Jul 25 2012

Fertilizing the Ocean with Iron

Published by under Student blog entries

http://flic.kr/p/KjEZ

 

Geo-engineering is a term that will probably become more apparent in the coming years. An experiment done in 2004 in the Southern Ocean has shown some advancements in the concept of dumping iron into the ocean in an effort to remove carbon dioxide from the air. While this idea has been around for a decade or so, it has not been very promising. However, a new study done by a team of German scientists was published and showed improvements in this technology that could make this technology viable in the future.  This process involves dumping several tons of iron sulfate into the ocean, a 150 sq kilometers patch of ocean in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current in this case. The results showed that diatom blooms grew at an increased rate than they would do under normal conditions because the limiting factor, iron, was supplied in excess. Once there is enough iron, the algae grow and consume carbon dioxide from the air, much like plants do on land. Because they take carbon dioxide from the air, scientists believe this will provide a way to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and reduce the effects of greenhouse gases. Results also showed that “at least half of the heat-trapping carbon in the bloom of diatoms…sank below 1,000 meters.” Ideally the algae will grow at a fast rate, consume the carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean depths, capturing the carbon dioxide and leaving it at the ocean’s floor. If this worked without any other environmental problems, it would be fantastic. However, the side-effects need to be seriously considered before any large-scale project gets undertaken. Introducing iron to the water could have serious side-effects to marine organisms, the water, and the natural balance of all. Adding nutrients to the water have already been shown to lead to eutrophication. Humans could potentially cause the eutrophication of the world’s ocean. There is also an issue of whether or not the carbon dioxide will remain deep in the ocean or if it will mix with water and be released back into the oceans. If ocean water temperature increases, the capacity to contain gases within the water decreases, and carbon dioxide gas will be released.

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