Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Questions rise about seeding for ocean C02 sequestration

A new study on the feeding habits of ocean microbes calls into question the potential use of algal blooms to trap carbon dioxide and offset rising global levels.
These blooms contain iron-eating microscopic phytoplankton that absorb C02 from the air through the process of photosynthesis and provide nutrients for marine life. But one type of phytoplankton, a diatom, is using more iron that it needs for photosynthesis and storing the extra in its silica skeletons and shells, according to an X-ray analysis of phytoplankton conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. This reduces the amount of iron left over to support the carbon-eating plankton.

“Just like someone walking through a buffet line who takes the last two pieces of cake, even though they know they’ll only eat one, they’re hogging the food,” said Ellery Ingall, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-lead author on this result. “Everyone else in line gets nothing; the person’s decision affects these other people.”

Because of this iron-hogging behavior, the process of adding iron to surface water – called iron fertilization or iron seeding – may have only a short-lived environmental benefit. And, the process may actually reduce over the long-term how much C02 the ocean can trap.

Rather than feed the growth of extra plankton, triggering algal blooms, the iron fertilization may instead stimulate the gluttonous diatoms to take up even more iron to build larger shells. When the shells get large enough, they sink to the ocean floor, sequestering the iron and starving off the diatom’s plankton peers.

Over time, this reduction in the amount of iron in surface waters could trigger the growth of microbial populations that require less iron for nutrients, reducing the amount of phytoplankton blooms available to take in C02 and to feed marine life.

While scientists have known for a long time that phytoplankton use iron to fuel the process of photosynthesis, there are gaps in their understanding of how this iron cycling process works. Those gaps led scientists to miss how large an amount of iron was getting trapped in those sinking skeletons and removed permanently from the food chain. X-ray studies at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne gave scientists a way to measure the ratio of iron and silica in the plankton and surface water.

“Being able to use X-rays and see the element content of individual microscopic phytoplankton has completely altered our perspective on how these organisms use iron and how that could affect C02 levels,” Ingall said.

In the paper “Role of biogenic silica in the removal of iron from the Antarctic seas” published June 10 in the journal Nature Communications, scientists conservatively estimate that 2.5 milligrams of iron annually is removed from every square meter of surface water in the Ross Sea and sequestered in silica skeletons on the ocean floor. This is roughly equivalent to the total amount of iron deposited annually into the Ross Sea surface through snow melt, dust and upwelling of seawater.

The same process may be occurring in the Southern Ocean and having a greater impact there, because this region dictates the nutrient mix for the rest of the world’s oceans through migratory current patterns.

More study is needed to know just how much iron is used to make the silica skeletons and how much gets trapped on the ocean floor, the researchers said.

“This gap in our knowledge, combined with renewed interest in iron fertilization as an approach to the current climate crisis, makes it crucial that we have an improved understanding of iron cycling in marine systems,” Ingall said.

Measurements of iron and silicon content in silica from living phytoplankton collected in the coastal seas of West Antarctica was derived through X-ray analysis on beamlines 2-ID-D and 2-ID-E at the Advanced Photon Source using microscopy and fluorescence techniques. High-resolution imaging, chemical identification and the ability to focus X-rays on an ultra small area of about 200 by 200 nanometers were key to this analysis. For comparison, it would take 500 samples of this size to fit across the width of a single human hair.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Swedish Antarctic Research Programme. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences supported use of the APS.

The research was conducted by Ingall, Julia Diaz, Amelia Longo and Michelle Oakes from the Georgia Institute of Technology; Lydia Finney, Stefan Vogt and Barry Lai from the Advanced Photon Source; Patricia Yager from the University of Georgia; Benjamin Twining from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences; and Jay Brandes from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Goergia Institute of Technology news release can be viewed on its website.

The Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory is one of five national synchrotron radiation light sources supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science to carry out applied and basic research to understand, predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular levels, provide the foundations for new energy technologies, and support DOE missions in energy, environment, and national security. To learn more about the Office of Science X-ray user facilities, visit the Office of Science website.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Tona Kunz | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Removing fossil fuel subsidies will not reduce CO2 emissions as much as hoped
08.02.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>