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Hungry Crustaceans Eat Climate Change Experiment 291

Posted by samzenpus
from the circle-of-life dept.
Earlier this month, an expedition fertilized 300 square kilometers of the Atlantic Ocean with six metric tons of dissolved iron. This triggered a bloom of phytoplankton, which doubled their biomass within two weeks by taking in carbon dioxide from the seawater. The dead phytoplankton were then expected to sink to the ocean bed, dragging carbon along with them. Instead, the experiment turned into an example of how the food chain works, as the bloom was eaten by a swarm of hungry copepods. The huge swarm of copepods were in turn eaten by larger crustaceans called amphipods, which are often eaten by squid and whales. "I think we are seeing the last gasps of ocean iron fertilization as a carbon storage strategy," says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University. While the experiment failed to show ocean fertilization as a viable carbon storage strategy, it has pushed the old "My dog ate my homework" excuse to an unprecedented level.

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Hungry Crustaceans Eat Climate Change Experiment

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  • by ColdWetDog (752185) * on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:21PM (#27345409) Homepage
    The copepods ate my project. Try that one on your thesis advisor....

    Still and all, that's why they do experiments. Sometimes you learn something.
    • Still and all, that's why they do experiments. Sometimes you learn something.

      Absolutely. Sometimes you do learn something completely new. And that's great. But the true power of the experiment is in proving that some idea is wrong.

      This experiment has proved that iron fertilization is not going to work as a carbon storage strategy. Personally, I think that more experiments like this will show that most if not all carbon storage strategies do not work. But that's just me talking. Again, you need a good, solid, experiment to show something either way. Rhetoric, statistics, or celebrity backing isn't going to prove anything. Only the experiment can be the final arbiter.

      In recent years, I have seen field after field all but abandon the experiment as a scientific tool. Computer models, statistics and dubious mathematics became the tools of choice. It's nice to see one in the news again.

      • by dexmachina (1341273) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:50PM (#27345939)
        Thank you. I was just going to post something about how this shouldn't be tagged "fail". It isn't a "failed" experiment. It's an experiment that yielded a negative result, which can be just as useful, if less flashy and exciting, than a positive one.
        • Null hypothesis FTW!
        • by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @03:13PM (#27347269) Homepage Journal

          I dunno about less exciting. Since it boosts the food supply from the bottom of the chain, it might be quite a helpful way to repair the damage to sea populations due to serious mismanagement in the past. A temporary boost to the food chain might be exactly what is required.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26, 2009 @03:32PM (#27347563)

          I don't even see how this yielded negative results. What did they expect would happen? I mean the summary says they expected the dead phytoplankton to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Ok, so instead it was eaten, how is that negative? Isn't the carbon still sequestered away inside the crustaceans? If so, how is this negative or a failure again?

          There has to be something missing here like that the crustaceans suddenly started flying and farting...or something. Otherwise, it looks like it was a win and nobody has recognized it as such.

          Anyone?

          • by vrt3 (62368) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @04:08PM (#27348295) Homepage

            The carbon absorbed by the phytoplankton is used as energy source by successively larger animals in the food chain. To extract energy from it they burn it, releasing the resulting CO2 to the water. From there it eventually gets back in the atmosphere.

            In other words, the whole process is CO2-neutral instead of being a CO2-sink as was hoped for.

            • by daver00 (1336845) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @05:00PM (#27349195)

              Dude whales aren't internal combustion engines! Yes the whales etc exhale CO2, but they are also carbon based lifeforms so clearly something has been held onto.

              If you increase the total biomass of the earth, CO2 has no option but to decrease, or else where is all that carbon coming from? Are animals and plants eating coal and oil now? The experiment may not have worked as planned but it has shown that you can boost the ocean biomass simply by seeding it with iron, thats damn interesting if you ask me. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees, this is a good example of one of my big complaints about climate change obsession: There are still other environmental issues out there, and we just discovered something very interesting relating to one of them.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26, 2009 @04:10PM (#27348325)

            Good question!! Here's why:
            The hypothesis supposed that the plankton would fall to the bottom of the ocean and ultimately turn into oil. Instead the biomass is being turned into energy by large predators, to do this they release CO2 that was stored in the biomass back into the environment.

