Thursday, June 26, 2008

One of the most valuable technologies in world today

I’ve had a few people ask “why are you working on iron fertilization when so many people are so violently opposed to it?” Good question. The answer is, I'm beginning to have a bit of a sense of history. Perhaps it comes with advancing age. I’d like to think that in my life I’ve made some contribution to the world.

From that perspective, there is no single technology on the planet, that I can think of, that is more important and more deserving of my attention than iron fertilization.

The fact that so many people are so violently and even hysterically opposed to it simply confirms for me that it is big, big, big. Assuming it can be made to work, and I think there is a very good chance it will, iron fertilization is probably one of the most potent techniques the human race has discovered in years.

It has the capability of making planetary scale improvements in the ocean. Just the increase in fish and ocean life, if valued in dollars, runs into the billions.

It has the capability of helping large swaths of the human population, people who depend on that sealife, who are often struggling to survive and are seeing their livelihoods die away, as the fish disappear.

If Climos and Planktos are to be believed, it has the potential to remove vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a process that by any measure is worth many billions of dollars per year, at least.

Opponents of the technique have focused on the “carbon credit” aspect of the field, assuming that is the only money to be made (in this case, they hope to stop it completely by blocking carbon credits). As I stated in an earlier post, I don’t believe that will succeed; sooner or later, national governments will begin fertilizing regardless of what the environmentalists say. But even beyond the carbon credit value, there will be massive amounts of money, in the form of research funds and much more, flowing into the area of iron fertilization, and into the area of ocean science in general. Firms that have the scientific expertise, connections, and the reputation will be in a position to rake in the government contracts. That itself could be the basis of the next big environmental services company.

Does all this come without any risk whatsoever? Of course not. It's possible that it won't work, that it will fizzle out. But even the research required to arrive at that answer will be the fascinating scientific exploration.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

International Groups Grappling With Iron Fertilization Realities

A correspondent passed along the text shown below. It's government-talk, but what it essentially says is:

"One international study group claims that iron fertilization should only be allowed if it's near shore and small scale"

"Second international group points out this is silly. Iron fertilization doesn't work near shore. It is by definition a deep ocean phenomenon. "

That is a gross simplification, so please read it yourself. But in any case, this is a great example of the process that will eventually result in iron fertilization being authorized and accepted. People will slowly work their way through the various statements and positions, some intelligent, some nonsensical. Slowly the issue will resolve itself and the various regulators will begin to see whose opinions can be trusted. The press will eventually become a little less hysterical and a little more supportive. The public will eventually follow suit.

OIF Update: A Statement on Ocean Iron Fertilization (OIF) by the IOC Ad-hoc consultative group on OIF was released in advance of next week's meeting.

Next week the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) meets in Paris for the 41st session of the Executive Council. The IOC is a part of UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Approximately 230 Delegates from 53 nations will participate.

In preparation for this meeting, IOC Ad-hoc Consultative Group on OIF released a response to the recent statement by the Convention on Biological Diversity. This is attached.

III. ADDENDUM (June 14, 2008):
Response to the statement of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity on Ocean Fertilization Activities (30 May 2008)

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) ad hoc Consultative Group on Ocean Fertilization is concerned that the statement on ocean fertilization activities issued by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in Bonn on 30 May 2008 places unnecessary and undue restriction on legitimate scientific activities.

The statement reads, in part, "[The Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biodiversity (COP of the CBD)] ... urges other Governments, in accordance with the precautionary approach, to ensure that ocean fertilization activities do not take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities, including assessing associated risks, and a global transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanism is in place for these activities; with the exception of small scale research studies within coastal waters." The IOC ad hoc Consultative Group on Ocean Fertilization notes that:

(1) The COP of the CBD recognizes "the ongoing scientific and legal analysis [of ocean fertilization] occurring under the auspices of the London Convention (1972) and the 1996 London Protocol."

(2) The CBD proposes that “ocean fertilization activities do not take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities, …with the exception of small scale scientific research studies within coastal waters.” The restriction of experiments to coastal waters appears to be a new, arbitrary, and counterproductive limitation. The most useful ocean fertilization experiments to date have been performed in open ocean environments, as this is where marine productivity is most commonly limited by micronutrients. There is no scientific basis for limiting such experiments to coastal environments.

