The return of the son of the spawn of iron fertilization

So remember the scientists who wanted to put giant one-way tubes in the ocean in order to grow phytoplankton to suck up CO2? Apparently there are not one, but two private companies looking to do pretty much the same thing, only with iron filings instead of tubes. Vast areas of the ocean (see above – the places with not-blue color) have plenty of nitrogen and phospheros but are limited in plant growth because of lack of iron.

As I wrote previously, the benefits of iron fertilization are far from clear. There is evidence than iron fertilization could encourage the growth of undesirable (often poisonous) plankton, make the global warming worse, totally alter the local food chain – and oh yeah, it could do all this without actually making a dent in atmospheric carbon.

As first posted by Rick MacPherson, the private companies have responded to these concerns in different ways. The first, Climos, has proposed an ethics code for ocean carbon experiments. Well, that’s a good start, but still doesn’t convince me that this will work without serious deleterious effects. The second, Planktos, has a very snippy “Response to Current Controversies.” Planktos dismisses concerns over iron fertilization in a peremptory fashion, without providing citations. I’m not an expert in this field by any means, but I can certainly cite many papers that call Planktos’ claims of safety & efficacy into doubt.

I certainly hope that there will be a lot more small- to medium-scale experimentation before somebody goes and dumps a tanker of iron filings into the Southern Ocean. And I’m not exactly rushing to buy stock in these companies, either. But hey, if they’re right – I’ll be the first to celebrate.

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4 Responses to The return of the son of the spawn of iron fertilization

  1. [...] pleasingly released of my usual load of cynicism and anger. But I found myself unsatisfied by my last post on iron fertilization. It occured to me that I was not mean enough to Planktos and their ever-so-lofty and dismissive [...]

  2. miriam…
    outstanding job on daylighting planktos’ claims of how critics of their methodology are simply “misinterpreting” their mission…
    i genuinely hope that they are on to something, but like you i want there to be robust experimentation and confirmation by others before the oceans have to bear the brunt of yet another half-baked “solution”…

  3. Thanks, Rick – yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if half a tanker of iron dumped in the right place could really give us an ice age? (and sorry for spelling your name wrong).

  4. [...] pump” and it’s one reason why climate change isn’t already worse. (Iron fertilization attempts to artificially enhance the biological [...]

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