February 20, 2011

Algae, Algae everywhere!

Remember when aerosols were all the rage? I do but as a reminder a portion of one of my post from last year titled:

Everyone thinks they are saving the planet

The absurdity of the entire AGW theory and the unintended consequences are sometimes both staggering and amusing. Consider this article from Popular Science "New Clean-Fuel Rules For Ships Could Actually Hurt the Environment". It discusses the seemingly very worthwhile new regulations to cut air pollution from the overseas shipping industry.
The regulations call for reducing the sulfur in shipping fuel—which is basically unrefined petroleum sludge—from 4.5 to 0.5 percent by 2020. Scientists project that this switch will cut sulfur-pollution-related premature deaths from 87,000 worldwide per year to 46,000.
Of course we want to reduce these known pollutants from the atmosphere...right? I mean it is all about man not leaving a mark on the ecosystem ...right? But not so fast there Eco Warriors:
But the sulfate aerosols spewing from supertanker smokestacks also produce planet-cooling clouds called ship tracks, which form when water droplets coalesce around sulfate particles. These clouds, which are big enough to be seen from orbit, reflect sunlight back into space, preventing the equivalent of up to 40 percent of the warming caused by human-produced carbon dioxide. “The IMO has done a good job addressing air-quality issues,” says Daniel Lack, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA. “But there’s a climate impact that wasn’t necessarily considered.”
So by cutting real pollution we in fact will be eliminating the mitigation of (imaginary) pollution -CO2. But that's not all !:
Worse, the fuel switch won’t improve ships’ carbon emissions—if the industry were a country, it would be the sixth-largest CO2 emitter. The IMO plans to regulate CO2, but until then, it might be best to leave well enough alone.
Got all that? Now consider that our Eco Warriors and their mad scientist allies have been so concerned that we are going to fry the planet by spewing evil CO2 into the atmosphere that they are regularly spending countless (tax payer) dollars investigating the possibility of spewing these same real pollutants into the skies to save us from the imaginary one.

So at the same time part of the Eco-scientific community is studying the negative affects of sulfate aerosols on the Earth:

Reductions of SO2 emissions in the 70-90% range should be required for both new and existing ships as soon as possible, but no later than 2015—
Another group of Eco-scientist is trying to figure out the best way to pump it back in.
We used a general circulation model of Earth's climate to conduct geoengineering experiments involving stratospheric injection of sulfur dioxide and analyzed the resulting deposition of sulfate. When sulfur dioxide is injected into the tropical or Arctic stratosphere, the main additional surface deposition of sulfate occurs in midlatitude bands, because of strong cross-tropopause flux in the jet stream regions. We used critical load studies to determine the effects of this increase in sulfate deposition on terrestrial ecosystems by assuming the upper limit of hydration of all sulfate aerosols into sulfuric acid. For annual injection of 5 Tg of SO2 into the tropical stratosphere or 3 Tg of SO2 into the Arctic stratosphere, neither the maximum point value of sulfate deposition of approximately 1.5 mEq m−2 a−1 nor the largest additional deposition that would result from geoengineering of approximately 0.05 mEq m−2 a−1 is enough to negatively impact most ecosystems.
And everyone thinks they are saving the planet and making a good buck in the process. Of course this is nothing new to us.
Please feel free to read the entire post as it gives a good reason to be very leery of organizations like the Novim Group who are all the rage lately for being behind the Berkley Earth Surface Group. But the point I wish to make is that when you base a theory on so many unknowns and pretend that this theory is fact, you are constantly in danger of being at cross purposes and contradicting yourself. Another example is algae.
In one study, NOAA scientists modeled future ocean and weather patterns to predict the effect on blooms of Alexandrium catenella, or the toxic "red tide," which can accumulate in shellfish and cause symptoms, including paralysis, and can sometimes be deadly to humans who eat the contaminated seafood.

"Our projections indicate that by the end of the 21st century, blooms may begin up to two months earlier in the year and persist for one month later compared to the present-day time period of July to October," said Stephanie Moore, one of the scientists who worked on the study.

But the impact could be felt well before the end of this century -- as early as 2040, she said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Having recently experienced an onslaught of the "Red Tide"  where I live here in Florida, it is not a pleasant experience. I personally could not go near the ocean for several week because it affected my breathing. So I in no way want to downplay the harm of "Red Tide" on peoples health or marine life, though I would point out that it is a natural occurring event which has been around predating by millions of years the invention of the internal combustion engine. The point I wish to make is that studies are being done trying to link this particular algae growth to man made global warming and of course painting a picture of gloom and doom.  The question though is increased algae good or bad ?

