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A Stance on Ocean Iron Fertilization

A group of international researchers send a message to decision makers that large-scale release of iron into the ocean to generate carbon offsets is premature both scientifically and economically (Policy Forum, Science, Jan 2008).

While privately funded large-scale iron release experiments are going ahead to generate carbon offsets, the uncertainty involved seriously puts in question the viability of iron fertilization as a mechanism for mitigating the effects of anthropogenic CO2. Ken Buesseler and colleagues acknowledge that the dozen small-scale ocean iron fertilization studies conducted between 1993 and 2005, have provided valuable data about the role iron plays in ocean ecosystems, but they point out that the research was not designed to lay the ground work for using iron as a strategy for carbon sequestration related to carbon offsets (see also review by P. Boyd et al., 2007).

Before ocean iron fertilization can be adopted as a mitigation strategy, the authors underline the urgent need to design experiment on longer special and temporal scales so that the fate of fixed carbon can be clearly verified. Beyond the technical aspects, rest the no less important issues of long-term ecological impacts on the food web and marine resources. Last but not least, the cost-benefit ratio of ocean iron fertilization needs an in-detail comparison with other mitigation strategies, before it can be considered a viable tool for carbon offsets.

Over the last 12 months, ocean iron fertilization has been regularly in the headlines following publications on future experiments design, natural Aeolian iron fertilization and privately funded large-scale experiments. The International Maritime Organization held a consultation meeting in November 2007 concluding that "given the present state of knowledge regarding ocean fertilization, such large-scale operations are currently not justified".

The Royal Society has commissioned a special issue to be published in October 2008 in the Philosophical Transactions A entitled 'Geo-Scale approaches to avoiding dangerous climate change' addressing potential and problems with geo-engineering strategies, including Ocean Iron Fertilization.


Buesseler, K.O., S. C. Doney, D. M. Karl, P. W. Boyd, K. Caldeira, F. Chai, K. H. Coale, H. J. W. de Baar*, P. G. Falkowski, K. S. Johnson, R. S. Lampitt*, A. F. Michaels, S. W. A. Naqvi, V. Smetacek*, S. Takeda, A. J. Watson*, 2008. Ocean Iron Fertilization – Moving Forward in a Sea of Uncertainty, Science Vol 315 p.612, DOI 10.1126/science.1154305 *EUROCEANS PIs

Other Research Highlights in Iron Fertilization
- Role of Iron in Oceans and Climate Change - 2 Feb 2007
- Iron Fertilization kicks up dust – 7 May 2007

Relevant Outreach Links 
- EUROCEANS film on Iron Fertilization – Should we manipulate the oceans?
- Wil Iron Firtilization Work? The answers to all your questions prepared by OCEANUS magazine
- PLANKTOS dead in the water -

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