            Biomass is a great way to TEMPORARILY sequester CO2, but unless you can remove the biomass from the rest of the biosphere (where it will be used) the CO2 will be released as the biomass is converted into energy.

            The experiment thought they could move the biomass low enough in the water column that it would no longer be used by other creatures.

            • The hypothesis supposed that the plankton would fall to the bottom of the ocean and ultimately turn into oil. Instead the biomass is being turned into energy by large predators, to do this they release CO2 that was stored in the biomass back into the environment.

              By the way: It isn't a TOTAL failure at sequestration. The predators don't get it ALL.

              It's just nowhere NEAR as good as they thought it would be (because the predators get, and eventually release, A LOT, maybe even MOST, of the carbon.)

              It will be

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Dead phytoplankton sinking to the bottom = capturing carbon

            Creating a chain reaction in the food-chain = destabilizing the ecosystem

            This isn't good because you're directly increasing the number of predators without increasing their pray. As a result, these hungry predators will create a collapse of pray since the experiment was a one-off. Look at it like this (simplistic, I know): the number of lions and zebras in Africa are in a dynamic balance. One day a group of researchers comes in and a

        • by UberMD (920306) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @03:43PM (#27347809)
          Diatoms have been the limiting factor in ocean fertilization recentlly, fears you will throw off the ecosystem by proliferating potentially harmful diatoms. The fact that this wasn't found is a success! Organisms will eat the plankton...no surprise. However, that doesn't mean its a failure! Fish are not 100% efficient at using all organic mater from the food they eat. Anywhere from ~30- 50% of the small percent of the plankton that is eaten is still going to be released as ORGANIC waste which will then fall to the bottom of the ocean sequestering carbon.

          This is like being against tree planting because it encourages bugs to come eat the leaves, birds to eat the bugs, and bacteria that eat the dead leaves

          In ocean seeding theory, it would not be done in areas where there are many fish around to eat the plankton. The idea is to seed 'dead' areas of the tropic ocean where fish typically avoid because of its lack of iron. I believe in practice the idea is to seed very large areas of the ocean with less intensity than this experiment. I.E slowly release Fe off the back of shipping vessels for 100's of miles Regardless, i believe an externality of this is potentially treating some of the effects of overfishing.

          Encouraging the ocean to absorb CO2 (NOT HYDROCARBONS!!) boosts its acidity. Unless someone has a reference on this, their suggestion is entirely wrong. The article they reference does not mention anything about this! Yes, CO2 increases in the ocean lead to carbonic acid and increase its acidity. But, fertilization TURNS THE CO2 into ORGANIC MATERIAL! Organic material DOES NOT INCREASE ACIDITY of the ocean, please read any book on photosynthesis.

          I feel this article shows signs of some hard bias against ocean fertilization and I'm not sure why.
      • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:54PM (#27346005) Journal

        This experiment has proved that iron fertilization is not going to work as a carbon storage strategy.

        No, it prooved that by this method it wont work.

        Altering the method might fix it. How should they do that? I'd start by studying data from Lake Eerie in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. The desired effect happened then - a lot of photosynthetic biomass that wasn't getting eaten nearly as fast as it was made.

        However, is suspect that would only work in a shallow sea, and kill a lot of the life in that sea. Mostly, it would defeat the purpose of the seeding.

        • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @02:02PM (#27346137) Journal
          All we need to do is keep pumping in the iron until the new biomass works its way up to animals that are large enough to shoot...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by squidfood (149212)

          No, it prooved that by this method it wont work.

          You know the funny thing is, IIRC 10 years ago "they" were proposing iron fertilization as a way to do exactly this: augment fish supply for harvesting (like we needed to pump up the system and stress everything out more). That didn't quite work either because I think they got the result they wanted here, sinking out. Basically, there's a lot of subtleties on when, where, what type of plankton are produced, how it's kept in surface layer, microplankton, jellyfish etc. The issue with large-scale manipulat

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ArcherB (796902)

          Altering the method might fix it.

          Simple! Spike the iron with a good pesticide. Problem solved!

          (Yes, this was intended to be a joke.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by hardburn (141468)

          However, is suspect that would only work in a shallow sea, and kill a lot of the life in that sea. Mostly, it would defeat the purpose of the seeding.

