Ocean-fertilisation test delayed

A German-led ocean-fertilisation experiment in the Southern Ocean has been suspended following protests by environmental groups concerned about its effects on marine ecosystems, the magazine Nature reported. Germany’s science ministry asked researchers to commission an independent assessment of the test, part of the search for possible ways of sequestering carbon dioxide from the air.


Scientists onboard the icebreaker Polarstern, operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), had planned to dump 20 tonnes of iron sulphate over 300 square kilometres of the Scotia Sea to induce an algal bloom. Using extra nutrients to stimulate algal growth is thought to be a potential path to carbon sequestration.


AWI’s experiment would be the sixth iron-fertilisation experiment in the Southern Ocean since 1993. The researchers say the procedure is harmless to the environment and consistent with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.


“We hadn’t expected such an avalanche of protest,” Ulrich Bathmann, an AWI biological oceanographer, told Nature. It is unfortunate, he said, that the experiment has been “lumped together in an undifferentiated way with industrial waste-dumping activities, with which it has absolutely nothing in common.”


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