Pumping nutrient-rich water up from the deep ocean to boost algal growth in sunlit surface waters and draw carbon dioxide down from the atmosphere has been touted as a way of ameliorating global warming. However, a new study pours cold water on the idea.
The study was led by Professor Andreas Oschlies of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) in Kiel, Germany. "Computer simulations show that climatic benefits of the proposed geo-engineering scheme would be modest, with the potential to exacerbate global warming should it fail," said study co-author Dr Andrew Yool of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS).
If international governmental policies fail to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide to levels needed to keep the impacts of human-induced climate change within acceptable limits it may necessary to move to 'Plan B'. This could involve the implementation of one or more large-scale geo-engineering schemes proposed for reducing the carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere.
One possible approach is to engineer the oceans to facilitate the long-term sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It has been suggested that this could be done by pumping of nutrient-rich water from a depth of several hundred meters to fertilize the growth of phytoplankton, the tiny marine algae that dominate biological production in surface waters.
The aim would be to mimic the effects of natural ocean upwelling and increase drawdown of atmospheric carbon dioxide by phytoplankton through the process of photosynthesis. Some of the sequestered carbon would be exported to the deep ocean when phytoplankton die and sink, effectively removing it from the system for hundreds or thousands of years.
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