Another scientist is taking a different approach to geoengineering. Instead of looking to the sky for solutions, he’s looking to the ocean. Victor Smetacek, a German oceanographer, is trying to cool the planet by growing carbon-absorbing gardens in parts of the ocean with little life.
In 2009, Smetacek and a team of Indian and German scientists added 6 tons of iron into a section of the Southern Ocean, which rings Antarctica, to see if they could get a massive bloom of algae to flourish. Algae growing in the ocean cools the planet by sucking in carbon dioxide. The team did get algae to grow, but it was the wrong kind of algae.
The 10-week experiment, called project LOHAFEX, is the world’s largest geoengineering project to date, and, like many other geoengineering attempts, was controversial. Greenpeace and other environmental organizations demanded that LOHAFEX be stopped from the start, saying that pouring iron into the ocean amounted to pollution and violated international agreements. Some scientists feared the unintended side effects of the project.
“In the case of fertilizing the ocean,” Kintisch explains, “you might create areas that are deprived of oxygen. You might alter ecosystems in ways you don’t understand. You might actually create organisms in your algae patch that put up greenhouse gasses more potent than the carbon dioxide, like methane.”
Despite the potential drawbacks of geoengineering, major science organizations such as the American Geophysical Union, the Royal Society in London, and the National Academy of Sciences have all called for more geoengineering research.
“It’s a bad idea whose time has come,” Kintisch says.
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