Plymouth Leads ‘healthy Oceans’ Research

Plymouth researchers will be presenting new research findings at an international conference they are hosting in the city next month.

Professor Paul Worsfold, Co-director of Plymouth Environmental Research Centre (PERC), heads the Plymouth team working on a three-year research project which investigates the role of iron in ocean productivity and climate change. Plymouth is one of 12 European universities taking part in this ‘IRONAGES’ project.

Professor Worsfold commented: “We are one of just a handful of universities in the world with the specialist knowledge and equipment to be able to measure the presence of iron in the oceans accurately. We have invested in some of the most sophisticated instrumentation equipment in the world, and now have probably the best instrumentation base in the UK. We have also developed accurate, robust and portable measuring equipment, which can be used in field surveys. So far we’ve put this equipment to the test in the Bay of Biscay, the Atlantic Ocean and the Antarctic.”

Research to date indicates that in 40% of the world’s ocean, iron concentrations are so low that the production of phytoplankton is iron limited. This has an impact across the food chain, as oceans rich in plankton are also rich in fish-life. Phytoplankton need carbon dioxide to grow, which they source from the atmosphere. Experiments have shown that addition of iron to patches of the ocean causes an increase in the growth of marine plants and animal life and therefore an increase in the uptake of carbon dioxide (a so-called greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere.

The IRONAGES group is investigating the sources and distribution of iron in the world’s oceans and how iron is related to primary production and carbon dioxide uptake. The Plymouth team has been involved in research cruises in the Atlantic Ocean and the Southern Ocean to conduct iron measurements. The next cruise, planned for October this year, will be in the Azores region, investigating the input of iron to the North Atlantic Ocean from Saharan dust.

Earlier this year, Professor Worsfold presented a paper on this subject at Europe’s leading analytical chemistry conference, ‘Analytica’ in Munich. His findings will also be presented much closer to home when Plymouth hosts the 32nd International Symposium on the Environment & Analytical Chemistry next month (17 – 21 June).

Dr Eric Achterberg, a partner in the IRONAGES project, said: “The work on iron conducted by the Plymouth Group since 1995 is on the cutting edge of marine biogeochemistry.”

This view was endorsed by Simon Ussher, a PhD student at PERC, who said: “Scientists, such as myself, who have gravitated to Plymouth to become involved in environmental research on an international level, tend to find it a very refreshing and rewarding experience.”

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