Ocean iron fertilization: time to lift the research taboo
Today, most countries have accepted a 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase above preindustrial levels as the maximum tolerable limit for global warming. An exceedance probability of below 20 percent for this limit implies an emission budget of less than 250 GtC from 2000 until 2049, however, extrapolating from current global CO2 emissions, this budget will only last until 2024. This sobering math should wake us up to the reality that all options, including climate engineering, need to be considered to address climate change. Climate engineering options can be classified broadly into two categories: solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal measures. Solar radiation management schemes seek to decrease the incoming solar radiation or to increase the reflection of incoming solar radiation. These approaches can generate fast climate responses, but do not immediately address the cause of the problem. Carbon dioxide removal measures seek to decrease atmospheric carbon concentrations by enhancing or substituting natural carbon sinks. The terrestrial carbon sink can be enhanced by means of forestation; the oceanic sink may, in some regions, be enhanced by means of fertilization, for example by artificially enhanced upwelling of macronutrients or by purposeful addition of the micronutrient iron; the mineral carbon sink can be enhanced by means of chemically accelerated weathering. Some analysts have expressed doubts about the potential of mitigating climate change by sink enhancement, because of concerns about whether carbon can be stored permanently. Nevertheless, terrestrial vegetation sinks have entered the Kyoto Protocol (KP) as offsets for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, but ocean sinks have not.