According to the 2018 “Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5ºC” written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is of utmost importance that the human species take control of our climate crisis. The report suggests that global temperatures could climb by 1.5 °C by 2030. Such temperatures can contribute to issues like sea level rise, natural disasters and the extinction of species. Because of these detrimental issues that threaten humankind, governments worldwide must work together to slow this dangerous warming.
Global warming is an important issue for me and much of the younger generation. Since we are next to inhabit this planet, it has been increasingly important that we draw attention to this problem. Furthermore, the climate crisis has brought to light young influencers. For example, one of the most well-known activists of my generation is Greta Thunberg. Thunberg was TIME magazines person of the year in 2019, and recognized for starting the “School Strike for Climate”. Because of such role models and the urgent crisis that my generation has had to face, it was important for me to write this article.
What is Global Warming?
Global warming is the global increase in temperatures. Most scientists have agreed that humans have caused much of the recent warming by releasing greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are gasses that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Some examples include Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane (CH4). These warming gases work by absorbing heat and trapping it in the earth. Without these greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, the earth would be a frozen wasteland. Yet too many can raise global temperatures and cause dangerous weather patterns, rising sea levels, and threaten species on our planet.
The image below shows the rapid rise in temperature over the course of human history CE.
Iron fertilization involves supplementing the ocean with iron. It is a form of geoengineering (a process that involves significant human-power that aims to change the environment). Iron is important for the growth of phytoplankton because it acts as a kick-starter for enzymes and electron transfer reactions. This thus also affects photosynthesis: a process that converts light to usable energy.
Phytoplankton are extremely important because they take greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere like CO2, and bring them down into the ocean. These organisms require light, water and nutrients to grow and thus only can live near the surface of the ocean. As a result, these single-celled organisms act like carbon-sinks to prevent the earth from heating up.
These properties of phytoplankton have greatly interested scientists: if one was able to increase the amount of phytoplankton, then perhaps one could also decrease the CO2 in our atmosphere. Some have proposed that injecting iron into our oceans could yield these results.
The concept of iron fertilization was made by oceanographer John Martin. He hypothesized that fine dust that settled into the ocean and fertilized phytoplankton was a crucial factor in the earth’s last ice age. By fertilizing and growing these organisms, they would, in turn, suck large amounts of CO2 out from the atmosphere and deep into the bowels of the ocean causing global cooling. The creator of this “iron hypothesis” had even jokingly said, “Give me a half a tanker of iron and I’ll give you the next ice age.” The notoriety of his claims have lead many scientists to wonder if this is even feasible.
Experiments of the Iron Hypothesis
The “iron hypothesis” calls for the supplementation of iron in high-nutrient, low chlorophyll areas like the equatorial Pacific and the Southern ocean. 12 studies were conducted between 1993 – 2005 about iron fertilization. Their results confirmed that iron is indeed a factor in photosynthesis for these organisms. Because of this, it has provided scientists with theories as to why some parts of the ocean may be less productive than others. These studies have also paved their way to better model mathematical simulations by taking account of other variables like light and other organisms.
Though iron fertilization and geoengineering solutions may seem promising, scientists still remain skeptical. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, 90% of the carbon that these microorganisms use is still released back into the environment. While only 10% goes to the deepest parts of the ocean to remain for hundreds of years. Most importantly, current studies of iron fertilization have not tracked this process for a long time. For this reason, there is still uncertainty as to whether this technique is even effective.
Iron is also extremely finicky as the article cites, with there being two types iron (II) and iron (III). The former is readily absorbed by these microorganisms while the iron (III) is not as useful. Furthermore, hematite, a mineral that contains iron (III) tends to sink. Consequently, it is not as useful to the organisms near the surface.
Other concerns stem from the interconnectedness of the ocean. In which significant problems arise when you target the very foundation of the global food chain. By messing with the population of these essential organisms, unintended consequences may also arise.