Planktos charges ahead

Planktos is a for-profit firm selling carbon offsets that I wrote about here when I first heard about their delightful plan to pull carbon out of the atmosphere by dumping iron dust into the ocean. The idea is that plankton will eat it and thrive and suck carbon out of the water.

I was skeptical then, and according to my Ottawa Citizen colleague Kelly Patterson, smarter people than me are resisting, too:

[T]he American government urges other nations to scrutinize any such project, adding that “Planktos was not able to provide the EPA with any information … (on) the potential environmental impacts” of the plan.

In particular, the U.S. cites the possibility that the project would lead to toxic algae blooms, and that the decomposing plankton masses would release other greenhouse gases or choke off the oxygen supply in the deep ocean.

…That claim is disputed by Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, who says that the absorption of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide is the main cause of ocean acidification in the first place.

“It may be possible to store excess carbon in the ocean, but you’ll be acidifying the ocean when you do it, and causing a dramatic change in the the ocean’s ecology, with no known effects,” Mr. Field said.

Ken Caldeira, also of the Carnegie Institution, says “there’s no practical way to verify” that ocean seeding would sequester any additional carbon — and if it did, “it would exacerbate ocean acidification.”

A commenter at Grist Mill likens the idea of “seeding” plankton to adding a non-native species to a new environment to deal with some problem that exists there. “It remains unclear whether any intentional release of a non-native species has worked well,” caniscandida remarks dryly.

But Planktos insists the science is sound and is going ahead, possibly by using a flag-of-convenience ship if the American government tells them they can’t use an American-flagged vessel to do this thing without a permit. Possibly it has something to do with already having signed deals to generate offsets — they’d better throw something in the water or else they’re probably going to have to give the money back.

I have not been able to find anything on verifying the effects of Planktos’s work amid the masses of semi-relevant material on the company website (some of which pops up quite unexpectedly in other languages), aside from something about calculating the effects of a given quantity of iron mathematically and some vague stuff about potentially working with unnamed third parties. If you can find something, let me know.

The moral of the story: if buying carbon offsets has any merit at all, it’s only if you check out the company selling them really, really carefully.


3 responses to “Planktos charges ahead

  1. Pingback: Planktos’s explanation « The EcoLibertarian

  2. Media Correspondence – July 2007
    Author: Russ George, President Founder, Planktos

    Comments and Criticism of News Stories Relating To The False and Misleading Press Release of the World Wildlife Fund June 2007

    Planktos is about to conduct a carefully planned series of ocean restoration pilot projects aimed at developing methodologies and technologies to restore dramatically damaged ecosystems of ocean phyto-plankton via replenishment of depauperate micronutrient iron. Ordinarily we’d rejoice at being reported on in media however we must take issue with the slanted portrayal of our work in the recent sloppy rushed print to news stories many media venues are running. In spite of having full facts near as near to hand as our public web site and many news stories about our work many media venues have choosen to follow a lemming mentality as opposed to a learned one in their report on the work of Planktos during a blizzard of bad media brought down on the company by a classic Straw Man attack. In their haste to jump on the bandwagon of controversy fomented by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and fallen prey to doing the story right now instead of doing the story right.

    Media around the world have been seen stampeding into regurgitations of an orchestrated campaign of press releases that criticize the plans of our Planktos. These press releases have employed a classic Straw Man Attack first describing our work falsely then criticizing our company for this fabricated misleading description. Ordinarily one expects the editors of media to not fall prey to such a transparent fallacious attack when any even cursory fact checking reveals the intentionally false and misleading character of these press releases. However in this case when the prestigious World Wildlife Fund added its name to those employing this Straw Man Attack it seems journalists and editors everywhere assumed there was no need to fact check the press release of WWF as they dutifully leapt to reproduce the WWF release and/or prepare their own versions of the story highly colored by the WWF Straw Man and in doing so help fabricate a controversy where none rightfully exists.

    The ire raised against Planktos revolves around the work it will be doing by way of adding micronutrient iron to a patch of ocean rich in major plant nutrients but low in productivity. This work will take place near the Galapagos Islands though well west of those islands. The reason for this location is that the islands themselves are a major source of iron which results in a massive plankton bloom called the Galapagos Bloom. It is the existence of this massive natural iron stimulated bloom that has drawn science engaging in ocean iron replenishment research to the region for two previous successful though smaller iron experiments. It is also this vast natural bloom that creates the unique marine oasis of abundance that makes the Galapagos environment so splendid and unique.

