A Fresh Look at Iron, Plankton, Carbon, Salmon and Ocean Engineering

Source: New York Times

Two years ago this month, an edge-pushing environmental entrepreneur and a company formed by a Native Canadian village set off a wave of international protest by dispersing a pink slurry of 100 tons of iron-rich dust over one of the 60-mile-wide ocean eddies that routinely drift across the salmon feeding grounds of the Gulf of Alaska.

Their goal, in the face of steep declines in Pacific salmon catches, was to trigger a plankton population explosion with the infusion of iron, a vital nutrient that’s lacking in those waters. Volcanic eruptions had been shown to do the same thing. Why not humans?

The plankton bloom, in theory, would nourish millions of juvenile fish that circulate in the Gulf before returning to the coast to spawn.

Along with a boosted catch, a second hoped-for payoff was the sale of carbon credits on international markets aimed at offsetting greenhouse gas pollution by financing projects that absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide — typically by planting trees but in this case through spurring plankton growth. More than $2 million was invested in the project through the tribal company, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation.

The protests mainly came from groups and scientists critical of geo-engineering, large-scale efforts to harness or control the shared environment to serve human needs — particularly if the efforts were private. They asserted the project violated international ocean-dumping rules and a moratorium on ocean fertilization.

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