Episode 539 Is Swamp Gas in Our Future?

In geologic history, extinctions have occurred after high levels of atmospheric CO2, when oceans are stratified and archae were well fed and proliferated, producing hydrogen sulfide, a poison often called “swamp gas.” Here Franz Oeste, Brian von Herzen and Paul Beckwith discuss the possibility that current conditions on earth are leading to such an extinction. They are not much worried, believing that the proliferation of phytoplankton will help cool the planet, and it is the heat that causes ocean stratification, which is the condition necessary for these other dire conditions to arise. For the video, audio podcast, transcript, and comments: https://tosavetheworld.ca/episode-539-is-swamp-gas-in-our-future


Franz Oeste

Paul Beckwith

Brian von Herzen


ocean, stratification, produces, phytoplankton, upwelling, oxygen, surface, important, winds, kelp forest, Antarctic, bottom, fertilization, whale sharks, fish, whales, hydrogen sulfide, methane, marine


Franz Oeste, Paul Beckwith, Brian von Herzen, Metta Spencer


          Metta Spencer introduces the concept of “euxinia,” a potentially catastrophic event caused by the emission of hydrogen sulfide gas from the ocean floor. This gas is produced by microorganisms called archaea that thrive in the absence of oxygen. Previous extinction events have been caused by the emission of hydrogen sulfide gas. The current trend toward greater ocean stratification may increase the risk of euxinia occurring in the future. The top layers of the ocean have life in them, but as the ocean gets stiller, at the bottom there’s less oxygen, and various things can happen to the thermohaline currents that oxygenate the bottom of the ocean. So potentially, within our lifetime, we may be at risk of having archaea produce large amounts of hydrogen sulfide. That possibility is what I want us to discuss today.

       Spencer says: I wanted to include Paul Werbos and Peter Ward in this conversation, since they have previously expressed concern about the possibility of euxinia, but they cannot be with us today. However, I recommend that everyone watch these two videos, which explain the reasons for Werbos’s and Ward’s concerns about euxinia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvteE6smrF0.  And:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA4eAs6UvqU


   Dr. Brian von Herzen explains the importance of restoring natural upwelling to provide natural nutrients to the deep ocean. The loss of kelp forests is a major concern, as they play a crucial role in creating healthy ecosystems in the ocean. He notes that 90% of global warming goes into the ocean, and it has a profound effect on stratifying most of the oceans. However, hydrogen sulfide is not a cause, but an effect of a natural process. In a salt marsh or peat bog there are healthy oxidizers that not only produce oxygen in the top layer; the next layer down are the sulfide oxidizers. And below that are methanotropes – a whole cascade of healthy organisms that exist in sediments. These also exist in major basins of the ocean.

       There are also naturally occurring anoxic deep bodies of water, such as the Black Sea, but we need to pay attention to the creation of Antarctic bottom water and North Atlantic deep water, which are two major oxygen sources for the world oceans. We also should track the fertilization of our near-shore waterways, where eutrophication is common – the excess of nutrients, of biological production, and the loss of oxygen.

       However, there’s bigger problem of global warming and ocean stratification. About 99% of the subtropical and tropical ocean is suffering from the opposite problem: oligotrophication – that means not enough nutrients. And that’s because when the ocean stratifies, it creates an energy barrier to natural outflow. And our natural upwelling that’s occurred in previous decades, is much harder to continue with an energy barrier of global warming. Natural upwelling is essential to ensure primary production in the ocean and healthy amounts of oxygen in the deep water.

       Ocean stratification, which is a result of warming, has negative consequences for marine life, so upwelling, the process by which deep water comes up to the surface due to wind stress, is essential to maintain ocean health. The increase in stratification in the subtropical and tropical oceans over the last 60 years has led to a decrease in primary production of algae and a loss of marine species.

       It is important to keep the ocean oxygenated, with appropriate levels of nutrient availability in the top 100 meters of the ocean for the marine plants that produce half of the planet’s oxygen.

       Brian von Herzen highlights the need to work toward pre-industrial levels of primary productivity in the subtropical and tropical oceans. The panelists discuss different methods to reduce stratification, including the fertilization of the ocean with iron to stimulate phytoplankton blooms, which aids in vertical mixing and reduces stratification. Naturally occurring events like dust blowing from deserts continuously fertilize the oceans.

       Brian von Herzen is working in the western Pacific Ocean to restore natural upwelling, get seaweed production back on track, and regenerate the last kelp forests. We’ve lost 3000 square kilometers of kelp forest in North America and Australia alone over the past century. So just getting back to pre-industrial levels of healthy kelp forests is a challenge. We need to ensure there’s enough overturning circulation near Antarctica and near the Labrador current in the North Atlantic to ensure healthy amounts of oxygen in the deep water.

       Metta Spencer asks what needs to happen to keep the water stirred up so that the bottom and the top layers interact frequently. Brian explains that it’s mostly “wind stress.” When wind blows offshore, it tends to move the surface water away from the shore, and then the deep water comes up to take its place. That occurs off the shores of Canada, Antarctica, and in other places as well. That produces a lot of fish.     

        Brian von Herzen notes the challenges posed by freshwater from melting Greenland ice sheets and its impact on the Gulfstream, leading to local cooling in Europe. Paul Beckwith emphasizes the need to distinguish between global circulation patterns and regional ones on coastlines. He also comments that there is no evidence that humans can cause a hydrogen sulfide event or oxygen depletion in the deep ocean sea floor due to fertilization at the surface. The group emphasizes that restoring natural upwelling can help local coastal communities and reduce ocean stratification by cooling the surface of the water. They also discuss the need for large areas to be restricted from fishing to increase the abundance of life in the oceans.

