Some of my earlier postings discussed ocean fertilization as a means of geo-engineering remediation to address rising carbon dioxide levels and global climate change. Now here's a really interesting, if slightly icky realization: Sperm whale poo may be a vital part of keeping the seas vibrant and healthy!
Vital Giants: Why living seas need whales: It seems that each whale takes iron from the depths where they feed and scatter it above, fertilizing the sea and removing CO2. Indeed, whales may be even more important than that, creating turbulent areas that mix nutrient-rich cool (lower) waters with sunlit but barren shallows -- in an exact parallel with proposals that we emulate this on a big scale. Some think the seas were more fecund with life before humans almost eliminated the top of the food chain through whaling... then stepped back from the brink in time to save not only the great behemoths, but (in time, as their numbers recover) vast swathes of rejuvinated ocean. We can hope.
And now supporting evidence: Scientists solve a 14,000 year old mystery: At the end of the last Ice Age, as the world began to warm, a swath of the North Pacific Ocean came to life. During a brief pulse of biological productivity fourteen millennia years ago, as Ice Age glaciers began to melt and sea levels rose, they submerged the surrounding continental shelf, washing iron into the rising sea and setting off a burst of life.
Oh! consider this. When global sea rise starts inundating coastal cities, won't that add lots of iron and calcium and other important nutrients, as well?
Regarding the ocean zones suffering from nutrient-based choking -- the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Gulf of Mexico -- these represent pictures of Gaia in trouble. Hypoxia and algal blooms are associated with decreased total biomass (and carbon). They also lead to increased emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas. These regions are sick places, but they all share the trait of bad drainage… just like realms like the ancient Fertile Crescent, where primitive and ill-thought kinds of irrigation spread salts without washing them away to sea. Fertilization in the open ocean is unlikely to lead to hypoxia which is typically found in enclosed waters such as lakes or partially enclosed waters such as bays and gulfs.
So each zone calls for different kinds of intervention. (Assuming all is tested, experimentally validated and proved safe.) In some well-drained ocean zones with fast currents, go ahead and stir in iron and other nutrients, or use wave power to stir upward nature's own nutrients from below the thermalcline, imitating the wise intervention of whales. Let's at least find out if that would both remove atmospheric carbon and spur new fisheries.
Considering the Gulf of Mexico and Black Sea are suffering from a lack of oxygen, why not set up floating windmills to push air underwater? As you do for a fish tank. Tell me how that isn't at least worth trying?
== Oh, but who will thrive if the oceans rise? ==
A perennial topic is the recurring libertarian fantasy of creating "sea-steads" or sovereign "nations" somewhere beyond the reach of today's meddlesome, busybody legacy states. I've long been fascinated by this notion going back to childhood and still feel its draw, which especially pervades the community of science fiction authors. Indeed, I have portrayed such havens taking shape in EARTH (1989) in EXISTENCE (2012) and in online essays comparing the notions of Seasteading to Shoresteading and free-moving alternatives like Sea-State.
Naturally, big-thinkers have tried to make dreams real. The oldest and most famous of these experiments is SeaLand, a former WWII anti-aircraft platform, seven miles off the English coast, that has been the site of comic-opera posing for more than 50 years. Now an article by James Grimmelmann takes you on a tour of how attempts at creating pirate radio… then data… havens have never worked out as utopian dreams collide with the real world.
And while we're talking about advantages of living with the sea… According to a new study, after iodized salt was introduced in America in 1924, there was an increase in IQ of 15 points in iodine-deficient areas.
Alas, as Paula Luber points out: "The scary thing is, iodine consumption in the U.S. has dropped by 50% in the last 30 years. When we were young, our moms cooked our meals with liberal use of iodized salt, and commercial bakeries used iodine as a dough conditioner - one slice of wonderbread and you had the RDA for iodine. Now bakeries use bromine in place of iodine - bromine has no known use in the body, but does block iodine binding, making the situation even worse." So is idiocracy coming… because "I… oh… iodined all alone…"
== Speaking of which ==
An interesting article in the Economist, The Curious Case of the Fall in Crime, documents the stunning drop in crime in the western world: "Last year there were just 69 armed robberies of banks, building societies and post offices in England and Wales, compared with 500 a year in the 1990s. In 1990 some 147,000 cars were stolen in New York. Last year fewer than 10,000 were … "
Cherished social theories have been discarded. Conservatives who insisted that the decline of the traditional nuclear family and growing ethnic diversity would unleash an unstoppable crime wave have been proved wrong. Young people are increasingly likely to have been brought up by one parent and to have played a lot of computer games. Yet they are far better behaved than previous generations. Left-wingers who argued that crime could never be curbed unless inequality was reduced look just as silly."
They don't mention the coincidental elimination of lead in gasoline, which correlates with low IQ and violent crime. Nor do they mention the "abortion effect" that legalized abortion abruptly increased the ratio of kids were were actively wanted by their parents, another proposed explanation for the fall in crime, about 17 years later.
Well, well. There are many theories for why intelligence seems to have been (to gradually!) rising in the industrialized world -- The Flynn Effect. And why we seem to be getting (too slowly!) a bit calmer too. (See my own small role in getting the lead out of our air.) Our descendants will know a hundred other factors and shake their heads over our tragic inability to notice what should have been obvious!
That is… if we only had a brain...
== Science Stuff! ==
Ultrasound vibrations applied to the brain may affect mood and potentially could lead to new treatments for psychological and psychiatric disorders.
It's known as the Hum, a steady, droning sound that's heard in places as disparate as Taos, N.M.; Bristol, England; and Largs, Scotland. What causes the Hum, and why it only affects a small percentage of the population in certain areas, remain a mystery.
3-D printed rocket parts have the potential to save NASA and industry money and to open up new affordable design possibilities for rockets and spacecraft. Now engineers have tested rocket parts critical to engine combustion in a hot-fire environment.
And finally, having just passed the annual Moon Landing Day (July 20) I am reminded that Robert Heinlein suggested future generations will mark their calendars from the moment Neil Armstrong said "Tranquility Base, the Eagle has landed." Following that proposal, have a look at the "Tranquility Calendar" which is far too sensible for ornery humans ever to adopt.
University of California San Diego neuroengineers have developed a real-time electrochemical biosensor that can alert marathoners, competitive bikers, and other “extreme” athletes that they’re about to “bonk,” or “hit the wall.”
Use of "phages" or viruses to attack diseases or pests has long been promised. Now one crop devouring moth is in the cross-hairs.
It happens daily. A tsunami of good things. While we spend most of our time either complacent or ... whining.