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Iron critical to ocean productivity, carbon uptake

nd nowhere is it more pronounced than the tropical Pacific Ocean. As phytoplankton plants grow, they suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to build new cells.

A better understanding of this carbon cycle is a key to studying global climate change. Iron fertilization of phytoplankton is also a key to a healthy marine food chain.

Both Behrenfeld and Peter Strutton, an assistant professor of oceanography at OSU and a co-author on the Nature paper, have been involved in experiments in which iron is introduced into the ocean in an attempt to boost productivity. Those studies found that introducing iron into small portions of the Pacific did indeed trigger phytoplankton growth, but it wasn't as robust or as sustained as models predicted.

"It wasn't the silver bullet that scientists originally hypothesized," Strutton said. "The carbon export was slower than we thought. It could be the scale was too small, and it could be that the (biological) response was too slow and we didn't wait long enough."

Behrenfeld said introducing iron into the ocean system is complex because the mineral isn't water-soluble and requires repeated infusions.

"When you first do it, there's an explosion of growth and then it plateaus," he said. "Then you add a bit more iron, and the phytoplankton respond a bit more. Then you add a third shot, and it triggers some more modest growth. But at the same time you're promoting phytoplankton growth, the grazers that feed on them come to life because they suddenly have a more abundant food supply.

"So the plankton can disappear as fast as you've made them grow."


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Source:Oregon State University


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