Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Playing Russian Roulette with Gaia

The addition of iron to the oceans has been suggested as a mechanism to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In several parts of the ocean, plankton abundance in much lower than expected given the availability of nutrients and sunlight. But, these areas are also low in iron, leading many people to suggest that it's the availability of iron that limits plankton numbers. A while ago I wrote about an experiment in the Southern Ocean that investigated this hypothesis. 

Permission to conduct these experiments was hard to get because the UN has agreed to a moratorium on iron fertilisation until more is known about the effects on other marine life. But, in contravention of the moratorium a rogue businessman has conducted an iron fertilisation 'experiment' in the northeastern Pacific, off the coast of Canada. Russ George has been trying to sell his iron fertilisation scheme to the world as part of the lucrative market for carbon credits.

He convinced the Haida Nation to provide one million dollars funding, apparently by telling them that the dumping of iron would increase salmon numbers in the area. With that money he dumped 100 tons of iron sulfate into the ocean 200 nautical miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii in July this year. The plankton bloom this created reached 10,000 square kilometers in size. In comparison, the experiment in the Southern Ocean dumped just seven tons of iron sulfate and the bloom peaked at 800 square kilometers.

In conducting this 'experiment' Russ George may have broken international and Canadian laws. It violates the UN moratorium on iron fertilisation and he may have committed fraud in obtaining the funds from the Haida Nation. In any case, there is no evidence that plankton blooms will improve salmon number and only limited evidence that iron fertilisation is an effective mechanism for reducing carbon dioxide. And we know next to nothing about the potential negative impacts of such large blooms.

For more information, including Russ George's history in trying to sell iron fertilisation as a carbon credit scheme, try The Guardian and Deepsea News.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.