by Martin Lukacs
15 October 2012

from TheGuardian Website




World's Biggest Geoengineering Experiment

'Violates' United Nations Rules.
Controversial U.S. businessman's iron fertilization

off west coast of Canada contravenes

two UN conventions.


Geoengineering with bloom - high concentrations of chlorophyll in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska
Yellow and brown colors show relatively high concentrations of chlorophyll in August 2012,

after iron sulphate was dumped into the Pacific Ocean as part of a controversial geoengineering scheme.

Photograph: Giovanni/Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center/NASA

A controversial American businessman dumped around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean as part of a geoengineering scheme off the west coast of Canada in July, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Lawyers, environmentalists and civil society groups are calling it a "blatant violation" of two international moratoria and the news is likely to spark outrage at a United Nations environmental summit taking place in India this week.

Satellite images appear to confirm the claim by Californian Russ George that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometers. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed - a geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilization that he hopes will net lucrative carbon credits.

George is the former chief executive of Planktos Inc, whose previous failed efforts to conduct large-scale commercial dumps near the Galapagos and Canary Islands led to his vessels being barred from ports by the Spanish and Ecuadorean governments.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned him that flying a U.S. flag for his Galapagos project would violate U.S. laws, and his activities are credited in part to the passing of international moratoria at the United Nations limiting ocean fertilization experiments

Scientists are debating whether iron fertilization can lock carbon into the deep ocean over the long term, and have raised concerns that it can irreparably harm ocean ecosystems, produce toxic tides and lifeless waters, and worsen ocean acidification and global warming.

"It is difficult if not impossible to detect and describe important effects that we know might occur months or years later," said John Cullen , an oceanographer at Dalhousie University.


"Some possible effects, such as deep-water oxygen depletion and alteration of distant food webs, should rule out ocean manipulation. History is full of examples of ecological manipulations that backfired."

George says his team of unidentified scientists has been monitoring the results of the biggest ever geoengineering experiment with equipment loaned from U.S. agencies like NASA and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.


He told the Guardian that it is the,

"most substantial ocean restoration project in history," and has collected a "greater density and depth of scientific data than ever before".

"We've gathered data targeting all the possible fears that have been raised [about ocean fertilization]," George said. "And the news is good news, all around, for the planet."

The dump took place from a fishing boat in an eddy 200 nautical miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii, one of the world's most celebrated, diverse ecosystems, where George convinced the local council of an indigenous village to establish the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. to channel more than $1m of its own funds into the project.

The president of the Haida nation, Guujaaw, said the village was told the dump would environmentally benefit the ocean, which is crucial to their livelihood and culture.

"The village people voted to support what they were told was a 'salmon enhancement project' and would not have agreed if they had been told of any potential negative effects or that it was in breach of an international convention," Guujaaw said.

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 fertilization 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."

George told the Guardian that the two moratoria are a "mythology" and do not apply to his project.

The parties to the UN CBD are currently meeting in Hyderabad, India, where the governments of,

  • Bolivia

  • the Philippines

  • African nations

  • as well as indigenous peoples organizations,

...are calling for the current moratorium to be upgraded to a comprehensive test ban of geoengineering that includes enforcement mechanisms.

"If rogue geoengineer Russ George really has misled this indigenous community, and dumped iron into their waters, we hope to see swift legal response to his behavior and strong action taken to the heights of the Canadian and U.S. governments," said Silvia Ribeiro of the international technology watchdog ETC Group, which first discovered the existence of the scheme.


"It is now more urgent than ever that governments unequivocally ban such open-air geoengineering experiments. They are a dangerous distraction providing governments and industry with an excuse to avoid reducing fossil fuel emissions."










Ocean Fertilization

'Rogue Climate Hacker' Russ George Raises Storm of Controversy
by Margaret Munro
October 19, 2012

from VancouverSun Website


President of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. John Disney

addresses media during a news conference at

the Vancouver Aquarium in Vancouver, Friday, Oct. 19, 2012.
Photograph by: Jonathan Hayward , CP



Russ George doesn't think small.

