Letter to the Chair-Designate of the CEQ, Jan 23rd, 2009: Call for Ocean Research

Letter to Ms. Sutley Jan 23rd, 2009:

 Dear Ms. Sutley,

 Congratulations for being chosen to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  Like many, we are relieved that Mr. Obama has chosen real environmental leaders to guide the nation, and the world.

 I’m a concerned citizen, writing to highlight an aspect of climate change that is not discussed in the media and by virtually all environmental/anti-climate change groups, which, upon your consideration, you may also find of the highest importance. The current focus to stop climate change is alternative energy.  I absolutely agree, and yet my point is that “green energy” is necessary, but is not sufficient to stop climate change. Something more is needed, and I hope you recognize and action this need.

 What nobody says is that even if we did everything proposed today, even if we became totally carbon neutral today, the earth would continue to warm for centuries (albeit not as quickly) because of the (drastically) elevated levels of CO2 already in the air.  All the actions and carbon offsets in play today should be labeled, “We can mitigate global warming”. Even massive reforestation appears to be wholly insufficient, requiring 20 years to mature. Such mitigation may not prevent reaching the tipping point.  We need something soon to lower CO2 levels (not just emissions) to avoid the cascade effects anticipated — something to avoid the droughts, famines, hurricanes and underwater coastal cities that our children and generations that follow will most probably face.

We need research, not just on alternative energy, but on practical means of removing/sequestering atmospheric CO2, especially by the oceans. While most “geoengineering” proposals are wholly impractical, the oceans consume half of the atmospheric CO2, and they may be able to consume a lot more.   As it is, oceans are losing phytoplankton because of warming, increased acidity, and may be consuming even less CO2 ; there is NASA research to this point: (2003: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/10/06/MN31432.DTL).

 It is proven that fertilizing the southern oceans with microscopic amounts of iron allows phytoplankton to grow significantly, consuming profound amounts of CO2. It is called, the iron effect or iron hypothesis. The discoverer, oceanographer John Martin famously told his colleagues, “Give me half a tanker of iron and I’ll give you the next ice age.” 

 To clarify, I am not a proponent of massive ocean fertilization.  I am a strong proponent of massive research on the ocean carbon cycle, including such fertilization, as the lead (only?) candidate for effectively reducing atmospheric carbon. IMHO, ocean carbon-cycle research is the most important research we can do to actually ‘stop global warming’ for generations to follow.   Representative Stark of CA has said that  “Congress should support further research before deciding if iron fertilization is part of the long term solution”.  There is extremely limited research currently.

 We need our research dollars focused on the planetary problem at hand… Even as a science nut, I would vote to repurpose NASA from another moonshot and focus for awhile on a mission closer to home: research our oceans (satellites can play a big part). The missing element is a ‘Call for Ocean Research’. A billion dollars may be a cheap prices to see if the oceans can help prevent global warming and handing a changed planet to our children.   It is potentially the only practical way to STOP global warming. Please see my blog ( https://randz.wordpress.com/2006/09/20/the-possible-silver-bullet-for-global-warming-a-call-for-research-into-ocean-iron-fertilization/ ) for more information. 

 While the government has in the past funded small-scale (<~400 sq. mi) research (SOFeX ( www.mbari.org/expeditions/SOFeX2002/), etc.) through the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) www.unols.org, I would contend a vital priority is to launch extremely thorough (longitudnal) medium-scale field studies in terms of thousands of square miles of seeding. This scale is still a tiny percentage (.0001%) of the nearly 40 million square miles of ocean where seeding is thought to be able to have an effect (20-40% of all oceans, ref: http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/proceedings/01/carbon_seq/6b1.pdf .)

 There is plenty on information on the web, and you will find some researchers and environmentalists steadfastly opposed to even researching the idea.  Those that say it is not effective should admit that much is not known. I humbly propose that we responsibly, carefully and thoroughly answer the ‘safe and effective’ questions before ruling out a possible practical way to actually prevent the climate from changing.

 Personally, I am concerned that climate change may accelerate faster than most think, and that, facing a crisis, some country will seize upon iron fertilization as ‘the solution’ and start dumping iron into the oceans without the research and understanding to do it without ecological damage. If that country is China or Japan, we may have a larger conflict.  If we start serious research now, in future years we will know a great deal more.

 If you acknowledge the vital importance to find out if ocean seeding (or other oceanic approaches) can be safe and effective, how do get this into the national and global agenda and launch this moonshot?  Perhaps the Committee on Ocean Policy is an appropriate place to start?  I would appreciate a continued dialog on this topic, though I’m sure you are extremely busy, to say the least.

Thanks for your consideration,

 – Rand Wrobel

Alameda, CA

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