Planktos Puts Iron Fertilization On Hold

By Sheril Kirshenbaum

Planktos has canceled field tests due to a lack of funds blaming a “highly effective disinformation campaign.”

Last October, we released a white paper about the growing interest in iron fertilization the ocean to mitigate excess carbon in the atmosphere. 

In certain regions of the ocean, a lack of iron limits the growth of phytoplankton.  When dust containing iron settles onto these regions, plankton blooms occur which take up CO2 from the atmosphere that sinks when the algae die.  It is a natural process that stores carbon for varying amounts of time.

Now for-profit corporations want to spread Fe where it currently limits phytoplankton to offset carbon emissions.  Investors in these geo-engineering ventures hope to earn carbon credits which would be traded through markets or sold as offsets for greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the leading for-profit corporations, Planktos, has just canceled field tests due to a lack of funds blaming a “highly effective disinformation campaign.” The company called back its iron fertilization vessel and crew this month and cited “ideological hostility” and “misrepresentations” have halted progress.

But the truth is, iron fertilization cannot be viewed as a simple input and output equation and therefore it’s difficult to quantify what to expect.  The great deal of uncertainty makes policy governing these kind of large scale geo-engineering projects critical before action is taken for profit.  The implications of altering our climate and oceans have the potential to impact everyone.

Key elements of our white paper, Iron Fertilization in the Ocean for
Climate Mitigation: Legal, Economic, and Environmental Challenges
include:

* Location, season, temperature, water chemistry, species composition, and so on – factors that are already independently in flux – may significantly impact the phytoplankton response.

* We do not know much about the ability to manipulate ecosystems.

* Effectiveness will depend on the the environmental consequences of the process and the final fate of carbon in the system.

* Results observed in studies so far may not apply to areas where future iron fertilization would take place.   In fact, some areas that have not been tested may be more promising for iron fertilization.

* In the short-term, iron fertilization typically leads to phytoplankton blooms, but the long-term effects are mostly unknown.

* Science has a great deal to learn about creating the right market to facilitate offset efforts.  The scientific community has yet to reach a consensus on biophysical and social impacts of the process.

Read more on Iron Fertilization from this month’s issue of Oceanus magazine here.

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