          Yes, but not just because of the kill off of life. The reason algae blooms kill everything off is because they decay anerobically (sucking up O2 and releasing CO2). If you're deep enough, this isn't a big deal, but near the surface the CO2 will just get released again.

      • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @02:02PM (#27346127)

        This experiment didn't prove that iron fertilization is never going to work as a carbon storage strategy. It showed that, in this situation, the plan didn't work as they thought it would; that hardly means that the strategy itself is unsound. Perhaps the iron seeding needs to be done in areas with lower predator populations. Perhaps they can add something with the iron the drives the predators away. Perhaps... they need to do more research before they say what is and isn't possible.

        Just because it didn't work this time doesn't mean the idea should be abandoned, as the researchers themselves seem to indicate. Besides, saying that a single experiment proves anything is at least as unscientific as using models and statistics to do research.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26, 2009 @03:09PM (#27347185)

          This experiment didn't prove that iron fertilization is never going to work as a carbon storage strategy. It showed that, in this situation, the plan didn't work as they thought it would; that hardly means that the strategy itself is unsound. ...

          Now there you go being reasonable.

          We want this experiment to fail. Therefore one small experiment in one small area proves it will never work anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances.

          There you go, scientific proof.

        • YMMV but usually you can use a single experiment to disprove an hypothese.
        • by geobeck (924637) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @04:49PM (#27348989) Homepage

          ...saying that a single experiment proves anything is at least as unscientific as using models and statistics to do research.

          +1

          But I'd say it's significantly more unscientific, because models and statistics do have their place in research.

          Every time I hear someone say "study after study has proven what I'm telling you," I take it to mean "I read something in the paper the other day that gave a layman's (mis)interpretation of a cursory theoretical analysis of a process that has a tenuous relationship to the subject I'm talking about."

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26, 2009 @02:02PM (#27346133)

        "Personally, I think that more experiments like this will show that most if not all carbon storage strategies do not work."

        So why aren't we, personally, planting 10 trees each year? Isn't that a carbon storage strategy, with free oxygen and built-in cooling?

        • by Abreu (173023)

          So why aren't we, personally, planting 10 trees each year? Isn't that a carbon storage strategy, with free oxygen and built-in cooling?

          Mod parent up. This is something we should be doing...

        • by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @03:31PM (#27347537) Homepage Journal

          The problem is that a lot of tree planting exercises involve slim, fast-growing trees that absorb little CO2 but do absorb excessive soil nutrients. These trees have a short life-expectancy and usually end up getting dumped in land-fills where they replenish the CO2 in the air.

          You have to use much slower-growing trees. The bulkier the better, the longer-living the better. I've found Californian Redwoods grow great even in the north of England (which is no great surprise, as prior to the Ice Age that was part of their territory) and it was fine to take them into the country when I last checked (no parasites and no known conflicts with native species - or, since it's a re-introduction, other native species).

          Also in England, I would strongly advise planting English Oaks. They're getting rare as it is, but they are also one of the more long-lived of the oak family and again should be excellent carbon sinks.

          In the US, as bristlecone pines operate best in areas most other species cannot survive in, I would imagine that it would be possible to increase their range without causing too much of an environmental problem.

          Wollemi Pines might also be a good bet, as there is no risk of them getting out of control (they can't compete with flowering trees or plants) and again there should be an extremely low risk of problematic parasites.

          If you like getting real christmas trees, get one with roots. Even if only one in a hundred make it through christmas intact, that would still be a massive cut in the CO2 injected back into the atmosphere. (Some places dump trees in lakes, but that acidifies the lakes and probably causes all kinds of other environmental problems.)

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by khallow (566160)

            These trees have a short life-expectancy and usually end up getting dumped in land-fills where they replenish the CO2 in the air.

