Russ George is the founder and current President of Planktos Science, a privately held San Francisco-based eco-restoration and ocean eco-technology company, whose mission is the restoration of damaged habitats.
Planktos biologist Jenna dives to study the ocean
Here he offers a lucid and alarming account of the real problem for the survival of the world's oceans as we know them, and, literally blowing in the wind, an approach to a solution:
I have read some of the many news reports on the ocean acidification and reef crisis that are presently extant. I beg to differ with the position that reducing our global carbon footprint will help save our ocean bathing beauties, the reefs.
It's not that I don't fully support reducing our carbon footprint, I am rather more concerned about the role of the present deadly dose of anthropogenic CO2 already in the air on its way to our surface ocean waters.
Those hundreds of billions of tonnes of anthropogenic CO2, the bulk of which we've prescribed and put en route in the past 75 years, are slowly dissolving into the surface ocean.
By most accounts CO2 in the atmosphere takes on the order of 200 years to equilibrate with the surface ocean. Hence the pH drop we've been recording is just the proverbial tip of the dry-iceberg.
As the surface ocean absorbs the rest of this deadly dose, regardless of whether we emit more which we surely are doing, the acidification process already destined to occur is more than sufficient to change ocean ecology in far wider and disastrous fashion than merely scalding the bathing beauties at the shore.
In fact the devastating effects CO2 has on the ocean is not proceeding only via H2O+CO2=H2CO3 (carbonic acid), there is a secondary reaction wherein CO2 is enhancing the greeness of the planets dry lands. There is is a major benefit our high and rising CO2 delivers to droughty grasses who are losing less water via evapotranspiration, remaining green and growing bushier each spring, and as such are superior ground cover thus reducing topsoil loss in the wind. Tragically that dust in the wind is the major source of vital mineral micronutrients for the open ocean. Prophetically it seems, all we really are is dust in the wind.
So as our reef beauties cry out and dissolve like Dorothy's wicked witch in our acidifying oceans, the acidification will certainly continue for at least another century unabated even if we never emit another molecule of fossil CO2 into the air.
At the same time as the oceans suffer this chemical shock treatment, like those we give our swimming pools, they will continue as well to lose their photosynthetic capacity to counter this onslaught. The loss of net primary productivity, NPP, is reportedly 17% in the North Atlantic, 26% in the North Pacific, and 50% in the sub-tropical tropical oceans.
We can find the fundamental proof of the depth of this problem by considering it from the point of view of basic chemical thermodynamics. Indeed we have expended a hundred terrawatts or so burning fossil carbon to put that deadly dose of CO2 into our atmosphere and ocean. No trivial energy savings will serve to counter its certain first principals chemical effects. We can still trust in what the Second Law of Thermodynamics teaches us in that one must balance equations energetically. If we are to address a problem created by terrawatts of energy we must devote
terrawatts of energy. In this case those curative terrawatts better be emission free or we are lost.
So where is there a source of emission free terrawatts of curative power we can devote to saving the oceans and help restore the balance of Nature?
It is of course ONLY available from photosynthesis and therein lies the course we must chart to restore our oceans as we must surely not simply imagine the damage we've prescribed can simply be ignored and start from the present mortally wounded state. No mere conservation ethic or effort will suffice, we are far to far over the tipping point for that to work.
We must replenish and restore ocean photosynthesis for there in the vast living ocean expanse the terrawatts of power, solar power, can be found and used to compete with the H2O+CO2=H2CO3 reaction. There in lies hope if
we act now to assist the ocean plants, phyto-plankton, to convert CO2 in the ocean to life instead of death.
Without replenished mineral micronutrients, without our determined efforts to administer the antidote, life in the oceans, and on this small blue planet, will surely revert to the cyanobacteroa; state from whence it came.
How do we do that?
We must take on stewardship of the oceans and restore the dust that is missing.
Dumping iron into the Pacific
This will be a long challenging task but one ship load at a time it has to happen. Planktos Science has been working on this for about a decade having taken the baton pass from the late great John Martin of Moss Landing Marine Labs here in California.
What Martin showed was that we could take iron, in the natural form of mineral dust, to the oceans where with infinitesimal amounts the imbalance of Nature can be balanced. For each tonne of iron ore dust - you know the red stuff that makes dirt red, hematite - hundreds of thousands of tonnes of phyto-plankton will grow.
For more information about the work of Planktos Science and about their programmes , go to their website