Volcano-Stimulated Rebound Of 2010 Salmon Run Challenges Anti-Science Environmentalism

frazer river bc photo

Panoramic view of Fraser River, BC Canada. Image credit:Wikipedia (excerpted)

It's probably true, as Sami observed in today's post, that some, perhaps many, self-identified greens simply "don't want to believe" that technological solutions can be a net benefit for people and the environment. Ironically, these are the same folks who'll readily criticize others who disbelieve climate change is a clear and present danger and who don't think humans need to manage the risk. As I have argued previously, vocal representatives on both sides the climate debate act as if they can't wait for the total defeat of science and humanism. I realize that many of you will find this argument disturbing and judge it inappropriate content.

Before you scroll away, however, consider how a volcano-fertilized North Pacific Ocean phenomenally restored Pacific salmon runs in 2010 - to levels not seen since the early 1930's - and how this restoration squares with conventional wisdom about 'iron seeding' being too hazardous to experiment with as a potential geo-engineering method.Following the late August of 2008 Aleutian volcano eruption, which spewed iron-rich ash over the North Pacific Ocean, the cohort of 2009 salmon (which 'ran' in British Columbia streams in August of 2010) produced a spawning run much larger than what those same streams hosted 100 years ago.

Astoundingly, the 2010 Faser run was an order of magnitude higher than what was seen in the preceding summer.

As reported by the CBC:

The 34 million salmon that returned to B.C.'s Fraser River this year were "adolescents" in the Gulf of Alaska when the Kasatochi volcano erupted there in 2008, said Tim Parsons, a research scientist at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C.

The ash from that eruption fertilized the ocean, leading to a massive bloom of special phytoplankton called diatoms -- an unusually rich source of food for the growing salmon.

I fully understand that this is a hypothesis - albeit one that can never be laboratory tested because of the complexity of the marine ecosystem but more importantly, because a bunch of national environmental ministers and NGO reps said such research should not be allowed. Government enforced "moratorium" seems to be the most common term being bandied about about what is needed for research on all forms of geo-engineering.

Other explanations?
All it takes is 2 to 4 ppm of iron sulfide to spike major plankton blooms when iron is a growth limiting nutrient. (If you need an analogy to help understand how a tad of iron is so powerful a restorative, compare to the impact of vitamin C in preventing scurvy. Sailors once became severely ill on long journeys unless they were given limes. You could have all the food and water and rum and whatever else you wanted aboard ship but without a bit of vitamin C it would not come back to port on time. It was a journey limiting nutrient.)

There's no way that most competitors for marine plankton, the other plankton eating animals of the sea, simply disappeared from the North Pacific. And, there is no evidence indicating that the predators which normally preyed on salmon, humans included, suddenly disappeared. The evidence does, however, point to the ocean pastures having been provided a missing nutrient or nutrients, giving the young salmon an unusually good and lasting food supply.

Unintended Consequences
Anti-science thinking presupposes negative outcomes. It skips over complex issues and pulls us into ethical and moral opposition to new ideas before real understanding can even be offered.

The 2010 Fraser salmon explosion by all accounts was not negative. Quite the opposite: it is relieving to see a return of bountiful nature. People in Africa and Asia are unaffected, either way. There is no evidence of ecosystem upset either.

Geoengineering is a lousy lump categorization of potential climate management interventions.
It is just wrong at all levels to compare atmospheric sulfur injection, which indeed could have have unintended negative impacts and needs military hardware to deliver - with something as regional in it's impact zone and "natural" as iron seeding.

Related posts.
Anti-Science Environmentalism: Iron Seeding Experiment Protested...Again
Geoengineering Risk Potential Not An Excuse for Inaction, Scientist Says
Does Morality Matter in Saving the Planet?

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