       Brian von Herzen suggests a comprehensive approach to mitigate the effects of climate change, including refreezing the Arctic and increasing marine protected areas. The group recognizes the potential benefits of marine cloud brightening, which involves increasing the extent and brightness of marine clouds to reflect more sunlight and cool the ocean surface.

       The panelists discuss marine spatial planning and the goal to protect 30% of the ocean from overfishing by 2030. They advocate creating a checkerboard of marine protection and sustainable harvesting to maintain biodiversity and ensure there is enough fish to feed growing populations. They also discuss the need to protect migration routes for species, both on land and in the oceans. They mention the importance of whales in vertical mixing and nutrient cycling, with whale poop containing iron that is essential to the biosphere. They also note that whale carcasses on the ocean floor provide a habitat for benthic sea life.

       The conversation then turns to the use of aerosols in the atmosphere and the potential effects on the ozone layer. While aerosols in the troposphere are rained out quickly, aerosols in the stratosphere can have a longer-lasting effect on the atmosphere. It is important to use the right type of aerosol for cloud brightening to avoid darkening snow and ruining the albedo. The speakers emphasize the need to use safe aerosols far away from urban areas.



This is a machine-generated transcript that may contain errors. Do not cite it without checking for yourself by watching the video and catching any obvious errors.

Metta Spencer  00:00

I’m Metta Spencer, well, I just learned a new word called Euxenia. And it’s about a horrible fate that I hope we never encounter, obviously. But I never knew the word until today, although I knew the idea. And the idea is a new thing for you to worry about if you haven’t got enough, and that is that there are little bugs or micro organisms at the bottom of the ocean, that live in the absence of oxygen. And those guys are pretty dangerous, because they can produce hydrogen sulfide, which is just about the most poisonous gas you can think of, at least, it’s enough to kill us all. Because in fact, according to people who studied previous extinction events, five or more times in the past, the world has almost lost our life forms because these things have happened to kill off plants and animals both. And one of the worst was the emissions of hydrogen sulfide gas from the oceans. And those came from these little guys called archaea, I guess. And they are little critters that live without oxygen. So you want to keep your the bottom of your ocean full of a lot of oxygen so these guys can’t take over. But nowadays, what is happening is that we have possibly the beginning of the so called stratification of the ocean, in which the top layers of the ocean have life in them. But as the ocean gets stiller and stillar and at the bottom, there’s less and less oxygen, various things can happen to the thermohaline currents that turn cold water and oxygenated water into the bottom of the ocean. So we are potentially, within our lifetime, are going to be at risk of having these little guys produce large amounts of hydrogen sulfide. And some people believe, especially it’s especially the case if they are fed well by the fertilization of the ocean through runoff from agriculture, and possibly through other means of feeding the phytoplankton by, for example, spreading iron filings in the ocean. Various other means can feed these archaea and use them to produce a lot of hydrogen sulfide. So you’re supposed to worry about that now, but we don’t know enough to decide whether we really should worry or just give it a thought now and then. So I have invited some people together today who have thought about this kind of issue, and are doing things in their own work that may have a bearing on it. Although I would have liked very much to have two other friends with me who specialize in talking about these extinction events, and the especially the role of hydrogen sulfide in causing them, and they are Paul Werbos. I’m going to put at the end of the show links to two short videos that he has made, which explain much better than I could or have ever heard anybody else explain what this euxenia business is all about. So Paul Werbos can’t make it today. And the other person whom he reveres for his research, along the same lines is Peter Ward, who’s a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. And Peter Ward can’t make it either. But they both think along the same lines, I think. And so I’m going to put the link to the videos that Paul Werbos has made at the end so you can watch those for yourself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvteE6smrF0.  And:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA4eAs6UvqU

Now I’m going to tell you about these two, three important people who can educate me a little bit I hope today, because they’re all climatologists are doing something very relevant to this kind of concern. Franz Oeste is a scientist on the atmospheric and oceanographic issues, and he’s been working on methane removal. And I believe iron fertilization in the oceans. He is in Germany, someplace. Where are you? You’ve told me where you live in Germany.

Franz Oeste  04:59

So about 50 kilometers, north of a Frankfurt’s. Near the nice town of Marburg.

Metta Spencer  05:14

Thank you. Okay, now we know and Paul Beckwith is much closer to me. He’s in Ottawa a few hundred miles away. And he’s a climatologist, and a video maker par excellence. He makes, you know, big videos every week about the climate. They’re very stimulating, and well he really knows what he’s talking about. And in Australia, where it is now something like eight a m, is Dr. Brian von Herzen, who is the Executive Director of the Climate Foundation, which has offices in the US as well as in Australia. But he has a man who is the kelp expert, or the seaweed expert, Because he’s believing in and very actively engaged in creating kelp farms in the ocean, which have many advantages to them, and you will tell us about them. Okay, now, I have probably already misinformed everybody completelym so I’m going to ask Brian, if you will straighten out the many mis-Information items that I have perpetrated before we get going. Because I think you want to create some definitions and so on. You folks are perfectly welcome to interrupt each other. And I’m going to just sort of sit back and listen, most of the time. Brian?

