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Glaciers contribute significant iron to North Atlantic Ocean
Date:3/11/2013

All living organisms rely on iron as an essential nutrient. In the ocean, iron's abundance or scarcity means all the difference as it fuels the growth of plankton, the base of the ocean's food web.

A new study by biogeochemists and glaciologists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) identifies a unexpectedly large source of iron to the North Atlantic meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets, which may stimulate plankton growth during spring and summer. This source is likely to increase as melting of the Greenland ice sheet escalates under a warming climate.

The study was published online in Nature Geoscience on March 10, 2013.

"There's only been one other study looking at the amount of iron that's being released in meltwater runoff itself," says Maya Bhatia, a graduate of the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Sciences and Engineering, and the study's lead author, "and that had reported high nanomolar concentrations. So to find iron in concentrations several orders of magnitude higher in the micromolar range was very surprising."

Iron from wind-blown dust and river runoff fuels annual plankton blooms in the world's ocean. Ice sheets and glaciers are now also thought to contribute iron from sediments on the bottom of calved icebergs and glacially-derived dust. Until now, meltwater runoff from glaciers and ice sheets was considered too dilute to carry much iron, although previous research has shown a strong correlation between the plankton blooms and the runoff from Greenland ice sheet.

"Glacial runoff has only recently been considered a potentially important source of nutrients that are useable, or bioavailable, to downstream ecosystems," says Bhatia. "We believe our study now adds iron to that list of nutrients, and underscores the potential for a unique but as-yet-undetermined chemical impact from increasing ice sheet meltwater runoff."

During the course of two expedi
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Contact: WHOI Media Relations
media@whoi.edu
508-289-3340
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Source:Eurekalert

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