Freelance geo-engineering feat alarms scientists

An entrepreneur under contract with a native village in Canada dumped tons of iron in the Pacific to spark a plankton bloom that would capture carbon dioxide. That violated ocean treaties, and angered scientists who are studying that kind of geo-engineering.

What do you get when you combine an aggressive entrepreneur with a big idea to change the planet? A whole lot of ticked off scientists. And maybe a bigger problem.

All the details aren't known. But apparently a California businessman, Russ George, "managed to convince a small village on the west coast of Canada to give him a large amount of money to go out into the ocean and dump a large amount of iron," says Jim Thomas, a researcher with the ETC group, which helped uncover the plan.

The idea: The iron would encourage the growth of plankton, which would draw fish and trap carbon dioxide, maybe earning some carbon credits.

"So that's basically what he did," Thomas says. "He set up a company and went out and dumped iron in the ocean."

In the process, George appears to have violated international agreements about ocean experimentation and geo-engineering the environment.

"Perhaps most important to me," says Andrew Parker from the Harvard Kennedy School, "is it contravened the spirit of the international agreements. Which is the spirit, that this really controversal area of research, if and when it goes ahead, it should be transparent, it should be subject to public oversight."

George also crossed a whole lot of scientists. "I'm a little dismayed that the finance and the entreprenurial spirit has gotten way ahead of the science on this topic," says Kenneth Coale, a professor at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, who's been studying the potential of seeding the oceans with iron for years.

He says there are potential and not-fully-understood risks to this sort of geo-engineering. And he worries that the outcry over the project could jeopardize good science in the future.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...