Research Document - 2010/106

Information in support of Science Advisory Report (SAR) 2010/012: “Ocean Fertilization: Mitigating Environmental Impacts of Future Scientific Research”

By J. Christian, A. Peña, K. Denman, D. Gilbert, and P. Lyon


Various geoengineering schemes are being proposed to decrease the rate of global warming associated with the buildup of greenhouse gases from human activities. Ocean fertilization attempts to sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the ocean interior by adding nutrients to the ocean to stimulate growth of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton convert carbon dioxide to organic matter, which can settle into the subsurface ocean to remain sequestered for decades or centuries. The London Convention/London Protocol (LC/LP) is the global body with authority to regulate ocean fertilization. In 2008, the Scientific and Legal Working Groups of the LC/LP recommended proceeding toward regulation of the activity, and proposed that Parties “agree to the concept of regulation such that commercially driven activities are prohibited”. This document reviews the state of the science of ocean fertilization and its impacts in support of Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Science Advisory Report 2010/012. The Report addresses four questions: (1) What are the most significant deleterious intended and unintended consequences of ocean fertilization and what is the level of scientific confidence regarding their impacts? (2) Is there sufficient knowledge to determine at what scale a project would likely not cause irreversible and unacceptable harm to an ecosystem? If so, what are the criteria that would define the upper limit of such a project? (3) Is the Convention’s Draft Assessment Framework adequate for assessing scientific research proposals involving ocean fertilization? (4) What are the most pressing or most important research areas on ocean fertilization? The report considers both the scientific basis for regulation of ocean fertilization and the impact of regulation on scientific research. This supporting Research Document presents a more extensive and technical review of the supporting scientific literature.

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