On The Shoulders Of Giants

On The Shoulders Of Giants

There are some people who walk apart from the madding crowds of the dull and boring. One such in the world of ocean science was John Martin. He spent years working to unravel a Gordian Knot of complex ocean plant ecology and chemistry, the role of iron in ocean phyto-plankton.

john_martin (1)In July 1988, during at a lecture at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, oceanographer John Martin stood up and said in his best Dr. Strangelove accent, “Give me a half tanker of iron, and I will give you an ice age.”

These inflammatory words centered around a theory known as the iron hypothesis. Martin professed that by sprinkling a relatively small amount of iron into certain areas of the ocean, known as high-nutrient, low-chlorophyll zones (HNLCs), one could create large blooms of those unicellular aquatic plants commonly known as algae. If enough of these HNLC zones were fertilized with iron, he believed the growth in algae could take in so much carbon from the atmosphere that they could reverse the greenhouse effect and cool the Earth.

Martin’s theory sparked a tremendous debate. Unlike most of the unusual, somewhat esoteric theories that float about the scientific community at any given time, Martin’s idea had teeth. It could be tested and it had the potential to impact the world on a short time scale. Many of Martin’s contemporaries reacted strongly by claiming his iron hypothesis was ill founded. They felt that his “Geritol” solution to climate change was careless and hazardous for the environment. Corporations and even some countries, however, embraced the idea. They saw Martin’s results as a way to reduce the effects of their own carbon dioxide and bring themselves within the emissions standards set up by the proposed Kyoto Protocol. Meanwhile, the press portrayed Martin as a renegade scientist that came out of nowhere with a mission to prove everyone wrong, calling him “Johnny Ironseed” and “Iron Man.”

Today I am proud to have learned from John Martin and to have picked up and carried his passion to a profound demonstration of the proof of his hypothesis. Indeed it does work just as you said John, even better than we have dreamed possible. The ocean pastures when replenished with nanomolar iron spring back to life with such abundant plankton that marine life for a thousand miles in all directions comes to feed in your garden.

You can read more about John at the site dedicate to his memory read it here…