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First, I think would be instructive to review the events that occurred between 1980 and 1991, as background information on what I consider to be a controversial topic and to provide some hints of what may be coming in the future.

A lot of what we're talking about at this symposium today started in 1988, when the late John Martin developed the iron hypothesis. This was a very significant event.

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Some scientists already knew about Martin's hypothesis that iron might limit primary production in certain parts of the world's ocean; the scientific publication greatly increased this recognition, and 1989 was a very active year. There was a lot of discussion, excitement, interest; and many scientific publications were being prepared in those years. There was enough interest to generate a workshop that was conducted in December 1989 by the Natural Research Council Board on Biology. This workshop came up with some findings, one of which was that it's conceptually feasible to slow the increase of atmospheric CO2 levels through enhanced new primary production, and the estimate was two gigatons carbon per year at a cost of less than $2 billion per year. The recommendation went on to say that, after careful modeling and appropriate preliminary experiments in regions with unused nutrients, international transient iron-enrichment experiments should be implemented, at an estimated cost of $50 million to $150 million.

imageWhat went on during the interval between December 1989 when the NRC study was formed, and May 1990 when the report was published, was in some ways similar to what's going on now. Controversial ideas of large-scale fertilization experiments in the ocean to modify the climate were being discussed very seriously and were also being challenged in the scientific community.

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The scientific community knew about the ideas and scientists had a very broad range of opinions. But there was no publicly available information about these grandiose plans for fertilization of the ocean, except for short articles in popular magazines.

Public debate on the issue was impractical since there was no formal suggestion that these large-scale fertilization experiments were being considered, and no documents to refer to. So the faculty of the Department of Oceanography at the University of Washington drafted a letter to editors of major U.S. newspapers saying they had very profound concerns about these plans and suggesting some courses of action. That letter was published nowhere; probably because there was no document on which to base a dialogue. Those scientists were talking about something that did not exist on the public radar screen. So there was no forum for debate and the views of scientists were largely unknown. No scientific consensus was possible because there was nothing to discuss publicly.

imageWell, that changed in May 1990, when the National Research Council report was released and the newspapers picked-up the story. The issue became prominent on the world stage.

imageIn light of that publicity, the oceanographers could now tackle the issue head-on. A scientific symposium was held in 1991 at which a large number of scientists discussed the issues, and after a great deal of discussion, they did come up with this consensus resolution that was published in a special issue of the scientific journal, Limnology and Oceanography. In a nutshell, the statement was quite clearly against adding iron for geo-engineering of the oceans for CO2 sequestration.

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