Close the loop.
July 23, 2006 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Maybe there's something to this plankton-as-panacea idea? "Gummy bear"-like sea creatures absorb great amounts of carbon before dying and sinking to the bottom of the sea. Previously on mefi: Sustainable oil and Oil from plankton.
posted by shownomercy (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The rate of carbon re-uptake here probably accelerates as atmospheric CO2 levels grow, but it's hard to imagine it will be fast enough to naturally prevent disaster (it hasn't prevented the present accumulation of greenhouse gases), and exploiting them to sink much more carbon than they already do sounds hard.

I.e., don't worry, we'll have our apocalypse.
posted by grobstein at 9:59 AM on July 23, 2006

Well, I'd look into doing something rather than just gleefully wait Mad Max-dom. (And, yes, yes, conservation. We need to do more, but it's not a solution.)
posted by absalom at 10:39 AM on July 23, 2006

I want to be optimistic about a future of atmospheric CO2 levels managed by deep sea plankton, but, like grobstein, I don't think it'd be fast enough to naturally prevent disaster. However, I'm sure our genetic meddling could produce some kind of super... or perhaps uber plankton monster that just sucks the hell out of any CO2 present.

But I don't know if there's people willing to do it just 'cause, ya know? Gotta have some kind of profit. I dunno if there's much market for plankton droppings, even if it is mostly carbon. Maybe if you could get these salps to make diamonds droppings? Whoa, that could solve a lot of problems: dent the diamond mining industry while riding the atmosphere of CO2.

But it's just internet speculations unless someone tries to do something about it. I'm thinking, however, this whole polluting the planet and using up one of those resources is one of those "can't have your cake and eat it too" scenarios.
posted by Mister Cheese at 10:50 AM on July 23, 2006

Not that I'm an expert, but everything I've ever read on the subject says that warming ocean waters are killing the coral reefs and then the plankton die off as a result. So in other words, we're hard at work on accomplishing the opposite.
posted by fungible at 12:07 PM on July 23, 2006

IMO we've probably already experienced the best years that humankind will ever get to experience, and that only in the first world.

If we don't completely wipe out human life on this planet over the next fifty or so years, we will be lucky if we all get to live a subsistence third-world life.

Maybe a few hundred years into the future, humans will have another opportunity to life the high life without destroying our essential ecosystems.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:23 PM on July 23, 2006

FFF, in fifty years we'll only really be starting to see the shifts. Climate is SLOW. And if things get unpleasant, they will likely be that way for centuries or millenia.
posted by Malor at 1:41 PM on July 23, 2006

"The plankton is dying." Thank you, Steven.
posted by ktoad at 2:12 PM on July 23, 2006

This is a somewhat old idea, but the wrong people haven't gotten their mits on it yet. I keep expecting the right-wing to start yammering about casting iron-fillings into the Antarctic Sea, but they haven't picked it up yet. I guess that carbon dioxide sequestration still has some legs. Next year's easy but wrong solution, perhaps?
posted by bonehead at 6:08 PM on July 23, 2006

What on earth makes you think climate is slow, Malor?

Take a yardstick and balance it on your finger. Note that it's a relatively stable sort of setup: you only need small shifts to keep it upright. But at some point it'll tip so far that you literally can not stop it from changing to its other stable state: on the floor.

Or take the duckweed analogy: if you have a pond and the infestation is doubling in size every day, you'll go to bed one night having noticed that half the pond is now covered and think it's time to do something, but by the time you get home the next day with the weedkiller, the pond is wholly covered and all your koi are dead.

Or the magnetic pole reversal, which appears to be a case where the poles are relatively stable for eons, then suddenly swap ends.

One big fart of methane gas from the permafrost areas of Russia and Canada, and we're toast.

And that's not to mention the threat of nuclear war when Kim Il decides that he's taking us all into the afterlife.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:13 AM on July 24, 2006

FFF, that's 'suddenly' in terms of geologic time... hundreds of years. What you're saying is completely accurate, but you're thinking about it in human time instead of climate time. (which is many times slower than geologic time).

You and I will not see the next stable climate state, whatever that happens to be. Our great-great grandchildren might. By the time we're old, the weather will probably just be getting bad.
posted by Malor at 12:19 PM on July 24, 2006

I do not understand why you think climate change can not be human-time sudden. Hell, how can you say climate time is slower than geologic time? Geologic time = the rise of the Rockies over millenia; climate time = the last ice age, not so long ago.

If the permafrost lands fart out their methane, we will see sudden climate change, as in near-instantaneous: one summer we'll have a heat wave, the next thing you know we won't have a winter and then it'll really start to cook.

And that's not to mention the problems should some dummy start lobbing nukes around.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:56 PM on July 24, 2006

Just for the record... I screwed up when I said climate time was slower than geologic... I meant exactly the opposite. I don't know where my brain went.
posted by Malor at 8:16 AM on July 27, 2006

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