Fertilizing ocean to combat climate change

In apparent defiance of international law (and possibly commonsense), scientists are planning to start an experiment with iron fertilization. The Independent is reporting that the proposed location is the Southern Ocean. The plan: to create a plankton bloom big enough to be visible from space.

“The researchers – mainly from Germany and India, but including two Britons – plan to add some 20 tons of iron sulphate to a 186-square-mile patch of ocean about half way between Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, to demonstrate a way both of combating global
warming and of saving the whale.”

The bounty of iron will nourish a bumper crop of plankton, tiny plants, which will take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The theory is that, when all the plankton dies, their bodies will sink to the ocean floor, carrying the CO2 with them, thus removing it from the atmosphere for centuries. If this “fertilization” took place on a humongous scale, climate change could be averted. Plus there’s the potential for a lot of money to be made.

But other scientists foresee the potential for possible unintended consequences of devastating proportions. Eg, vast dead oceanic zones; release of methane and nitrous oxide, potent global warming agents. Also, what happens when all that sequstered CO2 is brought back up to the surface centuries later?

The UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity banned iron fertilization in May 2008, unless conducted through small scale, scientific studies in coastal waters. This experiment is large scale, and will be conducted on the high seas, led jointly by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and the National Institute of Oceanography in India.

“Alarmed environmentalists, led by the Canada-based ETC Group, urged Germany’s Environment Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, to stop the experiment. The German government suspended it while legal and environmental reviews were carried out, and the scientists expect to hear the result early this week.

Dr Richard Lampitt of the University of Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre. . . says: “We desperately need to make this sort of experiment if we are going to make rational decisions in the future.””

Read the original article here.

We mentioned in an earlier blog the growing desperation among the scientific community at the rate to which the international community is responding to climate change.

We first described the iron fertilization scheme last July.

For more information about iron fertilization, and a critique, see the Ocean Acidification blog, Nov. 18, 2006.

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