Brian von Herzen  06:52

Oh, thank you, Metta. It’s good to be here today and happy to discuss this important topic, it’s important to understand that if we do nothing other than business as usualm we’re on track to collapse civilization over the next century. And sadly,  90% of global warming is going into the oceans and it has a profound effect on stratifying most of the oceans, but not all of the oceans. And that’s an important distinction, for us to to get into later. Also, it’s important to understand that hydrogen sulfide is not a cause, but it’s an effect. It’s a natural process. If you go to your favorite salt marsh or peat bog or something else, you’ll see there plenty of healthy oxidizers that not only produce oxygen in the top layer; the next layer down are the sulfide oxidizers. And below that you’ve got the methanotropes. And so you’ve got a whole cascade of healthy organisms that exist in sediments. They exist in salt marshes, and they also exist in major basins of the ocean. And that’s a natural process. For example, the Black Sea, pre-industrial and pre-historically, Black Sea has been anoxic, throughout most of its depth. Now, the surface layers host lots of fish, like the ones depicted behind me right now. They host sardines, so there’s plenty of healthy ocean on the top one or 200 meters and even the deep ocean, as you know, it’s anoxic. But it represents a carbon sink where the carbon that drops into the Black Sea remains there, because there is no oxygen. The ships that sank 2500 years ago and found by Ballard and others, to be intact. These are wooden ships, where you can still see the grains of wood on the ships. That’s how intact they are. So it represents a true blue carbon sink. And it’s not only the Black Sea, but in the Cariaco basin in South America, and even the Santa Barbara Channel, in in California is anoxic most of the time. And those represent areas that are naturally anoxic and have been for 1000s, if not millions of years. So it’s important to understand that natural process that said oxygen is very important in the ocean. And it’s something that we need to pay attention to. And I think that’s understanding the creation of Antarctic bottom water and North Atlantic deep water, which are two major oxygen sources for the world oceans is extremely important. Also, I think it’s helpful to define you mentioned fertilization that happens from rivers, it’s when fertilizer goes into the ocean. And simply understanding that ocean fertilization is about adding fertilizer to the ocean, it’s important to track and in our near-shore waterways, whether it’s the Mississippi River or the inland coastal waterways, et cetera. Eutrophication is about when you’re adding a lot of nutrients to the ocean, and that 1% of the ocean that’s very close to shore, in many places can suffer from too many nutrients, too much biologic production and and a loss of oxygen. That’s called a a biological oxygen demand that occurs to just decompose to eat the carbohydrates, if you will, that involves oxygen to respire and to produce co2. So that’s important to understand near the coast. However, the bigger problem of global warming and ocean stratification 99% of this of the subtropical and tropical ocean is suffering from the opposite problem. And that is oligotrophication – that means not enough nutrients. And that’s because the ocean stratifies, and it creates an energy barrier to natural outflow. And our natural upwelling that’s occurred in previous decades, is much harder to continue with an energy barrier of global warming. And so it’s really about restoring natural upwelling to provide the natural nutrients that occur in the deep ocean. That’s the challenge and opportunity, and what is the focus of much of our work in the western Pacific Ocean to restore natural upwelling, get seaweed production back on track and regenerate the last kelp forests. We’ve lost 3000 square kilometers of kelp forest in North America and Australia alone over the past century. So just getting back to pre industrial levels of healthy kelp forests will be a challenge and an opportunity that represents macro algae. And there’s similar challenges for micro algae, and those are the little plankton near the surface that are produced. Well, more than half of the oxygen produced each year is arguably from marine plants, the other half being from terrestrial plants. So this is the other lung of the Earth is in fact, the plants that grow in the ocean. And that’s an important recognition that we need healthy ecosystems. And getting back to healthy climate means ensuring restoring enough natural upwelling to ensure that we’ve got that primary production and to ensure there’s enough overturning circulation near Antarctica and near the Labrador current in the North Atlantic to ensure healthy amounts of oxygen in the deep water. And tracking those over time?,So I think those are a few background, bits of information.

Metta Spencer  11:54

Let me clarify just one thing. You’re referring to upwelling. I think everybody that I’ve read on this subject really has the top causal link attributed to ocean stratification – that when the ocean gets stratified, various bad things can happen. That is a precondition for any of these other terrible things. And you mentioned upwelling. And I hope that at some point during this conversation, you explain to me how that works. What needs to happen to keep this water stirred up so that the bottom and the top layers have some interaction every frequently.

Brian von Herzen  12:40

Okay, and that’s a great question and to answer that question, it’s mostly about wind stress. When wind blows offshore, let’s say off the east coast of Canada, for example. It tends to move the surface water away from the shore, and then the deep water comes up to take its place. And that occurs off the shores of Canada, it occurs off of Antarctica, and it occurs in other places as well. So a normal amount of wind stress, can normally do its job and provide upwelling in various regions off our shores. And that produces a lot of production and a lot of fish, which is very, very important. When you have stratification, when you have where a layer of warm water that’s less dense, it increases the energy barrier to that natural upwelling. And that’s what we’re seeing in many parts of the world. In fact, if I am able to share a slide with you, I have a picture of the world ocean stratification and whatnot that I could potentially share with you, please. This is a slide from a peer-reviewed paper in Nature, climate change. It shows a schematic of the world oceans. And the Southern Ocean, which is very important for oxygen production is down here, represented by the cylinder depth is the vertical axis. So the deeper you go, the deeper you go in the ocean. Here’s the Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean. And the red zones represent stratified regions of the ocean. And you’ll notice that in the tropics, five to 20%, stratification occurs at depths of up to 200 meters. That’s the kind of barrier to upwelling that we’re talking about in the tropics. But even seasonally in temperate latitudes, you can see stratifications of five to 20%. And that’s a big deal. Now, right near Antarctica, you notice it’s blue, that’s actually more upwelling. And it’s you know, it’s less stratification, which is good, because that means that’s part of the way that we produce more oxygen in the deep water. So this is an example of a challenge that’s been developed. And this is over the last 60 years, the increase in stratification of the subtropical and tropical oceans and why restoring natural upwelling is so important.

