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Polar Regions Melting Faster Than Expected
26 February, 2009 by Kevin

A summary of research conducted under the International Polar Year has concluded that both the Arctic and Antarctic are melting faster than previously expected


"it now appears certain that both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass and thus raising sea level, and that the rate of ice loss from Greenland is growing"

"New data also confirm that warming in the Antarctic is much more widespread than it was thought prior to IPY."


Abrupt Climate Change Caused By Changes In Ocean Circulation
25 February, 2009 by Kevin

New research published in Nature shows how changes in ocean circulation can cause rapid changes in global climate and CO2. The research illustrates the mechanism for "deglaciation" which begins with a warming-induced slowdown of North Atlantic ocean circulation, and then quickly induces warming and CO2 release from the Southern Ocean. The resulting warming-circulation-CO2 feedback can literally end an Ice Age in a few thousand years. As Dr. Jeff Severinghuas writes in a commentary article in Nature:

"There are implications of potential relevance to future climate. First, it is difficult to explain the demise of the ice sheets without the added heating from CO2, confirming that this gas has killed ice sheets in the past and may do so again. Second, the predicted slowdown of Atlantic circulation in the coming century may cause an additional release of CO2 from the ocean that adds to the human-made CO2, a biogeochemical feedback that is not considered in current climate projections.

Telegraph UK: Can Geo-engineering Rebuild The Planet?
17 February, 2009 by Kevin

The Telegraph discusses the growing necessity of geoengineering as way to hold off catastrophic climate change until we can get GHG emissions under control.

The grim conclusion is that while some of these schemes have potential, there is no magic answer. "Geo-engineering is not a solution," says Prof Launder, "but it could give the world a chance to come to its senses. In 50 years we'll have carbon-free energy schemes in place, but we need a solution that can be put into place shortly, and will gain us breathing space."

LOHAFEX Update On Scientific Progess
17 February, 2009 by Kevin

The chief scientists of LOHAFEX have published a weekly report on the ocean iron fertilization experiment. So far, the fertilized patch has resulted in a large bloom of phytoplankton. The report discusses the challenged in conducting science in the Southern Ocean, as well as how the effects of the fertilization will be measured. Very interesting reading...

Southern Ocean CO2 Sink Is Weakening Due To Climate Change
17 February, 2009 by Kevin

New research suggests that the Southern Ocean CO2 sink may be ten times less effective than previously estimated. Increasing winds in the Southern hemisphere have increased ocean mixing, which brings CO2-rich deep waters to the surface. This order of magnitude decrease in the Southern Ocean is quite disturbing, since this is the largest CO2 sink on the planet. The researchers also found that the Northern Atlantic CO2 sink diminished by 50% over the past ten years.

Global Climate Change Accelerating Faster Than IPCC Estimates
15 February, 2009 by kevin

The Washington Post writes that scientists have significantly underestimated the rate and impact of climate change. This has occurred because the recent IPCC Fourth Assessment Report mostly ignored the potential for non-linear "amplifying" feedbacks in the carbon cycle. These feedbacks threaten to be an order of magnitude greater than current human CO2 emissions, and could potentially render irrelevant any future human attempts to reduce CO2 emissions.  Major feedback mechanisms include methane emissions from melting permafrost, catastrophic forest fires from drought-stricken tropical forests, and altered ocean circulation that diminishes the CO2-sink capacity of the ocean. It's good to see this problem hitting the international media.

NSIDC: This Winter Arctic Is "Anomalously Warm".
7 February, 2009 by dan

The National Snow and Ice Data Center issues report on an unusually warm winter in the Arctic, giving rise to concern that the ice reformation which happens may not be as robust this year-- highlighting the potential for further record lows in ice coverage next summer.

Looking further into the future, unless there are several very cold winters and mild summers, Arctic sea ice is unlikely to bounce back in the coming decades.

"The idea of recovery right now seems pretty slim," Stroeve said. "You just don't get very cold temperatures like you used to."

Geoengineering And Geo-ethics
3 February, 2009 by Kevin

Andrew Maynard, of 2020 Science, writes this very interesting blog post on the need of a new field called "Geoethics" to compliment the emerging field of geoengineering. Andrew provides some insightful commentary:

"If we are going to get geoengineering right—and I think in the long-run it is as important as it is inevitable—we are going to need some serious ethical input to its development and application.  And while I generally avoid artificially slicing and dicing ethics, I think it would be no bad thing to further develop the idea of geoethics, as dealing with the appropriateness of decisions that affect societies on a global scale, and possibly over many lifetimes.

