Planktos

A weird one. Planktos is a for-profit company that appears to intend to sequestrate CO2 by causing algal blooms. Anyone with more info on this is invited to comment.

And they will sell you CO2 offsets. For example: The average international flight is 9-20 hours long and produces 2 tons of CO2 per passenger. 4 tons of CO2 equivalents will be retired on your behalf to negate 100% of your carbon footprint for this return flight is only $20. How can the average flight be 9-20 hours long and yet produce exactly 2 tons?

But more importantly, why should you believe that they ar doing anything to earn this money? They say At sea, Planktos uses a process called iron replenishment to restore declining plankton growth in the open seas. We revive plankton populations by adding iron dust to the ocean. Iron is a critical micronutrient needed by plankton for photosynthesis. It normally reaches the oceans in wind-borne iron-rich dust from arid lands, but that dust supply has fallen 30% over the past 30 years, resulting in a 10% decline in plankton populations since the late 1970s. Extensive research projects have shown that adding tiny amounts of iron can powerfully regenerate plankton growth. Stimulating plankton blooms not only captures global warming CO2, but also restores ocean ecosystems, as plankton is the base of the food chain. but are rather short on any details: who says iron dust has fallen? how much extra plankton has planktos created? how much CO2 has that sequestered? has anyone verified this? And so on… But perhaps In 2007, Planktos will begin plankton restoration… is the answer: they haven’t actually started yet.

Their science page is a bit thin on science. But the share price seems to be doing OK (no this is not a plug). But will it survive the EPA declaring it illegal?. More from ETC.

Doing this commercially seems to be wildly premature: both because we dont know if it will work (so how can you sell credits, apart from the obvious answer of “anyone can sell credits to anyone dumb enough to buy them”) and we don’t know it won’t have unplesant side-effects.

[Update: the SOLASS statement is worth reading: ...Given our present lack of knowledge, the judgement of the SOLAS SSC is that ocean fertilisation will be ineffective and potentially deleterious, and should not be used as a strategy for offsetting CO2 emissions... -W]

[Update: silly me: RC did this a while ago -W]

Comments

  1. #2 Steve Kerry
    2007/06/27

    A couple little comments.

    First, the EPA didn’t declare it illegal. Amazing how that story has been bounced around and inflated by various people intent on blocking this research.

    [OK, not illegal. But that they need a permit to do it, and according to the story they are going to do it via flag of convenience rather than get the permit -W]

    Secondly, it’s not “premature” at all. Scientists have been doing this for decades. They’ve been calling for a “larger scale, longer duration” experiment but nobody could figure out how to fund it. Planktos is risking private money to do so. But ultimately what they are doing is scientific research.

    [I disagree. There have been a few experiments, no more - you make it sound routine; it isn't at all. If they are doing sci res, how can they be selling carbon credits from it? They don't know how many credits they can sell! -W]

    Thirdly, I personally believe the eco organizations trying to stop this are shooting themselves in their collective feet. Planktos appears to be trying to “do this well” and appears to have the right motives. They have done the right thing in announcing and informing the public and inviting scrutiny. If they are killed off, then the the next firm to attempt it (there are many lined up) will simply do it in secret and will be very unlikely to give a *&% about science or the environment or public scrutiny.

    [How can a firm "do this in secret" and still sell credits for it? How is it "doing the right thing" by going for flag of convenience rather than EPA permit? I'm not totally opposed to this, but you haven't convinced me it isn't premature - where is their science? -W]

    My 2 cents.

  2. #3 Dunc
    2007/06/27

    so how can you sell credits, apart from the obvious answer of “anyone can sell credits to anyone dumb enough to buy them”

    Well, that’s the carbon offset industry all over, isn’t it? Pick the most advantageous boundaries and timescales, count hypothetical future savings as actual current savings, don’t consider any effects beyond your designated boundaries and timescales… Most of ‘em make Enron look like a model of probity in accounting.

  3. #4 Tim Worstall
    2007/06/27

    I had a look at this a few months back: I admit I didn’t know they were already selling credits.
    It’s not so much that iron levels are falling: it’s that we know that here are huge areas of the oceans with insufficient iron (naturally so), by adding to it we can encourage algal growth and some portion of this CO2 capture does not return to the atmosphere (or ocean) but sinks.
    There’s a huge amount still to do: there are still arguments over how much sequestration there actually is for example.
    But if Planktos are experimenting (which is what I’ve seen so far, your information above is new to me) then it’s experiments that really should be done. I did some back of the envelope type calculations, based on reasonable prices:

    “So, by sticking $100,000 worth of iron powder into the ocean we can stop $300,000,000 worth of damage from CO2 emissions.

    So, yes, assuming that the technology actually works, we seem to have found a cost effective way of dealing with emissions. Something like 3.3 cents per tonne carbon in fact.”

    (http://timworstall.typepad.com/timworstall/2007/05/seeding_the_oce.html)

    Whether it’s true or is simply snake oil from stock salesmen I have no idea: but bloody interesting if true, no?

    [If true, but there seems to be an awful lot missing. You're not considering all the associated costs; and you're taking at face value their undoubtedly-too-optimistic numbers -W]

  4. #5 paul johnston
    2007/06/27

    This is snake-oil selling on a grand scale it seems to me..much as you would expect from a CEO who also (through the related company D2Fusion) is pushing cold fusion sales with a unit expected on the market by 2007! Also worth looking at the scientists statement at:

    http://www.uea.ac.uk/env/solas/

    where the potential problems with ocean fertilisation are outlined.