Franz Oeste  14:50

Wonderful, thank you. In the in the Antarctic, for instance, there is a process which also mentioned by Werbos. Yes. That’s winter is production which produces a dense salt solution and this is very heavy and takes the oxygen to the bottom of the sea. The less winter _____ you have, the less oxygen you’ll get into the depths. That’s a thing I would would like to mention that could be a problem.

Brian von Herzen  16:03

When you have salty water it’ll sink faster. So doesn’t the creation of the the cold salty water near the surface facilitate the formation of Antarctic bottom water?

Franz Oeste  16:15

Yes, and it spreads into the Atlantic and also into the Pacific and the intake of

Brian von Herzen  16:24

Agreed. Yeah, so that’s a key part of Antarctic bottom warmer water formation. It’s cold and it’s salty, and it produces huge amount of —

Franz Oeste  16:35

What I wanted also to commeny upon Paul’s videos which  you will  give the links to  is: Indeed, the problem is,  if you have a surface layer which is produced by sudden production of hot climates, this hot surface layer must be fertilized and the whole ocean to get a huge depletion of oxygen and so called euxinia. But in the moment we have that and not in the ocean. In the the main parts of the ocean we have the opposite, like Brian said, which you can see from the satellite. You have dark blue ocean with no filter phytoplankton. That’s the problem at the moment. So I don’t think we are at the moment in the process of getting euxinia.

Metta Spencer  17:21

Okay, thank you.

Franz Oeste  18:14

And the extinctions  in the past they indeed had often huge volcanic events with a huge production of co2, methane, and even chlorinated methane emissions in the atmosphere farther from the event there were massive methane and co2 emissions which spread all over the planet and heated the ocean surface up to 38 degrees. And that made huge amounts of ash. And you know, if if there’s ash fallen on on a white surface, the the albedo is reduced and the heat is brought to the surface. These are the problems and these events must not only come mostly come from huge volcanic events, but in the Ordovician we had a similar process where we got a cosmic dust event from in the == how do you call it? My English is so bad. In the in the ___ system we have these small particles which they happened…

Paul Beckwith  20:40

The aerosols I think you’re saying.

Franz Oeste  20:42

And a lot of meteorites fell down and entered into the earth and a lot of dust and this indeed produced fertilization of the ocean also and covered also the there was an ice age and large ice sheets and they were covered also by this dust. And you can imagine:  it melted down very fast and the meltwater is a freshwater which also makes a large layer on the on the salty water of the ocean and with all these ashes in the surface and this heating from the albedo reduction possibly this was the cause of this extinction, but it had been not so massive like the ___.  These volcanic events turned into layers of organics, and coal and carbonates and produced therefore, an additional amount of methane and co2 and  also salt layers, which then probably produced chlorinated methane.

Brian von Herzen  22:47

Yes, so Franz has accurately described the conditions leading up to the Permian mass extinction, which was a major thermal increase, resulting in warming and stratification of surface ocean that resulted in a loss of production, because you’d have a loss of nutrients, or the marine plants. And then that loss of oxygen ultimately led to loss of oxygen throughout the ocean, and ultimately a loss of 96% of all marine species. So it’s a major climate cataclysmic event. And so keeping the ocean oxygenated is very important. But also having appropriate and pre industrial levels of nutrient availability in the photo zone – the top 100 meters – is essential for the second lungs of our planet. And that is the plants – the marine plants that are producing half the oxygen production each year on “Ocean Planet Earth,” we should call it because in many ways, climate is the ocean. The ocean has such a huge effect on our climate, we have to be cognizant of what it’s doing.

Metta Spencer  23:55

Okay, I’m pretty sure that neither Ward nor Werbos would object to having a of life in the upper layers of the ocean (and that is fertilization) unless there was also a stratification of the ocean. It’s a combination of the two that worries them. The  possibility of stratification worries you too, because that’s why when you create your kelp farms, you try to  pump up water from the depths in order to feed them because there’s nutrients still in there. And you bring it up to the surface to feed your kelp.

Brian von Herzen  24:41

The kelp are autotrophs, but they take natural upwelling and they use those nutrients to grow. And it’s important to recognize that is not ocean fertilization because these nutrients are already in the ocean. So we’re not adding any nutrients to the ocean. But this is a natural process and actually getting us back to pre industrial levels of upwelling. Weighing in pre industrial levels of primary productivity in the subtropical and tropical ocean is essential. Some papers over the last few decades have shown that with 20% increase in stratification in the tropics, we’re seeing a 30 to 40% Decrease in primary production due to algae and whatnot in the ocean in those regions of the ocean. And that’s a big concern, because that’s the food supply for sardines, or anchovies, or forage fish, our game fish, and even apex predators. So if we don’t keep the ocean alive with that primary production, we’ve stand to lose so many of those species, and a lot of the oxygen that’s produced is is coming from those plants as well. So it requires a balanced approach. And it’s about understanding the ocean in its pre industrial state and working to get back towards that was pre industrial levels.

