Permit sought for iron fertilization off coast of Chile to boost fish

The Oceaneos Marine Research Foundation of Vancouver, Canada, says that it is seeking permits from the Chilean government to release up to 10 tonnes of iron particles 130 kilometers off the coast of Coquimbo as early as 2018. But Chilean scientists are worried because the organization grew out of a for-profit company, Oceaneos Environmental Solutions of Vancouver, that has sought to patent iron-fertilization technologies.

The Oceaneos foundation has accused the scientists of improperly classifying its work as geoengineering, rather than ocean restoration.

* Iron in some parts of the Ocean are at 2-4 parts per trillion when it should be at 10-15 parts per trillion for healthy amounts of plankton and algae.
* Tens of millions of tons of soil is blown into the ocean from deserts. That soil is 1 to 5% iron. Volcanoes also naturally deposit a lot of earth materials with iron into the oceans
* The 120 ton iron dumping in 2012 generated record salmon harvests in 2013 and 2014. The 2012 iron fertilization generated an algae bloom that fed salmon at the right time to boost the salmon population
* the salmon bloom died in days and then fell to the bottom of the ocean taking large amounts of CO2 with them

Researchers worldwide have conducted 13 major iron-fertilization experiments in the open ocean since 1990. All have sought to test whether stimulating phytoplankton growth can increase the amount of carbon dioxide that the organisms pull out of the atmosphere and deposit in the deep ocean when they die.

Oceaneos makes the case for iron fertilization of the ocean. Current projections suggest that by 2050, oceans will be depleted and the fishery industry will cease to exist. This is a major disaster for the more than 1 billion people that are directly dependent on the oceans and fish as their main source of protein.

Commonly the reasons for the decline are attracted to overfishing and pollution. However, less discussed is the fact that the base of the ocean food chain – Phytoplankton – is in decline.

The shrinking base of the ocean’s ecosystems has complex causes. One factor is the decline in atmospheric dust over the last 50 years, which is related to climate change. Some leading scientists estimate rates of Phytoplankton decline at 1% per year.

The decline in dust deposition means the plankton has fewer nutrients to grow and thrive. And less plankton in the system means less food for organisms higher on the food chain.

In 2008, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity put in place a moratorium on all ocean-fertilization projects apart from small ones in coastal waters. Five years later, the London Convention on ocean pollution adopted rules for evaluating such studies.

Oceaneos’s links to a 2012 iron-fertilization project off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, have made some researchers wary. In that project, US entrepreneur Russ George convinced a Haida Nation village to pursue iron fertilization to boost salmon populations, with the potential to sell carbon credits based on the amount of CO2 that would be sequestered in the ocean.

Nextbigfuture interviewed Jason McNamee, former Director and Operations Officer of the Haida Salmon Restoration project and Scientific Advisor to the World Aquarium and Conservation for the Oceans Foundation. Jason provided a lot of information about processes in the deep ocean (100 miles from the coast) and how more still needs to be learned. Nextbigfuture covered how the 120 ton iron fertilization in 2012 increased salmon catches in 2013 and 2014.

Most people have been hearing warnings about desertification and how the deserts are increasing. Actually the deserts are becoming more green and are producing less dust. This is driving the steady reduction of iron into the oceans by about 1% per year. 42% more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means that plants in the desert need to breathe less and keep more water. Less dust from the desert means less iron into the ocean. Iron shortage in the ocean is the key factor that is reducing algae and plankton in the ocean. There is plenty of nitrogen and phosphorous. Less algae and plankton causes reduction in the amount and size of fish.

Jason indicated that the Haida Nation village were far more active in the iron fertilization test. It was just Russ George. Russ George was a lot more vocal in the media. Many articles want to spin that the Haida were duped. It was not the case.

The 2012 work boosted the salmon catch to record high levels by feeding the baby salmon at the right time.

Pink salmon mature in two years. Salmon can add a pound a month if they are well fed in the ocean. 2013 had the largest pink salmon run in 50 years.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has completed compilation of preliminary values for the 2013 commercial salmon fishery. Powered by a record pink salmon harvest of 219 million fish, this year’s harvest ranks as the second most valuable on record. At $691.1 million, 2013 is only exceeded by the 1988 harvest value of $724 million. In addition to setting a record for pink salmon, the total number of salmon harvested also set a new record at 272 million fish.

The SE Alaska Pink catch in the fall of 2013 was a 170 million fish more than were expected. The Fraser river and the Canadian catches were also boosted.

The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, financed it with $2.5 million of their own savings, and used it to support the efforts of American scientist-entrepreneur Russ George to demonstrate the feasibility of open-sea mariculture — in this case, the distribution of 120 tons of iron sulfate into the northeast Pacific to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom which in turn would provide ample food for baby salmon.

The number of salmon caught in the northeast Pacific more than quadrupled, going from 50 million to 226 million. In the Fraser River, which only once before in history had a salmon run greater than 25 million fish (about 45 million in 2010), the number of salmon increased to 72 million.

Iron sulphate dumping returned over 100 times the value in fish in one year versus the cost of the dumping.

Iron sulphate dumping returned about 1000 times the weight in increased fish versus the amount of dumped iron sulphate

Millions of tons of plastic and junk are dumped into the oceans and rivers every year. Iron Sulphate dumping could restore or even increase fish catches beyond historical levels

David Brin points out that ocean-fertilization is the inverse of irrigation. You are adding “land” to water in the form of nutrients.

Role of iron

Soil is typically between 1% and 5% iron and soil is blown into the ocean all the time. Adding iron into the ocean is just performing a process that wind and erosion perform all the time. It is just performing this fertilization at a specific time and place to feed fish that we want to feed by generating an algae bloom. Millions of tons of iron is blown into the oceans from wind blowing dust from the worlds deserts.

