ocean experiment begins despite protests
By K.S. Jayaraman
Bangalore, Jan 29 (IANS) While a joint German-Indian "ocean
fertilisation" experiment underway at the Southern Ocean
is already drawing protests from environmentalists, a research
report published Thursday in Nature has dealt another blow.
It questions the very theory that dumping iron in the ocean
can help combat climate change.
Called LOHAFEX (loha is iron in Hindi), it is a joint experiment
by Germany's Alfred Wagener Institute for Polar and Marine
Research and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO)
in Goa, India.
The experiment involves "fertilising" an area of
300 sq km of the ocean with 20 tonnes of dissolved iron sulphate.
It will test the theory that adding iron would stimulate rapid
growth of phytoplankton and that these microscopic plants
can suck up atmospheric carbon dioxide believed to be responsible
for climate change.
The experiment was due to start early January but criticism
that it will damage the marine ecosystem had put it on hold.
But on Jan 26, LOHAFEX was given the green light despite continuing
opposition from Germany's own environment ministry which warned
that "attempting to halt climate change by interfering
with our marine ecosystems is a disastrous approach".
The German ship RV Polarstern has since moved to the site
and is said to be dumping iron sulphate in the ocean.
Opposition to the experiment has now further grown with the
joining of Washington-based Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition
(ASOC) - a global coalition of environmental non-governmental
organisations in 40 countries worldwide.
In a statement issued Thursday, ASOC said it opposes ocean
fertilisation projects "in the absence of an appropriate
regulatory framework and public, comprehensive and peer reviewed
assessments of the environmental impacts and implications"
and warned that the project is irreversibile once underway.
Jim Barnes, executive director of ASOC, said the coalition
"is very disappointed" that the German research
ministry decided to grant approval for this project ignoring
warnings by the German environment ministry. "By allowing
this 'experiment' to go forward in the face of its obligations
under international law, the research ministry is undermining
the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)," Barnes
said in the statement.
Barnes also alleged that RV Polarstern is dumping the iron
sulphate on the high seas between Cape Town and Punta Arenas
at an estimated 16 degrees West outside the target area originally
envisaged at 50 degrees South, 37 degrees West.
Noting that this type of research activity is currently unregulated,
ASOC said that CBD and the London Convention and London Protocol
strongly encourage their contracting parties to consider the
potentially serious environmental impact of these projects.
Furthermore, the CBD placed a moratorium on any fertilisation
activities other than scientific research at small-scale and
in coastal waters until such time as "a global, transparent
and effective control and regulatory mechanism is in place
for these activities", Barnes said.
"It is still not too late for the German and Indian governments
to halt this project," said Barnes. "This project
makes a mockery of their governments' treaty commitments,
nor does the Southern Ocean need this additional stress."
Satish Shetye, director of NIO, said scientists from his institute
had agreed to join the study two months ago "after a
lot of discussions" within the Indian scientific community
and officials of the science ministry in New Delhi.
"Planning for the experiment has been underway since
2005," Shetye told IANS. "It was our view that what
we learn from the experiment would be very useful for regulating
concentrations of greenhouse gases," he said. Thirty
scientists from NIO are among the 48-member team on the research
But the very theory that dumping iron in the ocean can help
suck up atmospheric carbon dioxide has received a blow.
A study published in this week's issue of Nature finds that
the potential of iron-induced carbon sequestration is far
lower than previously estimated.
During 2004 and 2005, scientists on board the British vessel
RSS Discovery conducted an iron fertilisation experiment near
the Crozet Islands, an archipelago some 2,000 km southeast
of South Africa. The team reports in Nature that some 270
tonnes of iron triggered a two- to three-fold increase in
biological productivity over an area the size of Ireland.
But sediment probes revealed that the removal of carbon was
nowhere near as massive as lab experiments had suggested.
"Ocean iron fertilisation is simply no longer to be taken
as a viable option for mitigation of the carbon dioxide problem,"
the Nature report said quoting Hein de Baar, an oceanographer
at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research in Texel.
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