Feeds

New boffinry: North Atlantic could be massive CO2 sink

Icelandic phytoplankton starved of iron, seemingly

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

British oceanographers say they have found evidence that phytoplankton growth in the north Atlantic is sharply limited by the availability of iron. The seagoing boffins suggest that their research could have important implications for efforts to fight climate change, as phytoplankton can absorb large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The new findings are based on measurements carried out in the central Iceland Basin by scientists from the UK's National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in the summer of 2007. The NOC boffins travelled aboard the Royal Research Ship Discovery, a British government scientific vessel.

The NOC scientists found very low levels of iron in the North Atlantic seawater, while other essential nutrients that would normally turn into phytoplankton remained unused. Adding small concentrations of dissolved iron to sample bottles taken from the sea resulted in more phytoplankton, more chlorophyll, and better photosynthesis - the sunlight-driven process by which plants remove carbon from the atmosphere.

"These results, backed up by additional experiments, are extremely exciting," says the NOC's Maria Nielsdottir.

"They provide strong evidence that low iron availability limits summer biological production in the high-latitude North Atlantic. This has only previously been suspected, but helps explain why the spring phytoplankton bloom does not continue well into the summer and why residual amounts of nitrate remain unused."

Some scientists have suggested that it would be possible to remove significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere by seeding suitable ocean regions with iron - the amounts of metal involved are small. This would allow the iron-starved, plant-like phytoplankton to increase in numbers to the full potential of their nutrient supplies, so aborbing massive amounts of carbon and presumably easing the greenhouse effect.

There has been a hotly-debated argument as to whether such efforts should qualify for valuable carbon credits under governmental schemes like those planned in the European Union. Critics of the idea say that the effects of such "geoengineering" are unproven, and that in any case the focus should be on humanity emitting less carbon rather than on sequestering it in the oceans afterwards.

Nielsdottir doesn't go as far as to say that iron-powered ocean sequestration is a good idea, but she does drop a hint.

"[This research] is important," she says, "because the high-latitude North Atlantic is second only to the Southern Ocean in its potential to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide and unused nitrate in the surface highlight the potential for even higher CO2 drawdown, high levels of which are an important cause of global climate warming."

Details on the resulting scholarly paper, Iron limitation of the postbloom phytoplankton communities in the Iceland Basin, can be found here. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.