Metta Spencer  25:48

Well, let’s all concentrate on how to keep the ocean from stratifying. Well,…

Paul Beckwith  25:52

the stratification is from warming. Right, it’s because all the heats going into the ocean, right, that that’s what’s causing the stratification. So if you fertilize the ocean with iron, say, or if you stimulate phytoplankton blooms, and that is good to read, that helps to reduce stratification. Because you have zooplankton, which do this mass migration, they hide a couple 100 meters down below, if there’s food at the surface, they rise up to the surface, carrying water with them. And, you know, when the algae is eaten, and there’s excrement, etc, that sinks down to the bottom, and when you have sinking excrement from the zooplankton and fish etc, going down to the bottom, then that causes that does aid in vertical mixing as well. So the root causes of the stratification is, is is of course, the warming, it’s climate change, it’s all that heat going into the ocean. So I don’t see the problem with I don’t see, you know, I don’t buy objections to trying to stimulate phytoplankton in the ocean, it happens naturally, when dust is blown from deserts. You know, dust is high in iron concentration. So, you know, this is a big mechanism to fertilize the oceans naturally, the amount of dust, for example, coming off of West Africa, the Sahara. So all we’re trying to do is is we’re trying to enhance this to help nature do what it’s doing anyway, by fertilization of the ocean, that’s…

Metta Spencer  27:35

About this thermohaline current thing. And I understand that they’re, you know, they’re scared that it’s not going to work or something’s gonna go wrong. Tell me: is that —

Brian von Herzen  27:52

There are problems up around Greenland, because there’s a lot of freshwater going into the North Atlantic, and that’s causing a freshening of the surface, that can actually be a bit of a cap on the Gulfstream, which goes underneath it, rather than being a surface. That sometimes causes local cooling in Europe. And that’s one of several challenges that you’re facing with a big melting of the Greenland ice sheet, for example.

Paul Beckwith  28:17

Yeah, so you have to distinguish global circulation patterns of the ocean, versus regional ones, like on coastlines, for example, which we’ve mostly been talking about. That’s right. So, so yeah, just so be careful not to mix up all of these things. And I doubt there is any amount of fertilization that humans could do, which would cause a hydrogen sulfide event. I mean, that’s much bigger than  us. You know, and that’s mostly due to the stratification of the oceans.

Brian von Herzen  28:50

I agree.

Paul Beckwith  28:51

Which is not something that we’re going to you know.  So a lot of Brian’s stuff is to try to look at ways to increase vertical mixing. As he was saying, for example, large pipes, where flow through the pipes is driven by wave action. I mean, that an actual experiment, right, that was done, worked very well. There’s the Russ George seeding of the ocean off Vancouver with  iron, 150 tons or so causing phytoplankton blooms. I wasn’t aware of any research saying that the water at the seafloor was made anoxic. I mean, there’s not too much oxygen at the bottom of the deep ocean to begin with, anywhere you are on the ocean. Right. So, you could argue that the seafloor is very limited in oxygen to begin with. If you’re below a threshold, you don’t get the organisms like the biodeterioration, for example, or the decomposition of ships that Brian was talking about in the in the Black Sea. So I’m you seem to be panicking a little bit Metta about learning about the hydrogen sulfide thing, but I think you have to keep it in context. You know, it’s not like we’re going to start fertilizing oceans around the world all of a sudden and causes mass extinction that inadvertent. Clearly, we would start seeing the things happening and just reduce what we were doing if we were heading the wrong way. I mean, we’re trying to restore the oceans, the oceans have lost so much life in the past century. We’ve lost, we know the statistics of the 90% Less large fish in the oceans, right, there’s less phytoplankton in the oceans. I mean, that was a bit controversial, because the phytoplankton maybe shifted color a little bit so the satellites looked like they were disappearing when maybe they weren’t losing as much. But we know that as the ocean is stratified, you have to have less phytoplankton and less vertical mixing. Less nutrient means the vertical mixing is key because it brings carbon to the seafloor. And it brings nutrients which are several 100 meters below to the surface, where the algae can use them. But many parts of the ocean are high nutrient, low iron. So because of that iron missing, you don’t get the phytoplankton growth. Now you have to distinguish between phytoplankton blooms in deep water, and in shallow water because clearly in shallow water, it’s not a good thing because you get the phytoplankton bloom at the surface. There’s too many of them,  they sink to the bottom, they decompose and cause the so called dead zones. Okay, so you have to distinguish between coastal dead zones, which are growing around the world. The biggest one is, of course, in the Gulf of Mexico, from the Mississippi carrying all the nutrients or the phosphates, etc, from farming, you know, injecting those they go into the Mississippi from the fields, they go into the ocean, Gulf of Mexico, they cause the phytoplankton bloom, they cause the dead zone on the on the ocean floor. Right? That’s a separate thing because we’re talking about fertilization in the in the open ocean, the deep ocean, and there’s not much oxygen on the seafloor to begin with. Right, and I haven’t seen evidence where you do fertilization at the surface, and you cause enough deoxygenated donation at the deep ocean sea floor that you actually make a negative effect. There’s no evidence that I’ve seen to show that that that’s going to happen.

Brian von Herzen  32:59

Yeah, I think you’re right. And there’s probably more oxygen in the on the deep sea floor of the Pacific, for example. And there is even a couple 100 meters down. And that’s thanks to the Antarctic bottom water. And then the Atlantic, the Labrador current produces the North Atlantic deep water. These are major global oxygen sources that have been continuing. In fact, there’s evidence that the Antarctic bottom water in the last half decade has actually gotten stronger by both the British Antarctic Survey and the Australian Antarctic Survey over the past five years. And part of that is understanding as we mentioned, winds are one of the major forcing factors on this overturning circulation. And it turns out the biggest wind of all is, is the the Antarctic polar vortex. And that is the Southern Ocean has these enormous westerly winds, and amazingly enough over the past 30 or 40 years, those have been getting stronger. They’ve actually been getting several knots stronger. In fact, I’ve got one picture I can share with you. This comes from a recent paper, looking at the last 40 years of winds in the Southern Ocean. And these red zones are areas where the number the amount of the mean wind, circulating westerly winds have actually been increasing, measured in meters per second per year. And so over a period of 30 or 40 years, these winds are several knots stronger than they were previously.  So this is Antarctica in the middle?  Yeah. because in the middle

