New and Reinvented?

Rick points out that Planktos is back. Planktos is one of those groups who wanted to fertilize the oceans with iron to sequester C02 out of the atmosphere. Both Rick and I were skeptical. Of course we weren’t the only ones.

This group feels it is premature to sell carbon offsets from the first generation of commercial-scale OIF experiments unless there is better demonstration that OIF effectively removes CO2, retains that carbon in the ocean for a quantifiable amount of time, and has acceptable and predictable environmental impacts. As with any human manipulation of the environment, OIF carries potential risks, as well as potential benefits; moving forward on OIF should only be done if society is willing to acknowledge explicitly that it will result in alteration of ocean ecosystems and that some of the consequences may be unforeseen.

Planktos went under in February of this year. Apparently this hiatus is short lived. Planktos seems to be on a new mission with a new look and website to go with it.

Is this the wolf in a sheep’s cloths or has Planktos really reinvented themselves? One of the reasons Planktos originally closed-up shop, according to them, was a suite of bad publicity. This bad publicity was of course the scientific community questioning the scientific validity and unexpected outcomes of gross iron fertilization in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It appears that Planktos is simply trying to “green” their image. One way of doing this is by now using the term ecorestoration

Our mission is the restoration of damaged habitats in the ocean and on land. By restoring plankton ecosystems in the oceans and growing new forestation projects worldwide, we are able to help mitigate the impacts modern society has on our planet. We engage in active ecorestoration because mere conservation and reduction of our footprint upon the planet will clearly not be sufficient to pass our success as planetary stewards to our children. The harm we have caused this small blue planet must be healed, and it will take a determined and intelligent effort to accomplish this.

Ecorestoration, or restoring plankton ecosystems, is just another way to say ocean iron fertilization. Another quote from the new website that bothers me

Planktos projects restore plankton populations to revive marine ecosystems

However, what specific negative impacts of ocean gross iron fertilization will have both on the ocean’s surface biology but on the deep ocean is largely unknown. The other issue is how much current ocean degradation is actually due to issues that ocean fertilization can mitigate? Probably little.

The new Planktos also claims to solve our ocean fisheries collapse, fuel crisis, ocean acidification, and provide new medicines in addition. The connections between ocean iron fertilization are tenuous at best.

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

11 comments on “New and Reinvented?
  1. Restoration? Sorry, but it was my impression that iron fertilization was intended primarily to be done in iron-limited regions of the ocean that had low productivity long before people started messing up the oceans. Restoration implies a return to a former less-spoiled state, but iron fertilization would be creating a new highly productive state where there never had been one before. And of course that’s ignoring the fact that it doesn’t work anyway, since it has been shown experimentally that the carbon originally thought to have been drawn out of the atmosphere was respired right back out before it sank too far… This is as clear a case of greenwashing as can be.

  2. Au contrair. The record shows that Planktos was long advocating and involved in ecorestoration not merely recently. The Way Back machine easily proves this. The strawman of Planktos that was created and the ad hominem attacks that were and are the hallmark of those opposed to this work for selfish reasons continue here. For example the fact that the Planktos ship Weatherbird was staffed by top scientists from around the world seems not only missing but refused. That Weatherbird was equipped and maintained by the same academic organizations that equip and maintain the NSF and NOAA fleet ships was eschewed. That the ship was captained by the most famous and dedicated professional mariners of Greenpeace, nah just call them bad people without a life long personal history of dedication to the ocean environment. The idea that Planktos projects were overly large at 50 tonnes of natural iron mineral dust into the Eastern Atlantic where 500 million tonnes of dust arrives in the wind was called reckless, what is the fraction 50/500,000,000. The idea of the target concentration of iron at 100 parts per trillion when the dangerous levels for fish is 1.3 parts per thousand was of course justification for the lies calling the iron a toxic waste cargo. The idea that the decline of ocean productivity is not happening and all is well in the oceans – ridiculous and ignorant, is there such a thing as an ostrich fish, they seem to be increasing in numbers. And the nonsense notion that 20 years and $200 million and many proposed projects on the desks of national funding agencies around the world more or less identical to those of Planktos by leading marine science institutes proves it doesn’t work and is fruitless. And for the last straw the orchestrated opposition to the careful small scale pilot research to find out the facts is indiciative of close mindedness and anti-science thinking. But hey for some ranting and lying about those who actually do things is way easier than actually doing something productive for the benefit of the planet.

  3. I have felt for a while that the criticism of Planktos by the scientific community hid a bit of a double standard. Why is it not OK for Planktos to conduct controlled iron fertilization experiments when the academic community has been doing the same for some time?

    That said, I would like to see Planktos provide citations to support the notion they are proposing that ocean productivity is declining. Clearly the oceans are struggling, but has there been a clearly documented decline in productivity or phytoplankton concentrations? And would fertilizing the high nutrient/low productivity regions truly restore the lost productivity (if indeed there is any)?

  4. I just love all these brilliant science types sucking up cash to screw even more with the environment.

    This is like the carbon credits scam only with a little rust thrown in.

