RELEASE: Rogue German Ship Fertilizing Southern Ocean in Dangerous Climate Geo-Engineering Experiment

Precedent set that researchers can experiment on Earth's shared biosphere without oversight. Protests highlight oceans are not carbon dumps, a biosphere cannot be engineered.
By Earth's Newsdesk, a project of EcoInternet
CONTACT: Dr. Glen Barry,
A biosphere cannot be engineered(Seattle, WA) — RV Polarstern, a German research ship from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, is to dump twenty tons of iron sulphate over 300 square kilometres of the Scotia Sea, off Chile's coast, near the Antarctic Peninsula. The chemical cargo — normally used to treat lawns and sewage — is likely to provoke a massive algal bloom big enough to be seen from outer space.
German and Indian scientists are hoping the experiment will show that such manmade algae blooms can provide a quick fix to climate change by absorbing carbon into the sea. In fact, it is a desperate attempt to put off hard climate change policies by using technology to further create a human dominated “Frankensphere”. Along with other geo-engineering proposals such as space mirrors and aerosol release, seeking to engineer the biosphere holds great risks of unintended consequences such as further climate destabilization and global ecological damage.

The experiment breaches the global moratorium on ocean fertilization activities recently agreed under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity and defies agreements against dumping of wastes in the sea. Ocean fertilization treats oceans as carbon dumps, and will severely deplete already troubled marine ecosystems.
“This is one of the first of many coming attempts to begin 'geo-engineering' the biosphere as a desperate measure to address climate change,” notes Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet's President. “Geo-engineering won't work — the atmosphere is simply too complex — and trying will almost certainly make things worse. It diverts from sufficient emissions reductions, conservation and efficiency, and renewable energy solutions to stop climate change and restore global ecological systems.”
Global protest has already led to a review of the experiment. And in recent days 1,200 people from 63 countries have sent hundreds of thousands of protest emails from EcoInternet's Earth Action Network to the German government[1]. They have demanded the experiment be cancelled, and Germany agrees to a permanent ban on large-scale geo-engineering experiments and implementation, until all other options are exhausted, and global geo-engineering protocols are in place.
EcoInternet provides the world's largest and most used climate and environment portals at and . Dr. Glen Barry is a leading global spokesperson on behalf of environmental sustainability policy. He frequently conducts interviews on the latest climate, forest and water policy developments and can be reached at:

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19 Responses

  1. Brian Dodge says:

    I would have joined you in sending e-mails asking that this experiment be deferred until proper protocols are in place, but your use of inflammatory phrases such as “rogue ship”, “dangerous experiment” and “waste” is not tolerable. I agree that ocean fertilization is very likely a bad idea, but until experiments like these are conducted, WE WON'T KNOW. Do you really believe that the scientists at the Wegener Institute are “rogues”? What is the “danger” of fertilizing (not dumping “waste”) in a miniscule area of the southern ocean? Would you rather act in ignorance and use spin like the right wing instead of finding out the scientific truth?

  2. Vaughn Anderson says:

    I think that the way to look at the iron fertilization experiment is to look at similar types of events that occur either aided or unaided by human intervention. Let's look at two examples:
    1. When a lake or a stream undergoes a fertilization event an algae bloom typically occurs at the beginning then the algae dies as the fertilizer gets used up. As a result the water becomes severely hypoxic. Living organisms in the water dependent on oxygen for survival then die. The lake or stream becomes a rotting stinky mess void of life except for anaerobes.
    2. Fertilization of the ocean already occurs at the mouthes of polluted rivers. Let's look at the Mississippi river where it mixes with the Gulf of Mexico. Can you say “Dead Zone?”
    It seems to me that by adding fertilizer to an area of the Antarctic Ocean will precipitate a similar result. While the types of fertilizers are different, they will still likely produce a similar result. Can we afford to turn a comparatively pristine body of water hypoxic even for a short period of time?

  3. Andrew Lockley says:

    This is simply polemic, based on unreferenced and unsupported assumptions about climate science.
    Geoengineering doubtless carries risks, but research and understanding is the way to understand these.
    It's probably too late for carbon emissions cuts alone to save us, and geoengineering offers the only hope of avoiding dangerous climate change if this proves to be the case.

  4. pat says:

    If they have to try this geo engineering experiment, then why not do it first inc ontrolled conditions and find out if it works over the long term before potentially ruining the ocean, and making it worse.
    Or is this the revenge of the Germans on the world for losing ww 2?
    Looks like it!

