Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ocean Fertilisation - cautious welcome

There is a protest brewing over the Lohafex experiment, involving ocean fertilisation. RV Polarstern, a German research ship, is to dump twenty tons of iron sulphate over 300 square kilometres of the Scotia Sea, off Chile's coast, near the Antarctic Peninsula.

Here's my letter to one of the scientists involved.

Dear Prof. Smetacek

I have just learned of the Lohafex experiment. As you know, there is brisk opposition to it from some greens, mainly operating on the Moral Hazard principle, and also concerned about possible environmental side effects of the experiment. I am a veteran UK Green Party activist, (and of the Campaign Against Sea Dumping) but I am minded to support experimentation in ocean fertilisation. So I am about to come under fire from my own side.

It is not clear from my reading about Lohafex as to where the iron is to be deposited. An upwelling site is mentioned. It seems to me that the best place to introduce the iron is in optimal proximity to a downwelling site, optimal in the sense that the algal bloom will have maximised its CO2 uptake at the point where it leaves the surface layers. This would not only maxmise the CO2 sink, but would also minimise the anxieties about unwanted side effects.

I would be grateful for your comments on this suggestion.

Note: at downwelling points, the surface currents sink to the bottom of the ocean. There the algae can be precipitated out into the sediment, thus taking carbon out of circulation. One atom of iron is supposed to be able to fix 10,000 atome of carbon, which sounds like a good deal to me. Further study of the maps suggests that the bloom from the Lohafex experiment may be conducted to a downwelling site.

Clearly, we have to be careful with geo-engineering, but I think it is wrong to oppose experimentation absolutely.

I believe we can avoid catastrophic global warming, but only if we go for a zero-carbon economy AND enhance Gaia's carbon sinks, which are showing signs of failing.


Dorothea said...

It's the same old techno-fix nonsense, giving our masters maybe a little more time to figure out how best to control us, the seething masses, as the freshwater, food, oil runs out and quality of life nosedives, thanks to all the other harebrained schemes they've been pursuing for the last 200 years or so.

DocRichard said...

Hi Dorothea

I have just exchanged emails with one of the scientists involved. It seems that this is a scientific experiment to find out why the reduction of the whale population (due to the stupid hunting of whales, which is an example of the thoughtless mindset to which you refer) did not result in an increase in krill, their food. The hypothesis is that the whales themselves brought iron up to the surface layers, thus completing a neat ecological cycle. Depending on the results of the experiment, it could lead to interventions that create more krill, therefore more whales, as well as reduced atmospheric CO2.

So I think we should avoid absolute rejection of any research, and also absolute rejection of purposeful intervention.

When a body is sick, we give medicine. Gaia is sick, due to our thoughtless interventions, and we should not rule out the administration of medicine aimed at redressing the imbalances we have created. Sure, the medicines should be tested carefully for unwanted side effects. This, as I understand it, is what the Lohafex experiment is about.

By the way, I was very active in the Campaign Against Sea Dumping in the 70s, so it is not as if I do not care about ocean ecology.

Thanks for commenting.


Dorothea said...

It does sound interesting from a scientific point of view. But 40-odd years of living on the same planet with some evil sods has given me a suspicious mind.

I have no doubt of your sincerity, and would not call that into question.

DocRichard said...

Thanks Dorothea. I know what you mean. There are some monumentally stupid decisions made a lot of the time. I try not to think about that too much, it gets me down, I just try to keep thinking of how we can get out of this mess.

Nualgi said...


We would like to offer a better alternative to Iron Sulphate, Hematite ore and Chelated Iron to cause blooms of plankton.

Our patented product Nualgi is designed to cause a bloom of Diatom Algae in any type of water - right from home aquariums to oceans.

Its ideal for use in Sewage Treatment Plants and Eutrophic lakes and rivers but can be used in oceans instead of Iron Sulphate being used in the LOHAFEX.

The advantage of using Nualgi in sewage treatment is that both water and air pollution are taken care of simultaneously.

The oxygen released by diatom algae is a substitute for electric powered aerators. Electric powered aerators are obviously responsible for CO2 emission at the power generation plants, polluting air to clean up water is not sustainable.

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best regards