Iron fertilisation projects are “too risky” for carbon offsets

13 January 2008

An ambitious proposal to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by fertilising the oceans is still too experimental and risky to be used in earnest, scientists warn today

Leading marine scientists have issued a warning that it is too early to sell carbon offsets from the use of iron to fertilise the growth of microscopic marine plants which take up carbon dioxide.

Published in the journal Science, signatories include scientists from the US, Japan, Hawaii, New Zealand, The Netherlands, India, Germany and the UK.

The UK is represented by Prof Andrew Watson of the University of East Anglia and Dr Richard Lampitt of SouthamptonUniversity's National Oceanography Centre. "There are at least two companies who want to do ocean iron fertilization for profit -- Planktos and Climos," sayd Prof Watson.

Prof Watson adds: "While we do envision the possibility of iron fertilisation as an effective form of carbon offsetting, we believe larger scale experiments are needed to assess the efficiency of this method and to address possible side effects.

"There remain many unknowns and potential negative impacts."

Ocean iron fertilisation is one of several ambitious methods proposed for reducing the rise in atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas. Research since 1993 has shown that releasing iron onto the ocean surface can stimulate the growth of plankton.

However, the efficiency with which it takes carbon from the atmosphere and retains it in the deep ocean - as the plants die - is still uncertain and unintended ecological impacts are not yet fully understood.

Despite the scientific uncertainties, private companies are currently planning larger-scale iron releases to generate the sale of carbon credits.

The joint letter concludes "it is premature to sell carbon offsets" from the first generation of commercial experiments unless there is better demonstration that the method effectively removes carbon dioxide, retains that carbon in the ocean for a quantifiable amount of time, "and has acceptable and predictable environmental impacts."


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