Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fertilizing the ocean could be a 'cure' that kills

IPS: One of these new proposals is "geo-engineering" to capture carbon from the atmosphere. …Leading scientists attending the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) World Conservation Congress in Barcelona say such projects must be banned for good, especially plans by some private corporations and governments from industrialised countries to artificially "fertilise" the oceans with iron and chemicals.

This kind of 'fertilisation' is intended to accelerate the natural process of carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration by photosynthesis, and help multiply microscopic organisms called phytoplankton that account for about half of all absorption of carbon dioxide by plants. Through photosynthesis, plankton capture carbon and sunlight for growth, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

Phytoplankton productivity in the oceans is declining as a result of warmer temperatures. The amount of iron that is naturally deposited from atmospheric dust clouds into the oceans, providing nutrients for phytoplankton, has also decreased dramatically in recent decades.

The Australia-based Ocean Nourishment Corporation (ONC) and the U.S. company Climos say that dumping "nutrients" such as iron, nitrogen and urea into sea water could lead to growth of new phytoplankton. Climos announced last month that it will undertake its first ocean fertilisation project within the next 18 months.

Margaret Leinen, chief scientist at Climos, says research needs to be undertaken. "Climate change constitutes an enormous challenge for us, we cannot afford to do nothing." Leinen said that if additional CO2 sequestration could be safely simulated (by scientific research on ocean fertilisation), then the process "could assist in decreasing the carbon concentration in the atmosphere until our global energy economy can make the transition to fewer greenhouse gases emissions."

But such plans are "plainly illegal," Philomene Verlaan, professor of ocean policy at the University of Hawaii told IPS. "Under the United National Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) all intentional actions aimed at polluting the sea are forbidden."

Environmentalists and scientists fear that ocean fertilisation could also have negative side effects that would lead to further loss of marine biodiversity.

Icefish larva shot by uwe kils , Wikimedia Commons, terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

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