10 Planet Hacking Schemes -- No. 3: Fertilize Some Ocean


Man, that's good plankton. But could it save the planet? (Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images)

For our next planet hacking scheme, we're taking geoengineering right back into the ocean. I know what you're thinking. What's next, right? Giant robotic squid that suck CO2 in with their tentacles of green fury? Some wonder chemical that makes the ocean more reflective? While I promise that the next entry will have robots in it, this entry is all about growing a ton of whale food in the sea.

Yep, we're talking about plankton, the tiny, primitive organisms that drift through the ocean, serving a bedrock role in the underwater ecosystem. What do these tiny plants eat? Well, carbon dioxide (CO2) for starters, a greenhouse gas that scientists point to as a key global warming agent. By dumping tons of iron filings into infertile oceans, geoengineers aim to promote a plankton population boom. As a bonus, the move might also boost fish populations.

Like other planet hacking schemes, ocean fertilization is decades away from being a significant option against global warming -- and the costs are high compared to the cost of cutting CO2 emissions. Also, as the Telegraph points out, dumping iron filings into the ocean without a permit is illegal under U.S. and U.K. law. Biologists have also heavily criticized the plan, demanding serious impact studies into the possible side effects of the measure.

It's worth noting that iron-related plankton blooms occur naturally, but still, can't you envision an ocean overpopulated with baleen whales who turn into land-crawling man killers after humans quit stirring up their all-you-can-eat buffet? Be sure to check out Sarah's excellent post on the issue for a more in-depth look at some of the hopes and concerns.

Check back later for a look at another ocean-based planet hacking scheme. For now, consider what we've covered so far or head on back to the HowStuffWorks.com home page. 10 Planet Hacking Schemes: No. 10: Foresting No. 9: Fake Plastic Trees No. 8: Reflective Crops No. 7: Space Mirrors No. 6: Stratospheric Aerosols No. 5: Giant Microwave No. 4: Add Limestone and Stir


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.