The Phytoplankton Experiment: A climate saver

A couple of days ago I remembered a show I saw on Discovery or National Geographic. I think it was a year ago…( I just remember things sometimes out of boredom, not that I do something that requires me to remember things…)

Anyway, it was about an interesting experiment related to the phytoplankton.Before you ask what this is, I’m going to quote from wikipedia:

Phytoplankton are the autotrophic component of the plankton community. The name comes from the Greek words φυτον (phyton), meaning “plant“, and πλαγκτος (planktos), meaning “wanderer” or “drifter”.[1] Most phytoplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye. However, when present in high enough numbers, they may appear as a green discoloration of the water due to the presence of chlorophyll within their cells (although the actual color may vary with the species of phytoplankton present due to varying levels of chlorophyll or the presence of accessory pigments such as phycobiliproteins,xanthophylls, etc.).

In simple English, that means they are a very small type of plants. So small you can’t see them! But they are very numerous. In fact, they are actually called “the invisible forest” because they are responsible for producing half of the atmospheric oxygen! They live in the oceans and seas, at the surface of them(because they need light to survive). In the Earth’s youth, cyanobacteria(a component of the phytoplankton) was responsible for the massive amounts of oxygen released in the atmosphere.

They are also extremely important for capturing that bad gas that affects us and helps the climate getting hotter- CO2. Like all plants, they breath CO2 and through photosynthesis they release oxygen. But again, like all plants, they die. Well, when they die, they still have in their bodies a small amount of CO2 that isn’t processed anymore, it’s trapped in the cell that will sink to the bottom. Being so numerous this process is actually happening at a gigantic scale. This CO2 doesn’t resurface for about 1000 years. It’s like a massive ecological pump.  No wonder they attracted scientists attention!

Even though they can practically live anywhere on the surface of oceans and seas, they’re much more effective when coming in packs, simply named “blooms” because of the greenish color they make when seen from above. But this occurs only near shores or places where deep underwater currents bring nutriments to the surface. After all, they have to be feed with something!

Phytoplankton bloom

Knowing this, scientists wondered whether it is possible or not to move those nutriments up to the surface through artificial ways that won’t affect the ecosystem. The answer was yes(I’m actually telling you the experiment I saw at TV now).

The Experiment

They thought about a simple mechanism, so simple in fact that it makes you wonder why they didn’t think about this in the past… The thing they used was a very long tube that stays in a vertical position. It has a valve at the bottom. But how it works ? Well that is simple: wave energy. When the tube is brought up by a wave, the force of gravity pushes the water down and the pressure created closes the valve. When the tube descends, water is forced out of the tube, spreading nutriments at the surface of the ocean. This creates a negative pressure that helps absorb more water with nutriments from the bottom. The cycle repeats.

They left these mechanisms in the ocean for some time, and then came back. The proof was there: an entire mini-ecosystem was created.

This is what happened: phytoplankton population started to grow in the presence of light and nutriments. This attracted very small animals that live by feeding on the phytoplankton. Fish that eat these small animals began to multiply. Even bigger fish that … ok, you get the ideea. So not only they are good for producing oxygen, trapping CO2, but they are also the base for a thriving ecosystem !

The whole idea?

The whole idea is about informing you and spreading the message! There are other means of reducing the pollution than just planting trees. Don’t get me wrong: we should plant as many trees as we can, because we consume a lot of wood anyway. But planting trees is a long-term solution to the pollution reduction. If we can place enough “pumps” like these in strategic locations, they will start working in a matter of days. I also read some time ago about other methods of increasing phytoplankton population like dumping dissolved iron in the water. But in some cases it just doesn’t work- it disrupts the chemical balance. The pump solution is a much more natural way of solving this.

We can hope for a better future as science evolves!


One thought on “The Phytoplankton Experiment: A climate saver

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s