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Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 9:24 AM

Most of the ocean is a desert,with most of the larger fish living close to shore.The reason is a lack of iron in the water to form a basis for the food chain.

Scientists have seeded areas in the ocean with powdered iron, and it spurs a sudden growth of phytoplankton, but because the iron sinks it is only a very short term growth spurt.These plankton can have a dramatic effect on the atmosphere as well as the obvious benefit to the ocean.

My suggestion is this:

Why not seed the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch with finely powdered iron?The floating debris would hold a certain amount of the iron near the surface to increase growth of plankton and other species in the food chain.Eventually, the debris would become so heavy with barnacles,etc, it would sink to the bottom,where it will eventually be covered by the constant "snowfall" of dead organisms from above.

In the meanwhile, it would produce an increase in phytoplankton and become a benefit instead of detriment to the ocean.

Any comments or suggestions are welcome, or course.

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#1

Re: Turn ocean garbage into a food chain incubator

05/10/2012 9:46 AM

How about not? How about just leave it alone and don't do anything that has unknown consequences even though what might be done would be done with good intentions?

It sure seems like a lot of the flops and disasters we've seen over the past century (or more) were the result of something originally done with good intentions. 'The War to end all wars', Prohibition, the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the Viet Nam War, (I suppose you could say wars in general), Preventing Forest Fires, Bailouts, Solyndra, Gasohol, a lot of EPA regulations,... I could go on and on.

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#2

Re: Turn ocean garbage into a food chain incubator

05/10/2012 9:53 AM

What are the possible unintended consequences?

Kudzu seemed a good idea. Spotted knapweed, cane toads... many more. All well intentioned, but didn't turn out to be quite so good.

[edit] Sorry Usbport, I pretty much repeated your comment. You posted while I composed.

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#14
In reply to #2

Re: Turn ocean garbage into a food chain incubator

05/10/2012 5:24 PM
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#3

Re: Turn ocean garbage into a food chain incubator

05/10/2012 9:56 AM

...hunting Dodos...

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#4

Re: Turn ocean garbage into a food chain incubator

05/10/2012 9:57 AM

Do we really need more fish? Word on the street is that they might be the worst source of pollution

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#15
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Re: Turn ocean garbage into a food chain incubator

05/10/2012 5:42 PM
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#5

Re: Turn ocean garbage into a food chain incubator

05/10/2012 10:14 AM

A couple more:

African honey bees, cheap silk; aka gypsy moth, rabbits in Australia.

The iron idea was "floated" several years ago for the South Pacific. The project was canceled for the aforementioned reasons.

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#6

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 11:47 AM

What a bunch of kill joys we occasionally become at CR4. Everything humanity has done to better ourselves and/or environment has had unintended consequences. Frequently the drawbacks are negligible compared to the advantages. Always the anticipated drawbacks are negligible to the anticipated advantages or the idea is not even attempted. Noteworthy are the unintended drawbacks from trying to tinker an ecosystem that have already been cited here. Doing absolutely nothing though is synonymous with being dead. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not dead yet. So instead of debating some of the possible advantages and disadvantages of this idea you just wave your hands in the air and condemn this idea because we cannot accurately predict the final result. SHAME

HiTekRedNek is proposing an ecosystem change here, but one that we've already significantly altered with this subsurface floating garbage atoll. So complaining that this is an ecosystem change to be left alone I believe is a specious argument. Trying to turn a liability into an asset is how many of our environmental problems get solved. The crux here is to try and identify foreseeable drawbacks and possible ways to mitigate these drawbacks.

One series of drawbacks that comes to my mind is that this atoll lingers in deep water away from existing ecosystems. By seeding this area with iron the phytoplankton will bloom there and certainly consume some of the edible parts of this garbage. However what will eat this phytoplankton far away from natural spawning grounds? Do we need to find and seed now phytoplankton feeders that can use the debris field for a spawning ground? Will these phytoplankton consumers be able to safely distinguish between edible and inedible garbage? Is my last concern actually the desired goal here? The heavier consumers that die from the inedible parts of the garbage will sink and carry themselves and the inedible parts to the bottom?

As I said earlier, I like the idea of taking a liability and turning it into an asset.

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#7
In reply to #6

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 12:08 PM

I knew the second leg of the Precautionary Principle would appear.

This discussion is certainly not new. Wikipedia article, with LOTS of references..

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 12:58 PM

I believe your missing HiTekRedNek's idea. What I understand from his proposal is not phytoplankton bloom production for carbon sequestration but for a method to deal with ocean garbage patches by making this garbage useful instead a nuisance. While this idea might still be a non-starter, it should be understood before dismissed.

Also as implausible a proposal as this might be, it is certainly a much more creative idea with more depth for possible discussion than trying to troubleshoot a 1998 Cavalier that went "clunk" when it died.

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#9
In reply to #8

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 2:02 PM

"I believe your missing HiTekRedNek's idea." No, I'm with him and you on this. I agree, these tremendous garbage patches won't go away on their own; we did it, and we should do our best to undo it.

Is sending this trash to the bottom of the oceans really better than leaving it? Out of sight, out of mind? I would agree with the point that photodegradation of the plastics would cease... does not the plastic trash continue to degrade and disintegrate at a slower rate without sunlight, thus the toxic chemicals are still in the ocean?

I am uncertain, and so I have no strong feeling either way: Is the consequence of doing nothing (this hasn't worked very well so far) worse than the consequence of doing something. Dunno, that's what we are discussing.

As an aside, an elderly neighbor recently bought a used car and has asked if I might help him work out "...a few problems..." the car has. Anybody want to guess the make and model of his car? At least it starts (today, anyway).

