Planktos to Begin Ocean Seeding

Trials of a carbon sequestration project which involves seeding the ocean with iron particles are to take place later this month. Planktos are attempting to create a carbon offset product based on stimulating plankton growth. By adding iron to certain areas of the sea, the company can promote growth which they hope will absorb large amounts of carbon. This will then sink to the ocean floor, mostly in the form of feaces, where it will remain for several centuries. It's not a new concept, and has been trialed before. However, whilst many studies have had success promoting plankton growth, few have seen an increase in the amount of carbon transported to the sea bed.

There is obviously speculation as to whether Planktos will see better results. As with previous studies, it is expected that they will be able to promote plankton growth, but it is unclear whether this will have any long term beneficial effect on carbon sequestration. The level of absorption depends on how much of the resulting mass of plankton sinks to the sea bed. Some are also worried that the increased mass of plankton will release additional methane and nitrous oxide, which might increase greenhouse gases, and have counter-productive effect.Planktos will use their vessel WeatherBird II, to seed a 10,000 square kilometer area off the Galápagos, in the South Pacific. Planktos see this as a research project that will hopefully prove the value of further seeding efforts. They don't see it as a silver bullet, but as one part of a large scale effort. They are also involved in other sequestration efforts, like planting a quarter of a million acres of new forest in Hungary, and believe that reducing emissions also plays a key role in slowing climate change.

Daniel M. Kammen, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says, "The cost of offsetting carbon through these technologies is less than the cost of building solar panels or windmills." This is precisely what many people see as the problem with the technology. If the project works, then it may tie up carbon, but it will also give people a licence to pollute. With all carbon offset programs comes the same problem; people can fly all they want, drive all they want, consume all they want and simply offset it all with a few hundred dollars a year.

As natural iron levels have gone down in recent years, Planktos could be seen to be simply re-adjusting the balance to allow a natural process to occur. Calling this "engineering" may be misleading, perhaps it is more appropriate to think of it as treating a patient, albeit a very large one, similar to putting a saline IV into a severely stressed patient. However, we won't be able to offer a prognosis until the research is published. :: ETC Group

See also :: NY Times :: Real Climate