Global warming has the capability to destroy the planet due to rising sea levels and unpredictable weather changes (Webersik 19). Global warming is made possible by greenhouse gases or GHG (Victor 193). The critical component of GHG is carbon dioxide (Weart 12). The GHG effect is a phenomenon that traps the heat from the sun. In an ideal scenario, optimum levels of carbon dioxide and water vapor help regulate the average temperature on the planet’s surface (Leal-Arcas 438).
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A significant amount of solar heat is reabsorbed through the greenhouse effect. The rest are reflected back or radiated back to outer space (Leal-Arcas 10). However, the presence of abnormal levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reduces the Earth’s capacity to regulate the planet’s surface temperature. It is therefore important to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air in order to reduce the impact of GHG to the planet’s ecosystem. Scientists are looking into the iron seeding of oceans as a practical solution to this problem.
Iron Seeding of Oceans
The principle behind iron seeding is the reduction of carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Plants with photosynthetic capability are those with a specific set of mechanisms that utilize the sun’s ultraviolet radiation in order to manufacture food. The manufacturing process requires energy and raw materials. One of the major raw materials needed in photosynthesis is carbon dioxide.
The ability of plants to absorb carbon dioxide for the purpose of photosynthesis is the main reason behind reforestation campaigns all over the world. However, there is limited space available for planting trees, shrubs, and other species capable of photosynthetic activity. Thus, scientists turned their attention to the world’s oceans. At least two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. It did not take long to consider the photosynthetic capability of planktons and incorporate it into a scheme to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere.
In order to increase the absorptive capability of oceans populated with planktons and similar species, it is important to enhance algal bloom. Scientists realized that one of the critical components needed to enhance algal bloom is a trace nutrient called iron. The Earth’s oceans do not have enough, therefore, limiting the multiplication of plankton and other related species.
Iron seeding of oceans is an attractive proposition because of three major reasons. First, it is easy to understand the core process. People are familiar with the principles behind photosynthesis, and to use it as a carbon suction scheme is a logical strategy to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the air. Second, it seems like an environmentally-friendly scheme. The iron compounds introduced into the water are readily absorbed by the planktons and other related species. The process is similar to the application of synthetic fertilizers to commercial farms. Finally, iron seeding is less expensive compared to other solutions that require the construction of equipment or devices in a global scale.
The application of this method has found favor in the international oceanographic community because of the results of several field programs that demonstrated the feasibility of lowering carbon dioxide levels through iron seeding. It is important to continue small scale testing to learn more about the intricacies of the said method.
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Concerns with Iron Seeding of Oceans
Government agencies and private companies are wary of the legitimate concerns regarding iron seeding of oceans. It is not a popular idea to tinker with the Earth’s oceans, especially the suggestion to add substances that may radically affect other species in the water.
Government regulators and other concerned citizens cited the Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (Leal-Arcas 437). This agreement among several parties was also known as the London Protocol, and it entered into force in 2006 (Leal-Arcas 437). According to environmental watchdogs, it is difficult to justify the dumping of iron compounds into the ocean and explain to the affected parties that the action is not similar to other acts of polluting ocean waters.
The London Protocol is a tough hurdle to overcome for the proponents of iron seeding. However, they will be able to circumvent the problem by pointing to the exceptions. According to the said agreement, member nations are allowed to pollute beyond the scope permitted by the London Protocol, if the purpose is to avert danger to human life (Leal-Arcas 438). In the near future, there is no issue that is as profound as global warming when it comes to the endangerment of human life.
Government agencies and private companies have a legal basis to go around the London Protocol. Nevertheless, there are other issues that they need to contend with before iron seeding becomes a viable solution to counteract the effects of global warming. For example, researchers must look into the possible catastrophic transboundary side-effects of geoengineering. Finally, stakeholders must know how to deal with the political and legal complexities the project will engage (Leal-Arcas 440).
Furthermore, project managers must have access to powerful computers to help them simulate the impact of iron seeding when it is applied in a global scale. They have to consider the fact that algal bloom releases a specific amount of toxins to the immediate environment (Parkinson 183). They also need to anticipate and plan a disaster and risk management framework to deal with unintended changes in the ocean ecosystems (Parkinson 183).
Iron seeding of the Earth’s oceans is one of the important solutions to global warming. The oceanographic community is in favor of iron seeding because small scale testing revealed its feasibility in countering the impact of global warming. It is also an idea that is easy to sell to the public, because a significant number of people understand the core principles of photosynthesis. Furthermore, the photosynthetic component of the solution makes iron seeding look like an environmentally friendly mechanism, so that a coalition of nations could use it to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the air.
Nevertheless, there are several challenges that stakeholders must look into before iron seeding gets the approval it needs to begin a global scale application. Scientists must have access to supercomputers in order to simulate the impact of iron seeding in the world’s oceans. One of the things that they need to calculate is the amount of toxin released by the algal bloom. They also need to calculate the other unintended impact of iron seeding, especially if microorganisms are allowed to multiply and grow beyond current levels. Stakeholders also need to look into the political and legal hurdles that are inherent in an undertaking of this magnitude.
Leal-Arcas, Rafael. Climate Change and International Trade. MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013. Print.
Parkinson, Claire. Coming Climate Crisis. MD: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, 2010. Print.
Victor, David. Global Warming Gridlock. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.
Weart, Spencer. The Discovery of Global Warming. MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. Web.
Webersik, Christian. Climate Change and Security. CA: ABC-CLIO, 2010. Print.