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Planktos dead in the water

February 15, 2008 By Rachel Courtland This article courtesy of Nature News.

Company aiming for ocean fertilization says funds have run dry.

The California-based company Planktos has indefinitely postponed its ocean-fertilization project, which the firm claimed would help counter the rise in greenhouse gases.

The bad news for the company, which was unable to raise required funds, is welcome news for many in the scientific community who had been calling for a halt in such plans for years.

The firm planned to use iron dust to promote phytoplankton growth, an approach the company claimed would help lower carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Critics of the approach say that more research is needed to understand the environmental effects of large-scale iron releases, which might include hypoxia and the production of other greenhouse gases.

“These kinds of effects are recognized, but they’re difficult to quantify with confidence,” says John Cullen an oceanographer at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

Although the company said that their work would help to clarify these issues, some scientists worried the firm was proceeding too quickly and did not have the expertise to evaluate its work. “There was very little public affiliation between Planktos and the scientific community,” says Cullen.

“I think they got the cart before the horse, and there’s just a long way to go before we’re ready to do this if at all,” says Ken Johnson of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California. “They were not in a position to generate the credible science or do the experiments.”

Lack of funds

Planktos issued a statement on their website on 13 February saying that “A highly effective disinformation campaign waged by anti-offset crusaders” made it difficult to raise the required funds.

The firm planned to sell shares of its planned carbon dioxide reductions to companies wishing to offset their own emissions. Carbon trading is seen by many economists as a necessary part of future plans to reduce emissions, but different types of offsets come with different risks and uncertainties about their effectiveness.

The scientific advisory group for the parties of the London Convention, the main treaty governing the disposal of waste in the ocean, agreed in November 2007 that large-scale ocean fertilization is not yet justified, given gaps in scientific knowledge. But this statement had no legal standing to prevent Planktos or other companies from pouring iron, which is not viewed as waste, into the sea.

The firm’s pioneer vessel has languished in Madeira since December after being denied entry to a port in the Canary Islands. The ship and its crew has since been recalled.

Other companies are still looking at the concept of ocean fertilization, including the Ocean Nourishment Corporation based in Sydney, Australia, and Climos based in San Francisco, California. Johnson says Climos seems to work more closely with the scientific community. According to Dan Whaley, Climos’s chief executive, the company's first field tests will wait until at least 2009.


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