Science, policy and large-scale fertilization of the ocean for carbon offsets
Science, policy and large-scale fertilization of the ocean for carbon offsets IGBP 20th Anniversary Symposium Earth System Science and Society Stockholm – 17 September 2007 John J. Cullen Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 4J1 [email_address]
February 1991 Scientists tackle the issue head-on
Consensus Resolution <ul><li>The American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) formally “…urg[es] all governments to regard the role of iron in marine productivity as an area for further research and not to consider [large scale] iron fertilization as a policy option that significantly changes the need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.” </li></ul><ul><li>(Limnology and Oceanography 1991, Vol. 36) </li></ul>
Results reported in the scientific literature … virtually inaccessible to the general public
Relevant research routinely sensationalized by the media ?
Plans for commercial fertilization of the ocean were quickly developed <ul><li>Patent for fertilization with iron chelate </li></ul><ul><li>May include seeding surface layers with other nutrients, microorganisms, and fish </li></ul>Michael Markels, Jr.
Promotional materials distributed on the web Farming the Ocean by Michael Markels, Jr., Ocean Farming, Inc., USA Ocean farming is the modification of the ocean surface by the addition of nutrients to greatly enhance the productivity of the resource. When applied to large areas of the barren tropical seas, ocean farming can increase the phyto plankton, the base of the food chain, bringing the productivity up to the level that occurs naturally off of the coast of Peru. This can result in an increase in fish catch by a factor of 400 or more. A 53,000 square mile ocean area might see the fish catch go to 50 million tons per year. The carbon dioxide absorbed initially could exceed the production by the United States from the burning of fossil fuels. While the concept of farming is well accepted on land, the extension to the ocean is new. It requires the investment in the resource to increase productivity so the "commons" approach, which has been the tradition in the ocean fisheries, does not suffice. A measure of private property rights are needed, at least within the national exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the host states. The response of much of the oceanographic community has been negative, but after careful study some key oceanographers have endorsed the validity of the project.
Recurring theme: Unrecognized Potential Side Effects Successful fertilization must change water transparency Tomascik et al. 1993
Another idea Fertilization of Ocean Waters with Nitrogen will Provide Food and Sequester Carbon http://www.oceannourishment.com
Mississippi ‘Dead Zone’ Low oxygen water… has spread across nearly 5,800 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico Nutrient input the cause Plankton Biomass oxygen concentration (red and orange very low) Chisholm slide
Both “High-Nutrient, Low-Chlorophyll” and Open-Ocean Blue Waters were Targets Stimulation of Nitrogen Fixation Transformation of Food Webs As Presented by John Cullen, PICES IX, Hakodate, 24 October 2000
A range of views Still virtually inaccessible to the general public
Maritime Law: 1990 – 2006 <ul><li>Jurisdiction is unclear </li></ul><ul><li>No obvious recognition of the problem </li></ul><ul><li>No strong lines of communications with oceanographers </li></ul><ul><li>“ Policy vacuum” </li></ul><ul><li>Elizabeth Mann Borgese </li></ul><ul><li>March, 2000 </li></ul>
After 20 years, ocean fertilization is gaining recognition in ocean policy
Basically, a call for an environmental impact assessment
… and markets will require stringent verification An example
Key Concepts <ul><li>Measurable – within standard margins of measurement error (e.g., +/- 3%) </li></ul><ul><li>Secondary effects must be quantified </li></ul><ul><li>Permanent – with mechanism for immediate replacement or compensation if GHG reduction is reversed </li></ul>
Key Concept: Project Boundary “ the project boundary shall encompass all anthropogenic emissions by sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) under the control of the project participants that are significant and reasonably attributable to the project activity.”
If ocean fertilization is to significantly influence atmospheric carbon dioxide, the project boundary is the whole ocean.
Iron Organic N Phytoplankton Bloom NH 4 N remineralization CO 2 NO 3 - N 2 N 2 0 <ul><li>Nitrous oxide </li></ul><ul><li>Greenhouse gas </li></ul><ul><li>300x CO 2 </li></ul>Lower Oxygen Waters After a slide from S.W. Chisholm Microbial Nitrification N 2 0 Secondary effects must be quantified Microbial Denitrification
Arguably it cannot be done with acceptable accuracy