Ocean Nourishment is a nature inspired innovation, adopting the principles of biomimicry to support ocean ecosystems and provide both biosphere and economic returns. Through the purposeful introduction of limiting macronutrients the process employs the services of ocean plants (ecosystem services) to capture waste carbon from the surface ocean and atmosphere, in doing so enhancing marine productivity from the base of the marine food chain.
By stimulating phytoplankton growth Ocean Nourishment can be used to restore the health and broader productivity of ocean ecosystems. This includes enhancement of the cyclical biological export of carbon to the deep ocean (bio- sequestration). Our research programs with independent partners are designed to verify the predicted outcomes of Ocean Nourishment in terms of total carbon sequestration and marine harvest.
The Ocean Nourishment process is carefully calibrated to drive nutrient responses of plankton communities in support of valuable ecosystem services, such as fisheries production and CO2 export to the deep ocean.
ONC is working on the identification of suitable sites for Ocean Nourishment around the world. This work is undertaken in the first instance in-house making use of available oceanographic information, relevant research work, satellite records and model outputs. As we progress with proving the viability of any given site we work in partnership with local researchers, fishing industry representatives and with Government. The process involves a gradual scaling up of experimental work and dispersion and ecosystem modeling. Final validation of site suitability will eventually require pilot trials of Ocean Nourishment of sufficient duration to consider seasonal changes in climate, ecology and oceanographic conditions.
As part of our Research, Development and Deployment (RD&D) program, ONC is developing delivery options for a range of ocean conditions including:
i. Purpose Built Floating Platforms: these could be in the form of multi-purpose aqua parks that generate renewable energy, harvest marine produce and are semi permanent sites for Ocean Nourishment operations.
ii. Ship Based Nourishment: the most rapid means of utilising Ocean Nourishment would be to transport them by ship to the infusion site for dispersion.
iii. Ship based manufacture of nutrients: a factory ship that is capable of manufacturing nutrients from ‘stranded’ natural gas reserves and dispersing directly.
iv. Adaptation of Existing Infrastructure to the Ocean Nourishment process: This would apply to existing nitrogen manufacturing facilities or marine structures including oil and gas platforms that are appropriately located.
Target chlorophyll concentration
The rate of distribution of nitrogen should be limited to that which will raise phytoplankton concentrations to the values seen in regions of upwelling (5-10 mg Chl /m3). This will restrict phytoplankton levels to the healthy levels seen in areas of upwelling and avoid the excessive levels seen in harmful algal blooms. Chlorophyll concentration is an easily measured proxy for phytoplankton concentration. So we need a target chlorophyll concentration that meets this upwelling criterion. ONC have designed sophisticated dispersion techniques that are engineered to achieve target values of approximately 4 mg Chl /m3.
Increasing biologically productivity on the land in not controversial. This is largely due to the 10,000 years of experience with agriculture. However, there is not the same experience base for fertilization of the ocean. This has resulted in calls for regulation of even the science to investigate the basic processes. In 2010 a framework for conducting such experiments was developed by the London Convention/Protocol of the International Maritime Organisation. Commercial implementation must await further scientific research providing extra clarity on the effects of the technology.
The second area of Governance applicable to Ocean Nourishment is to capture the carbon sequestration benefits of the process. This would require approval of the carbon accounting methodology under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or equivalent national accrediting bodies such as the carbon farming initiative in Australia.