October 16 News: Geoengineering Experiment Spawns Massive Plankton Bloom

A controversial American businessman dumped around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean as part of a geoengineering scheme off the west coast of Canada in July, a Guardian investigation can reveal. [Guardian]

Satellite images appear to confirm the claim by Californian Russ George that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometres. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed – a geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilisation that he hopes will net lucrative carbon credits.

“It is difficult if not impossible to detect and describe important effects that we know might occur months or years later,” said John Cullen , an oceanographer at Dalhousie University. “Some possible effects, such as deep-water oxygen depletion and alteration of distant food webs, should rule out ocean manipulation. History is full of examples of ecological manipulations that backfired.”

Shifts in crop production reflect a view among food producers that this summer’s drought in the U.S. — the worst in half a century — isn’t a random disaster. It’s a glimpse of a future altered by climate change that will affect worldwide production. [Businessweek]

On NBC’s Meet the Press, on Sunday, Tom Brokaw noted that the debates, and the coverage of the whole campaign, is ignoring several pressing questions facing the country, including the threat of climate change. [Examiner]

Two environmental groups intensified their efforts in several House and Senate campaigns Monday , with one of them entering the Arizona Senate race for the first time in hopes of generating momentum for rising Democratic candidate Richard Carmona. [The Hill]

Keystone XL pipeline foes have tried petitioning the government, grabbing media attention and filing lawsuits. Now, with the southern leg of the pipeline under construction, they’re turning to civil disobedience — and actress Daryl Hannah. [Washington Post]

Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens has sold his stake in a controversial wind farm proposed in Goodhue County, Minn., but its new owner says the project is going ahead. [Star Tribune]

Iraq plans to spend up to $1.6 billion on solar and wind power stations over the next three years to add 400 megawatts to the national grid to help curb daily blackouts, an official from the ministry of electricity said on Monday. [Reuters]

Introducing a financial incentive for energy efficiency could help the UK deliver electricity demand reductions at far lower cost than building new low carbon generation capacity, green campaigners have said. [Business Green]

9 Responses to October 16 News: Geoengineering Experiment Spawns Massive Plankton Bloom

  1. Alteredstory says:

    I’ve not been at this for as long, nor have I been blogging as consistently or effectively as Joe and the contributors to this page, but it’s been years now that I’ve been telling people to pay attention to the danger that as things get worse, rich, reactionary people with no clue what they’re doing will try to take matters into their own hands.

    The stakes could not be higher. Climate change is here, and it will be for centuries, at this point. We need to work on the problem, but doing things like this courts disaster on a scale unheard of in human existence.

    The consequences of an anoxic ocean are why I started blogging about climate change, and I REALLY hope I don’t live to see my fears becoming reality.

    That’s what science fiction is for.

  2. Chris says:

    Just curious, but how much CO2 should be removed by adding 100 tonnes of iron sulfate?

  3. Alteredstory says:

    To my knowledge there’s no clear answer to that question.

    Some experiments have been done, but it’s not easy to measure how much is pulled out of the atmosphere, especially since a useful number would account for the difference between how much of that carbon sinks to the bottom, and how much stays in the surface and goes back into the atmosphere.

    In addition, algal blooms could end up generating CO2 as they die and rot, and could create a long-term decrease in CO2 uptake by disrupting the ecosystem.

    In any case, it would take a huge amount of iron over a long period of time to make any meaningful difference, and if we were to use enough to actually start reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, it would almost certainly have a devastating impact on the ocean.

    There are safe ways to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere, but they take time. If we want to avoid doing more harm than good in addressing this crisis, we’ll have to accept that the problem isn’t going to be “fixed” any time soon – we’re in it for the long haul, and short-term solutions could have the effect of sandblasting a soup cracker to get a speck of dirt off of it.

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thanks Altered, this example of Russ George should be everybody’s worst nightmare. It is difficult to imagine an ego large enough to support this recklessness but I know there are thousands of them out there acting without any apparent control. Far from admiring this ‘individualism’, we need international control mechanisms in place now to stop this madness, ME

  5. Alex Smith says:

    Radio Ecoshock interview today with Jim Thomas from the ETC Group – who exposed Russ George trying again his experiments geoengineering ocean life.

    This time George talked his way into about $2.5 million dollars with the Haida Nation – indigenous tribe on B.C.’s West Coast.

    Jim Thomas finds collusion with the Canadian government, and expensive equipment provided by the U.S. government agency NOAA – despite 192 nations agreeing to ban ocean dumping for such algae experiments, and a moratorium on geonengineering.

    Russ George thinks he is a law unto himself, and major industrial countries are helping him.

    Hey, I think I’ll go change the atmosphere and the ocean to make a buck! Apparently anyone can…

    Alex Smith
    Radio Ecoshock

  6. Robert Helbing says:

    You’re mistaking this iron-spawned plankton bloom with nitrogen-spawned ones.

    Nitrogen-spawned blooms (such as those suffered annually at the mouth of the Mississippi River) result in oxygen depletion by encouraging the growth of zooplankton, which consume water-born oxygen.

    Iron-spawned blooms do exactly the opposite. They are phytoplankton, not zooplankton; they absorb carbon dioxide ane exhale oxygen. They bring oxygen into the water rather than deplete it.

    The idea is that once the bloom is over, the plankton sink to the sea bed, sequestering the carbon they’ve absorbed. We know this already happens. That’s how hydrocarbons got into the Earth’s crust in the first place.

  7. Robert Helbing says:

    “Give me half a tanker of iron, and I’ll give you the next Ice Age” – John Martin, 1991

    The amount turns out to be substantial. Iron is a vital element to photosynthesis, but it’s a trace element; a little goes a long way.

    Iron normally gets into the ocean through runoff, upwelling or wind. But there are vast stretches of ocean with virtually no iron. Since iron is necessary for phytoplankton, and phytoplankton is the base of the food chain, these regions are frequently called “ocean deserts”. Iron fertilization could promote a healthy growth of sea life in nearly all forms, besides sequestering billions of tons of carbon.