The Intersection

Sheril Responds

Research… okay, but geoengineering continues to raise a heck of a lot of red flags for me.

i-17bd6640e5bc8bb187408afef5ed1e5b-earth.jpgBy no means do I deny what we’re up against or disagree with my favorite blogger, but I’d like to emphasize that priorities must focus on changing our collective mindset and behavior regarding carbon in this country and beyond. Yes, we’re indeed mucking up this home planet we share, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable tinkering with natural systems. That said, conducting research to understand complexities may be a good thing provided it’s done responsibly.

What I know for sure is our trajectory has not been set yet and we still have the time to act. Today. Science will be part of the solution along with sound policy… and of course – all of us. So I’m not at odds with a push to fund research initiatives and I’m also not jumping on the geoengineering bandwagon.

You see, I often run into folks who believe ‘science will solve all our problems, so why worry?‘ which sounds to me like suggesting we need not take responsibility for our actions in the here and now. While they’re correct that science innovation is promising, it’s equally important we all remember science is not infallible. (Remember that hiccup with the Mars Climate Orbiter?) So this marine scientist will need strong convincing if at some point we intend to carry out geoengineering beyond the investigative stage.

In the mean time, I continue to support efforts such as protecting and regrowing forested land in the tropics because with initiatives like these, we know what to expect and will see real results.


  1. #1 a climate professor
    November 29, 2007

    Good assessment by Chris and Sheril. You present geoengineering fairly and responsibly. This is along the same lines of the lectures I give on this subject to my students.

    What I particularly like about Sheril’s response is the appeal that we should be focusing our priorities toward changing collective perception and behavior. This is why I write in to commend you both. Thank you.

  2. #2 Not on SBs and not bitter about it :-)
    November 29, 2007

    Right on. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Guess that probably why I can’t get on Science Blogs. Oh well 😉

  3. #3 Aaron Adams
    November 29, 2007

    Dear Sheril:

    Off topic but tangentially related.

    The DOE (Dept. of Energy) has proposed a project to hollow out the Richton (Mississippi) salt dome for oil storage as part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The project “will pump 50 million gallons of water from the Leaf River or the Pascagoula River to hollow out the salt dome for crude oil storage.” The incredibly salty resulting brine (according to a spokesperson for the Sierra Club who appeared on WLOX-TV – up to 50-100 times the average salinity of the Mississippi Sound, an estuarine ecosystem) would then be pumped into the Mississippi Sound.

    Your thoughts as a marine biologist?


    Aaron Adams

  4. #5 D
    November 29, 2007

    Chris and Sheril –

    Digging the tag team approach!

    You guys should do this more.

  5. #6 Philip H.
    November 29, 2007

    Aaron & Sheril (and all others),
    As an expatriate Lousiiana native and coastal oceanographer (among my many hats) may I offer a few observations? First, the rest of the Strategic petroleum reserve is alreadyhoused in salt domes in Louisiana – though most of those are left over salt mines, and were chosen in part to be filled to keep the overburden (sediemtns) from collapsing. I say this only because I think folks should know that this is not a new practice.

    Second, any effects of the brine will depend on a myriad of factors – pumping rate, placement of the outfall hose, tide conditions, etc. There are ways to pump brine into the environment that can reduce the effects, though not eliminate them.

    third, the Sound runs from Lake Borgne in Louisiana to Dauphin Island in Alabama, with a fairly porous “border” compsed of the barrier islands in the Gulf Island National Seashore. That means the brine can spread out fairly quickly, which again may be a mitigation measure.

    All that said, pumping brine into an estuary, even with good flushing, will have consequences. The point of pump out may well have significant issues due to the high salinity. DOE should have done an EIS, which should be available for you to read that would address these issues. If they didn’t, then the Administrative Procedures Act would offer relief.

    If there are other concerns, several federal and state agencies would need to oversee such work – The Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District, the National Park Service, and The National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Region (Protected Resources Directorate) all have federal jurisdiction. The Mississippi Department of Marine Reosurces has state jurisdiction, and you would do well to direct concerns to them.

  6. #7 rev_matt_y
    November 29, 2007

    One area where everyone seems full of irrational exuberance is wind power. Sure it’s great to generate clean energy, but if it is implemented at a level significant enough to impact our dependence on fossil fuels then it will also drastically alter global weather patterns. I suspect that’s not a good thing.

  7. #8 AK
    November 29, 2007

    One thing to consider is leverage. Chewing up mountains and distributing the results in the oceans may be a lot of work, but the net effect is small compared to what’s done, which means the process can be controlled.

    By contrast, creating a new and more efficient carbon-fixing algae through breeding and/or GM and setting it free in the ocean would be very easy (the setting free part), but once the process was started it would be on its own, subject to the natural positive feedback of growing organisms. (I can see Sheril shuddering, but it was only an example. I’m not seriously proposing it.)

    Somewhere between those extremes, probably, is what’s needed. The lower the return, the less dangerous. The higher the return, the easier.

    A political point, low-return (therefore less dangerous) projects might be sold as providing needed employment.

  8. #9 Lizunoff
    December 3, 2007

    Guess that probably why I can’t get on Science Blogs. Oh well 😉

  9. #10 Ted
    December 3, 2007

    I’m Stu, Web guy from England. Hello.

  10. #11 Dave Briggs
    December 5, 2007

    Good article!
    I think you both do a good job of explaining that this is both a micro and macro problem. It needs to be studied in both regards and also in the synergy of the both the problems and the solutions working together!
    Dave Briggs :~)

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