            Decay doesn't work like you think it does in a landfill. Sure I imagine some have the right environment to promote decay of plant material. Some landfills in desert regions have virtually no decay. Others have a strong reducing environment like swamps which are a known carbon sink. If the landfill environment doesn't promote decay of wood, then it becomes a carbon sink. You still have to worry about the release of methane, but this is some that can be managed (say by burning most of the methane that seeps o

      • by B'Trey (111263) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @02:50PM (#27346885)

        It isn't clear to me why this is a failure, or a negative result if you prefer. Granted, the carbon didn't sink to the bottom of the ocean, but it was still removed from the water, which should allow the water to absorb additional CO2 from the air. It seems to me that, so long as the CO2 is pulled from the atmosphere, it's still an effective means of combating warming. Isn't one of the proposed remedies to increase the plant mass? Why isn't this just as effective as increased plants? What am I missing?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by smoker2 (750216)
          Exactly. The CO2 is still locked up in an animal somewhere in the food chain, rather than the atmosphere. I guess they were looking for the perfect result of the CO2 just magically ceasing to be a problem. Most of those smaller lifeforms will end up as shit on the seabed anyway, what's the problem ?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by JoeMerchant (803320)

            Exactly. The CO2 is still locked up in an animal somewhere in the food chain, rather than the atmosphere. I guess they were looking for the perfect result of the CO2 just magically ceasing to be a problem. Most of those smaller lifeforms will end up as shit on the seabed anyway, what's the problem ?

            As I understand the chemistry, the solar energy that is used to convert the CO2 to other forms (say, sugar, and similar things) is re-released by the animals when they expend energy and exhale what? CO2.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by smoker2 (750216)
              Yes, that's true, but unless the food chain is 100% efficient, some of that captured CO2 is going to end up as sediment. As I said, they appear to have been expecting 100% efficiency which is slightly unscientific. Using any other argument is calling for extinction of life because it releases CO2. Trees are one of the most visible carbon stores, but even they are subject to decomposition and predation by insects. There is no final answer to CO2, we can not hope to regulate it except by releasing less oursel
        • by Spasemunki (63473) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @03:10PM (#27347223) Homepage

          I think since the dead plankton re-entered the food chain, the carbon that it sequestered will eventually be released through the respiration of the higher-level predators in a gaseous form that will again limit the ability of the ocean water to absorb carbon. The hope with sequestration was that the dead plankton would sink to the bottom, be covered quickly with sediment, and essentially become a permanent carbon deposit. It's like the difference between planting a tree, cutting it down, and burying it vs. cutting it down and burning it. I think the hope was by creating a huge, localized bloom, you would create more food than the food chain could absorb, but the food chain is proving more able to adapt to a sudden surge in food production than anticipated.

          • by geobeck (924637) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @05:02PM (#27349233) Homepage

            According to a recent study that I'm too lazy to google for (and is only a single study, so it's not proof of anything), fish excrement contains a significant amount of calcium carbonate.

            If this CaCO3 sinks to the bottom before it dissolves, it would sequester the carbon. If, however, it dissolves before it sinks, it releases the carbon right back into the water. The fate of the fish excrement was beyond the scope of the study.

            So a significant amount of carbon may or may not be sequestered by the fish that prey on the plankton that capture the carbon, while a significant amount is caught up in the biomass of the fish.

            However, with rampant overfishing, including use of illegal catch-em-all nets in "protected" areas, which is just about impossible to police, all of the carbon that becomes part of fish biomass will end up back in the atmosphere after passing through someone's digestive system.

            But, if somehow fishermen around the world can be convinced to use iron fertilization as part of a comprehensive aquaculture system, and actually increase the global fish biomass...

            Nah, you'll never get enough people cooperating to make that happen.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gwait (179005)

          Exactly! As long as the damn stuff isn't in the air reflecting infrared back down, who cares if it is floating around as fish, instead of sitting on the bottom?

          It seems to have a beneficial effect of creating more food. Since we already overharvest the oceans, it sounds like a good idea to carefully investigate methods for increasing food production in the oceans, IE striking a balance between demand and destruction of ocean environments.

      • Wrong! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anachragnome (1008495)

        "This experiment has proved that iron fertilization is not going to work as a carbon storage strategy."

        It did no such thing.

        If this was done in the middle of the ocean, in deep water, then it might not be such a hot idea.

        But what if you do it in CORAL RICH areas? Can the phytoplankton be eaten by corals? If so, then the bulk of the carbon absorbed would be deposited in the form of coral skeletons(calcium carbonate) that persist for millions of years. Sounds like a handy place to store carbon to me.

        The idea

    • by JordanL (886154)
      ...with algae?

      I'm not a biologist or ecologist, but doesn't the ocean food chain start with algae? And don't algae produce oxygen from CO2 instead of sequestering it like phytoplankton?

