NIO proposes “iron fertilization” to fight global warming

February 17, 2022 | 05:03 IST

NIO proposes “iron fertilization” to fight global warming

At a time when the world is debating reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere to combat the threat of global warming, the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Goa has come up with a simpler geoengineering solution called iron fertilization, under which iron content can be artificially increased in the ocean to decrease carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere

Ray Shashwat Gupta

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 2021 held in Glasgow, Scotland, the countries of the United Kingdom discussed the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The formation of the US$130 trillion private equity Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero has been announced to accelerate the transition to a net zero economy and address climate change.

However, achieving zero emissions is a cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive process. As the world strives to reduce its carbon footprint through various means like using clean energy, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) NIO Laboratory, Goa has come up with a more geoengineering method. simple iron fertilization to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“We came to this conclusion by conducting a study on the lack of productivity in the ocean. Macronutrients like nitrates, phosphates and silicates are necessary for ocean productivity. It has been observed that 30-40% of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica and even the Arabian Sea, although having enough macronutrients, was not productive enough. Photosynthesis should have taken place and marine life should have thrived. But that was not the case. The researchers came to the conclusion that it was happening due to a lack of iron,” CSIR-NIO director Sunil Kumar Singh told the Herald.

For photosynthesis, the presence of iron is essential. If there isn’t, photosynthesis won’t take place, so ocean productivity won’t happen. But measuring the presence of micronutrients, such as Fe, was a very difficult task.

During photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) from the air and soil. This turns water into oxygen and carbon dioxide into glucose. The plant then releases the oxygen into the air and stores energy in the glucose molecules.

But there was not much information on the exact presence of micronutrients. Then a program was launched called GEOTRACES to work on micronutrient measurements in the global ocean. The Pacific and Atlantic oceans were analyzed by the western world. The Physical Research Laboratory, the National Institute of Oceanography and a few other laboratories have started working on the Indian Ocean with the help of the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

“I ran the program during my tenure at the Physical Research Laboratory. I continued this research after joining NIO. We started this work on a significant part of the Indian Ocean. We found that in the south and northwest of the Arabian Sea (near the Persian Gulf), the iron concentration was very low. This was happening partly because water from the Southern Ocean brought less iron into the Arabian Sea,” the NIO director said.

“There are areas of iron deficiency in the ocean, due to which marine productivity is less. By artificial seeding of iron, productivity can increase as it will enhance the process of photosynthesis in which plants draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere Simultaneously, it will remove CO2 from the atmosphere and tackle the problem of global warming,” he said.

Either you can put desert dust in the water or iron scrap or iron powder as part of this process. All the nutrients are in the water. Once you put iron in the water, productivity will increase and atmospheric CO2 will be converted into organic matter through photosynthesis. Such experiments have already been tried earlier and are underway in some parts of the ocean. We want to implement this strategy in the iron-poor region of the Arabian Sea,” Singh said.

There is, however, a flip side to the coin. Environmental NGOs like Greenpeace dispute this method because they believe it will increase marine pollution. Also, if there is too much productivity, it can lead to oxygen depletion in the ocean.

“This can be controlled by checking the impact on the marine ecology by conducting a pilot study in a part of the sea and then deciding what proportion of iron should be put in the water to serve the purpose without harming to marine life,” the NIO director said.

Teresa H. Sadler