Indo-German ocean fertilization experiment whips up storm of protest

January 10th, 2009 - 2:44 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Jan 10 (ANI): An Indo-German research ship that is planning an ocean fertilization experiment in the Antarctic Ocean has whipped up a storm of protest.

According to a report in Nature News, the Polarstern, which set sail from Cape Town in South Africa on January 7th, is laden with 20 tonnes of iron sulphate, which it intends to dump into the Antarctic Ocean.

Scientists on the Polarstern have planned an ocean fertilization experiment that some argue will violate international law.

But, according to the scientists, it will yield the very data necessary to assess the impact of the controversial geo-engineering technique, which aims to trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by encouraging the growth of algae.

The team, comprising about 50 scientists from Germany, India, Italy, Spain, Chile, France and Britain, is heading for a small patch of the Scotia Sea between Argentina and the Antarctic Peninsula.

The researchers hope that the iron will induce an algal bloom in this usually nutrient-poor region, and plan to observe the growth and decay of the organisms in unprecedented detail during the following eight weeks.

The experiment is called LOHAFEX, taking its name from loha, the Hindi word for iron. It will be the sixth ocean fertilization study conducted in the Southern Ocean since 1993.

Previous experiments, such as the European Iron Fertilization Experiment (EIFEX) carried out in 2004, indicated that iron fertilization could help to send more carbon-based materials down to the deep ocean.

If applied across the Southern Ocean, it is estimated that ocean fertilization could remove up to a billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year.

This could, in theory, help to mitigate global warming; but as the effects on marine ecosystems and biodiversity are uncertain, most experts hold that large-scale ocean fertilization is currently not scientifically justified.

Environmental campaigners say that LOHAFEX should not have received permission under international rules.

The 300-square-kilometre experiment is neither small-scale, nor confined to coastal waters, they argue.

Were taken aback by this flagrant disregard of international law, said Mariam Mayet, director of the African Centre for Biosafety in Johannesburg. Of all countries, Germany, which brokered the moratorium, has jumped the gun on the ocean fertilization issue again, she added.

The German ministry of the environment has been informed about the experiment and has not raised any objections.

The government of India, which is co-funding the cruise, has also been informed and has approved the experiment. (ANI)

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