Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ocean Iron Fertilization

Image Source: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution 1999 Annual Report

Scientists have been exploring many ideas in the last year for reducing carbon dioxide levels in the earth's atmosphere. One idea that has some proponents is called "ocean iron fertilization." This involves sprinkling iron into the ocean to encourage the growth of plankton. The plankton then absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In theory, when the plankton die, they fall to the bottom of the ocean, but do not release the carbon dioxide like plants do when they die. Instead, they 'sequester' it. Then we can sprinkle more iron and make more plankton. Many people agree that some additional plankton would probably be a good thing for the ocean, as worldwide levels have declined since the 1980s.

There is quite a bit of debate as to whether scientists or private companies should be the ones to lead the way in this research. Several commercial ventures want to use ocean iron fertilization as a way to make money off of carbon credits, explained in an earlier Future Earth Post.

Small-scale experiments are already being conducted. Australian news organization ABC reports that a company called Ocean Nourishment Corporation (ONC) has just completed an experiment involving 1 tonne of nitrogen in the Sulu Sea off the Philippines, says managing director John Ridley. The company is now discussing with the Philippines government plans to scale up the experiment to 1000 tonnes of nitrogen over the next year. Ridley says the company is also talking to the Moroccan government about similar experiments in the Atlantic Ocean.

One American company, Planktos, announced in February that the company has been forced to indefinitely postpone its ocean fertilization efforts once intended to restore marine plant life and generate ecological offsets for the global carbon credit market. A highly effective disinformation campaign waged by anti-offset crusaders has provoked widespread opposition to plankton restoration in the environmental world, and has caused the company to encounter serious difficulty in raising the capital needed to fund its planned series of ocean research trials. The company's wholly-owned research vessel Weatherbird II and crew have been called back from the Portuguese island of Madeira where the ship had been docked awaiting the resources necessary to initiate and monitor its first research plankton blooms. The ship has since been sold.

Another American company, Climos, is attracting investors and moving forward with plans to obtain permits for experiments in 2009. Read more in today's Sacramento Bee.

Natural plankton blooms commonly occur in the ocean, and while they provide a source of food for fish and marine animals, they have also been shown to absorb vast amounts of oxygen, nitrate and phosphate, leading to fish die-offs. Some species of plankton, commonly known as 'red tide' have been shown to be harmful, containing toxins that kill wildlife.

The Vancouver Sun reported that 16 oceanographers from the U.S., Europe, New Zealand and Japan, issued a statement, published published in the journal Science saying that there is, as yet, "no scientific basis" for issuing carbon credits for ocean iron fertilization. They say offsets should not be allowed until there is "better demonstration" that spreading iron dust on the ocean "effectively removes CO2, retains that carbon in the ocean for a quantifiable amount of time, and has acceptable and predictable environmental impacts."

According to Nature News,the parties to the London Convention, an international treaty that governs ocean pollution, have agreed that large-scale ocean ‘fertilization’ isn't yet justified, given gaps in scientific knowledge.

Further reading:
Iron Fertilization News
The Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ship's Pilot Charged in Oil Spill

The pilot of the cargo ship that spilled 50,000 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay in November was criminally charged with misdemeanor violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on Monday.

The San Jose Mercury News, reports In court documents filed in San Francisco federal court, the government alleges that [John Joseph] Cota triggered the oil spill by failing to steer a "collision-free course," as well as failing to use the ship's radar in approaching the Bay Bridge and not adequately consulting the ship's captain and crew. In addition to the Clean Water Act violations, prosecutors cited Cota for the oil discharge that has been linked to the deaths of about 2,000 birds, including the endangered brown pelican and marbled murrelet.

The article additionally reports that the San Francisco city council has sued for cost of the clean-up, which is nearly complete. I'd be interested to hear from any San Francisco readers as to whether the spill really is mostly cleaned up.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Phone Books: Opt Out?

photo courtesy Justin Horrocks/istockphoto

Several years ago I had an opportunity to tour a printing press in California. The showpiece of the facility was a three-story-tall press that ran 24/7, 365 days a year, gobbling up yellow paper and excreting out... phone books. All year long, every year: it never shuts down.

It constantly amazes me every time a phone book (or stack of them) appears on the doorstep of my building. "Does ANYONE use these anymore?" The waste of paper alone seems colossal. A little research reveals that I am not alone: the accumulating stacks of useless phone books are a fairly popular topic in the blogosphere.

As it turns out, phone books are still a lucrative $14 billion industry in America. Although 3 out of 4 persons in the U.S. now have internet access at home, that still leaves 25% of us "letting our fingers do the walking" when looking up a plumber. Yes, that number is declining, and phone books will eventually go the way of the dodo; but until then the directory makers are competing to outdo each other in "saturation distribution".

What can you do? Can you put a stop to this squandering of trees and energy? Well... maybe. The Paperless Petition website asks you to sign a petition against the mass distribution of Yellow Pages (and even gives you contact info for the president of the Yellow Pages Association so you can let him know how you feel about the subject.) But what about stopping the delivery to your residence? Can you opt out, as some have asked? According to (crediting a news report by Channel 9/KUSA) you can call 1-800 numbers to be removed from the distribution lists for some major Yellow Pages creators:

Call 1-877-243-8339 to opt-out of receiving DEX phone books. Call 1-800-929-3556 to opt-out of receiving Yellow Book directories. If you want to opt-out of the Verizon phone book, you can call 800-555-4833. The catch however? You MUST provide your phone number, so they can call you back next year to make sure you still hate phone books.

And if that doesn't work, you could always come up with a creative way to repurpose the heavy yellow books cluttering your doorstep.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Project Bud-Burst

Do you want to be a part of a nationwide network of people tracking the yearly emergence of spring to find out whether there are noticeable changes due to global warming? Join Project Bud-Burst and note any changes in our own yard or neighborhood. I wish I lived in a greener place so that I could take part.

Further Reading:
Science Daily
Sacramento Bee
Living on Earth
Early Spring

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef

The New York Times reported yesterday on a huge environmental crocheting project, called The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. This project was started two and a half years ago by two sisters named Margaret and Christine Wertheim both as a homage to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia and a warning about what will be lost if we don't move forward to prevent global warming. Scientists warn that if we continue on our current trajectory, the reef will be wiped out by the end of the century due to coral bleaching caused by increased ocean temperatures.

Crafters around the world have been participating to crochet forms for the reef, which currently measures over 3,000 feet. (The actual barrier reef is 135,000 square miles.) Portions of the crochet reef will be shown in Manhattan from April 5th to May 18th at two locations: New York University’s Broadway Windows at East 10th Street and the World Financial Center.

More about the danger to the Great Barrier Reef:
New Scientist
BBC News
World Wildlife Fund

More about the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef:
The Institute for Figuring
Flickr photos
Crochet Insider

Monday, March 3, 2008

Encyclopedia of Life

The Encyclopedia of Life is now online. The goal of the site is to make a comprehensive catalog of every species in the world available online. This is a work in progress, but it is interesting to peruse.