May 1, 2007

FIGHTING GLOBAL WARMING WITH PLANKTON:

In an effort to ameliorate the effects of global warming, several groups are working on ventures to grow vast floating fields of plankton intended to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and carry it to the depths of the ocean. It is an idea, debated by experts for years, that still sounds like science fiction — and some scholars think that is where it belongs. . . .

The ship plans to dissolve tons of iron, an essential plankton nutrient, over a 10,000-square-kilometer patch. That’s equivalent to 2.47 million acres (3,861 square miles on land or 2,912 square nautical miles). When the trace iron prompts growth and reproduction of the tiny organism, scientists on the WeatherBird II plan to measure how much carbon dioxide the plankton ingests. The idea is similar to planting forests full of carbon-inhaling trees, but in desolate stretches of ocean. “This is organic gardening, not rocket science,” said Russ George, the chief executive of Planktos, the company behind the WeatherBird II project. “Can it possibly be as easy as we say it is? We’re about to find out.”

Like the dreaded Merkle Cloud, this could be dangerous if overdone. Don’t plunge us into a new ice age, please. (And wouldn’t that be a good plot for a thriller — evil scientist, in cooperation with Hugh Chavez-like tropical dictator, deliberately triggers an ice age!) Just remember, you can never trust Plankton.

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