Fertilize the Ocean

Iron NanoparticlesPlanktos is a for-profit company that sprays iron nanoparticles over the ocean to promote algae blooms.  Algae draws carbon dioxide out of the air and replaces it with oxygen as part of the plant’s respiration process.  When the algae die the sequestered carbon falls to the bottom of the ocean.

Planktos is in the business of selling carbon credits – that’s how they will make their money.  They have a really slick, environmentally friendly-looking web site with reference to healing the seas.  Treehugger.com is very cautiously optimistic about Planktos’ strategy of raising algae bloom levels to what they were in 1980 (based on NASA satellite observations of decreasing algae in the oceans).

I am a little less optimistic because

  • Planktos is doing all this in international waters, where monitoring of the effects and regulation of the industry requires agreement from so many governments as to render enforcement all but impossible.
  • It doesn’t address but merely masks the problem, which is that we are burning way too much fossil fuel.  In fact, Planktos’ for-profit business may encourage energy traders to promote even more inefficient processes knowing that energy credits for its customers will be available through Planktos’ efforts.
  • It relies on dispersing iron in the form of nanoparticles into the atmosphere, most but not all of which settles onto the water.  Unlike natural processes, the man-made product is much smaller and can remain airborne for extremely long periods.  There is still some really serious debate about how particulates this small affect biological processes once they’re lodged in the lungs (comparisons to the 20-year delay between breathing asbestos fibers and the onset of asbestosis comes to mind).
  • It’s illegal.

We don’t seem to have had much success fooling with Mother Nature on such a global scale.  I hope this doesn’t backfire, especially since all Planktos has to do to walk away from responsibility is declare bankruptcy and create enough obfuscation with murky science as to tie up any lawsuits for years.


2 Responses to Fertilize the Ocean

  1. Ban Asbestos says:

    Fossil fuels will soon be exhausted

  2. Paul says:

    That depends on your definition of “soon”. Fossil fuels will probably be available for several hundred more years, albeit not at their current rate of use nor at their current price.

    At their current extraction rate the world’s supply of petroleum is probably good for at least one to two more generations. The cost of extracting it at that rate, however, will likely increase, because much of the easy oil has already been pumped out. And much (but not all) of the world’s reserves are in politically charged areas, making long-term dependence on fossil dangerous to long-term economic survival.

    Thank you for the comment.


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