In an attempt to test the possibility of mitigating the effects of global warming, scientists from India, Germany, Italy and Chile plan on "sinking" carbon emissions into the Scotia Sea, off the Antarctic Peninsula in the South Atlantic, during January to March 2009.
By depositing 20 tonnes of non-toxic iron sulfate into a 1,000 square kilometre area of the sea, it is hoped that the iron particles will create fertile conditions for the explosive growth of phytoplankton or algae and microorganisms that will soak up carbon dioxide.Carbon sinking (also called ocean seeding, iron fertilization, carbon capture and sequestration) was first tested 15 years ago as alternative method of "managing" global warming, though there are questions to the long-term environmental ramifications of experiments on this kind of scale.
Earlier this year, companies such as Planktos have conducted trials in seeding an area near the Galapogos to observe the effects. According to Planktos, the process involves dilute infusions of iron over large areas and if ocean seeding is successful in the long term, it will apparently not only restore plankton populations but also improve water quality, buffer the surface water acidity and assist in sinking large amounts of carbon into the ocean to slow climate change.
However, the amount of carbon absorbed or "sunk" will hinge on how much plankton sinks to the sea bed. There are concerns that the increase in plankton will result in more methane and nitrous oxide being released into the atmosphere — possibly worsening the situation.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that the sea's capacity to absorb carbon has decreased: recent data published in Science shows that the Southern Ocean's ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere has been reduced approximately 15% every decade since 1981, due to changing levels of substances such as iron sulfate. The result is a possible feedback loop from the intensification of increasing carbon emissions, coupled with the ocean's declining ability to absorb carbon. It is a worrying scenario and only time will tell if large-scale, international experiments such as these will have a positive impact on slowing climate change.
Image: Green Geek