills or wave powered system.  (Have a look: some are very clever: especially using 3000 abandoned oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.)

He then deals with a serious problem, that most of the CO2 sequestered by a plankton bloom does not either sink or feed fish, but simply returns to the air after the plankton dies.  Calvin solves this by having another windmill-powered tube situated down-current from the upwelling one.  This second one pumps the carbon rich surface water back down again.  I’ll let him explain:

Calvin’s push-pull pumps:  “An easy-to-visualize method to do push-pull pumps uses floating windmills. Long pipes hang 15 to 30 stories down into the slowly moving depths. One windmill operates traditionally, pulling deep water up to the surface.  The nutrients in this cold water create a sustained bloom of algae (and algae thrive in cooler water). The other windmill pump pushes the enriched surface water down to where it cannot resurface for millennia. Pumping down stores the carbon in the brand-new algae as well as canceling out whatever carbon dioxide was first pulled up from below the thermocline. That’s the first big payoff from going with push-pull pumps.”

“Even more importantly, it sinks the 240x larger amounts of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from the feces and cell debris. (Algaculture throws out the dissolved part of their organic crop.) DOC ordinarily becomes carbon dioxide within a week or two and then escapes into the air as winds stir the surface layer. Stashing it as well is the second big step up in efficiency achieved by push-pull pumps.”

These things merit discussion.  Do have a closer look.  Because reducing CO2 at the source will no longer suffice.  We have to push for that!  But it will take more.

See my article: Defining Climate “Deniers” and “Skeptics.” Without any doubt it is possible to be a skeptic who helps science by critiquing the flaws in any standard model. Such skepticism, propelled by curiosity and the natural competitiveness of science (indeed, science is the most ferociously competitive of all human endeavors) is natural and wholesome.  Alas, 95% of those calling themselves “climate skeptics” do not fit this description.  Their stance is driven by political loyalties and participation in an ever-deepening War on Science and everything that it stands for. And the worst example of all is…

== Politics and Science ==

The Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives — continuing its almost blemish-free record of jibbering inanity, with members from the majority party almost universally unqualified and propelled by fanatical dogmas.  Take Mississippi Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo, who chairs the Space Subcommittee. His revision of the Administration’s NASA budget request would slash the requested Earth science budget by a third (from about $1.8 billion to $1.2 billion) next year.  This from the party that proclaims “we need more research!” in order to determine whether human activity is promoting climate change and global warming.

researchfunds(This year’s Fox-declared dogma is to backpedal and admit (at last) that major global warming is obviously taking place, but continuing to declare human causes to be “unproved.” And further proclaiming that lemming-herd-like scientists are all cowardly-timid yelpers after teensy grants. Even though half of all climate researchers are doing great, earning nearly all of their funds from perfectly safe research into weather prediction, having accomplished the spectacular feat of transforming the old, two hour weather report into a ten day miracle. Geniuses, chivvied by their opposites.)

Keeping true to form, the targeted slashing of science continues. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which supports the development and commercialization of new energy technologies, would receive $50 million, $215 million — or 81 percent — less than what was enacted in fiscal 2013.

This is not the science-loving GOP of 1980, but some aberration that has sabotaged Earth science for twenty consistent years. Indeed, they several times tried to remove Earth observation and ocean/climate studies from the mission statements of both NASA and NOAA.  Can any modern person rationalize this?  Or convince himself/herself that this has anything to do with “conservatism” anymore?

stormsofmygrandchildrenRead also how the Space Subcommittee Republicans demand that funds be shifted away from asteroidal research, which offers the possibility of accessing vast wealth and resources, — a new Gold-Platinum Rush in space — while providing a useful intermediate mission for astronauts to develop deep space skills.  Instead they prefer an utterly pointless return to the sterile-useless-heavy Moon, and then armwave talk of a Mars Mission that this generation is nowhere near ready to even design.

Who – on Earth or anywhere – would try so hard to ALWAYS be wrong?

== Science Miscellany ==

Astronomers from 11 different institutions in the UK have joined forces to hunt for alien life, setting up a network to coordinate their activity. The UK SETI Research Network will fund research that considers new ways to find extraterrestrial intelligence. The group will also buy listening time on radio telescopes.

IceFreeAlaskaNASANASA image shows nearly ice-free Alaska on a clear day.

NASA seeks backyard astronomers to help chart asteroids.

A telescope for your eye: new contact lens allows user to switch between magnified and normal vision.

An interesting article reviewing the early days when the discoverers of pulsars first thought that the signals might be coming from Little Green Men.

Wearable computers for soldiers could stop deaths by friendly fire.

Cool images of sand reacting to sound at varied frequencies.

==And Finally==

Striking correlation between infection and mood disorders: Researchers have found that every third person who is diagnosed for the first time with a mood disorder had been admitted to hospital with an infection prior to the diagnosis. That notion adds another facet to the “hygiene hypothesis” that links a variety of autoimmune conditions to an inflammatory response caused by the loss of healthy bacteria in the gut.

Changes to the English language so subtle you don’t notice; i.e. from “they started to walk” to “they started walking.”

“Standard IQ tests are problematic on many levels — not least, because they do very little to tell us about the quality of our thinking. Looking to overcome this oversight, psychologist Keith Stanovich has started to work on the first-ever Rationality Quotient test.” An interview that forges into deep territory, revealing just how difficult it is for humans to do the thing we are most proud-of.


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