Dumping iron in the ocean is known to spur the growth of plankton that remove carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere, but a new study indicates iron fertilization may not be the quick fix to climate problems that some had hoped.
US Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star was one of the three ships participating in the SOFeX Cruise. Photo By: Leah Houghton, WHOI
Potential long-term outcomes for iron fertilization of the ocean are unknown, and could include newly productive fisheries and reduced atmospheric carbon dioxide (left) or polluted ocean, unenhanced fisheries, and litte effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide (right). Jack Cook, WHOI Graphics
Scientists have quantified the transport of carbon from surface waters to the deep ocean in response to fertilizing the ocean with iron, an essential nutrient for marine plants, or phytoplankton. Prior work suggested that in some ocean regions, marine phytoplankton grow faster with the addition of iron, thus taking up more carbon dioxide. However, until now, no one has been able to accurately quantify how much of the carbon in these plants is removed to the deep ocean.
New data, reported in the April 16 issue of the journal Science, suggest that there is a direct link between iron fertilization and enhanced carbon flux and hence atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, but that the quantities that can be removed are no greater than natural plankton blooms and are not large enough to serve as a quick fix to our climate problems.
Shelley Dawicki | WHOI
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