The very idea of geoengineering–large-scale tampering with the planet’s natural climatological or geological systems to produce a desired effect–is brazen enough, but doing so in violation of two UN conventions is flat-out ballsy. That’s the word we would use to describe California businessman Russ George (we’ve profiled George’s thwarted geoengineering efforts previously) who in July dumped more than 100 tons of iron sulfate into the Pacific in an effort to capture carbon from the air and sink it to the depths of the ocean.
Satellite images have confirmed George’s claim that his efforts have created a huge plankton boom across nearly 4,000 square miles of the northern Pacific. The idea–and George is not the first to have it–is that these plankton will absorb carbon dioxide from the air and then sink to the sea bed, lowering the amount of net carbon in the atmosphere and creating valuable carbon credits for George.
Of course, in lab tests researchers have seen such “ocean fertilization” spawning algae that also pump out neurotoxins. And tampering with the natural order of things can disrupt food chains, alter ecosystems in unexpected ways, expedite ocean acidification (accelerating global warming) and otherwise invite the law of unintended consequences to run rampant, marine authorities say. That’s why the United Nations’ convention on biological diversity and the London convention on the dumping of wastes at sea have both prohibited this kind of for-profit ocean manipulation.
Nonetheless, George conducted the dump from a fishing boat some 200 nautical miles off the shores of Canada’s Haida Gwaii (or Queen Charlotte Islands), an area known for its complex marine ecosystems. And it appears he did so without asking if anyone objected to the idea. Geoengineering is almost always controversial–some see it as the way to mitigate global warming and prevent a global climate calamity, while others see tinkering with the natural order of things as inviting disaster–but it’s even more controversial when you do it without telling anyone.