With war expanding in the Middle East, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine still raging and China threatening to invade Taiwan, the world has arguably not been closer to the brink of nuclear war in generations.
Researchers have begun sounding the alarm once again about the risks of a nuclear winter: picture an Earth hidden from the sun by as much as 165 million tons of soot and freezing 16 degrees Fahrenheit down from global mean temperatures.
All-out nuclear war could shrivel up harvests worldwide, reducing global calorie production by 90 percent according to agricultural and atmospheric scientists.
But an international team of researchers has found a briny, savory answer: vast seaweed farms, strung along the ocean’s surface with ropes and buoys, could help save as much as 1.2 billion lives.
All-out nuclear war may reduce global calorie production by 90 percent, but an international team of researchers has found a briny, savory answer: vast seaweed farms strung along the ocean’s surface with ropes and buoys could help save as much as 1.2 billion lives
These 15 US cities are likely targets of a nuclear attack – based on population density, air distance to a strategic military facility, emergency preparedness, and ease of evacuation – according to an analysis conducted by independent financial experts at 24/7 Wall Street
The team estimates that a life-saving average yield of as much as 33.63 tons of dry kelp or seaweed could by farmed each year — over just a modest ocean surface area and on a reasonable budget.
‘If you use the more productive areas, you need around around 416,000 sq-km [160,619 square-miles] of ocean,’ the study’s lead author, environmental scientist Dr. Florian Ulrich Jehn, told DailyMail.com, ‘which is about the size of Colombia.’
Dr. Jehn, the data science lead for the Colorado-based Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED), collaborated with Louisiana State University’s Department of Ocean and Coastal Science, one German astrophysicist, and scientists from both Texas and the Philippines on the project.
The economic cost of this crash program to keep billions fed during a harsh nuclear winter, Dr. Jehn said, would come to less than past successful US programs.
‘In the paper we compare the scale-up with the airplane production in the US in the second world war,’ Dr. Jehn said in an email interview.
‘We estimate that the scale-up would likely need less resources than this and should therefore be feasible,’ he added, ‘but this is still work in progress.’
One factor that Dr. Jehn says is still ambiguous, although his team is still crunching the numbers, was what the actual price of seaweed might reach in such a scenario.
The study’s lead author, environmental scientist Dr. Florian Ulrich Jehn, told DailyMail.com that around 416,000 sq-km or 160,619 square-miles of ocean ‘about the size of Colombia’ would be needed for the project. Above, fishermen harvest ‘maesaengi’ seaweed off South Korea
Dr. Cheryl Harrison, who runs Louisiana State’s Biophysical Ocean Modeling Lab, said that vertical ocean convection has been well-documented during winter months at high latitudes, but nuclear winter would bring the cycle closer to the equator which would aid kelp farming
Their study, published this month in the journal Earth’s Future, leveraged oceanic climate models of the dramatic changes set to occur amid a true nuclear winter.
‘When the surface of the ocean gets cold, the water gets denser, so it sinks, driving vertical circulation,’ study co-author Dr. Cheryl Harrison told DailyMail.com.
The result would be a convection-like churn that would drive nutrient-rich water from the ocean depths up to the surface — effectively fertilizing the regions needed for this massive aquatic farming program.
‘This is formally called “penetrative convection,”‘ Dr. Harrison explained, ‘and is the reverse of the convection that happens on your stove when you boil pasta, with sinking cold water instead of rising warm water driving the vertical circulation.’
However, people need not imagine a future shoveling salty, wet sea plants onto their plates for every meal, these researchers emphasized. Only 15 percent of the food currently eaten by humans would shift to kelp. Mostly it would be redirected to animal feed and biofuels
Dr. Harrison, who runs Louisiana State University’s Biophysical Ocean Modeling Lab, said that this process has been well-documented during the winter months at high latitudes, but nuclear winter would bring the cycle closer to the equator.
‘In Nuclear winter, it stays cold for years, so it just keeps going, churning up deep water and the nutrients there,’ as she put it via email.
‘Since it is dark and cold these nutrients don’t get used up as quickly by phytoplankton, the algae that are the base of the food web in the ocean.’
More human-friendly ocean greens, like seaweed, according to Dr. Harrison, ‘does well in these conditions, making it a great alternative food source.’
However, people need not imagine a future shoveling salty, wet sea plants onto their plates for every meal, these researchers emphasized.
Because the iodine found in seaweed can be toxic to humans at such high quantities, the kelp’s contributions to the food web would likely be more indirect.
Seaweed farms, they estimate, would would replace only 15 percent of the food currently eaten by humans, but would mostly be redirected to animal feed and biofuel production.
The researchers believe that as much as 50 percent of current biofuel production and 10 percent of livestock and other needed animal feed could be taken care of by this Colombia-sized archipelago of kelp farms.
The project also has less apocalyptic, worst case scenario uses, Dr. Harrison told Live Science, noting that it could also serve as humanitarian aid following more likely disruptions to the global food supply chain.
Everything from a massive asteroid impact or a gigantic volcanic eruption down to a regional crop failure or a local drought, could be compensated for with a similar seaweed farming program.
‘Throughout history, large eruptions have caused famine both regionally and globally,’ Dr. Harrison pointed out.
‘Either way, we need a plan to feed ourselves in these sudden sunlight reduction scenarios.’