He got the Vatican to buy into a venture to reduce its carbon footprint by growing a forest in Hungary.

He sailed off to the Galapagos Islands in 2007 with a grand plan to scatter iron over a large swath of the South Pacific.

And now George is leading the world's largest ocean-fertilization experiment off the B.C. coast, which was widely denounced this week as shoddy science and a violation of international rules.

George is the kind of can-do entrepreneur - or "rouge climate hacker" as he was described this past week - that makes some worry about unauthorized experiments putting the planet at risk.

It's the ocean this time, and the experiment will likely do no serious damage, says Ken Denman, an oceanographer at the University of Victoria.


Next time, he says, it could be some multimillionaire or "rogue" country shooting sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere to block incoming solar radiation in a bid to slow global warming.

"That's the big worry," says Denman, a former Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist who has spent years working on international efforts to better protect the global atmosphere and oceans.

Environment Canada's Enforcement Branch is investigating George's B.C. experiment, which scattered 100 tonnes of iron in waters off the windswept islands of Haida Gwaii.

But Denman notes that the iron was scattered outside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone, where Canada has no jurisdiction.

And while critics call George's experiment a "blatant violation" of international agreements, Denman says the regulations "have no teeth." The London Convention permits "legitimate scientific research" and that is open to broad interpretation.

John Disney, CEO of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. that's running the experiment, says several federal departments, including Environment Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, were aware of the experiment long before the iron was scattered into the sea in July spawning what is said to be a huge plankton bloom covering as many as 10,000 square kilometers.

And he insists the experiment does not violate Canadian laws or international conventions.

"We consulted three sets of lawyers," says Disney.

George, the chief scientist on the project, was not available for an interview.

"He's sitting under a mountain of data," says Disney, who was fielding media queries.

He describes George is "an absolute genius" who know how to get things done.

George is also considered a "rouge climate hacker," as Britain's New Scientist put it this week, who has been running questionable projects for years.

George's California company, Planktos Corp., backed by Vancouver financier Nelson Skalbania, tried to scatter tonnes of iron dust into the water near the Galapagos Islands in 2007 in the first attempt to make money from ocean fertilization.

George sailed off in a 115-foot-long ship, the Weatherbird II, with a plan to fertilize almost a million hectares of the South Pacific to get algae to grow, creating a phytoplankton bloom. The algae, George told investors, would suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which could then be used to generate lucrative carbon credits.

Critics denounced the plan as a misguided "geoengineering" scheme, and the government of Ecuador barred the Weatherbird II from its ports. George then changed course and headed for the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean but Spanish officials preventing him from coming into port.

George also made headlines when Planktos teamed up with the Vatican to make the Holy See what he called "the first entirely carbon neutral sovereign state" by planting a forest in Hungary.

George presented Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, with carbon offset certificates at a Vatican ceremony announcing the plan in July 2007.


The Vatican project reportedly fell through when Planktos Corp. went bankrupt.

Disney, who had worked with George on Canadian forest projects, says he approached him about returning to British Columbia when Planktos' fortunes sank.

"When things started going sideways I said, 'You know Russ, maybe it's time to form a relationship here,'" says Disney.

He describes George as an "activist scientist" who takes complex scientific ideas and theories and applies them in the real world.

"That's what he's an absolute genius at, that's why we hired him," says Disney, whose corporation runs out of the Old Massett Village Council on the north end of Haida Gwaii.

"We didn't want to go too much with a straight academic as our lead because then it's going to be too rigid, too controlled," says Disney.

George came up with a plan to "bring life back to the North Pacific," says Disney.


Spreading iron in the sea would act like fertilizer, boost plankton growth, and provide more food for salmon that have been serious decline in the rivers of Haida Gwaii, according to the plan.

The impoverished First Nations community of Old Massett, home to 750 people and a 70 per cent unemployment rate, held a vote and was so keen it invested $2.5 million in the project.

