Offshore Climate Engineering Comes A Little Closer To A Reality

New Wave Media

November 18, 2013

planktos bloom MODIS true color aug

planktos bloom MODIS true color aug

credit Miriam Goldstein/NASA

In the last few days, as death tolls in the Phillipines following Typhoon Haiyan have neared 4,000, many ponder the link between climate change and a future replete with more frequent and intense hurricane activity.

Coincidentally, discussions between the world's most affluent countries about how to tackle the issue of a warming climate have only worsened. Japan, who recently announced the opening of new wind and solar power sources, announced that they will cut their carbon emissions just 3.8% by 2020. Canada and Australia have made similar proclamations. 

Which begs the question: if we can't lower carbon emissions, are efforts to artifically manipulate our climate a possibility?

One such method, known as ocean fertilization, made headlines last year when an indigenous nation in northwest Canada - with help from geoengineering firm Planktos - dumped 100 tons of iron dust into their island's waters in an attempt to bring back the salmon population. The iron spawned a phytoplankton bloom which, as some theorize, might bring back higher order predators such as salmon. 

In climate change circles, ocean fertilization (also known as "iron fertilization") could be used to create blooms in oligotrophic (low-life) areas of the ocean. Adding iron spawns a phytoplankton bloom which would draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Last October, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a new amendment that would regulate geoengineering projects such as iron fertilization. 

From the IMO brief: 

"Marine geoengineering is defined as 'a deliberate intervention in the marine environment to manipulate natural processes, including to counteract anthropogenic climate change and/or its impacts, and that has the potential to result in deleterious effects, especially where those effects may be widespread, long-lasting or severe'."

In the last few years, the idea of manipulating the earth's atmosphere and altering marine ecosystems vastly has been compared to science fiction and dismissed by many scientists as farfetched. However many scientists were struck to read that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - for the first time - included geoengineering in their most recent report. 

Ideally, it would be nice if all countries responsible for increasing carbon dioxide emissions would step up to the plate and do their part to reduce. But as the debate dwindles on and countries continue with "business as usual", perhaps new technologies will become our planet's only answer.