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#16
In reply to #6

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 5:59 PM

When individuals (or corporations) take risks, ordinarily the individual (or corporation) bears the brunt of failure, even if the risk was done with the best of intentions.

When governments take risks (even with the best of intentions) there are only scapegoats when the result is failure; the people responsible (congressmen, senators, presidents, anonymous bureaucrats) are usually gone when the full impact of their decision is revealed.

So yes, I am risk-averse for any new government program. But I am not opposed to progress. Find some private corporation like a pharmaceutical company or medical research institution, or some industrial food company and let them look at ways to solve this problem. (Perhaps a program similar to the X-prize for private space craft.) They get the benefits if their idea succeeds and suffer the failure if it does not.

http://www.xprize.org/

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#17
In reply to #16

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 8:14 PM

I don't know what government program frightened you when you were young but you are the only one here on this thread that is spouting anything about government control or efficiency. We're just trying to hash out the plausible ways that somebody (not necessarily a government agency) maybe able to turn a problem into a solution. I fully expect any attempts to solve this will be first done on a small scale to allow for realistic measurements and analysis. I recommend that you locate your favorite adult beverage, turn on your computer to your favorite music channel and chill for a little while. They're not really out to tax you out of all your goodies. They're after mine.

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#18
In reply to #17

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 9:33 PM

C'mon, was a personal attack on me really necessary? And where did I use the words 'government control' or 'efficiency'? Where did I say anything about taxes?

I haven't attacked you personally. Life is too short for that kind of stuff.

??? I'm chill. You want me to shut about this? Okay, I'll zip it.

-- Jeez, talk about harshing someone's mellow....

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#19
In reply to #17

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 9:35 PM

"I recommend that you locate your favorite adult beverage, turn on your computer to your favorite music channel and chill for a little while."

Words of wisdom to live by

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#10

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 2:37 PM

Have any experiments and studies been published on this technique. It sounds like a good idea. More biomass is good. Also good to look at the possible downsides.

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#11

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 3:43 PM

Interesting idea (I think I have heard something similar before), but rather than filling our oceans with any more floating garbage, why not just stop painting the hulls of our ships and start cladding them in recycled steel?

Yes I know that creates different problems, but I don't think more floating garbage in the ocean is a good idea.

Seeding the ocean with fine iron seems like a good idea, but remember we also need to be careful of upsetting the natural balance (and making things worse, which has happened). As for garbage - recycling and landfill, we have plenty of landfill space people.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 4:16 PM

Recycling and landfill are certainly ways to reduce the amount of garbage that reaches our oceans but this debris already exists in all but the Arctic Ocean. Also until we stop using plastics that naturally degrade (IMHO safe, naturally degrading, food and beverage containers is an impossible contradiction) this waste will get into the ocean somehow. So if this debris can be used in situ then a real fix can be implemented.

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/10/2012 4:23 PM

Already considered that, but the problem with plastic is that it is naturally buoyant, and so won't sink easily (which was the originally intended idea to ensure that garbage doesn't accumulate on the ocean surface if it were used as a carrier for iron as the original poster suggested).

Plastic is a separate (and more concerning problem).

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#20

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/11/2012 4:40 AM

A twenty year long scientific study of garbage in the Caribbean and North Atlantic reported in February 2010 to an Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland Oregon. The maximum densities found were about 1 piece per 5m³ with typical piece sizes of about 1cm across. The overall size of the garbage patch was not determined, and over twenty years it has probably increased, and the location of the boundaries could have moved. There are photographs of clumps of material up to a few 10s of metres across but the figures I quote are based on pieces per hectare (about 2½ acres).

Iron seeding this density is a non-starter. Finding the clumps over an area of several thousand square miles is a non-starter. Back to the drawing board folks.

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#22
In reply to #20

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/11/2012 11:17 AM

Thanks for the info. Could you provide any links? Do you think that this problem is over hyped? I have wondered if it was something that nature would be able to handle without much damage. The Oceans are much more vast than the land surfaces of the earth. Especially when considering the various depths involved.

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#23
In reply to #20

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/11/2012 11:35 AM

Thanks for the info.Considering the low density, aerial seeding of a test area would be the only feasible means, using perhaps, a military cargo plane.

The iron powder could be fine enough to work, but not to become freely airborne,and the effect should be obvious in a short period of time.

I saw a recent photograph of some articles in the garbage patch,and one thing that stood out was barnacles on a soccer ball.Eventually, it will sink due to accumulation of weight of the barnacles.This is what spawned the idea of seeding the area to promote growth of organisms.

Once an object hits bottom, it is eventually covered by the constant"snowfall" of dead microorganisms and krill from above.This snowfall has been observed by deep submergence vessels.

The coverage does not occur quickly, but inevitably,unless eaten by other sea life.If the plastic is indigestible, it will simply become "roughage" and contribute to the deposits on the bottom.(Everyone needs a little fiber).

Future civilizations may discover a layer marking the "Human Boundary" calling it the HB Boundary, similar to the KT boundary, which will mark our passing into extinction.Or not.

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#21

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

05/11/2012 10:51 AM

HTRN, I like the title of your thread. Like others I have concerns with the powdered iron, but a plastic eating bacteria would be a good start. Thinking outside the box, how about using prison inmates to scoop up the garbage and haul it to land fills (chain gangs become net gangs). Or spray it with some king of foam, and plant palm trees on it (create Gilligan's Island out of it). [Duck, here it comes.]

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#24

Re: Turn Ocean Garbage Into A Food Chain Incubator

07/25/2012 5:56 PM
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