Paul Beckwith  34:30

That’s been attributed to the slight increase of Antarctic sea ice. Up until say, you know, five years ago, it was increasing about 1.5% per decade, the amount of Antarctica sea ice, but that’s reversed since then. But this this, the stronger winds are attributable to that. I mean, it really isolates Antarctica from the rest of the climate system and allows it to get incredibly cold in the center. But it’s also an elevation thing. I mean, it’s very high up. The ice is and this…

Brian von Herzen  35:09

is where the Antarctic, the Antarctic rock bottom water is being formed by this turbomachinery. The world’s largest vortex is actually in the Southern Ocean. And interestingly enough, they report both at the British Antarctic Survey, that extra cooling and freezing has increased the density of water and increased this bottom water. And that’s also confirmed by the Australian Antarctic Survey, that over the past five years, there’s a surprising increase in the amount of Antarctic bottom water being formed. So we are seeing these changes. And it’s not clear actually, if it’s going to be going up or going down. But these increase in winds will support more of this overturning circulation that we’ve been talking about. It appears as though based on the indication of the last 40 years that this very powerful vortex is actually increasing over the past 40 years.

Metta Spencer  36:05

Now, you got four different squares here, I sort of understand, obviously, the red circle around in our case. What are these other four other three boxes, and what are they?

Brian von Herzen  36:20

The other boxes are shown in the paper and they show the north south winds, those are the V winds, but these are the east winds, east west winds, which are the most important strong winds. They’re mostly westerly winds that are that are contributing to the upwelling because when these winds go around Antarctica, they want to turn left in the southern hemisphere that moves the surface waters away from the Antarctic coast. And that brings deep cool water up which can be oxygenated and then form the Antarctic salty bottom water that fronds had previously mentioned.

Metta Spencer  36:55

Well, so you take heart from this because it’s going to help upwelling?

Brian von Herzen  37:01

Definitely, well, it’s going to help the the formation of Antarctic bottom water so you have upwelling oxygenation, and then the formation of Antarctic bottom water because it’s very cold and very salty.

Metta Spencer  37:14

I want to hear more about upwelling and how to fix it.

Franz Oeste  37:17

If it if it’s upwards, if it helps the upwelling, it would also help the phytoplankton to grow. And this again produces the dimethyl sulfide that in the atmosphere changes to sulfuric acid, which takes contact with sea salt and produces HCl and this if you have a mineral dust in the air for instance from the desert-like land in the south, the southern tip of South America Patagonia and that comes a lot of dust sometimes into the air and this HCL reacts with the dust and produces iron three chloride which then becomes fertilized and produces chlorine at times which deeply missing and by this principle also this can be made also in artificial and you can help to deplete ____ in the atmosphere. It is done by sunshine and sea salt and when  it at last falls in the ocean, it is little bit of Iren which falls down helps phytoplankton to grow and to flourish and helps also the fish because if phytoplankkton is the tip of the of the how do you call it this – food chain? Yeah.

Paul Beckwith  39:49

The topic of life. Yeah.

Franz Oeste  39:51

And this principle we want to use to cool because also these fine dust particles help the cloud production and cloud whitening. And this, again, helps to increase the albedo, which cools off?

Metta Spencer  40:23

Well, I have heard you make that pitch before and I tend to be extremely enthusiastic about it. It sounds like a very helpful thing, and maybe one of the most, if not the most, likely to help cool the planet. And so I’m excited about it, the only thing that I would wonder is, if that happens in a situation of ocean stratification, then that’s the only reason I think that either Peter Ward or or Paul, Werbos would worry. It’s a combination of the stratification and the feeding of these arachea critters in the bottom of the ocean in the lack of oxygen. So if you just keep reassuring me that that ocean stratification can be overcome, then I’m going to be on your side. And I think they would be too. But I’m not sure that I understand how you’re going to be so confident that the ocean stratification is not going to

Franz Oeste  41:34

Yeah, the cooling house

Paul Beckwith  41:41

By stratification, so yeah, we just have to cool the surface of the water, then the stratification is reduced. Right? It’s just a thermodynamic, it’s just a thermal thing, like warm water is lighter than cold water. The warmer the surface water gets, themore stratification there is, the more problems you have. So anything that we do that that cools, reduces the stratification problem.

Brian von Herzen  42:11

That’s right. In the near term, we can restore natural upwelling one hectare at a time that can help local coastal communities. But on a global scale, we need to do things that enable us to restore or brighten the planet. And that means refreezing the Arctic, it means re brightening the marine clouds that will reflect a lot of sunlight, and cool the ocean surface. And, this marine cloud brightening. Getting back to these pre industrial levels, there’s a lot of data at Caltech and elsewhere, showing that a warmer planet has less clouds. And that’s a bad runaway feedback loop. Because if you have less clouds and a warmer planet, you’re suddenly gonna be absorbing a lot more sunlight than you were before. And so re-brightening the planet means not only refreezing the Arctic, but it also means restoring the brightness of those marine clouds and the extent of those marine clouds so they can reflect more sunlight and keep and resulting in a cooler ocean monitor.

Metta Spencer  43:05

So you want a comprehensive approach where you’re doing two or three or four different interventions at the same time, because they’re mutually reinforcing. Am I reading the right Brian?

