co2cloud 150x150 Compare the Pros and Cons on Iron Fertilization of the OceansSome of you might have read some of the articles flying around about a company off the west coast of Canada that has “dumped around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean as part of a geoengineering scheme.”  The purpose of this “dumping” project is to see how the iron sulphate spawns the artificial plankton which absorbs carbon dioxide and sinks to the bottom of the ocean.  You can read the entire article here:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/15/pacific-iron-fertilisation-geoengineering  

I have such passion for the thriving of our planet and have to admit this article really got my attention.  I did a little digging on the company behind all of the controversy, named Planktos, and retrieved this information from their website at www.planktos.com:

Seeding the ocean to capture carbon

plankton 1 300x205 Compare the Pros and Cons on Iron Fertilization of the OceansThe reasoning for this venture is to develop plankton blooms or a large growth of planktons. This will be achieved by seeding the oceanic waters with iron that helps to stimulate the growth of planktons. As the planktons blossom, these consume the carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas, thus eliminating it from the atmosphere. Planktos is not the first person to have this idea of eliminating carbon dioxide with the assistance of plankton blooms. However, the Foster City, which is a California-based company, is the first organization that plans to commercialize the research on this topic.
During the duration of the travel, the sixteen-crew members will be seeding several thousand miles of the Pacific Ocean with iron. At the end of the growing phase, some part of the plankton will die and sink to the bottom. After reaching 500 meters below the level, the planktons requisition consumed carbon dioxide for several centuries, said David Kubiak, the communications director of Planktos.
According to Kubiak, the company was interested in the planktons that sink to the depth of 500 meters. This is the required depth where the oceanic currents are sufficient to keep these out of the atmosphere for many centuries. If the planktons sink to 1000 meters, then the process is continued for millennia.
The process of iron fertilization has been proposed and tested on other occasions in the past. Kubiak said that the challenge was to gather precise data on the bloom’s biological activities and measuring the amount of carbon dioxide that is eliminated.
The company’s scientists will adopt sensory equipment to track the depth to which the planktons sink and then observe the reaction caused in other ocean creatures, which include zooplankton, krill, and other plankton feeders.
Planktos1.001 150x150 Compare the Pros and Cons on Iron Fertilization of the OceansThe Weatherbird II, which is the Planktos boat will be stationed at the location for a period of four to six months and will study one complete cycle of the growth phase and the decaying phase. According to Kubiak, the previous attempts made to observe the effects of the iron fertilization process did not remain at the location for sufficient time.
Skepticism among environmentalists 
Several experts on global warming say that the observation techniques to capture the carbon dioxide are crucial to address the climatic changes.
Early in the year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made huge investments in technologies to capture and sequester carbon dioxide released under the ground at coal-fired power plants. Several other projects used offshore oil and gas wells to study the phenomenon.
The company employees say that this technique is not only beneficial to address the problems arising due to climatic changes but also useful to refill the decline stock of planktons.
The level of planktons all over the globe have reduced by 10% since the 1970s. To replenish the ten percent reduction will require between three and five billion tons of the atmospheric carbon dioxide, mentioned Kubiak.
This news has created a stir among the environmentalists who have high uncertainty on the probable problems that may arise due to the huge geo-engineering proposal.
There are also questions on if the iron fertilization will significantly reduce the carbon dioxide or if the technique can qualify as the viable carbon offsets.
According to Kubiak, the company had originally planned to carry out research projects but were surprised to find the reception by the audiences from the business community.
 
OK, so I did a bit more digging and this seems to be the consensus on iron fertilization:

The Good:

  1. eradicates atmospheric carbon dioxide
  2. causes phytoplankton to grow
  3. algae receive iron nutrition and thus absorb an abundance of carbon dioxide
  4. this enhances photosynthesis
  5. iron sunk to the bottom of ocean locks away hazardous gases for years
  6. lower cost than other methods
  7. the iron induction is good for entire food chain
  8. it enhances marine biological producitivty
  9. has shown a 25% reduction in atmospheric CO2
  10. actually removes CO2 where other method do not
  11. reverses process of global warming while other methods only slow it down
  12. has great potential if certain data is collected and equipment/technology is upgraded
  13. disadvantages may be worked out
The Bad:
  1. the pull of atmospheric carbon may not be an efficient way in which to trap and store CO2
  2. possible need for updated equipment
  3. the blooms can typically only occur on the shore and not deep within ocean where needed
  4. Massive areas of the ocean are needed to make it worth it
  5. 200,000 tons of iron will be required to restore the lost algae species
  6. May increase algae species that give rise to red tides and other toxic acids, thus disturbing marine ecosystems
  7. increase phytoplankton can produce toxic levels of domoic acid which kills some aquatic animals due to imbalances
  8. can lower O2 levels in deeper ocean
  9. more research is needed to assess the risks and benefits
So you be the judge – there is still more to learn on this process but I think it is interesting that they did it on the sly without the UN’s knowledge…it “feels” like someone really wanted to make a difference without intervention and of course possibly make a lot of money at the same time.
russgeorgeplankton Compare the Pros and Cons on Iron Fertilization of the Oceans I then looked into the owner of Planktos, Russ Georgs – there was a thorough background report on him at the following link: http://www.zoominfo.com/people/George_Russ_9120180.aspx  The piece that interested me greatly was he was referred to as having “a prominent share of the cold fusion spotlight. He’s been interviewed numerous times over the last decade and a half, and his passion for clean energy and plea that cold fusion be given a fair chance have been heard worldwide through National Public Radio and the World Wide Web.”  They mention he has a great passion for clean energy and claims to be someone who works on “restorations projects.”
You can also go to one of his talks that shows who he is and what his focus is. This presentation is very informative and demonstrates he has been around the world pursuing the lowering of the world’s carbon footprint.

Apparently he was a hippie coined as “The Plankton Evangelist,” did a lot of tree planting, and is trying to save the planet thr0ugh phytosynthesis because plankton is the forests of the ocean. One redwood tree is enough for 5 families for one year.  He is replanting 250,000 acres in Hungary, using trees and seeds.  He feels he will be moving tens of millions of tonnes of CO2 in the near future.  All the native specie trees he plants are protected.  But planting trees costs more money than approaching iron fertilization of the oceans, thus why he is so passionate about looking to the seas for answers to the crisis that faces Mother Earth.  
He does discuss the overwhelming resistance from environmental groups such as WWF and Greenpeace, presenting some very logical and practical reasoning why he feels they are over reactive    He even hired one of the Green Peace’s top captains to show that he is really after helping the planet, since he has been under intense scrutiny from environmental activists.
Just so you know it is estimate that the North Pacific Ocean has lost 26% of its plankton due to diminished dust from deserts.  The Ocean is dying off and George claims “the cure for environmental apocalypse does NOT require an economic apocalypse”.  It appears that he is really trying to make a difference.
Stay tuned for more perspectives on this topic.
References
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