 The portion of the article which first caught my attention though was this:
In another study, NOAA scientists found that desert dust that is deposited into the oceans from the atmosphere could also lead to increases of harmful bacteria in seawater and seafood.

Researchers from the University of Georgia found that adding desert dust, which contains iron, to seawater significantly stimulated the growth of Vibrios, a group of ocean bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis and infectious diseases in humans.
The mention of desert dust stirred some brain cells in my tired old brain which led me back a short time ago when I read this in Science Daily:

Dust Storms In Sahara Desert Sustain Life In Atlantic Ocean

ScienceDaily (July 19, 2008) — Research at the University of Liverpool has found how Saharan dust storms help sustain life over extensive regions of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Well that seems like a good thing, doesn't it? According to this study it is a very good thing
They found that plants are able to grow in these regions because they are able to take advantage of iron minerals in Saharan dust storms. This allows them to use organic or ‘recycled’ material from dead or decaying plants when nutrients such as phosphorous – an essential component of DNA – in the ocean are low.

Professor George Wolff, from the University’s Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, explains: “We found that cyanobacteria – a type of ancient phytoplankton – are significant to the understanding of how ocean deserts can support plant growth. Cyanobacteria need nitrogen, phosphorous and iron in order to grow. They get nitrogen from the atmosphere, but phosphorous is a highly reactive chemical that is scarce in sea water and is not found in the Earth’s atmosphere. Iron is present only in tiny amounts in sea water, even though it is one of the most abundant elements on earth.

“Our findings suggest that Saharan dust storms are largely responsible for the significant difference between the numbers of cyanobacteria in the North and South Atlantic. The dust fertilises the North Atlantic and allows phytoplankton to use organic phosphorous, but it doesn’t reach the southern regions and so without enough iron, phytoplankton are unable to use the organic material and don’t grow as successfully.”
In case you did not know phytoplankton is a form of algae, which according to the study in 2008:
“These findings are important because plant life cycles are essential in maintaining the balance of gases in our atmosphere. In looking at how plants survive in this area, we have shown how the Atlantic is able to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the growth of photosynthesising plants.”
So here we have studies that are at cross purposes. On the one hand global warming will cause more desert dust which will create more bacteria causing human illnesses. On the other hand we have a study showing that those dust storms are essential to "maintaining the balance of gasses in our atmosphere" .

But we are not done there. My old memory was pricked a bit more when they mentioned iron in the water which led me back to this:

Green Algae Bloom Could Stop Global Warming
The researchers, aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Endurance, have found that melting icebergs off the coast of Antarctica are releasing millions of tiny particles of iron into the southern Ocean, helping to create huge ‘blooms’ of algae that absorb carbon emissions. The algae then sinks to the icy depths, effectively removing CO2 from the atmosphere for hundreds of years.

According to lead researcher, Prof. Rob Raiswell of Leeds University, “The Earth itself seems to want to save us.”

Scientists have known for some time that artificially created algal blooms could be used to absorb greenhouse gases, but the technique has been banned for fear of causing unforeseen side effects in fragile ecosystems. However, based on the UK team’s evidence that the process has been occurring naturally for millions of years, and on a wide scale, the UN has given the green light for a ground-breaking experiment later this month.
The team will seek to create a massive algae bloom by releasing several tons of iron sulphate into the sea off the coast of the British island of South Georgia. The patch will apparently be large enough to be visible from space...
So here we are again. Instead of sulphate in the atmosphere we now have scientist dumping sulphate in the oceans to create algae to stop global warming while other scientist are warning that increased algae caused by global warming is a health hazard. In addition we have another group of scientist telling us that the algae created by Saharan dust is dangerous while another group is telling us that it is essential to our very survival.

But it does not end there, it never ends, we have a whole other group of scientist telling us that algae is the possible solution to not only our energy needs but also a slolution to our sewage problems.

Using Algae to Clean Wastewater, Make Fuel
A wastewater treatment plant might seem like the last place to find a fuel for the future, but a team of researchers has done just that.

Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology are using algae grown in wastewater to produce biodiesel. They say the process is “doubly green” because the algae consume pathogens in the water even as they can be used to produce biofuel.....
Focusing on sewage is probably a good thing since returning to our original article on algae we are faced with this:
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee warned that an increase in severe rainstorms could cause more sewage overflows, which would release disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa into drinking water and onto beaches.

The researchers in this study used climate models to show that spring rains are expected to increase in the next 50 years, and with that increase, ageing sewer systems are more likely to overflow because the ground is frozen and rainwater can't be absorbed.
Perhaps if we quit spending so much money on these studies we could fix our aging sewer systems...just saying. After all in our warmer world we have to worry more about the frozen ground in springtime...right?

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