05 December 2007

Using the Ocean for Global Cooling: Sea Spray, OTEC, and Gaia's Poppa

The ocean is intimately involved in the Earth's climate balance. Between the ENSO, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the thermohaline circulation, ocean evaporation and cloud formation, thermal convection, absorption and release of greenhouse gases, and other lesser known mechanisms, the oceans closely collaborate with the sun in controlling the climate of Earth.

Many influential (but typically unscientific) persons are concerned to the point of hysteria about the possibility of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW). To placate some of their concerns, several proposals for geoengineering projects have been put forward to mitigate "global warming." Giant space mirrors, flooding the atmosphere with particulate to block the sun, seed the ocean with iron to promote algae growth etc etc.

Two large scale projects involving the ocean might actually prove of benefit to particular regions of the planet:

Both of those proposals have considerable merit, and will probably be implemented on a larger scale within the next 10-15 years. John Latham's sea spray idea, as implemented by Stephen Salter, has significant potential to bring needed rain to very dry coastal areas of the world, where arable farm land is scarce. OTEC's long list of benefits is likewise impossible to ignore.

Now, James Lovelock--father of "Gaia", professor of Green College, Oxford--is proposing placing 10,000 10-metre diameter pipes in the Gulf of Mexico to pump cool water to the surface from 100 to 200 metres in depth. He suggests that this will "fertilise algae in the surface waters and encourage them to bloom, absorbing carbon dioxide greenhouse gas while also releasing a chemical called dimethyl sulphide that is know to seed sunlight reflecting clouds." (via Fatknowledge)

Lovelock no doubt means well, and his idea is certainly consistent with the CAGW hypothesis that is so prominent in the media and less informed political circles. But it is not likely to accomplish anything of worth--particularly in comparison to the other approaches listed above.

In another, less enlightened age, people like Lovelock would probably be spending their time walking along a seashore, mumbling to themselves, doing no harm. In our more enlightened age, Lovelock is still doing no particular harm, which is a good thing. Even if tens of hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted investigating his proposal, at least he is not selling crack to school children, or strapping suicide bombs onto the torsos of religiously intense youths.

It is clear that on the merits, generating rainfall over arid deserts, and providing plentiful renewable energy while creating freshwater for drinking and irrigation, are both more important than growing large numbers of algae--whatever the putative benefits of removing CO2 from the atmosphere that are claimed.

Lovelock is an academic who, like so many academics, is cast loose from any meaningful ties with real-world needs. Coddled, tenured, assured of his "specialness", he has no incentive to generate any relevant solutions or ideas. So he does not. Pity.

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Blogger Thomas Bjelkeman said...

For more information about OTEC check out OTEC News at http://www.otecnews.org/

Friday, 07 December, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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