The community hopes to recover some of its investment through selling carbon credits for removing carbon from the atmosphere and locking in into the sea.

"There are lots of options out there," says Disney.

James Tansey, associate professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, said he doubts they'll find a buyer anytime soon.


At least, he says, not on the regulated carbon markets, such as the ones in British Columbia and Alberta that require third party "validation and verification" that carbon has been removed from the atmosphere.

"I can tell you none of the regulated buyers would touch it," says Tansey, who says "cowboys" such as George do little to build credibility for carbon trading.

Tansey works with several B.C. First Nations communities now selling carbon credits for preserving forests.


He notes that ocean fertilization is far more complex and controversial.

"You'd have to prove that when you add iron to the ocean it has a real affect," says Tansey, who said he doubts George's team will be able to provide the evidence needed.

Disney says the HSRC science team spent almost two months at sea this summer.

Since spreading the iron over an expanse of water known as a Haida eddy, he says they have been monitoring the resulting plankton bloom with a suite of instruments, including metre-long collection bottles, biomass sonars and bright yellow underwater "gliders" programmed to zip through the water collecting data.


They are also using 20 Argos "drifterbots," from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to track the plankton bloom as the winds and currents push it around.


NOAA provided the equipment, but the New York Times reports that George "duped" the agency. An agency spokesperson told the Times that NOAA had been "misled" by George's group, which,

"did not disclose that it was going to discharge material into the ocean."

George reports in a recent Human Sciences Research Council newsletter that the "pioneering" project has had a dramatic impact.

"The waters of the Haida eddy have turned from clear blue and sparse of life into a verdant emerald sea lush with the growth of a hundred million tonnes of plankton and the entire food chain it supports," it says.

"The growth of those tonnes of plankton derives from vast amounts of CO2 now diverted from becoming deadly ocean acid and instead made that same CO2 become ocean life itself."

Denman, who has been involved in small-scale iron fertilization projects in the North Pacific, does not buy it.

He says the plankton bloom could have occurred naturally because it is well known that the enormous eddies that form west of the Haida Gwaii are enriched by coastal waters carrying iron and nitrogen.

Denman, and many other scientists, say they doubt George will be able to prove the added iron had an impact on the plankton, salmon or that carbon dioxide was removed from the atmosphere.

The people in Old Massett have "been totally misled," says Denman.

Some do believe the experiment does have some validity.

"While I agree that the procedure was scientifically hasty and controversial, the purpose of enhancing salmon returns by increasing plankton production has considerable justification," says Timothy Parsons, a fisheries scientist and professor emeritus at the University of B.C.

The waters of the Gulf of Alaska are so nutrient poor they are a,

"virtual desert dominated by jelly fish," says Parsons.

His research has helped show that iron-rich volcanic dust stimulates growth of diatoms, a form of algae that he describes as "the clover of the sea."

And he points to volcanic eruptions over the Gulf of Alaska in 1958 and 2008 that,

"both resulted in enormous sockeye salmon returns."

John Nightingale, president of the Vancouver Aquarium, was one of several scientists approached about a year and half ago when George's team was looking for scientific supporters.

He was initially taken aback by the ocean fertilization plan.

"My first reaction was 'Oh my goodness, this is playing with Mother Nature on a grand scale,'" Nightingale says.

After learning more about the project, he decided adding iron to the ocean to see if it could increase salmon production was a reasonable thing to try.

"The scientific questions at its core are valid," says Nightingale.

Many argue such experiments should be done in a carefully controlled, multi-year, step-by-step manner.


But Nightingale says,

"that was clearly never going to happen" given dwindling federal funds for ocean research.

Now that the experiment has been done, Nightingale says George and his team must be transparent with the data collected.

"The results are really important," he says, and need to be vetted by the scientific community and distributed widely.

"Out of that will come some direction and no longer will it just be what the Haida decide to do," says Nightingale. He expects the pubic visibility "to create a set of safeguards going forward."