Newly Imposed International Restrictions Could Dampen Interest in Commercial Iron Fertilization

research cruise photo

Image from Marufish

After remaining silent on the issue for several months, the London Convention Treaty, a body operating under the auspices of the UN's International Maritime Organization, has decided to impose restrictions on ocean iron fertilization experiments, according to Cleantech Group's Emma Ritch and Science's Eli Kintisch. The move could be a blow to companies like San Francisco-based Climos, which plans on carrying out large-scale fertilization trials to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels; the startup plans to recoup its costs and turn a profit by selling carbon credits.

While the 85 members of the convention agreed that OIF experiments could prove fruitful in the long run, commercial-scale experiments were too risky. As such, they have limited the experiments to "legitimate scientific research," though it is not exactly clear what they mean by this (Dan Whaley, Climos' CEO, argues that his company's work supports, and is carried out by, scientists interested in understanding the process).Actions by Planktos and others may have forced the LCT's hand
The London Convention Treaty had stood silent until several companies, including the ill-fated Planktos (which has since been reformed as Planktos Science), announced their intention to fertilize large patches of the ocean with iron dust to stimulate phytoplankton blooms. While many scientists believe schemes like OIF deserve more research funding, others, and many environmental groups, oppose it on the grounds of it being too risky and potentially dangerous. (Some of the possible side effects they cite include an increase in nitrous oxide emissions and the potential destruction of marine ecosystems.)

Many scientists support further research into OIF
Scientists who have participated in earlier research expeditions believe that the technique, if carried out on a large scale, could sequester up to 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. Indeed, some researchers are worried the new rules could even dampen interest in "legitimate science," as WHOI's Ken Buesseler put it, by making it near impossible to obtain approval for new projects. (From now on, each project will need to be approved on a rigorous case-by-case basis.)

Greenpeace, which has been one of OIF's most outspoken critics, stated that it was pleased with the new oversight regime created by the London Convention Treaty. David Santillo, a senior scientist with Greenpeace Research Laboratories, said that his organization supported further research, just not commercial research:

You have pieces of scientific research that are partially or fully funded by private organizations or companies. That's not unique by any means. But you have to make a distinction when commercial research is being done to deliver a certain outcome. If you have research that's being funded on the understanding that it will produce revenue at the end, it's clearly not objective science.

More about iron fertilization
German Scientist Outlines Massive Iron Fertilization Plan to Save the Antarctic
Where We Stand on Iron Fertilization
What Would Be the Side Effects of Iron Fertilization?

Related Content on