World's biggest geoengineering experiment 'violates' UN rules?

Or Controversial US businessman's iron fertilisation off west coast of Canada contravenes two UN conventions, says the Graun (h/t Timmy).

This is the same bloke who was behind the failed Planktos stuff. If you're deceptive you might call him an environmentalist - but "chancer" would seem closer to the mark.

But I was interested in:

International legal experts say George's project has contravened the UN's convention on biological diversity (CBD) and London convention on the dumping of wastes at sea, which both prohibit for-profit ocean fertilisation activities. "It appears to be a blatant violation of two international resolutions," said Kristina M Gjerde, a senior high seas adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. "Even the placement of iron particles into the ocean, whether for carbon sequestration or fish replenishment, should not take place, unless it is assessed and found to be legitimate scientific research without commercial motivation. This does not appear to even have had the guise of legitimate scientific research."

That seems to be doing its best to imply that what has been done is illegal. But is it? (Update: via mt, Nature says No and I'll trust them on this point). The WAPO says he is doing it "perhaps illicitly" - obviously it wasn't worth their while to bother check whether its licit or not, so they thought they might as well throw in the allegation and see if it would stick. I've found at least one piece of fringery that calls it "hugely illegal" but I don't trust them at all. The Graun continues with someone called Silvia Ribeiro "of the international technology watchdog ETC Group" saying It is now more urgent than ever that governments unequivocally ban such open-air geoengineering experiments which strongly suggests to me that they aren't illegal, or they wouldn't be trying to get them banned (update: and you definitely should not trust ETC).

More seriously: people - well, scientists - are being veery cautious about iron fertilisation. With the amount of money potentially available from carbon credits, it isn't strange that entrepreneurs, who are by their nature far less cautious, indeed risk-takers, are sniffing around scenting dosh. Though without any kind of accredition, it isn't clear to me why anyone would pay for this as a credit, when they may not get anything recognised out of the far end.


* OIF Accusations Fly at CBD COP11 - Geoengineering Politics
* Is the iron fertilization project off Haida Gwaii a science experiment, business opportunity, or uncontrolled geoengineering?
* Geoengineering and Carbon Sequestration
* Schoppmann Declined Role in Haida OIF Scheme

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"International legal experts" say it's illegal, according to the Guardian, but they only quote Ms. Gjerde as saying that. Ms. Ribeiro, meanwhile, mentions that the Haida (the First Peoples group who live in that part of Canada) might have a legal case if Mr. George was deceptive, but that would presumably be under Canadian rather than UN law. I agree with your interpretation that it may not actually be illegal (the "perhaps illicitly" comment may mean that there is a plausible but untested legal theory under which it is illegal), and Ms. Ribeiro is definitely saying, "There ought to be a law."

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 16 Oct 2012 #permalink

Wind patterns distributed Kasatochi's fine iron-laden ash across the North Pacific in late summer 2008 resulting in a huge bloom. Hamme 2010 estimated 0.01 Pg Carbon export from the event and concluded that iron fertilization is an inefficient way to sequester Carbon.

Hey finally, somebody who isn't just isn't buying into the hysterics.

In fact George is quite right...the UN "moratorium" is myth. It's just an advisory, created by the same group who are now touting law.

The reality is, the word "dumping" does not apply. It's fertilizing...scientifically, legally, and practically a completely different thing from dumping. Thus all the anti-dumping laws don't apply.

Essentially...Russ George wins this round.

Check out my blog article...

Thosee telling the story ought to have disclosed at the outset that, far from being a purely scientific experiment, this stunt is part of a long running scheme to sell dubious carbon offsets to the unwary- It took considerable reading of some other blogs links for Russ George as the real estate promoter running the show -- his prior operations have drawn the attention of investigative reporters before -as part of earlier Planktos Inc. efforts::

[Was it really that difficult? The Graun mentioned planktos, so the linkage is fairly obvious. And of course I linked it. "this stunt is part of a long running scheme to sell dubious carbon offsets to the unwary" - weeell, you can see why they might not put it in quite those words. And at least nominally, this is an "ocean restoration project" and sold to the locals as good for their salmon ( Which for all I know it might well be. I'm not sure I believe the local's sudden denials of any clue, though -W]

Apart from shovelling rust over the transom of borrowed yachts, George tried to rebrand the Vatican as "the first carbon neutral state" by parlaying a sack of acorns and pine nuts into the hypothetical reforestation of vast swaths of central Europe.

Caveat emptor!, of course, but Planktos seems more of a humbug than an existential threat , if you compre the scale of its cockleshell operation to the giogeochmical cycle of iron .

The natural aeolian riparine and volcanic imputs all simply dwarf wht Planktos can get up to with its rubber duck of a trawler yacht.

100 tonne scale iron fertilization 'experiment' pale in comparison to the inadvertent ocean fertiliation emission stats of the Age of Steam.