    Now here’s the twist, WWF decided it would oppose the work of Planktos and instead of debating the company on the merits of our work fabricated a Straw Man Attack claiming that the work proposed by Planktos would endanger the magnificent environment of the Galapagos and the lives of the people who live there. It maintained this senseless endangerment would come from the micronutrient iron Planktos will put into the ocean to raise iron concentrations by mere tens of parts per trillion and the plankton bloom that would initiated. Of course the world jumped at the WWF alarm to decry the plans of Planktos who wouldn’t. Even Nature thought it was so urgent a story that it rushed to help raise the immediate alarm. However the alarms of WWF and other organizations opposing the work of Planktos are based on utterly false and intentionally misleading declarations that the work of Planktos poses a threat to the Galapagos Islands which are themselves a massive natural source of iron and ensuing plankton bloom.

    The Straw Man doesn’t rely on one big lie claiming the Planktos bloom would immediately impact upon the Galapagos Island waters which one must keep in mind is already in a bloom of vastly larger size and intensity than what Planktos plans. WWF adds layer upon layer of false and misleading comments to their Straw Man. They assign a litany of negative environmental impacts they claim will result from the work of Planktos pouring blood into the waters surrounding the ocean ecorestoration project to further draw in the sharks. But each and every one of these alarming impacts is refuted by the lack of these ill effects being observed in the massive natural Galapagos Bloom surrounding the islands and expanding into the west. In the absence supporting facts the unwary and uninitiated may find these fears worthy of great concern. All in all the WWF Planktos Straw Man is surely a pitiful monster that well deserves to be torn to bits by the media and public frenzy and preemptively eliminated before it does its unwitting greed driven harm.

    What the media have done is lend credence to a travesty of science and journalism through their tight focus on a fabricated controversy never once calling into question any of the clearly false claims that define the controversy. But what is worse they have ignored the right story which is the desperate crisis in the world’s oceans where today a rapid mass extinction of plant life is taking place. Ocean plants, the phyto-plankton, are dying off at a phenomenal rate and have been doing so for scores of years and something must be done to slow and reverse this. The reason is complex but suffice it to say it is mostly about dust in the wind and the iron in that now missing dust.

    Ocean net primary productivity as calculated by the satellite measure of chlorophyll in the oceans has been shown as suffering losses of 17% in the North Atlantic, 26% in the North Pacific, and 50% in sub-tropical tropical oceans since the early eighties when our first competent measures of this sort began. To put this into a lay context we are seeing the same 1% loss per year of ocean forest that the rainforests are shown to be suffering. However the rainforests cover a mere 2-3% of the planet while the ocean forest covers 72%. One can thus easily infer that in each three year period an amount of ocean plant life equal to all rainforest plants on earth will disappear. That Planktos is working carefully, in the best traditions of science, and with determination to develop the ability to slow this ocean ecosystem collapse we would have thought was a great story. But hey not for the WWF and those who have reproduced their press release what’s important there is the bashing of Planktos and who cares if that bashing is based on lies and fabrications… there is blood in the water… get that story out right now.

    Here’s an image that truly tells a thousand words. It shows the massive Galapagos bloom which is so critically important to the story on the work of Planktos. The existence of the massive Galapagos bloom surrounding the islands and extending well west might have contained a caption explaining that this natural iron induced bloom is responsible for the marine oasis effect that makes the Galapagos so unique. It ought to be clear to anyone looking at the image that a tiny bloom 1/40th the size of the natural bloom far west of the Galapagos as will be created by Planktos could not and will not impact on the island environment or the lives of the island residents in any way.

    For further information visit the Planktos web site at or contact:

  3. As I read more and more articles on global warming, I am amazed at the lack of reference to the graph of CO2 concentration and temperature versus time (420,000 years) determined from a study of Antarctic Ice Core Data. Anyone interested can look it up through Google. The present CO2 concentration (380ppm) is already 35% higher than it has been in the last 420,000 years and is increasing by about 2 ppm/year. By the year 2200 the level will be the same as that at the time of the Paleocene Thermal Extinction. Read some paleontology. The world hasn’t always been a great place for humans to live. Thankfully, we have the knowledge to reduce warming if we use it. Those who don’t want to do anything about it can help us all move to Antarctica. Those who get there may well be the only ones to survive.

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