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Increase Earth's Biomass

Increase Earth's Biomass by re-engineering less productive zones
  [vote for,

A vaguely similar idea here is called "Mid-sea Rehab Conservatory," but is too limited and begins with the false assumption that oceanic dead zones are mostly human caused. Actually, many parts of the ocean have low biomass because they lack many of the major nutrients needed to sustain the growth and primary production (i.e., photosynthesis) of phytoplankton, on which most other life ultimately feeds. Ironically, while life began in the oceans, nutrients have a tendency to sink down to the bottom via gravity, away from the surface where photosynthesis can occur, so bottom life consists of scavengers and carnivores, not primary producers. Ocean primary production is high only in areas with shallow water-- continental shelves and coral reefs. It was only after life moved onto land, where the nutrients of dead organisms remain on the surface, that primary production, and hence biomass, could take on high values per unit area.

Rather than a specific proposal, this is an invitation for suggestions. If money was no object, how could we increase global primary production and hence biomass? (Of course, if the methods for this are not too expensive, it could partly be paid for by our ability to harvest for food some of the new life that otherwise wouldn't exist). This would be useful to counteract some of the human-caused loss of species diversity and habitat elsewhere in the world. Obviously irrigating desert areas on land is one possibility, and to some extent we've been doing this for years in limited areas. But can non-productive ocean areas be salvaged? Can we simply fertilize them with ships scattering the needed nutrients as a powder? Use pumps to bring deep-sea nutrients back to the surface? Some kind of inexpensive but semi-rigid structures floating on the water surface, or just under it, which marine organisms can attach themselves to or feed off off, catching the nutrients that would otherwise sink and be lost to the photic zone? Are there other possibilities I'm not thinking of here? Unleash your imaginations.

scottinmn, Jul 25 2012


       //Are there other possibilities I'm not thinking of here?//   

       Are there potential annotations I could be making here?
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 25 2012

       // Rather than a specific proposal, this is an invitation for suggestions //   

       Since you follow this clause with several tentatively couched suggestions of your own, why not remove this sentence, replace the question marks with periods, and elaborate a little upon your own ideas? Doing this would eliminate the inevitable 'm-f-d: call for list' that is sure to come, and it will also legitimize the ensuing mockery, both of which are good things.
Alterother, Jul 25 2012

       <rant>It's nice that someone besides me understands that the world's biomass is basically relatively constant, and humanity is playing a Zero Sum Game with it, such that the more we use to make more humans (and things humans need, like crops), the less biomass is available for all the other species out there. So, that's why we are currently in the biggest Mass Extinction of species since the large dinosaurs were wiped out.   

       While this Idea has some niceness to it, it is really only temporary. The amount of biomass that the world can support is related to the amount of sunlight that arrives. I would venture to guess that, after more than 3 billion years of organisms making biomass out of inorganic matter, the Earth has about as much as can be supported. Yes, there is the fact that the oceans represent a vast "desert" area where much sunlight goes wasted due to certain resources like iron, and so SOME increase in total biomass seems possible.   

       However, so long as the human population explosion continues, any extra biomass will eventually be converted into humans and human food sources, STILL leaving nothing for all those other species.   

       Which means the REAL solution, to stop the current Mass Extinction, is for humanity to stop breeding like a bunch of stupid animals.</rant>
Vernon, Jul 25 2012

       Perhaps a couple of really good wars will help the situation.
Alterother, Jul 25 2012

       Actually, I would disagree with the statement that the biomass of the Earth is constant, let alone that it is determined solely by the amount of sunlight it receives.   

       If the Earth's land area were populated densely with giant redwoods, the biomass would be huge. If it were populated solely with lichen, it would be much smaller.   

       The rate of energy turnover is pretty much tied to solar radiation in the long run, but that is a very different bicker of eels.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 25 2012

       If biomass is considered to be carbon-based, then there IS an upper limit - convert all carbon on earth into organic molecules of one sort or another. I don't thnk we're quite there yet, what with the living and dying and CO2 and rocks that contain carbon and...
But on the other hand, I tend to agree with part of [Vernon]s rant - the way we're going, the only living things will be humans or for human consumption (and eventually only humans, which will also be for human consumption...).
neutrinos_shadow, Jul 26 2012

       //inferior marbling//   

       The connoisseur speaks!
neelandan, Jul 26 2012

       [Alterother]: Feel free to consider it both a list of proposals I think *might* work, and a call for more; I've seen proposals on here where the annotations do offer better solutions to the same problem, I'm just asking for this more explicitly. And feel equally free to mock the proposals I've already made!   

       Specifically, consider the idea of some kind of low- cost membrane or floats at or just below the ocean surface that life could grow on, which I think is my most novel suggestion. Perhaps the waves would inevitably break this up; but what if it was made of newer nanomaterials with great strength? Or floated 30m below the surface, but spread out across many square miles as a kind of artificial submerged island? Would this still not work, or would it just look too silly?   

       [neutrinos shadow]: there's actually far more carbon in rocks, and for that matter readily available in atmospheric CO2, than is used by living organisms, so I think usable surface area, rather than carbon mass, is the limiting factor.   

       The driving tendency of land use is doubtless to convert it to human consumption; OTOH, when farming practices got more efficient, we were sometimes able to restore some wetlands, prairie, or forest we no longer needed to grow crops on, so I hold some hope that our appreciation of diversity and nature might justify some increase in the non-humanly-used biomass.
scottinmn, Jul 27 2012

       //Specifically, consider the idea of some kind of low- cost membrane or floats at or just below the ocean surface that life could grow on//   

       There's always the Gyres...   

       I believe dipping the seawater in vinegar first helps enormously.
not_morrison_rm, Jul 29 2012


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