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Polarstern expedition 'LOHAFEX' can be conducted

Bremerhaven, 26 January 2009. The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association can conduct the ongoing Polarstern expedition LOHAFEX". Independent scientific and legal reviews sought by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety concluded that the iron fertilisation experiment LOHAFEX is neither against environmental standards nor the international law in force. There are thus no ecological and legal reasons to further suspend the iron fertilisation experiment LOHAFEX.

Reacting to the positive news from the Federal Ministry of Research Dr. Karin Lochte, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, said: "We are glad that the experts have fully confirmed our own ecological risk assessment. Now an independent party has also made it clear that the environmental impacts in the study area will be negligibly small." LOHAFEX will provide valuable data for climate and earth system research if the experiment is conducted as planned.

Lochte further stated: "The controversy on LOHAFEX has been basically reduced to a political conflict that we as a research institute cannot solve. This situation is unusual for the Alfred Wegener Institute. Nevertheless, I am absolutely convinced myself that only independent scientific studies like LOHAFEX will help in arriving at a substantiated and fact-based political decision on whether or not iron fertilisation in the ocean is a useful technique that could contribute to climate protection."

"We are relieved, of course, by the decision of the Federal Ministry of Research to proceed with the experiment," Lochte commented. This decision will send out an important signal to the international scientific community that Germany remains a reliable partner even in difficult political situations. The decision is also of great importance for our Indian partner, the National Institute of Oceanography, which is bearing half the personnel and financial costs of this experiment and for whom this is the main contribution to the Indo-German cooperation.

"I wish to strongly emphasise that our experiment was developed on the basis of purely scientific issues in order to better understand the role of iron in the global climate system. A large number of reports are circulating on the Internet and in the international press claiming that the Alfred Wegener Institute is conducting the experiment to test the geo-engineering option of ocean fertilisation as a means to sequester large quantities of carbon oxide from the atmosphere. This is definitely not the case," Lochte defends herself against these insinuations. "We are upset that such a controversial discussion was ignited on the basis of wrong, internationally propagated information. We hope that through this experiment we will be able to contribute to a better understanding of ocean biogeochemistry and pelagic ecosystem functioning."

After several days of pre-examinations, the team of scientists on board Polarstern has in the meantime found a closed eddy that is suitable for the experiment. It is located at Lat. 48S and Long. 15 30′W. First, a drift buoy with a position tracking device will be deployed near the centre of this eddy. From this point, Polarstern will then spread dissolved ferrous sulfate along a spiral trajectory in the upper 15 metres of the water layer. The fertilisation will take approximately 30 hours. Immediately after the termination of the iron input, numerous biological, chemical and physical parameters will be continuously measured inside and outside the fertilised area, and ecological changes in all layers of the water column from the surface to the seafloor in 3,800 metres depth will be monitored for 40 days. The plankton community biomass is expected to increase substantially about two weeks following fertilisation, and the fate of the organic matter produced will be investigated in detail.

As usual, the Alfred Wegener Institute will make the data and research results concerning LOHAFEX known, not only to the scientific community but also to authorities and environmental organisations.


Contact: Margarete Pauls
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres

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