A major Indian-German geoengineering expedition set sail this week for the Scotia Sea, flouting a U.N. ban on ocean iron fertilization experiments in hopes of garnering data about whether the process actually does take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the deep ocean, a technique that may help reverse global warming.I am glad they are undertaking this. Hopefully this experiment will produce good data as to how much additional plankton is created and how much gets sequestered.
The LOHAFEX experiment will spread 20-tons of iron sulphate particles over a 115-square-mile section of open ocean north of Antarctica — that's about 1.7 times the size of Washington, D.C. The initiative has drawn fire from environmental groups who point out that 200 countries agreed to the moratorium until more evidence was available about its efficacy.
But that hasn't stopped the LOHAFEX team, composed of Alfred Wegener Institute and Indian National Institute of Oceanography scientists, who say they need to conduct experiments to get such data.
By providing plankton with iron in water where iron is lacking, the marine creatures grow in tremendous numbers, incorporating carbon into their bodies. When the plankton die and sink, the carbon goes with down with their skeletons. It is unknown, however, how much of that carbon actually makes it deep into the ocean, where it would be sequestered for decades, not days.
At a panel at meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last year, marine geochemist Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute said that somewhere between 2 and 50 percent of the carbon the plankton eat could actually make it to the depths of the ocean, which is basically like saying that we don't know if the process works.
But, I actually hope that not much of the carbon is sequestered by this process. I would rather that the plankton were eaten creating more fish and other sea life higher up the food chain.