On hold

Published: Sunday 15 February 2009

Experiment to sink carbon into ocean

AN Indo-German experiment to induce a green algal bloom on the surface of the South Atlantic Ocean has been called off for the time being following protests from environmentalists. Scientists with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany and the National Institute of Oceanography (nio) in Goa were trying to prove that algae can be grown to absorb carbon and counter climate change.

Germany's science ministry has asked the Wegener Institute and nio to commission an independent assessment of the environmental impacts the experiment may have before going ahead. Environmentalists said the experiment violates the United Nation's convention on biological diversity (cbd) moratorium on ocean fertilization to which 191 countries, including India and Germany, are signatories.

The carbon sequestration project was called off by the Federal Environment Minister of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel. The experiment called lohafex (loha means iron in Hindi and fex stands for fertilization experiment) proposes spreading six tonnes of ferrous sulphate in a 300 sq km ocean swathe to induce rapid growth of algae that form the base of aquatic food chains. In the Southern Ocean, their growth is limited by availability of iron, hence the proposal to spread iron dust on the ocean surface.

The algae convert carbon dioxide gas into organic carbon and sink to the bottom of the sea when they die. Many see business opportunity in growing algae to offset climate change and earn green credits.

Wajid Naqvi, one of the nio scientists involved with the experiment, said a delay of a week or 10 days in getting final clearance from the German government will not affect schedule. He said that scientists are going ahead with the preparations.

Naqvi defended the lohafex and said the cbd allows small-scale experiments. In any case cbd has been superseded by the International Maritime Organization's London Protocol in its meeting in October 2008 where it said further research is needed, he added.

Jim Thomas of etc Group, an international advocacy group, said the German geo-engineers seemed intent on "defying the UN agreement and their own environment minister".

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