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December 12 2012

Can We Stop Modern-Day Mad Scientists?


Russ George, a wealthy American businessman with a history of big, controversial ideas, launched his latest one this October: dumping 200,000 pounds of iron sulfate into the North Pacific. His aim was to spur a huge plankton bloom, which would absorb carbon dioxide in photosynthesis and then sink to the ocean floor. George was attempting to engage in ocean fertilization, the idea that seeding the sea in this way creates those organic blooms that sequester carbon when they sink.

Plenty of scientists have bandied about the idea of ocean fertilization—it's one of the most common proposals for geoengineering, or engineering the earth to protect civilization from climate change. But George didn't write a scientific paper about the implications of fertilizing the Pacific Ocean with iron. He just went out and did it, with the backing of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, a First Nations group in Canada that was hoping an improvement in the ocean would also improve the salmon numbers they depend on.

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