"Of course, the concept of geoethics isn’t new—it’s been around in one form or another for decades, usually in the context of general anthropomorphic environmental impacts.  But to my mind the potential impact of geoengineering is such that it is going to need it’s own ethical framework that enables people to agree on a wise course of action.

Google Oceans Greatly Expands Knowledge Of Ocean Science And Environmental Protection
3 February, 2009 by Kevin

Google Earth has released a major update to their software called Google Oceans. It will be interesting to see how oceanographers use this tool to communicate science and environmental issues to the general public. As Dr. Sylvia Earle writes,

“I’ve been struggling my whole life to figure out how to reach people and get them to understand they’re connected to the ocean,” Dr. Earle said.

“But I go to the supermarket and still see the United Nations of fish for sale,” she said. “Marine sanctuaries are still not really protected. Google Earth gets all this information now and puts it in one place for the littlest kid and the stuffiest grownup to see in a way that hasn’t been possible in all precedinghistory.”

Treehugger: Seven Geoengineering Solutions
3 February, 2009 by Kevin

Treehugger writes about seven prominent geoengineering solutions currently proposed. OIF is covered, and TH suggests that OIF still has promise despite a recent spate of negative press, and much more will be known when the LOHAFEX cruise results are released.

Guardian: Ocean Iron Fertilization Is A Viable Way To Sequester CO2
28 January, 2009 by Kevin

The Guardian analyzes the LOHAFEX cruise and recent science article in Nature on a natural iron-stimulated bloom near the Crozet Islands in Antarctic waters.

"In the latest research, published tomorrow in Nature, the Southampton scientists studied a natural source of iron into the sea near the Crozet Islands at the northern boundary of the Southern Ocean, 1,400 miles south-east of South Africa. Their work showed that iron – which is added by the volcanic rocks to the north but not to the south of the island – successfully tripled the growth of phytoplankton and also the amount that sank to the bottom of the sea.

The Guardian writes that question still remain on how OIF would best be implemented to ensure safety and efficacy, and present a quote by Dr. Andy Watson on recent LOHAFEX controversy:

"It's interesting that [the Polarstern] has been at the centre of a lot of controversy because they wanted to do an artificial experiment with 10 or 15 tonnes of iron. As this [Southampton] paper shows, much larger amounts of iron are being added daily by natural processes around the Crozet Island, and it doesn't seem to have done the Antarctic ecosystem any harm."

Political Controversy Over LOHAFEX Decision
27 January, 2009 by Kevin

The German approval of LOHAFEX has sparked quite a controversy in Germany, where the Science and Environmental Ministries are at odds. Meanwhile, the process of stimulating the phytoplankton bloom with iron has been initiated, as detailed in the Times of India by Co-Chief Scientist Dr. Wajih Naqvi:

"The last few days were full of anxiety. But we were confident that this would pass, and did not allow ourselves to be distracted from the task at hand. As a result, the suspension has not affected our work schedule at all. Right now, of course, everyone is excited and greatly pleased," Prof Naqwi, who teaches at National Institute of Oceanography, said.


NY Times: Emission Reductions Are Not Enough
27 January, 2009 by Kevin

The NY Times has a great article on the recent National Academies' study suggesting that CO2 emissions are not reversible without some form of atmospheric CO2 removal.

Dr. Solomon said it would be wrong to view the report as evidence that it was already too late to do much good by reducing carbon emissions. “You have to think of this stuff as being more like nuclear waste than acid rain,” she said.

Acid rain began to abate when pollution contributing to it was limited. But just as nuclear waste remains radioactive for a long time, the effects of carbon dioxide persist.

“So if we slow it down,” she said, “we have more time to find solutions.”

For example, engineers may one day discover ways to remove the gas from the atmosphere. But “those solutions are not now in hand,” Dr. Solomon said. “They are quite speculative.”

Interview With Catherine Brahic: OIF Is The "most Doable"
27 January, 2009 by Kevin

Catherine Brahic is interviewed on geoengineering by New Hampshire Public Radio. The seven-minute podcast covers topics such OIF being the "most doable" of all of the geoengineering schemes, the need for careful research of geoengineering, the importance of developing regulations in parallel with research, and that no serious proponents of geoengineering believe that it can replace the need for GHG emission reductions. Catherine has recently covered OIF and LOHAFEX.