      Can't we fertilize parts of the ocean for plant growth instead?
    • by RallyNick (577728)

      Even better would be: "the copepods ate the student!" Speaking of which, human population almost doubled in the past 50 years, I'm starting to wonder... who's going to eat us? And how much longer do we have?

  • So... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Akido37 (1473009)
    What happened to the carbon?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by WillKemp (1338605)

      It's been converted into whale farts.

    • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:40PM (#27345747) Journal
      Algae --> Copepod --> Amphipod --> Whale blubber/exhaled CO2

      Note that the whale blubber is eventually converted into CO2 as well.

      Even if the whale dies and sinks to the ocean floor, only a small portion of the 'sequestered' carbon would not make it back into the atmosphere eventually (plenty of deep-sea animals consume whale carcasses, all the while converting the 'sequestered' carbon into CO2.

      Maybe a tiny bit would be converted to Ca2CO3 by molluscs, but AFAIK, no shell-forming molluscs feed on deep-sea whale carcasses.
      • Re:So... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by 32771 (906153) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @02:21PM (#27346425) Journal

        To continue this path, what happens to the dissolved CO2 at those depths:

        "Another process, called "the biological pump," transfers CO2 from the ocean's surface to its depths. Warm waters at the surface can hold much less CO2 than can cold waters in the deep. "This is the 'soda bottle on a warm day' effect," says Agassiz professor of biological oceanography James McCarthy, "and is not unique to carbon dioxide; it applies to all gases dissolved in water. There is a higher capacity to hold a gas with a lower temperature than with a higher temperature." This means that when deep ocean waters rise to the surface as part of normal ocean-circulation patterns, the water heats up and actually releases CO2."

        from here,
        http://harvardmagazine.com/2002/11/the-ocean-carbon-cycle.html [harvardmagazine.com]

        So this is a temporary storage solution and the fertilizer might speed up the process but the CO2 is at best dissolved it seems.

        I guess CO2 storage could be really helped by dumping CaOH or something like that into the ocean just where this should come from I wonder.

        • by smoker2 (750216)
          One could almost imagine that in fact the root of the whole CO2 problem is to be found in the ocean, not the atmosphere. We've certainly affected the food chain and polluted enough to change the system. There have been various studies regarding methane ice formations that become unstable with warming sea temperatures. We know less about the oceans than we do the atmosphere. This is what makes me laugh when the AGW people are suggesting we need to adopt what can only be called climate control. How do you con
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by vertinox (846076)

        Best argument against "Save the whales" I heard to date.

        Who knew Captain Ahab was trying to save the planet all along?

    • by ISoldat53 (977164)
      Good question. It would seem that some of it was captured. I don't see how this means the experiment failed.
  • by wiredog (43288) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:21PM (#27345423) Journal

    The carbon is still being sequestered, just not where they expected it.

    • The carbon is still being sequestered, just not where they expected it.

      It depends, do squid (and whatever eats squid) and whales sink to the bottom when the die? The idea is to completely remove some carbon from the normal carbon cycle, I guess to compensate for the carbon we dig out of the ground and add to the cycle.

      • The carbon is still being sequestered, just not where they expected it.

        It depends, do squid (and whatever eats squid) and whales sink to the bottom when the die?

        Yes, and their bodies are eaten as they lie on the bottom. It's the ciiiiIIIIIIRCle of liiIIIIIfe!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by EdZ (755139)

        do squid (and whatever eats squid) and whales sink to the bottom when the die?

        Yes. Yes they do. And the carcasses are eaten by bottom-feeding animals, which generally remain at the sea floor. It's a different path through the food chain than they were expecting, but the carbon ends up on the seabed in the end.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mea37 (1201159)
          If we assume that an animal stores in its body all of the CO2 from plants it eats throughout its lifetime, then I suppose so...
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by squidfood (149212)

            If we assume that an animal stores in its body all of the CO2 from plants it eats throughout its lifetime, then I suppose so...

            And that's the rub. A good rule of thumb is that for every step in the food chain, 90% of material (carbon) is lost as respiration (C02 back to the environment). So zooplankton eating phytoplankton and sinking is 10% as efficient as phytoplankton sinking. Fish eating zooplankton is 1%. Whales 0.1%. Etc.