  5. zephyr says:

    Andrew Lockley wrote:
    …..It's probably too late for carbon emissions cuts alone to save us, and geoengineering offers the only hope of avoiding dangerous climate change if this proves to be the case…..
    This is EXACTLY the state of affairs many of us have been hoping (praying) for decades would never actually come to pass.
    Isn't it nice that the genuine concerns of so many can now be summarily dismissed by pronouncing the geoengineering of Earth systems to be our last option.
    Since we were too selfish to even consider cutting back by, say as little as 10%, on our use of energy resources, I mean.
    So, let's go ahead now and do more of those ocean iron-dumping studies (several of which have ALREADY been done in case you weren't aware of it. Scroll down and look at the map herein.)
    Let's pump sulfate particles above the tropopause over the Arctic, too, while we're at it, so we can see what happens.
    What the hell. We can synthesize replacement life-support systems, right?

  6. Vaughn Anderson says:

    Apparently I am not the only one thinking about hypoxic conditions. It is common knowledge that algae blooms lead to hypoxia during their demise. The following quote is from BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE EDITION “Plankton Experiment May Create New Hazards,” January 22, 2009:
    “Detractors point out that it will cause a deficiency of oxygen immediately below and around the algal bloom, altering the marine ecosystem structure in a protected area in unknown ways, possibly irreversibly.”–Ingi Salgado

  7. zephyr says:

    Thank you, Vaughn, for the reference news item. Here's the link for those interested in reading the article in its entirety:
    Plankton experiment may create new hazards
    January 22, 2009

  8. zephyr says:

    This is only one of several news items that have already called attention to the marine research community's concerns regarding ocean iron fertilization as a quick fix for atmospheric CO2 overload:
    July 20, 2007
    Planktos Iron Dump Near Galapagos Illustrates Dangers of Carbon Offsets
    …..Leading oceanographers and biochemists say that ocean iron fertilization is unlikely to remove much carbon from the atmosphere in a lasting or significant way, as most plankton die within three to six months and release carbon back in the atmosphere. Such experts also say that the small proportion of carbon that is sequestered at the ocean's bottom through this process is hard to measure. Additionally, experts warn that such fertilization could unintentionally alter ocean ecosystems in ways that lead to the production of methane and nitrous oxide, which contribute to global warming….. END excerpt.

  9. Ironsulfate compounds: A weak base and a strong acid coupled.In water remain the strong acid.Acid water become more acid and this is dangerous for all Carbonate-compounds in water( f.i.: Koralle).In balance may happen, that more Carbondioxyd is produced than coupled. At least:
    Iron ions are part of an redox-system and in connection with sulfatic and nitric acid
    wellknown pesticides.
    The only sense of this procedure
    is the removal of sulphor dioxid
    from fume. – This experiment needs only Industry, for the nature is it dangerous and horrible

  10. Richard Register says:

    Dear Glen,
    Thanks for alerting people to this. Absorbing carbon dioxide into the ocean
    acidifies the ocean. Utterly perverse and narrow focused that scientists of
    any sort should propose this. According to our speaker at the Seventh
    International Ecocity Conference in San Francisco last spring, Marcia
    McNutt, President and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute,
    acidification of the ocean from CO2 is in many ways worse and developing
    faster than the problems of climate change.
    In case you might want more on this subject.
    Richard Register

  11. Brad Arnold says:

    “The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity…” –Dr james Lovelock, Aug '08

  12. Geo-engineering won't work, it is simply too complex and fraught with too many unknown consequences. It will make little impact upon preventing global ecological collapse, but may well preclude any recovery.
    Dr. Glen Barry

  13. Steve says:

    Hi glen,
    See this link also

  14. Yes, saw that. Lots of these experiments coming down the track and without international rules on who can experiment or even implement geo-engineering on our shared biosphere. Scary.

