Geoengineering Nut Dumps Tons of Iron Into Ocean

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Geoengineering is an intimidating prospect without crusaders who decide to act alone. A businessman who originally hoped to sell carbon offsets by seeding the ocean with plankton has dumped tons of iron from a fishing boat into the Pacific.

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We first mentioned Planktos back in 2010 as a company hoping to sell carbon offsets by seeding the ocean with iron. The insane idea: iron will spur phytoplankton growth and the resulting blooms will absorb a whole bunch of CO2. This geoengineering scheme has been one of the most controversial theoretical ways to combat global warming.

Back then Planktos was putting its intense plans on hold. However, the Guardian is now reporting that the American businessman behind the company, Russ George, dumped 100 tons of iron sulphate into the Pacific over the summer. He did it from a fishing boat 200 nautical miles from the British Columbia archipelago Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Local people on the islands thought George was undertaking a "salmon enhancement project," and would never have supported it had they known about the potential negative effects, the president of Haida nation told the Guardian. The iron dump likely violated international rules and the United Nations might take it up at their environmental summit in India this week.

Satellite imagery of the area apparently shows an enormous artificial plankton bloom. (I tried to replicate it for you using NASA's Giovanni portal but public data doesn't stretch into 2012. Sorry, guys.) Oh but rest assured, George claimed his team of unidentified scientists is monitoring the results using borrowed equipment.

Just how bad is this? University of Western Ontario scientists published findings several years ago showing that iron fertilization in the ocean causes one type of phytoplankton to produce potent neurotoxins. That means death for marine life, and humans who consume any of those fish.

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It's hard to imagine a real-life move that could make the scheme to shoot mirrors into space seem reasonable, but Russ George has succeeded. I fear that he's going to inspire other rogue geoengineers to act recklessly. The oceans have enough problems. Anyone intentionally taking an enormous dump in it should pay the price.