Brian von Herzen  43:16

But we need it. Another thing we need – large areas which are restricted from fishing to get more fish in the ocean. That’s necessary. Well, you have permaculture and rain.  Permaculture is focused on doing one intervention that can have three or four benefits. We’re focusing in the near term on food security for a billion people who depend on the oceans. That means restoring enough natural upwelling and getting the production going hectare by hectare. But then in that process, if you know Franz was talking about how healthy phytoplankton and to some extent, healthy macro algae produced dimethyl sulfide naturally, these form little nuclei, sulfate particles that form those that brighten those marine clouds and increase the marine clouds. So there is pretty good evidence that in fact, more life results in more healthy marine clouds that will actually reflect more sunlight and build upon it. Yeah, we found a checkerboard of marine protected areas and regulated fishing zones provides high productivity and high abundance of life and also higher yields of fishing. And so checkerboard is actually a very good method because the  fish, for example, live inside the kelp forests and grow and grow and multiply. And eventually they spill outside the kelp forest. And tthey can be sustainably harvested as long as you have a protected zone. That’s where the marine protected areas are so important. A checkerboard works very well and it’s something that we hope will increase in the future. I’ve never…

Metta Spencer  44:54

 I’ve never heard of a checkerboard before. Somebody drawing lines on the on the globe little bit and saying that there’s certain regions you don’t fish?

Brian von Herzen  45:04

It’s called marine spatial planning. And the goal is 30 by 30. That is you want to protect 30% of the ocean, from overfishing, by 2030. And if we create a checkerboard of marine protection, and sustainable harvesting, then we can keep life going well, and also ensure that we can feed our burgeoning populations, and that there’s enough biodiversity for other fish, as well.

Paul Beckwith  45:31

The key thing too, is you can’t just protect, like, a circular area, say, because as things are migrating towards the poles, so  you need ways to  allow for this migration, both on land and in the oceans. I mean, it’s easier in the oceans. Fish just can just swim from one region to another region, but especially on land, because if you don’t have those vertical access routes for  the migration, then species can just completely go extinct  from the warming, whether it’s in a protected area or not.

Brian von Herzen  46:15

That’s a good point. And one problem we’re having with the kelp forest is when it falls off, as it’s in Tasmania, there’s nowhere else for it to go, other than the Antarctic Peninsula. And the result is that Australia is at risk of losing its canopy farming kelp forest in the coming decades under a business as usual scenario, if we don’t intervene.

Metta Spencer  46:36

Okay, well, now, if you’ve made me feel a little better, and I hope that Peter, Ward and Paul    I hope that Peter Ward and Paul Werbos will join me in my rekindled enthusiasm for the kind of work you’re doing. The only little caveat I have:  two questions that niggle at me. One is, I read someplace that, the loss of whales is important, because whales are enormous things that displace a hell of a lot of water. And apparently, there used to be hundreds and hundreds of them, always going up and down and stirring the water. But we’ve killed all of them off and practically, and  my question is, is, is that relevant? Is that of enough importance to even pay attention to? That’s one question. And then I have another one. Who wants to whale question?

Brian von Herzen  47:33

I’ll be happy to start. And that is yes, vertical mixing is important. And Paul has done a good job of articulating how that vertical mixing is enhanced by biology, including whales. Probably there were 500 times as many whales, pre industrially as there are today. And that’s a huge factor. Now what perhaps even more importantly, the whales poop in the surface ocean, and that poop has iron in it. And the iron gets uptake by plankton, and micro algae, and the those micro algae get eaten by krill. And it turns out, the iron is very carefully conserved in the biosphere, between the plankton, and the krill and the whales, they hold on to that iron in the Southern Ocean. And today, sadly, most of the Southern Ocean is iron limited. But pre industrially, there’s probably good evidence for a lot more iron being in the biosphere being retained by life. And that’s an essential, and perhaps a critical part is that whale poop is such a vital, vital part of a healthy Southern Ocean.

Paul Beckwith  48:34

So when the whales that die, their carcasses go to the ocean floor, and there’s a proliferation  of benthic sea life life on the ocean floor, in those regions where their carcasses are. So it’s very important for that. And it turns out that the spacing of these carcasses it’s sort of randomized somewhat, depending on the whale migration pattern, but these are close enough together, that species can actually move from one carcass to another carcass quite often, is what some studies have shown. So yeah, I mean, it just shows you the connectedness of the whole system. So, you know, restoring whale numbers is very important for the oceans, for many reasons, including vertical mixing and nutrients and oxygen, mixing with depths and also, whale sharks. There’s some people that have suggested that we actually domesticate whale sharks. If we set up a marine permaculture,  say in the deep ocean near the an equatorial region, you know, where we have phytoplankton stimulating the zooplankton. We have maybe chains and platforms going down at 200 meters so we can get routing of kelp and oysters and etc and You know, they’re in a non hurricane region. So that’s not going to rip them apart. And then have the food, lots of fish and including, you know, whale sharks, which don’t taste too bad. And they feed, you bypass a lot of the trophic levels, they grow very quickly, they just feed  like other whales, they–

Metta Spencer  50:23

Uh oh. Your sound went.

Brian von Herzen  50:29

Just to follow up on that, Paul brings up a great point. We have a marine permaculture deployed in the Philippines and we had whalesharks from an estimated 200 kilometers, and spend three days around our platform, eating all the  algae that we were making. And so it was great natural validation, the nature of your boats with their pens and seeing that whaleshark For three days around our platform was really heartwarming, I will say. So it’s happened twice now in the last few decades. And we’re looking forward to more whale shark visitations in the near future.

Metta Spencer  51:02

Well, would you be looking to try to increase the population of whale sharks as the fishing industry> People are going to eat these guys.

Brian von Herzen  51:13

Right. I think there’s a balance that whale sharks are so wonderful for ecotourism, we need to get them back to a really healthy population level. Let’s start by conserving them, let’s have those marine protected area checkerboards. And maybe the ones that spill off, there may be some harvest, but let’s make sure we have an abundant and growing population of healthy whale sharks and other sharks and other other marine life before all trophic levels of marine life.

