Whale Poop Cuts Carbon Emissions
The problem of global warming seems to be eliciting some strange and interesting responses from scientists. In another article, scientists are turning to the idea of basically injecting sunscreen into our stratosphere. The idea itself was based on a volcanic eruption, which had triggered another idea of injecting sulfur into our atmosphere.
We aren't the only ones who seem to be concerned with global warming, however. Australian researchers have found that whale poo in the Southern Ocean, yes whale poo, can do a whole lot of good for carbon emissions, cutting it by as much as 200,000 tons a year.
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There are approximately 12,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean. They defecate around 50 tons of iron per year into the photic zone, or the upper layers of the ocean. This is the zone where photosynthesis can occur and the feeding grounds of phytoplankton.
Phytoplankton love eating iron, and the whale poop itself can generate enough food for enough phytoplankton to take 1.3 million tons of carbon out of the atmosphere. Of this, 20-40% of the carbon sinks into the ocean, while the rest goes through the food chain once the phytoplankton are eaten.
This results in around 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide being taken out of the Earth's atmosphere thanks to there being enough whale feces for the phytoplankton to eat.
Whales have sometimes been called guilty by their association with carbon dioxide emissions. They can release an estimated 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year - the equivalent of approximately 40,000 cars! (Car emissions calculated on statistics from the United States Environmental Protection Agency).
The findings seem unintended. Speaking to weirdscience.ca, Steve Nicol of the Australian Antarctic Division said:
"Our research was actually looking at baleen (krill eating) whales and the iron that they release. The research was stimulated by some ideas raised by Victor Smetacek and we had the samples and the expertise here in Hobart to do the measurements necessary to test these ideas."