Monday, October 15, 2012

One of the blogs I follow regularly, Deep Sea News, recently posted an article about the resurrection of a geoengineering project called Planktos, founded by businessmen Russ George, which you can read here. His company became bankrupt a few years ago after severe pressure by environmentalists and scientists halted the main project of the business, plankton seeding.
    The idea was that phytoplankton, who use Iron naturally found in seawater for photosynthesis, would thrive on a massive dumping of iron fillings into the ocean and cause an algal bloom. This huge bloom would then fix the carbon dioxide in the oceans - boom, climate problem gone. He recently tested it off the coast of British Columbia, where it indeed caused a huge algal bloom (see this article and map from the Guardian). So in theory yes the artificial addition of iron worked in that an algal bloom occurred, although a bloom much larger would have to occur if a dent was to be made in carbon dioxide amounts in the ocean.  So what's the problem?

     Disregarding the UN's international treaty on geoengineering signed by 191 countries a few years ago, we simply do not know what the affects of such radical artificial geoengineering would be. The impact to benthic communities would be hit particularly hard as hypoxia spreads towards the bottom of the ocean as bacterial communities gorge themselves on the billions of dead phytoplankton floating down from the surface because of the rapid increase in phytoplankton population. Unused iron could alter benthic community dynamics, and it is not clear how well the carbon could be contained - in other words, whether the carbon will just cycle back into the form of carbon dioxide within a few years. At the surface, toxic waters (i.e. red tides) could spring up, harming fisheries. And finally, it is possible that this method could even worsen climate change.

    I am not passing judgement yet - I will be interested to see what the affects of the bloom will be on the local fisheries and benthic communities in the next few months to years. So while I do love reading Deep Sea News, I take issue with their current article as it preemptively condemns the 'experiment'. I am in no way justifying George's action, nor am I saying that sound science lays behind it, but I would rather wait for data (even if it is likely to prove the dump was a terrible idea) to come out before it is deemed a failure/crippling blow to the environment.

    Another reason I hesitate to immediately condemn the dumping is the simple lack of solutions. While I believe geoengineering to be the absolute last resort to the climate problem, there simply aren't a lot of companies out there who are in a position to help reduce greenhouse emissions as a primary goal. I think Planktos should have definitely undergone some serious smaller scale experiments are even drop geoengineering altogether - a company that is attempting to help preserve the climate and biodiversity (they have a reforestry project as well that I have not as of yet investigated) using a business model that attempts to make the environment profitable a boon. I know, I've scourged the internet for hours looking for jobs/internships in Marine Conservation - there simply aren't that many. I believe the only way we can fix the climate problem is to make being green (or blue if you prefer) profitable to the right companies while still providing the resources that people need (not want). So while I do not support geoengineering, I am saddened to see another company attempting to profit off of Conservation (in a good way!) go down.

    Investigate Planktos and George for yourself. I think you will agree that while the the events that model provided by George are far from the best, conservation driven businesses can be the thing to reduce climate emissions and preserve biodiversity.


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