      • by ianare (1132971)

        Sometimes. It's not at all uncommon for dead whales (not sure about squid) to float on the surface for some time as a result of decomposition gases inside their bodies. In these cases they can be eaten by sharks/orcas or drift onto beaches.

    • by whyrat (936411) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:44PM (#27345833)
      From TFA: The tiny crustaceans graze on phytoplankton, which keeps the carbon in the food chain and prevents it from being stored in the ocean sink. The goal was to get the carbon out of the food chain and dormant on the ocean floor.
    • by ianare (1132971)

      No, not really. 'Sequester' means to pass along to a trusted entity for safekeeping. In this case, the trusted entity was the bottom of the deep ocean.

      Since the copepods do not keep the carbon, but rather pass it along to the next step of the lifecycle, by definition the carbon is not being sequestered.

  • So? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:21PM (#27345425) Homepage

    Why are well-fed whales a bad thing?

  • by Spazztastic (814296) <spazztastic@ g m a il.com> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:22PM (#27345441)

    Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.

    Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?

    Skinner: No problem. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.

    Lisa: But aren't the snakes even worse?

    Skinner: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.

    Lisa: But then we're stuck with gorillas!

    Skinner: No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

    • by Randle_Revar (229304) <kelly.clowers@gmail.com> on Thursday March 26, 2009 @03:00PM (#27347039) Homepage Journal

      "Look, I can explain," he said.

      Lord Vetinari lifted an eyebrow with the care of one who, having found a piece of caterpillar in his salad, raises the rest of the lettuce.

      "Pray do," he said, leaning back.

      "We got a bit carried away," said Moist. "We were a bit too creative in our thinking. We encouraged mongooses to breed in the posting boxes to keep down the snakes . . ."

      Lord Vetinari said nothing.

      "Er . . . which, admittedly, we introduced into the letter boxes to reduce the numbers of toads . . ."

      Lord Vetinari repeated himself.

      "Er . . . which, it's true, staff put in the posting boxes to keep down the snails . . . "

      Lord Vetinari remained unvocal.

      "Er . . . These, I must in fairness point out, got into the boxes of their own accord, in order to eat the glue on the stamps," said Moist, aware that he was beginning to burble.

  • I'll be (Score:3, Funny)

    by WillKemp (1338605) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:23PM (#27345459) Homepage

    Whale i'll be damned!

  • Horray! (Score:5, Funny)

    by SteveHeadroom (13143) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:23PM (#27345475) Homepage

    Horray for Zoidberg!

  • So basically, the experiment was infected. Maybe they should try seeding smaller areas, lessening the chance of an infection spreading over the whole seeding zone.

    • Not really, phytoplankton, copepods and amphipods are ubiquitous. There is no massive ocean region free of them.

      There is no way of preventing them from multiplying in favorable nutrient conditions, although you may be able to get another organism to out compete some of them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RingDev (879105)

      The experiment was a success. It proved that their theory was invalid within the constraints and parameters that were defined.

      Had the experiment failed to show a definitive determination as to the validity of the theory or if some external force altered the parameters beyond the theory's limits, then you could say that the experiment failed.

      Just because the results of the experiment were not what you expected, does not mean that the experiment failed.

      Think of it as the difference between searching for a the

    • by Americano (920576)
      "infected"? I can't for the life of me understand what you mean by that.

      The experiment showed that when you provide phytoplankton (which is generally comprised of unicellular algae) with a lot of a nutrient that encourages it to grow & reproduce, you end up with a tremendous bloom of algae. Then organisms that feed on algae have a plentiful source of nutrient, which means their population explodes, and so on up the food chain, until some new equilibrium is reached.

      Short of introducing some artif
  • by UPZ (947916)
    Just throw in a few tons of insecticides in there and that should take care of it...
  • by CannonballHead (842625) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @01:45PM (#27345853)

    It's hard to believe nobody saw this coming. Hey, let's create a massive amount of food in the ocean and let it sink to the bottom. Did they think the ocean dwellers were just going to let it be for the sake of science or something?

    I don't know, it sounds kinda stupid to me.

    "Mom, I want to see how dog food reacts to the sun, so I'm going to fill Sparky's bowl and let it sit for a week."

