A Novel Geoengineering Idea: Increase the Ocean’s Quotient of Whale Poop
The fight against global warming has a brand new weapon: whale poop.
Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division have found that whale poop contains huge amounts of iron and when it is released into the waters, the iron-rich feces become food for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton absorbs carbon dioxide from the air, the algae is in turn eaten by Antarctic krill, and baleen whales eat the krill. Through this neat cycle, globe-warming CO2 is kept sequestered in the ocean.
Scientists have long known that iron is necessary to sustain phytoplankton growth in the oceans, which is why one geoengineering scheme calls for adding soluble iron to ocean waters to encourage the growth of carbon-trapping algae blooms. While environmentalists have fretted over the possible consequences of meddling with ocean chemistry that way, this new study on whale poop suggests an all-natural way to get the same carbon-trapping effect: Increase the number of whales in the ocean.
When Stephen Nicol of the Australian Antarctic Division analyzed the feces of baleen whales, he found an astounding amount of iron in it. New Scientist reports:
Nicol’s team analyzed 27 samples of faeces from four species of baleen whales. He found that on average whale faeces had 10 million times as much iron as Antarctic seawater.
So, before we started hunting the baleen whales, they may have been responsible for providing 12% of the iron needed by the plankton to grow. destroying the whales then made it much harder for the oceans to help control the carbon dioxide we a re producing.
So our over hunting of whales, which were used as as source fuel, is now connected to our fossil fuel use, making our present day situation more dire. The decisions of our ancestors is affecting us today just as ours will 100 years from now.
Perhaps the best approach would be to increase the whale population instead of dumping iron in the water. That would be a smartthing to do.