Metta Spencer  51:40

Okay, my last question is a has to do with something I read actually yesterday in The Globe and Mail, which was very, very short statement. And I really wish they didn’t amplify it because they didn’t explain. They said that if you increase aerosols in the air, you will decrease the ozone around the southern pole by 10%. Now, they didn’t say what kind of aerosol or whether it matters or how it works, or why we should worry about it. But is that true? And should I worry about it? You’re the guy who’s gonna put aerosols up there.

Paul Beckwith  52:25

It sounds like nonsense.

Franz Oeste  52:28

It’s not true. Because if you give the aerosols in the troposphere,  but if you put the aerosols in the stratosphere, this is very bad, because it reduces the UV light from the Sun. And that’s not good, because the chemistry of the atmosphere is totally changed. If you do that, methane will not become depleted in the way it should because no oh eight radicals can  bproduce. They are produced by the UV,

Metta Spencer  53:24

Well, how do you control where in the atmosphere you are putting this stuff? How do you know whether it’s going in the troposphere or where?

Paul Beckwith  53:33

Well, the sources of aerosols, whether it be the desert, whether it be ones you’re putting in (and you  can even put really small salt crystals  near the ocean surface, and they’re carried up and mixed within the first few kilometers, just by natural air movement). So yeah, you have to know that the troposphere, where all the weather occurs, the thickness is very different. The Equator, it’s maybe up to 17 kilometers. At the poles ot’s about seven kilometers high.  So  there’s a lot of variability. And  so if you put them in the lower atmosphere they’re not going to get up into the upper atmosphere. You put them in the upper atmosphere, then there’s no weather to rain them out. So it’s only gravity that pulls them down. Then they enter the troposphere, where they’re rained out within three or four days or a week or whatever.

Franz Oeste  54:45

Stay for two years or three.

Paul Beckwith  54:48

Yeah, in the stratosphere and small particles? Yeah. So a large massive volcano that puts ash up into the stratosphere can cool the planet for three to five years even with the a very large volcano.

Brian von Herzen  55:02

Yeah, we’ve seen purple sunsets here in Australia for six months associated with the Tonga volcano. That’s an example. The purple comes from the late sunset reflection of stratospheric dust. That said, in the Arctic, because the stratosphere moves towards the pole, and then sinks, the lifetime is more like six months. And so if there was something introduced into the Arctic stratosphere, it would generally converge towards the pole and then sink. And so the timescale is shorter to that portion of the stratosphere. As Paul was saying, the heights are different as well.

Franz Oeste  55:41

In the troposphere, it’s rained out by the next precipitation event.

Paul Beckwith  55:49

Yeah, exactly.

Metta Spencer  55:50

Well, you’re the guy who’s working on that. And I don’t think we have time to go into detail yet but in one of our previous conversations, friends, you mentioned a concern that, if you put the wrong kind of aerosol in to brighten the clouds, eventually the substance will fall on the snow and darken it and ruin the albedo.

Franz Oeste  56:14

Only if I if I have iron in the substance. Iron is a colored substance. It is yellow or reddish. And this is not good on the ice sheets. But instead of iron, you can take there for methane depletion titanium, then you have a very white substance, which would not change the albedo.

Metta Spencer  56:49

I wondered whether you have come further with your investigation of the possibility of using titanium instead of salt for cloud brightening? Are you still on that? On that plan?

Franz Oeste  57:08

Yeah, we are working on this. And we are on a receipt, which should work nearly 10 times better than pure iron.

Paul Beckwith  57:33

One last key point. With the aerosols in the atmosphere, naturally, over the oceans, you know, far away from land dust sources, the number density of aerosols is minuscule, like maybe 10, maybe 50 particles per what — is that per cubic centimeter? Whereas over the land there, hundreds or 1000s of times higher because of all the dust sources. So, if you’re putting aerosols over the ocean to brighten clouds, cause pooling, etc. As these go over the land, the effect starts because they’re just out- numbered totally by the sources of dust on land. That’s that’s a key point to remember.

Franz Oeste  58:15

Yep. We want to do it far away from land on the ocean, because we don’t want any problems with very small particles and airways in the lungs and so on. Therefore, away from urban places.

Metta Spencer  58:41

okay. You’ve cheered me up. i That’s all I wanted. Oh, of course, it has to be truthful. And I think you probably know what you’re talking about. So thank you very much.  I’m sure that this conversation will be watched by some other people who may or may not have the same concerns that I have. Does anybody have a parting comment that you need to make before we say goodbye?

Brian von Herzen  59:11

I will just summarize that I think it’s our challenge and our opportunity to feed the world.  Billions of people depend on the oceans for their sustenance, regenerate life in seas and the soils with biodiversity and ultimately, measure the carbon export by the Gigatons, primarily with nature based solutions.

Metta Spencer  59:35

Yes, thank you. As announced earlier, I’m putting up on the screen the links to a couple of short videos by Paul Werbos that I think everybody will benefit from watching because it’ll certainly clarify the context in which this conversation took place. So you can copy them down. Project Save the World produces these shows, and this is episode 539. You can watch them or listen to them as audio podcasts on our website tosavetheworld.ca People share information there also about six global issues. To find a particular talk show, enter its title or episode number in the search bar, or the name of one of the guest speakers, and then you can comment on what you watched. Project Save the World also produces a quarterly online publication, Peace Magazine. You can subscribe for $20 Canadian per year. Just go to pressreader.com on your browser, and in the search bar, enter the word “peace.” You’ll see buttons to click to subscribe.


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