About 70% of the world’s surface is covered in oceans, and the upper part of these (where light can penetrate) is inhabited by algae. In some oceans, the growth and reproduction of these algae is limited by the amount of iron in the seawater. Iron is a vital micronutrient for phytoplankton growth and photosynthesis that has historically been delivered to the pelagic sea by dust storms from arid lands. This Aeolian dust contains 3–5% iron and its deposition has fallen nearly 25% in recent decades.

The Redfield ratio describes the relative atomic concentrations of critical nutrients in plankton biomass and is conventionally written “106 C: 16 N: 1 P.” This expresses the fact that one atom of phosphorus and 16 of nitrogen are required to “fix” 106 carbon atoms (or 106 molecules of CO2). Recent research has expanded this constant to “106 C: 16 N: 1 P: .001 Fe” signifying that in iron deficient conditions each atom of iron can fix 106,000 atoms of carbon, or on a mass basis, each kilogram of iron can fix 83,000 kg of carbon dioxide.

Renewable subsidies at around $66 billion in 2010 (one year of world subsidies). This added less than 5% of world energy over decades for solar and wind energy.

The iron dumping paid off over 100 to 1. $2.5 million for over 1 million tons of sequestering of CO2 using 120 tons of iron sulphate and get over way over $200 million of extra fish. $25 billion for 1.2 million tons of iron sulphate to sequester 10 billion tons of CO2 (about 30% of world CO2) and more than double the $217 billion in world fish (140 million tons of fish farming and wild catch).

Riedijk says he was intrigued when he read about the Haida experiment in 2013, and contacted one of its organizers, Jason McNamee. McNamee later served as chief operating officer of Oceaneos Environmental Solutions — which Riedijk co-founded — before leaving the company last year.

Ocean Micro Nutrient Replenishment

This and other scientific information is from the Haida Salmon Restoration project website

This information runs counter to the narrative of some environmental scientists that
* the iron fertilization failed to achieve its goals
* diminishes the role and knowledge of the Haida native group

Also known as the “Iron Hypothesis” , this process is more accurately called Ocean Micro Nutrient Replenishment and was first proposed by oceanographer John Martin in 1993. It is based on the concept that iron is a critical nutrient for primary ocean productivity, and oceanic iron deposition has been in decline for decades. Hence, natural or man-made iron replenishment in the ocean may restore primary ocean productivity which in turn may reduce oceanic fish mortality and lead to improvements in fisheries.

Our Oceans contain phytoplankton, a single cellular microscopic plant that uses photosynthesis to convert light, carbon dioxide and nutrients into oxygen and food source. The primary consumers of phytoplankton are zooplankton, which are small creatures that are visible to the naked eye. Zooplankton in turn are the main food source for most of the ocean biomass. Fish and marine cetaceans consume vast amounts of zooplankton as their primary food source. In fact the world’s largest animal, the great blue whale, is a zooplankton consumer.

Iron is normally present in our oceans, however over the last century we have seen a significant decline in phytoplankton biomass, an average of 1% of the global median per year. Ocean waters near shore do not show depleted iron levels due to the interaction of the ocean with land, and water runoff that contains iron. However, the far ocean (also known as the Pelagic Zone) is generally deficient in iron. These areas are known as “High Nutrient, Low Chlorophyll” (HNLC) zones.

Surprisingly, the source of pelagic iron is primarily dust from deserts and volcanos. For millions of years, great global winds known as Aeolian winds have transported sand and dust from land, across thousands of miles of Ocean. This dust contains iron.

However, studies of sediment cores have shown that natural dust deposition has been in decline. For example, the North Pacific has seen a decline in dust from northern Asia, notably the Gobi and Taklimakan deserts. Climate change may be responsible. Because of the precipitous rise of global carbon dioxide levels, photosynthesizing grasses have an improved food source. This has resulted in dramatic spread of global grasslands, which trap dust and limit aeolian transport of iron into the pelagic ocean.

Somewhere between 71 percent and 87 percent of the iron in Atlantic Ocean samples was delivered by dust storms from the Sahara desert. That is, life in the deep ocean depended on an annual delivery of fertilizer from one of the world’s emptiest and most parched regions.

In the Northern Pacific Ocean a primary source of dust and iron is from the Gobi desert.

Researchers found that wind-blown dust could transport microbes from West Africa all the way to the Caribbean. An estimated 50 million tons of Saharan dust is blown across the Atlantic to the Amazon every year.

The amount of iron in that ton of water would weigh about as much as a single eyelash. The key reason that everybody cares about iron is because it limits the growth of phytoplankton such as algae in maybe a fifth of the ocean.

Iron in some parts of the Ocean are at 2-4 parts per trillion when it should be at 10-15 parts per trillion for healthy amounts of plankton and algae.

We also know that phytoplankton, the base of the oceanic food chain, significantly effects atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, despite their decline.

One might expect that phytoplankton, which also photosynthesize, would manifest a positive response to the abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and multiply in the ocean. However it has been shown that oceanic iron deficiency limits phytoplankton growth despite the availability of large concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

This indicates that replacing missing iron back into the ocean could stimulate phytoplankton based photosynthesis and generate improvements to the ocean ecosystem, while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it is consumed by photosynthesis.

There have been two naturally stimulated iron replenishment events in the Pacific Northwest due to volcanic dust from a nearby eruption. The most recent such event occurred in 2008 with the eruption of Mt Kasatochi in the Gulf of Alaska. This eruption deposited millions of tons of volcanic ash, containing iron, across the Pacific Ocean.