  15. Kalirren says:

    This is different type of fertilization, though; In most coastal regions, the limiting element is carbon, nitrogen, or phosphorus. In the Southern ocean, it's trace metals, in the form of Fe-limitation or Fe/Si colimitation. All of the carbon that is fixed by the bloom comes from atmospheric CO2/dissolved carbonate, as opposed to dissolved organic sources that are more statically present in the water column.
    I do expect that one of the most important questions that will be asked and to a certain extent resolved is what happens to dissolved oxygen concentrations in and around the fertilization zone. It's a question without an obvious answer, because remember that all of the oxygen that will be used to decompose the extra biomass will have been generated by the photosynthesis necessary to make the biomass in the first place.
    This is one of the key differences that iron fertilization exhibits from many other kinds of fertilization. The algal bloom triggered by the fertilization is short-lived, and is quickly overtaken by a eukaryotic phytoplankton bloom predominated by diatoms.
    I really see no reason why we are more upset over a single rogue boat fertilizing the ocean with iron for a defined time than we are over the coal lobby, which represents an industry that continuously and indefinitely pumps CO2 into the atmosphere, the other great international commons.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Kalinen wrote:
    …..I really see no reason why we are more upset over a single rogue boat fertilizing the ocean with iron for a defined time than we are over the coal lobby…..
    But it ISN'T “a single rogue boat.”
    Scroll down on this page to see the map of iron-dumping studies already conducted around the world:
    While I sincerely appreciate your thoughtful explanation of the chemistry involved in the iron-fertilization process as it differs from fertilizer-runoff driven eutrophication (which often results in marine “dead zones”) I cannot be even remotely enthusiastic about deliberately taking such risks with our oceans given that we as a world community haven't yet made sufficient effort in the emissions reduction department.
    EPOCA: Ocean Acidification and its Consequences on Ecosystems
    Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) through human activities have a well known impact on the Earth's climate. Its other, less well known, impact is "ocean acidification", with uncertain consequences on marine organisms and ecosystems. The European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA) will be launched on 10 June 2008. Its goal is to document ocean acidification, investigate its impact on biological processes, predict its consequences over the next 100 years, and advise policy-makers on potential thresholds or tipping points that should not be exceeded.
    The World's oceans cover over 70% of the planet's surface, contribute half of its primary production and contain an enormous diversity of life. Thus it is not surprising that they provide invaluable resources to human society. They also play a vital role in Earth's life support system due to their impact on climate and global biogeochemical cycles and due to their capacity to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).
    The oceans currently absorb half of the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels. Put simply, climate change would be far worse if it was not for the oceans. However, there is a cost to the oceans. When carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, it forms carbonic acid. As more CO2 is taken up by the oceans surface, the pH (a measure of acidity, the lower the pH the greater the acidity) decreases, moving towards a more acidic state. This change is called "ocean acidification" and is happening at a rate that has not been experienced for at least 400,000 years and probably for the last 20 million years.
    The overall goal of the European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA) is to fill the numerous gaps in our understanding of the effects and implications of ocean acidification….. (continued)

  17. zephyr says:

    I forgot to submit my username and e-mail address along with the previous post. Also, I misspelled Kalirren's username. Sorry!

  18. Kalirren says:

    zephyr; no problem. Sometime after adopting this Internet pseudonym I realized how many people tend to spell it weird ways even when not trying. I'm used to it.
    1. Regarding concerns over the potential for creating a zone of widespread anoxia:
    I don't think there -is- a scientific consensus as to what will happen in this respect. What is known is that all previous experiments have been insufficiently large and too short for any such effect to be observable, hence it is still being debated the way it is.
    As I said before, I think one of the reasons why the scientific community has agreed to fund this project in the first place is that the answer to this question -is important and ought to be found out soon-. If you never do the experiment, you're never going to know.
    2. Regarding concerns over ocean acidification
    This I really don't understand. There is no reason to believe that iron-induced phytoplankton blooms cause ocean acidification. There would be no basis for this. On the other hand, there -would- be a basis for saying that it -alleviates- ocean acidification, since the incorporation of calcium carbonate into the shells of certain phytoplankton like coccolithophores effectively removes the carbonate from the oceanic-atmospheric equilibrium.
    But if you're adding iron to the oceans and causing carbon dioxide/carbonate to become built into biomass, and then the biomass degrades through respiration back into CO2, then you're going to end up with the same carbonate concentration in that system. Increased acidification of the oceans cannot possibly result.
    On the other hand, I can understand the objection that the proposed “carbon sequestration” by sending biomass drifting downwards into benthic regions doesn't actually work; what happens if it sinks into some anoxic hole, and there gets converted into methane? Then we have a different problem, a greenhouse gas problem. This I can understand.

  19. Jim Thomas says:

    Once again the battle around ocean fertilization and geo-engineering is heating up. Next week, a high-profile conference on climate change ( will gather some of the world's top scientists and high-ranking government officials for three days in Copenhagen and geo-engineering will be on the table. This will be a landmark event in the lead up to the meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December. There will be a good deal of well-warranted alarm about how global warming is happening faster than we thought, and the need for drastic measures. Sadly, the drastic measures that the geo-engineers are advocating — ocean fertilisation, cloud seeding, biochar, sulphate particles in the stratosphere — are liable to cause even more environmental damage and hurt groups already suffering from climate change. Geo-engineers will be present at that conference, looking for contacts, capital and credibility for their outlandish schemes to re-engineer the planet. It is vital that our views be heard even if we have not paid the 675 euro price of admission.
    Groups at the World Social Forum in Brazil signed on to the statement below regarding the Lohafex mission that the governments of Germany and India authorized despite widespread opposition (see and the CBD moratorium. We would like to launch this statement at the time of conference to ensure that other perspectives will be heard. If your organization is prepared to sign on, please send us your signature by end of day on Monday March 9 (to Please circulate this statement, (also available in Spanish and Portuguese and soon in German) as widely as possible.
    The joint German-Indian experiment, LOHAFEX, that dumped iron in the Scotia Sea last month will be docking in Punta Arena Chile on March 17. We shall also be making the statement known at that time.
    Thank you in advance for your rapid reaction and please do not hesitate to contact me or veronica ( should you require further information.
    Jim Thomas

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