Press Release 2010.05.27

Iron Fertilization Dead in the Water? Controversial Geoengineering Proposal Banned in US Climate Change Legislation

MIAMI, FL (May 27, 2010) -- Climate change legislation released by Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman earlier this month delivered a major blow to ocean fertilization, a controversial geoengineering proposal.  Language in the American Power Act essentially bans iron and urea fertilization, the dumping of iron ferrites or urea to stimulate blooms of carbon-capturing plankton as a means to mitigate climate change.

Ocean fertilization has been considered by some entrepreneurs and scientists as a quick and easy fix for climate change.  In theory blooms of ‘fertilized’ algae would store atmospheric carbon, which then sink to depth.  Other scientists have argued that the concept offers a too simplistic of view of ocean dynamics and lacks scientific merit.  International ocean studies examining the fertilization effects of iron have produced results that fall far short of expectations.

Environmentalists have raised concern over potential impacts, including the triggering of toxic algal blooms which could kill fish and create oceanic dead zones, increased ocean acidification, poisoning of marine mammals, and release of greenhouse gasses.

Blue carbon supported - The Act supports measures to enhance the ocean’s natural carbon function, a concept that has been termed ‘blue carbon’ by the environmental community.  The restoration and conservation of certain coastal and marine ecosystems, which capture and store atmospheric carbon, are included in the Act’s list of eligible climate mitigation projects. 

Recent reports produced by the United Nations Environment Programme and International Union for Conservation of Nature found that, when healthy, mangrove forests, saltwater marshlands and seagrass meadows are extremely effective at storing atmospheric carbon, thereby mitigating climate change.  The reports are titled ‘Blue Carbon’ and ‘The Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks,’ respectfully.

“The Senators should be commended for their strong environmental and climate change leadership, and for demonstrating the precautionary principal with regard to potentially dangerous ocean fertilization,” said Steven Lutz, Executive Director of Blue Climate Solutions, a marine conservation organization that supports blue carbon policies.  “Environmental impacts associated with ocean fertilization schemes could dwarf the current Gulf oil spill disaster."

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Additional information:

Please note that the American Power Act is a discussion draft and awaits formal introduction in the Senate.

Blue carbon language is also included in the Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 2009 (S. 2729).  This Act was introduced late last year and is sponsored by nine senators;  Senator Debbie Ann Stabenow (MI), Max Baucus (MT), Mark Begich (AK), Sherrod Brown (OH), Robert Casey (PA), Thomas Harkin (IA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Bill Nelson (FL), and Jeanne Shaheen (NH).