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The Green Blog

Should scientists trap carbon dioxide?

February 28, 2011

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Excerpts from the Globe’s environmental blog.

Scientists are getting serious about one long-discussed possible solution to manmade climate change: fertilizing the ocean.

Researchers know that sprinkling the sea with iron creates plankton blooms that can absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

But while private companies have moved to seed the sea, scientists — especially those at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — have urged a far more measured approach.

Last week, an international consortium was launched with 12 universities and research centers around the world. The group hopes to raise up to $200 million in public and private funds. In addition to Woods Hole, the University of Massachusetts Boston and the University of Rhode Island are consortium members.

“Without good science, governments or corporations might move ahead with [iron fertilization] projects prematurely, particularly as carbon markets develop or climate change threats become more serious,’’ Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole, said in a statement.

His colleague Dennis McGillicuddy is also helping to organize the consortium.

Iron seeding is one of several “geo-engineering’’ schemes emerging as the world fails to lower emissions of greenhouse gases from cars, factories, and power plants.

Some scientists have suggested erecting giant mirrors above the earth to reflect the sun’s energy. Others want to drop sulfur particles from high-altitude balloons to do the same. But the ideas, including iron fertilization, are controversial. Some fear they would create other environmental problems or lead to weaker efforts to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Since 1993, there have been 14 open ocean fertilization experiments up to nine miles across. After researchers add iron to the sea, allowing the plankton to grow through photosynthesis, the plankton use carbon dioxide to create organic carbon, some of which sinks to the ocean’s depths, where it could remain for centuries.

The new consortium, ISIS (for in situ iron studies), wants to conduct far larger experiments of up to hundreds of miles across.

For more information: isisconsortium.org.

Beth Daley

Unplug and reboot On weekends, I try to stay offline, off the phone, and away from the TV, but I find it really difficult. I’m not the only one. The folks from Reboot and the Sabbath Manifesto have heard this complaint time and again and want to help.

For their second annual National Day of Unplugging, from sundown March 4 to sundown March 5, they have created an app that helps people of all faiths disconnect from technology. (And, yes, they understand the irony of using technology to disconnect from technology.)

The app is the opposite of Foursquare. Instead of checking in, the app allows you to check out, sending a message to friends and family that you will not be checking Facebook or replying to texts for the day.

Whether you use the app or not, the Sabbath Manifesto has 10 principles for its day of technological freedom — including drinking wine (number seven).

Others: Get outside (four) and connect with loved ones (two) while they avoid technology (one).

Reboot has teamed up with Volunteer Match this year to allow participants who want to give back (10) to find volunteer projects.

Dara Olmsted