A surprising link may exist between ocean fertility and air pollution over land, according to Georgia Institute of Technology research reported in the Feb. 16 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research — Atmospheres. The work provides new insight into the role that ocean fertility plays in the complex cycle involving carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in global warming.
NASAs Terra satellite observed a large dust storm (light brown pixels) blowing over northeastern China toward the Korean peninsula in November 2002. The dust appears to be originating from the Gobi Desert in north central China. Toward the south (bottom center), there is a dense pall of haze and pollution (gray pixels) over much of southeastern China. Image Courtesy of NASA
When dust storms pass over industrialized areas, they can pick up sulfur dioxide, an acidic trace gas emitted from industrial facilities and power plants. As the dust storms move out over the ocean, the sulfur dioxide they carry lowers the pH (a measure of acidity and alkalinity) level of dust and transforms iron into a soluble form, said Nicholas Meskhidze, a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Athanasios Nenes group at Georgia Techs School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and lead author of the paper "Dust and Pollution: A Recipe for Enhanced Ocean Fertilization."
This conversion is important because dissolved iron is a necessary micronutrient for phytoplankton — tiny aquatic plants that serve as food for fish and other marine organisms, and also reduce carbon dioxide levels in Earths atmosphere via photosynthesis. Phytoplankton carry out almost half of Earths photosynthesis even though they represent less than 1 percent of the planets biomass.
Jane Sanders | EurekAlert!
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