    Next day. "Mom, Sparky ate the dog food." Duh? :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by the_humeister (922869)

      Uh, that's the whole point of experimenting. It's easy to say in hindsight that this was the result. But what if the result had gone the other way? Would you still be saying that it obviously would have worked?

      • I agree that it's easy to say now, hindsight is 20/20, etc.

        But it still seems like a significant, hm, waste. 300 square kilometers (Google tells me that 300 (square kilometers) = 115.830648 square miles) isn't exactly a small area. Maybe it had to be that big for some reason, I don't know.

        Yes, I know it's an experiment, but experiments try to leave as little to chance as possible. Or should, anyways... try to hold all other variables constant and all that. Why couldn't they do this in a controlled envir

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Patch86 (1465427)

          If they'd done it in a closed pool, they wouldn't have got the same result as they did.

          The test was to see if this is a viable method of carbon capture. Due to the little sea creatures, turns out that it isn't viable. That's an important result that they're very glad they've found out now, so they can adjust their research accordingly.

          Thus the experiment was a success.

          • "It seems that if it is possible to fertilise enough ocean to make a difference to climate, we would need to turn vast ocean ecosystems into giant plankton farms," says Caldeira.

            That explains it more to me (from the article).

            Didn't realize they wanted to see if they could do it in the ocean on a widespread scale. :)

    • by dlevitan (132062)

      It's hard to believe nobody saw this coming. Hey, let's create a massive amount of food in the ocean and let it sink to the bottom. Did they think the ocean dwellers were just going to let it be for the sake of science or something?

      Actually, yes they did. Not that I really expect anyone to read the article. But if you do, you'll find the following:

      The grazing effect had not been seen in previous fertilisation experiments. These had caused blooms of diatoms, a type of phytoplankton that is protected against grazers by a hard shell of silica. But the Lohafex experiment did not trigger a diatom bloom because there was little silicic acid available in the water for diatoms to build their shells from.

      Thus, as you can see, the idea was that phytoplankton that is protected from such grazers was supposed to have grown. But it didn't, and that's why the experiment didn't produce the expected results.

  • From the results of the experiment, apparently it won't work as a means to sequester carbon.

    However, what if we can use this to improve the productivity of the ocean in general? Might the increased amount of biomass serve to improve fisheries? I.e., if there's more food all the way up the food chain, can't we eat more fish? It's a hungry planet and many fisheries have been depleted....

    --PeterM

  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @02:24PM (#27346467)
    First, it looks to me like the experiment broke for the same reason that earlier experiments had. Once you seed sea water with enough iron, the growing algae eventually consumes available silica. The algae observed in the experiment were less silica-rich (ie, they weren't diatoms) and hence easier to feed upon. Having to add silica makes the logistics much harder, since you need considerable quantities of silica. Second, heavy grazing doesn't imply that the researchers failed in their goal of creating a carbon sink. Not all of the food chain would have been eaten by higher up. Probably a lot of those algae and animals ended up on the sea bed floor. The problem though is that you can't then estimate well how much carbon was deposited on the ocean floor. In other words, the experiment might have worked anyway to lock away a considerable amount of CO2, but as is, it can't be used as a consistent carbon sink in a human carbon management program.

    Third, grazing is going to be a fundamental problem unless somehow plankton is seperated from the algae. I bet there is plankton that will eat diatoms too. The grazer problem will affect any program that attempts to carbon sink via ocean grown algae blooms.
  • This may be a good method to help parts of the ocean where the food chain is in trouble.

  • by sorak (246725) on Thursday March 26, 2009 @02:57PM (#27346993)

    I can't believe it! A slashdot headline that mentioned global warming, but does not include a global warming debate in the comments. How do I submit this as a story?

  • While the experiment failed to show ocean fertilization as a viable carbon storage strategy, it has pushed the old "My dog ate my homework" excuse to an unprecedented level.

    You worked really hard to get that in there. You should have worked really much harder.

  • I've been wondering, wouldn't this make a great way to produce an artificial fishery out in the middle of nowhere? You'd probably have to put some work into selecting your upper level consumers, to get, say, sardines instead of jellyfish. But surely there must be a way to divert some of that biomass bloom into something harvestable.

Every nonzero finite dimensional inner product space has an orthonormal basis. It makes sense, when you don't think about it.

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