Do humans pumping iron bring cleaner skies? Prof says ‘maybe’

Ashley Lumm and Ashley Lumm

Michael McKay delivered the first College of Arts and Science Distinguished Faculty Lecture of the 2005-2006 academic year at the Bowen-Thompson Union Theater yesterday.

The lecture, “Bioengineering Our Climate,” explained how the use of iron fertilization in the ocean can affect our climate’s temperature. This is done by removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.

According to McKay, implanting iron into the ocean can actually reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is possible because the ocean is 50 percent more efficient in trapping carbon than the atmosphere.

“Over the past century, since the industrial revolution, the atmospheric carbon levels have increased about 30 percent,” McKay said. “We can attribute this to the emission of human activities. It is not just carbon dioxide, but other greenhouse gases as well.”

McKay added that it has a direct effect on global warming. The rise in the temperature is because gases, like carbon, trap energy from the sun. The burning of fossil fuels has put more of these gases into the atmosphere. As a result, there is an increase of the climate’s temperature.

Before the industrial revolution, there was one billion metric tons of carbon in the atmosphere. It is now up to three billion metric tons. Without the ocean, the carbon percentage would be 50 to 60 percent higher, McKay said.

McKay has taught at the University for eight years. He received his doctorate at McGill University in Canada and has participated in numerous research activities. McKay was recently awarded a fellowship to continue his bioengineering research in Germany.

McKay returned a few months ago from researching this worldly problem.

“I started a position at a lab and this is what they were researching,” said McKay. He “was not particularly drawn to it,” but just happened to get into the subject.

Donald Nieman, dean of the College of Arts and Science, said he chose McKay for several reasons.

“We chose Michael McKay because of his distinguished record of scholarship and teaching,” Nieman said. “Our purpose is to recognize top faculty. The work he is doing addresses important contemporary questions.”

Nieman was pleased with the outcome and the overall success of the lecture.

“He [McKay] did a really nice job. The science was good but it was also accessible to non-scientists like me.”