In the late Victorian and Edwrdian era, over ten thousand ships burning several times their weigh in coal annually , depositing much of it as fly ash and exhaust rainout astern and alee. The period witnessed a bunker coal trade reckoned in hundreds of millions of tons with an Fe content of several % or more .

Some serious data mining would seem in order to fathom the biological consequences of this massive release, as well as some seabed coring to check the obvious hypothesis- was more biomass captured and sequestered along the shipping lanes than in the oceans at large ?

I published a note on this in Science in 2007 :

[Thanks for the link. Did anyone ever go back and actually look, as you suggested? -W]

It's not uncommon for acts to violate international treaties and commitments, without there actually being any law in place.

(It's standard operating practice in Japan to sign up to things without any intention of actually applying them in an enforceable manner.)

By James Annan (not verified) on 17 Oct 2012 #permalink

[Thanks for the link. Did anyone ever go back and actually look, as you suggested? -W]

Oceanographers have better things to do than pay attention to the envelope back dimensional anaysis physicsts get up to when they sail..

Still, when an inadvertent fertilization experiment runs for fifty tears straight on sea lanes no wider than the Gulf Stream.....

International law can generally only be violated by the national governments which agreed to a given treaty. The regulations developed under the London Convention and Protocol are binding, but not all nations are parties. So it is relevant under which flag Russ's boat operated. The CBD decision is only advisory and nonbinding.

My fault for not noticing your inquiry into Planktos in 2007.


By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 18 Oct 2012 #permalink

I just spent a bit of time trying to calculate how much bigger the Kasatochi eruption was (in terms of iron fertilization) than this 'experiment'. Not sure if my calcs are correct so I've asked a volcanologist to confirm, but I estimate 500 kmol Fe in the experiment. 200 times more from Kasatochi. I'll come back if it turns out I made a big error.

Might it be reasonable to suspect the fly ash from steam engines was relatively large particles? Looking, I find modern higher efficiency coal plants put out particles small enough to be inhaled (they don't fall out immediately, they stay in the air quite a while) and those have been studied: "The amount of bioavailable iron decreased with increasing particle size." Similarly, the natural route for concentrating bioavailable iron and releasing it in the photic zone appears to have been mostly whale poo, and that would have been diminishing as those steamships increased.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 19 Oct 2012 #permalink

More: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Volume 89, 15 July 2012, Pages 173–189

Fractional solubility of aerosol iron: Synthesis of a global-scale data set

"... Despite the wide variety of methods that have been used to define ‘soluble’ aerosol iron, our global-scale compilation reveals a remarkably consistent trend in the fractional solubility of aerosol iron as a function of total aerosol iron loading, with the great bulk of the data defining .... hyperbolic trends that we observe for both global- and regional-scale data .... An increasing body of empirical and model-based evidence points to anthropogenic fuel combustion as the major source of these non-lithogenic ‘combustion’ aerosols, implying that human emissions are a major determinant of the fractional solubility of iron in marine aerosols."

There ya go. Stop using fossil fuels and we'll not only bake from lack of sulfates in the air but asphyxiate from the decrease in ocean fertilization.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 19 Oct 2012 #permalink


tanzania, angola, labrador


The particle size problem is complicated by the state of of division of the iron sulfide that makes up much of the sulfur content of many coals.

If it is present as 'framboidal pyrites" the FeS2 crystallites can be micon -scale , amplifying ash solubility and jarosite formation

AFAICT the Nature article only addresses CBD, not the London Convention.

By Brian Schmidt (not verified) on 21 Oct 2012 #permalink

The ETC case against geoengineering goes like this: it's a giant conspiracy directed by "major energy, aerospace and defence enterprises" who are using, I am not kidding, the "UK's Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences", "joined by counterparts in other countries such as Canada, Germany and Russia", AS WELL AS "conservative think tanks (the very ones that used to deny climate change)" as their front group to "take the heat" for them, i.e. soften the general population up to the idea that "climate chaos is upon us and GHG emissions won't be reduced in time" at which point the villains, i.e. that would be getting back to the "major energy, aerospace and defence enterprises" will unveil their "techno-fixes", that would be geoengineering, which we all must oppose because, clearly, anything this nefarious involving the leading scientific institutions in the world, conservative think tanks, and the major energy aerospace and defence enterprises must indeed be what ETC says it is, i.e. "geopiracy".

Read the entire ETC case on their "Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering" page.

ETC spokesperson Jim Thomas was complaining to the moderator and to me about my satirical piece posted on the Google Geoengineering Group until I posted again, confessing I replied with satire because I thought the entire ETC international effort must be intended as entertainment given the way they describe what geoengineering is on their website.

Funny thing, Jim was silent after that.... He's probably very busy....

By David Lewis (not verified) on 24 Oct 2012 #permalink

It's hardly believable that a man would work for years to perform this experiment and then throw all care to the wind when it comes to doing the scientific work needed.

The view of the media is worthless in any scientific regard. I think we should look at all the facts before jumping to the conclusion that this lacks scientific method. If their website is truthful, than they certainly had the right equipment and methodology to collect valid scientific data.