Posted by: carlsafina | Thursday, November 8 07

Iron Rich and Discussion Poor

The New York Times has an article about a new undertaking that plans to put iron-bearing dust into the ocean to trigger plankton blooms and thereby pull carbon dioxide out of the air.

Because there are so many other things we could be doing to solve the problems caused by fossil fuel dependency and energy wastefulness (auto and other efficiencies, clean decentralized diverse energies that don’t tie us to unsavory political regimes and propel us into military quagmires), I am uncomfortable with attempts to get comfortable with current energy technologies. We should be solving, not masking, the problems, in my opinion.

But the other thing that seldom seems to surface is that because most of the ocean is a nutrient “desert” most of what lives there is adapted to those conditions. I’m sure some people would want to grow forests where there’s now cactus. But we’d probably have quite a debate about the merits of desert ecosystems and the life forms that can live only in those conditions. Replacing ecosystems currently limited by iron with systems rich in iron, plankton, and a whole revised and episodic food chain seems worthy of a deeper discussion. The simple questions, ‘Would it work?’ and ‘What are the likely consequences?’ seem to call for a better level of debate.

For just one example, consider the populations of yellowfin and skipjack tuna that support major fisheries and provide food for millions of people. Those fish live in sparse, nutrient-limited clear blue water. They seldom come onto continental shelves much richer in plankton and almost never enter greenish, plankton-filled water. It seems to me that, all the energy questions aside for the moment, we should simply ask what happens to what’s living in iron-poor waters when we add iron–and whether that’s desirable and ethical.



  1. Iron supplements for the oceans?!

    Safina speaks with composure: “‘Would it work?’ and ‘What are the likely consequences?’ seem to call for a better level of debate.”

    Homo sapiens sapiens, PLEASE, “a better level of debate”! Safina’s sage consideration of the consequences of applying iron supplements–to the oceans!–is indeed another example of, well, you named it. Thank you, Carl for speaking up on this one too.
    If, for instance, skipjack tuna is thus endangered by iron-bearing dust, it’s predictible Japanese culinary culture will also be “engangered”: A big deal, in Japan. Aside from consuming fresh quantities of skipjack (katsuo), its dried flakes are an essential daily household ingredient. The prime basic taste-inducing stock made from katsuo flakes, shiitake mushroom, and dried kelp is artifically produced as Ajinomoto: monosodium glutamate (MSG). Just a detail? Real is the real thing. Carl, thank you for your version of help.

  2. Off-topic.

    Hi Carl, I have just started reading Voyage of The Turtle that my boyfriend, James, gave me (do you remember him? You met in Terengganu, Malaysia in July and you gave him an autographed copy of the book).

    And I am pleasantly surprise to learn that you do maintain a blog too! 🙂

  3. Absolutely fascinating.

    We do things to the ocean with wild abandon because we most of us fail to appreciate what goes on under the water.

  4. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

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