Indo-German experiment resumes near Antarctica

Roy Mathew

LOHAFEX was suspended after

eco activists

raised concerns.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Indo-German iron fertilization experiment (LOHAFEX) near Antarctica, which had been suspended, resumed on Tuesday after the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research gave its clearance.

Wajih Naqvi, Co-Chief Scientist, LOHAFEX, said in an email message from the research vessel, Polarstern, that the scientific team on the ship had started fertilizing of an eddy located near Antarctica with ferrous sulphate. The experiment envisages dumping of ferrous sulphate in the Scotia Sea to induce an algal bloom.

The process was to be completed on Wednesday, according to the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) which is conducting the experiment in collaboration with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research of Germany and scientists from Europe and Chile.

The experiment was suspended by the German Federal Ministry pending assessment of the ecological consequences and legality of the experiment, following protests from environmental organisations who claimed that the experiment violated the Convention on Biological Diversity. Mr. Naqvi said that scientific reviews from the British Antarctic Survey, Institute for Marine Research, Kiel, and the German Environmental Agency had been extremely supportive, as was the legal opinion sought by the Ministry.

The NIO said on its web site that ferrous sulphate dissolved in seawater along sulphur hexafluoride was discharged into the propeller wash of the vessel as it cruised along a spiral track emanating from the centre of the eddy. The process involved application of 12 tonne of the salt about 300 square kilometres.

Regular observations would be made for several weeks to study the expected formation and demise of the phytoplankton bloom, the changes in the water column and underlying sediments, and fate of organic matter produced as a result of fertilization.

Phytoplankton bloom will play a key role in regulating concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Noting that the experiment involved people who had very high scientific credentials, Mr. Naqvi said that previous experiments had produced no ill-effects.

Meanwhile the German Federal Environment Ministry is standing by its objection to the experiment, taking a stand opposite to that of the Ministry of Education and Research. In a press statement, it said that its reservations regarding the experiment remained.

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