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Planning for plan B

Source:  Copyright 2009, Nature
Date:  December 17, 2009
Original URL: Status ONLINE

When Victor Smetacek and his colleagues cruised to the Southern Ocean in January 2009, they hoped to launch straight into pouring ten tons of iron sulphate into the waters below. Instead they spent days on board cranking out a risk assessment of their experiment, making the case that their plans were legal.

This kind of experiment had been done a dozen times before with little fanfare. The scientists were mainly interested in understanding iron's role in ocean ecosystems. But because their results would also be crucial for testing the feasibility of a particular plan to cool the climate, fierce opposition met the experiment by Smetacek — an oceanographer from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany — and his Indian collaborators. Infusing the ocean with iron could stimulate the growth of plankton blooms, which theoretically would draw carbon down into the deep sea, keeping it out of the atmosphere for hundreds or even thousands ...

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