Science, policy and large-scale fertilization of the ocean for carbon offsets IGBP 20th Anniversary Symposium Earth System...
1988 The “Iron Hypothesis” gains prominence Nature 331 p341-343 1988
“ give me half a tanker of iron, and I will give you the next ice age” …  John Martin
1990  Report is “released” Plenty of publicity
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 ...
1993-2006+   Research has been successful
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 ...
Promotional materials distributed on the web Farming the Ocean  by Michael Markels, Jr., Ocean Farming, Inc., USA Ocean fa...
Recurring theme: Unrecognized Potential Side Effects Successful fertilization must change water transparency Tomascik et a...
Another idea Fertilization of Ocean Waters with Nitrogen will Provide Food and Sequester Carbon http://www.oceannourishmen...
Mississippi ‘Dead Zone’ Low oxygen water… has spread across nearly 5,800 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico Nutrient input...
Both “High-Nutrient, Low-Chlorophyll” and Open-Ocean Blue Waters were Targets Stimulation of Nitrogen Fixation Transformat...
Objections were raised
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></...
Promotions continued
Others withdrew from the spotlight
2007 Major program of iron fertilization announced
NGOs raise concerns
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 ...
Key Concept: Project Boundary “ the project boundary shall encompass all anthropogenic emissions by sources of greenhouse ...
What is the Project? 25 Gt(C) over 50 years
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>...
Arguably it cannot be done with acceptable accuracy
We have a basis for rational discussion
Thank you
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Science, policy and large-scale fertilization of the ocean for carbon offsets

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John J. Cullen

Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 4J1

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  • Science, policy and large-scale fertilization of the ocean for carbon offsets

    1. 1. 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]
    2. 2. 1988 The “Iron Hypothesis” gains prominence Nature 331 p341-343 1988
    3. 3. “ give me half a tanker of iron, and I will give you the next ice age” … John Martin
    4. 4. 1990 Report is “released” Plenty of publicity
    5. 5. February 1991 Scientists tackle the issue head-on
    6. 6. 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>
    7. 7. 1993-2006+ Research has been successful
    8. 8. Results reported in the scientific literature … virtually inaccessible to the general public
    9. 9. Relevant research routinely sensationalized by the media ?
    10. 10. 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.
    11. 11. 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 &quot;commons&quot; 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.
    12. 12. Recurring theme: Unrecognized Potential Side Effects Successful fertilization must change water transparency Tomascik et al. 1993
    13. 13. Another idea Fertilization of Ocean Waters with Nitrogen will Provide Food and Sequester Carbon http://www.oceannourishment.com
    14. 14. 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
    15. 15. 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
    16. 16. Objections were raised
    17. 17. A range of views Still virtually inaccessible to the general public
    18. 18. 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>
    19. 19. Promotions continued
    20. 20. Others withdrew from the spotlight
    21. 21. 2007 Major program of iron fertilization announced
    22. 22. NGOs raise concerns
    23. 23. After 20 years, ocean fertilization is gaining recognition in ocean policy
    24. 24. Basically, a call for an environmental impact assessment
    25. 25. … and markets will require stringent verification An example
    26. 26. 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>
    27. 27. 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.”
    28. 28. What is the Project? 25 Gt(C) over 50 years
    29. 29. If ocean fertilization is to significantly influence atmospheric carbon dioxide, the project boundary is the whole ocean.
    30. 30. 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
    31. 31. Arguably it cannot be done with acceptable accuracy
    32. 32. We have a basis for rational discussion
    33. 33. Thank you

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