Back in July, an American businessman illegally dumped 100-tonnes of iron sulphate into the ocean just west of Canada, reports the Guardian this week. Russ George allegedly gained permission from a First Nation’s community that border these waters after saying that iron fertilisation would not only sequester carbon, but that the act would replenish dwindling salmon stocks thereby benefitting the environment and local livelihoods. What is being dubbed as ‘rogue’ geoengineering, the act is in blatant violation of both the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity as well as the London Convention on dumping waste at sea. Both prohibit iron fertilisation for commercial gain, with permission for such projects only ever granted for legitimate scientific research. And legitimate research to date does not endorse iron fertilisation as a sustainable climate change mitigation strategy, with large uncertainties surrounding sequestration efficiency and flow on effects to marine ecosystems. From the Guardian:
“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.”
It would appear that this is not the first time that Russ George has caused a media stir. When CEO of Planktos (a geo-engineering company specialising in acquiring carbon credits…..from iron fertilisation) he was banned by Ecuador’s government from entering water surrounding the Galapagos and by the U.S government from flying the U.S flag due to the illegality of his planned activities. Yet he was undeterred and in this latest incident he convinced the local community to invest more than a million dollars in to the project. So in my mind, this is illegal and entirely unethical.
I happen to know a few people who have been involved in legitimate iron fertilisation experiments, the experiments that were conducted many years ago that demonstrated that while carbon uptake most definitely occurred, significant export did not necessarily follow. IF your phytoplankton dissolve, or remineralize, in shallow water then that carbon recycles back to the surface, and is not sequestered. The fact that you can see the enormous bloom, some 10,000 square km, with satellite imagery is absolutely no surprise. If this is how Mr George is measuring success then it would be similar to getting excited about noticing that increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere warms the climate.
Photosynthesis requires a lot of iron, and if you dump iron in the ocean, you will create a bloom. Now I am not a fisheries expert but I’m not entirely sure that one bloom will recover the salmon population forever more. Nowhere have I found that this project is attempting to address anything that we don’t actually know, like the kind of damage this may cause to surrounding ecosystems in the years to come, including the salmon stocks.
Is this an act of rogue climate activism, or a purely profit driven act? I know what my money is on. And I am very interested to see how he will be prosecuted…watch this space.