A U.N. backed study has concluded that fertilizing the oceans to boost the growth of tiny plants that would absorb green house gases is unlikely to work as a way to slow climate change.

A U.N. backed study has concluded that fertilizing the oceans to boost the growth of tiny plants that would absorb green house gases is unlikely to work as a way to slow climate change.

The study was performed by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, part of the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and concluded that artificial modification involving ocean fertilization would only be able to store a relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide and the impacts of such schemes would be hard to monitor.

According to the study, some absorbed carbon simply returns to the atmosphere. Just 1 to 15 % becomes "marine snow" - dead plants, animals or their faeces – that is stored on the deep ocean floor. The lead author of the report Doug Wallace argues that "at best it can make a small contribution" to storing industrial emissions of carbon dioxide.

Although studies conducted in the past have managed to create a boom of bacteria and plankton, it has been impossible to accurately state how much carbon stays in the ocean subsequent to such activity.

Further research was called for and in 2008 the U.N.'s Convention on Biological Diversity imposed a moratorium on ocean fertilization experiments outside coastal waters, awaiting wider scientific evidence.

Seas At Risk is actively working on policies concerning the mitigation of GHG emissions from maritime activities (shipping and fishing). For more information on this work, follow the links at the side of this story.

Photograph by Sean Gloster/Marine Photobank.

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