"Our first question was, 'where does the iron come from?'" said Charette. "Airborne dust wasn't the solution there isn't enough exposed soil on Crozet for winds to carry iron from the island to the deep water where the bloom occurs. While other studies concluded that upwelling from the deep ocean was the main source of the iron, we wanted to test the hypothesis that the iron was coming from the island itself and the iron-rich sediments in the shallow water and the plateau area around it."
Since the currents move from south to north over Crozet, the researchers reasoned that iron could be entrained in the water column as it flows over the plateau. First, they needed a way to understand how long it would take iron to travel from the island's shore to the bloom site and if the rate of supply was enough to kick-start and sustain the bloom for several months. Iron concentrations in the water wouldn't tell them where it came from, so the team sampled waters around Crozet looking for naturally-occurring radium isotopes, which, like iron, originate in the sediments and can therefore be used to quantify the amount of iron that the islands and surrounding sediments can supply to the bloom area. The decaying isotopes provided a built-in clock for the investigators to determine how quickly the water moves over the plateau and into deeper water. The distribution of radium in the water column demonstrated that the source of the iron was the island and the sediments in the shallow water around it and the plateau.
A second question the team sought to answer was whether the differences in the blooms between the north and south sides of Crozet would result in greater amounts of carbon held in the deep ocean. Using sediment traps and sediment cores, the researchers uncovered the first evidence that carbon deposited a
|Contact: Stephanie Murphy|
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution