Ocean nourishment – odd geoengineering plan may still be best hope to stop ocean acidification and species die-offs

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The US Congress recognized the threat posed by ocean acidification in 2009 when it passed the FOARAM Act. That law called for a coordinated response by federal agencies to monitor the threat and also develop response strategies to counter the effects of the uptake of man made CO2 in ocean waters. Subsequently several government agencies, including NASA, NOAA, the EPA, and eight others collaborated to create the “Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification” to coordinate federal efforts. All of the eleven agencies involved have large or small research programs connected with ocean acidification. According to two reports published in 2014, one by the Working Group itself, and one a by the GAO, key goals called for by the FOARAM Act remain unaddressed. In short, sufficient funding, coordination, and information exchange remains lacking for a comprehensive response to this critical issue. At the start of 2016, the direction and ultimate success of government efforts remains obscure.

One worrisome outcome of the government’s slow response to date is that no comprehensive strategies to mitigate ocean acidification are under serious public discussion. While a great deal of research is under way to monitor the effects of OA, scaled strategies to combat it remain off the table. Obviously, reducing GHG emissions is fundamentally needed, but possible catastrophic effects on the ocean by GHGs already in the atmosphere pose a continued threat for at least hundreds of years. The need for larger scale testing of ideas that could help prevent ocean collapse appears pressing.

Natural ocean processes help store CO2 for immense periods of time. CO2 from the atmosphere mixes with ocean surface waters, then algae and plankton photosythesize some of the CO2 and results in flourishing ocean life. These tiny organisms at the bottom of the ocean food chain stimulate growth of fish and other marine populations. A byproduct is that a small part of atmospheric CO2 gets “exported” to the muddy sea floor, thus removing it for immense periods of time from both the atmosphere and biologically active ocean waters. Enhancing this process has been a much discussed way to help forestall global warming and ocean acidification, as well as increase fish stocks and other marine life.

A year ago this blog discussed ocean nourishment with nitrogen. It explained possible advantages of this approach and called for more research and testing. But scientific and public discussion of this and other ocean nourishment remains nearly taboo. One New Year’s resolution should be to not let another year pass before much greater attention and action is taken to explore this and other ways to save our oceans.

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