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Growth in the sea comes down to a struggle for iron

fe. Speculation that iron provided part of the answer goes back to the 1930s. However, it wasn't until 1989 in the journal Nature that oceanographer John Martin reported the first series of iron experiments that indicated iron was indeed the missing ingredient. And he went further than that. Since growing plants absorb carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, he suggested that natural increases in iron inputs to the oceans during the geologic past may have removed enough carbon from the atmosphere to affect global climate, perhaps even contributing to the onset of ice ages. Martin died in 1993 just as tests of his ideas were getting underway, but scientists have embarked on a series of experiments in three major areas of the world's oceans.

"The three areas are the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, the equatorial Pacific out to about 140 degrees west and the sub-Arctic Pacific," says Wells. "The North Atlantic has a big spring bloom, just like we have on our coast, but these other areas have a persistent excess of nutrients because phytoplankton growth is reduced."

Many scientists from around the world are now studying iron effects in these regions. Though scientific efforts are aimed primarily at understanding these natural systems, there has been some speculation that iron fertilization might be useful in reducing the threat of global warming. However, this idea remains highly controversial in scientific circles given the very limited understanding of these unique systems, says Wells.

Wells specializes in chemical oceanography and has worked in places as varied as Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay and Antarctica. Joining him on the July voyage were two UMaine graduate students -- Eric Roy and Lisa Pickell -- and postdoctoral researcher Jennifer Boehme. UMaine scientist Mary Jane Perry collaborates on the project but was unable to join the trip.

Also participating were professors Charles Trick of the University of Western Ontario and
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Source:University of Maine


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