LOHAFEX Given Green Light To Proceed
26 January, 2009 by dan

The German-Indian LOHAFEX experiment has finally gotten the necessary environmental and legal clearances from the German government to proceed.  The full press release is here

The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association can conduct the ongoing Polarstern expedition „LOHAFEX”. Independent scientific and legal reviews sought by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety concluded that the iron fertilisation experiment LOHAFEX is neither against environmental standards nor the international law in force. There are thus no ecological and legal reasons to further suspend the iron fertilisation experiment LOHAFEX.

Reacting to the positive news from the Federal Ministry of Research Dr. Karin Lochte, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, said: “We are glad that the experts have fully confirmed our own ecological risk assessment. Now an independent party has also made it clear that the environmental impacts in the study area will be negligibly small.” LOHAFEX will provide valuable data for climate and earth system research if the experiment is conducted as planned.

Lochte further stated: “The controversy on LOHAFEX has been basically reduced to a political conflict that we as a research institute cannot solve. This situation is unusual for the Alfred Wegener Institute. Nevertheless, I am absolutely convinced myself that only independent scientific studies like LOHAFEX will help in arriving at a substantiated and fact-based political decision on whether or not iron fertilisation in the ocean is a useful technique that could contribute to climate protection.”

“We are relieved, of course, by the decision of the Federal Ministry of Research to proceed with the experiment,” Lochte commented. This decision will send out an important signal to the international scientific community that Germany remains a reliable partner even in difficult political situations. The decision is also of great importance for our Indian partner, the National Institute of Oceanography, which is bearing half the personnel and financial costs of this experiment and for whom this is the main contribution to the Indo-German cooperation.

“I wish to strongly emphasise that our experiment was developed on the basis of purely scientific issues in order to better understand the role of iron in the global climate system. A large number of reports are circulating on the Internet and in the international press claiming that the Alfred Wegener Institute is conducting the experiment to test the geo-engineering option of ocean fertilisation as a means to sequester large quantities of carbon oxide from the atmosphere. This is definitely not the case,” Lochte defends herself against these insinuations. “We are upset that such a controversial discussion was ignited on the basis of wrong, internationally propagated information. We hope that through this experiment we will be able to contribute to a better understanding of ocean biogeochemistry and pelagic ecosystem functioning.”

Deutsche Welle: More On LOHAFEX Status
16 January, 2009 by Kevin

Deutsche Well has more information on the LOHAFEX cruise, which has 9-10 days left of transit time and survey work before fertilization was originally scheduled to begin. In the mean time, the environmental effects of the project are under review. There are 20+ years of prior research on the environmental effects of ocean iron fertilization and phytoplankton blooms upon which to base this assement. It is extremely unlikely that the sinlge small-scale experiment being planned with have any lasting negative environmental effects, considering that this is a natural process that happens continuosly on a much larger scale from melting icebergs.

LOHAFEX Suspended For 10 Days
14 January, 2009 by Kevin

Nature News reports that LOHAFEX has been suspended for 10 days while an independent environmenal impact assessment is produced. Hopefully this delay will not harm the capability to conduct an effective scientific research programme.

The institute plans to provide an independent environmental assessment of the experiment within the next ten days, and hopes that the science ministry will then give the go-ahead for fertilization to begin.

"We hadn't expected such an avalanche of protest, but I hope we can still keep to our schedule," says Ulrich Bathmann, a biological oceanographer at the AWI. "It's very unfortunate that LOHAFEX is lumped together in an undifferentiated way with industrial-waste-dumping activities, with which it has absolutely nothing in common."

Press Release From LOHAFEX
14 January, 2009 by Kevin

The Alfred Wegner Institute and the scientists from LOHAFEX have issued this press release defending the legality of their ocean fertilization experiment. As has been reported elsewhere, LOHAFEX is in compliance with the UN regulations under the London Convention, which is the primary regulatory framework for protection of the oceans.

The full press release is below:

LOHAFEX: An Indo-German iron fertilization experiment

What are the effects on the ecology and carbon uptake potential of the Southern Ocean?

 IMAGE: This is the German research vessel Polarstern.

Click here for more information.

Bremerhaven, January 13th 2008. The German research vessel Polarstern is currently on its way to the Southwest Atlantic Sector of the Southern Ocean. The team of 48 scientists (30 from India) on board left Cape Town on 7th January to carry out the Indo-German iron fertilization experiment LOHAFEX (LOHA is Hindi for iron, FEX stands for Fertilization EXperiment). About two weeks will be required to reach the area and carefully select a suitable location, after which a patch of 300 square kilometres will be fertilized with six tons of dissolved iron. This will lead to rapid growth of the minute, unicellular algae known as phytoplankton. These algae do not only provide the food sustaining oceanic life, but also play a key role in regulating concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. After about 45 days of interdisciplinary research, the expedition will end in Punta Arenas, Chile on 17th March 2009. LOHAFEX will provide more basic information to further our understanding of the role of ocean ecosystems in the global carbon cycle. It will help filling the gaps of knowledge mentioned by international conventions to classify the potential role of ocean fertilization as a means of reducing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

 IMAGE: These are scientists working on board of the German research vessel Polarstern.