    From my perspective, the idea that we can manage one set of anthropogenic changes by invoking others is techno arrogance of the worst sort.

  5. #6 Heiko Gerhauser
    2007/06/27

    The company seems strange, but I wonder about something else. Why is this approach called geo-engineering? What’s so different compared to planting trees?

    The uncertainty there’ll actually be an emissions reduction, or how large it would be? We know that for trees?

    The potential for negative side effects? Can that be excluded for tree plantations?

    [People are more comfortable with the idea of planting trees. But in practice that too can have bed effects when done on industrial scale -W]

  6. #7 maksimovich
    2007/07/02

    The “gases of the entire atmosphere are in a state of dynamic and perpetual exchange with living matter”.

    Vernadsky “The Biosphere”

    The information about atmospheric warming imparts particular significance to the task of determining the real-life dynamics of the biosphere. The actual contributions of the land and ocean biota’s have not been accurately determined, although there is a great body of literature on the subject.
    Indeed both quantification and qualification of the “carbon cycle” has been handled badly by the UNFCC and WCRP. With simplistic assumptions and generalized parameters that are formatted by “climate scientists “with little understanding of the interconnected and overlapping oscillations of dynamic energy and chemical exchangers far from equilibrium in a dynamic state of self organization

    The extensive scientific discussion of global warming causes a natural wish to relate this process to possible changes in the amount and dynamics of terrestrial and oceanic vegetation. Does this process influence variations in the amount and diversity of plants? Plausible yes, from a metrological perspective. However this is a subset of the total ecosystem and has less importance then either biogeochemical, or biologic parameters.

    In 1961, (the paradox of the plankton) Hutchinson posed his classic question: “How is it possible for a number of species to coexist in a relatively isotrophic or unstructured environment, all competing for the same sorts of materials?”

    Hutchinson gave the particular example of the phytoplankton, from which the paradox is named. Most species of phytoplankton are autotrophic, requiring light, CO2 and about 17 mineral elements, not all of which will be limiting in any particular waters. Yet considerably more species than implied by this can coexist, although in a continued state of increasing and decreasing populations in self organization away from equilibrium in response to environmental and competitive changes ranging from seconds to centuries.

    Changes to absorption and emission of nutrients are also responsive to changes in both the type and spectra of radiation, these inhibit some populations and enhance others.

    Indeed what we can see is the ecological communities of microflora, changing rapidly to meet their changing levels of nutrients and energy is a Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction

    Recent work by two theoretical ecologists (Huisman & Weissing, 1999; 2001),has shown that competition for resources by as few as three species can result in long-term oscillations, even in the traditionally convergent models of plankton species growth. For as few as five species, apparently chaotic behavior can emerge. Huisman and Weissing propose these phenomena as one possible new explanation of the paradox of the plankton, in which the number of co-existing plankton species far exceeds the number of limiting resources, in direct contradiction of theoretical predictions. Continuously fluctuating species levels can support more species than a steady, stable equilibrium distribution.

    Their results show that external factors are not necessary to maintain non-equilibrium conditions; the inherent complexity of the “simple” model itself can be sufficient.

    The publication of dubious ‘catastrophic ‘predictions for the oceans ability to maintain its biological role of atmospheric moderation are simply “creationist wastepaper” the ability of biogenic adaptability is already genetically available “banked for a rainy day so to speak”. Been there done that ,got the T-shirt and the DNA!

    Indeed the simplistic studies of similar taxa, or specific nutrient behaviour response, preclude predictability.

    Indeed what we do know is the observation of a competitive market with winners, losers, coexisting cooperatives, niche specialists etc.its called Evolution and in the ‘microbiological world” evolution is a two way highway.

    These “new industries” the “carbon markets”are merely the sideshow that Lovelock predicted would arise from the attachment of a number to anything that was previously missing from a physical description.

    Recommended reading

    Flynn, K. J. 2005. Castles built on sand: dysfunctionality in plankton models and the inadequacy of dialogue between biologists and modellers. J.Plankton Res. 27: 1205-1210.

    Anderson, T. R. 2005. Plankton functional type modelling: running before we can walk? J.Plankton Res. 27: 1073-1081.

    Hedgepeth, J. W. 1977. Models and muddles. Some philosophical observations. Helgoländer wiss. Meeresunters. 20: 92-104

  7. #8 Magnus W
    2007/07/02

    Posted this on RC: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/thin-soup-and-a-thin-story/#comment-32027

    a bit old but is there any new info that don’t agree?

  8. #9 maksimovich
    2007/07/03

    Magnus

    A quick view of your linked comment.

    1. Oceanic nitrogen fixation has been significantly underestimated.

    2. There is a significant mis-match between the sedimentary
    record and ocean observations with the former
    largely confined to the Holocene and earlier, and the latter
    confined to the Anthropocene: today’s ocean may be
    in a transient state.

    3. Century scale and shorter oscillations occur and are averaged
    out in the paleo record (Altabet, 2006; Gruber and Sarmiento, 1997).

    It is difficult to review the recent literature on denitrification and nitrogen fixation and not suspect that the phrase “the more we look, the more we find”

    Ie more species then we knew existed .More exact DNA analysis allows for more accurate differential classification of Taxa.

    I note you quote dated papers from Capone . I more recent one I would recommend is ..

    Capone, D. G.: Marine nitrogen fixation: what’s the fuss?,

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1369-5274(00)00215-0

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