    There’s nothing like the smart monkey when it comes to thinking it knows enough to terraform the only planet it’s got.

  5. Come on lets not get silly, just type the search terms into google “ocean npp decline” and you’ll have more references than you can easily read… I just did this and it took all of ten seconds.

    Ranting about potential unintended consequences when the certain consequences are happening from the carbon bomb already airborne. You know the 400 gigatonne bomb of deadly CO2 which has been emitted by the fossil fuel age already. Note it takes 200 years for CO2 to equillibrate with surface ocean waters and via the reaction H2O+CO2+H2CO3 (carbonic acid) acidify and kill ocean life. In the past few decades we have observed the tip of this dry-iceberg effect in the 30% acidification of the oceans. Regardless of whether we emit another molecule of fossil CO2 the 400 gigatonne bomb on the way is more than sufficient to kill off ocean life above that of bacteria. Don’t forget we are making another 20 or more 400 gigatonne carbon bombs with the rest of fossil fuel. The single hope is to restore and replenish ocean photosynthesis and help ocean phyto-plankton compete to make that CO2 into life not death in the oceans.

  6. “Ranting about potential unintended consequences when the certain consequences are happening from the carbon bomb already airborne. ”

    Sheer hysteria. I can hear the poor soldiers of the ecosystem huddling in the trenches shouting, “Incoming! Prepare to launch the anti-carbon weapon!

    You don’t have to be a Sea Scientist to know this is a bad idea born of ignorance, greed, and hubris.

  7. As somebody who has been blogging for several years on the topic of iron fertization, I’ve been frankly puzzled that people seem unwilling to even consider the very real and well-documented potential benefits of iron fertilization, other than carbon sequestration. Many of you folks act as if its ONLY about carbon sequestration. It’s not. In that I agree with Russ completely.

    For example, Victor Smetacek, one of the leading marine scientists in the world, who is leading the Indian-financed iron fertilization cruise next year, has stated repeatedly that he believes one of the only ways to restore the whale population of world is to use fertilization to restore plankton and krill populations.

    By the way, krill populations and fish populations are in massive decline all over the world. In California entire ecosystems are in danger because of the krill decline. Ocean Iron Fertilization is an absolutely viable way to restore these krill populations. This is not even questionable.

    Perhaps OIF isn’t going to work for carbon sequestration, we don’t know for sure, and probably won’t have a final answer until more research is done. But it certainaly, undoubtedly will work for krill restoration.

    So if you folks want to oppose OIF for the creation of carbon credits, if you are politically opposed to it, or if you believe it should not be done for profit, fine, I can respect those positions. If you call for more research, fine, I can respect that.

    But if you come here to simply attack OIF for any and all purposes, or call it “dumping” or “polluting” (both terms are inaccurate and frankly dishonest) then in my opinion you are throwing out a technique which could, if used properly, have a signifiant positive impact on ocean health. I have a problem respecting that.

    Steve Kerry
    Iron Fertilization Blog

  8. Iron fertilization of oceans is almost certainly one of our best hopes of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere . I have examined thee natural iron rich areas in south Australia ,and can confirm that adding iron to most areas of the ocean will prove very beneficial , Lake Eyre , 10,000 sq km salt lake is mostly dry , but floods with iron laden water at times and is a fascinating natural “petri dish” for some months , and Spencer Gulf and adjacent Saint Vincent gulf are a high and low iron , respectivly ,very large bodies of sea water

    Of special interest is the largest sheet of limestone on earth , it lays nearby , from eons of carbon sequestration , see Nullabor Plain , clear evidence of a long history of very active iron rich marine life in the area , area , its like a natural experiment that can be examined from a billion years of iron fertilization of the oceans

    AND also at port Lincoln at tip of iron rich Gulf Spencer, is the largest fleet of fishing boats in Australia

    I have permission to run a small scale iron fertilization experiment in Gulf Saint Vincent and it wont take long till anybody who can read or do some very cheap tests will be adding iron to the ocean anywhere they want more fish , fishermen will do it for free once they see what happens nothing will stop them , in Spencer Gulf the local fisherman dump car bodies fridges washing machines and almost anything iron into the gulf and have done so for decades, near Whyalla its traditional practice [ no I dont support this method , but nothing can stop them once they see the results , adding iron to coastal systems will do the job , excess may drift out to deeper waters but so will the phytoplankton and the krill to consume it

    the cure to the increasing carbon dioxide in the air is to increase the amount we remove , nature has shown us how to do it , restoring the iron we have stopped from flowing into the oceans by increased land based irrigation is where we should start , not out in the middle of the oceans , and slow release iron would avoid massive blooms , zooplankton must be present , as algae increases so will they and up the food chain goes the carbon

    I’m sure most people would have natural systems like Lake Eyre and the Gulfs they could study and even a very modest field test at your local beach can prove iron fertilization = increases bio activity / algae= fish = shells = carbon sink / limestone


  9. Is iron fertilization further contributing to the ocean dead zones being linked to the decay of photosynthetic plankton? We should understand the consequences of actions before charging forward.

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