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'Hacking The Earth' A New Technique Scientists Use to Fix Climatic Conditions

First Posted: Oct 21, 2013 10:48 AM EDT
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Some Canadian natives called Haida faced a depletion of salmon fishes in 2012, a crucial part of their diet. The natives took an initiative to bolster the population of these fish.

They joined hands with an American businessman and dumped a boat full of iron dust into the surrounding waters, which resulted in a spurt of algae population. This process is called ocean fertilization.

 The boom in the algal population consumes all the carbon dioxide present in the water and brings about a hike in the population of the fish.

But this drastic step taken by the Haida has enraged many scientists as this has a negative impact on the stratosphere, which is the second major layer comprising Earth's atmosphere.

This negative impact was termed as "world's first rogue geoengineering project" by the media, according to NPR.

The devastating change in the climatic conditions led the scientists to take some drastic steps like shooting chemicals into the stratosphere to shield the Earth from the harming effects of the Sun. This strategy is known as "hacking the climate".  

Jason McNamee, a spokesman for the group, which carried out the algae experiment said that it was aimed at protecting the Haida people living off the coast of Canada.

"They get most of their protein straight out of the ocean," McNamee says. "What they have noticed over the last hundred or so years is that the fisheries have become less predictable and less abundant."

The efficacy of this experiment in improving the condition of the ocean is still unknown, but the social and legal negative impact of this experiment are very clear. The Canadian government criticized this action, started an investigation and also took possession of all the data and documents from the headquarters of the company.

"So this is the really knotty problem," stated Matthew Watson, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol, "if that experiment had been solely about salmon, nobody would have batted an eyelid. But because it was really about geoengineering, people got very worried."

Geoengineering refers to skillfully understanding the environmental changes affecting a large are and the Earth's climate and then taking steps to rectify it.

These techniques are hit and trial methods with no guarantee of the outcome; ocean fertilization is just one of these methods.

"So this is the really knotty problem," says Matthew Watson, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol, "if that experiment had been solely about salmon, nobody would have batted an eyelid. But because it was really about geoengineering, people got very worried."

Cutting the levels of carbon dioxide and trying to make the Earth cooler are other techniques. These activities can be carried out by painting the roofs white or through volcanic aerosols, according to Watson. "You might do that by planting lots of trees or setting up machines that draw down CO2 and store it somewhere, or generating ocean fertilization where you add iron to the ocean and that generates phytoplankton, which locks up carbon dioxide," Watson told NPR. "The whole point is that you're trying to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and put it somewhere else."

The scientists have recommended various techniques to improve the condition of the environment, but they have not really checked the efficacy  of these techniques.

"For the most part we've got more questions than answers," Watson says. "It's a very emotive subject and a divisive subject. I can think of academics who agree on almost everything else in terms of science who are diametrically opposed on geoengineering."

According to Watson, most governments have been a little sluggish about the impact of climate engineering on the environment.

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