(3) There are good scientific reasons to do larger experiments, including diminishing dilution near the center of the experimental area and obtaining better data relating to vertical transport processes. "Small scale" is a relative term. A circle 200 km in diameter would cover less than one ten-thousandth of the ocean.

(4) We are concerned about the phrase in the CBD statement "global transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanism … for these activities". We assume that “these activities” refers to ocean fertilization activities for the purpose of introducing additional carbon dioxide into the ocean, as distinct from purposes such as legitimate scientific investigation. It would be helpful if this phrase were clarified to make this important distinction evident

(5) Preservation of biodiversity in marine systems may require good scientific information from manipulative experiments in the open ocean. A careful science-based "assessment of associated risks" depends on knowledge that could be gained by further experimentation.

(6) It is essential for sound and unbiased scientific advice to be available to intergovernmental deliberations on the issue of ocean fertilization both to protect the marine environment and to ensure that marine scientific research is not unnecessarily hindered. The IOC should continue to provide scientific advice to the London Convention Scientific Group, as well as other international or intergovernmental deliberations, as requested.

The Ad-Hoc Group is:

Ken Caldeira (Chair), Carnegie Institute of Washington, Stanford, USA; Philip Boyd, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, New Zealand; Ulf Reibesell, Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, Germany; Christopher Sabine, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA; Andrew Watson, University of East Anglia, UK.

As a part of the Executive Council meeting, Dr. Maria Hood of the IOC, will present an update to the delegates on the recent IMO London Convention Scientific Group meeting in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The abstract for her session is as follows:

Report on the IMO London Convention Scientific Group Meeting on Ocean Iron Fertilization
IOC Programme Specialist in the Ocean Sciences Section, Dr Maria Hood, will introduce this item. Given the prominence and impact of the IPCC Assessment Report 4, the successful positioning by the UN of the Climate Change issue on top of the international agenda, and in view of the ongoing negotiations for a post 2012 agreement on the Climate Change regime under UNFCCC, ocean iron fertlization has received renewed attention.

DECISION 4.3.5: The Executive Council will be invited to provide any guidance it deems desirable to the Executive Secretary to pursue the development of sound and unbiased scientific advice to support the London Convention Scientific Group’s work on ocean fertilization as requested, as well as any other general guidance with respect to this issue and to report on developments and environmental implications of ocean CO2 sequestration to the Member States.

IOC/INF-1247: Report on the IMO London Convention Scientific Group Meeting on Ocean Fertilization

About the IOC

The IOC was created in 1960 to promote international cooperation and coordinate programmes in research, sustainable development, protection of the marine environment, capacity-building for improved management, and decision-making. It assists developing countries in strengthening their institutions to obtain self-driven sustainability in marine sciences. On a regional level, it is coordinating the development of tsunami early warning and mitigation systems in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the North-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. It also facilitates interagency coordination through the UN-Oceans mechanism and works with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in establishing a process for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment. Through the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)—the ocean component of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS)—the IOC helps improve operational oceanography, weather and climate forecasts and monitoring and support the sustained observing needs of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

About the 41st Session of the IOC Executive Council

The IOC Executive Council elected in 2007 will meet at the IOC Headquarters in Paris on 24 June – 1 July 2008. The forty Member States that will convene for the 41st session of the Executive Council will have in front of them a rich and challenging agenda. They will consider the results of the first session of the Working Group on the Future of IOC, tasked with identifying options for enhancing the role of IOC in terms of institutional arrangements, financial resources, and relations with other intergovernmental and international organizations. The Executive Council will also discuss and adopt a programme of activities for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of IOC in 2010 that will take stock of the achievements of the Commission as well as current and future needs in terms of ocean science, observations and capacity-building. Among other items on the agenda before the Executive Council include an Operational Plan for the 2008–2009 biennium, the identification of possible activities in the area of marine ecosystems, and the coordination of regional tsunami early warning systems.