Click here for more information.

The scientific experiment is in accordance with the resolution of the London Convention on the regulation of ocean fertilization from October 2008 and the Decision of the Convention on Biological Diversity on ocean fertilization from May 2008 that call for further research to enhance understanding of ocean iron fertilization. For LOHAFEX, the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), India, and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association, Germany, have evaluated possible environmental impacts showing that this experiment will not cause damage to the environment. The level to which the surface-water iron concentrations will be enhanced during this experiment is an order of magnitude lower than natural iron levels in coastal marine waters. This concentration is so low that most analytical laboratories in the world cannot measure it. The fertilized waters, although located offshore, have been previously in contact with the coast of South America and South Georgia and contain coastal plankton species that are adapted to high iron concentrations. The size of the fertilized patch is considerably smaller than the impact of melting icebergs that may leave a swath of several hundred kilometers breadth of enhanced iron concentrations. Therefore LOHAFEX will contribute legitimate and much needed scientific research to the controversial discussions on ocean fertilization.

Alfred Wegener Institute and NIO are jointly conducting LOHAFEX, together with scientists from nine other institutions in India, Europe and Chile. Prof. Victor Smetacek (Germany) and Dr. Wajih Naqvi (India) are co-Chief Scientists. The experiment is part of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two Institutes signed by the heads of their respective parent organisations, the Helmholtz Association, Germany, and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India, in the presence of the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Dr Angela Merkel and the Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on the 30th October 2007. Planning for the experiment has been underway since 2005.

The development and impact of the phytoplankton bloom on its environment and the fate of the carbon sinking out of it to the deep ocean will be studied in great detail with state-of-the-art methods by integrated teams of biologists, chemists and physicists. The design of the experiment is the same as that of previous experiments but more parameters will be monitored and the experiment will last longer. Five previous experiments carried out in the Southern Ocean, including two conducted from RV Polarstern in 2000 and 2004, have induced phytoplankton blooms of similar size and composition to natural blooms fertilized by iron in settling dust and from melting icebergs. However, in contrast to the remote oceanic regions previously fertilized, LOHAFEX will be located in a more productive region of the Southern Ocean inhabited by coastal species of phytoplankton. They grow faster and are more palatable to the zooplankton, including the shrimp-like krill, than their spiny open-ocean counterparts. Krill is the main food of Antarctic penguins, seals and whales but their stocks have declined by over 80% during the past decades, so their response to the iron-fertilized bloom (if they are present in the experimental area) will indicate whether the alarming decline is due to declining productivity of the region, for which there is evidence. The LOHAFEX patch will have a similar impact on the ecosystem as melting icebergs and is large enough to counteract the effects of dilution due to spreading over 45 days of the experiment.

Spending seventy days in a notoriously stormy stretch of ocean will be a strenuous experience for the scientists and crew on board Polarstern. Smetacek reports that bad weather was encountered shortly after leaving Cape Town, so many of the scientists are still adjusting to the movements of the ship. However, he is confident that this is a temporary phase and that soon everyone will be able to prepare the laboratories for the start of the experiments.


LOHAFEX is a contribution to POGO, the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (

Boston Globe: Challenging The Gaia Hypothesis
14 January, 2009 by Kevin

The Boston Globe has this article challenging the fundamental assumption of the "Gaia Hypothesis", which assumes that the Earth's ecology will heal itself if given time and respite from human activity. The new "Medea Hypothesis", proposed by Dr. Peter Ward, suggests that mass extinctions are also caused naturally by the Earth, and we need to now be proactive in preventing the next one.

"Ward himself believes that the only help for the planet over the long run is management by human beings - whether that means actively adjusting the chemical composition of the atmosphere or using giant satellites to modify the amount of sunlight that reaches us. As Ward sees it, the planet doesn't need our help destroying itself. It will do that automatically. It needs us to save it.

Discover: Summary Of LOHAFEX News
14 January, 2009 by Kevin

Discover Magazine post this blog article summarizing the last few days of media news on the LOHAFEX experiment.

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