In a paper published in the July 18 online issue of the top scientific journal Nature, experts detail the results of an ocean iron fertilization experiment (EIFEX), which was conducted 8 years ago. An international collaboration of scientists worked together for this research.
Experts spent the years following the conclusion of the experiment analyzing the wealth of data they extracted from EIFEX. It took them around 8 years to figure out exactly what the consequences of their study were, and so this report is the final, complete one.
According to the scientists, the discoveries made during this investigation will contribute to increasing our understanding of the natural carbon cycle. The work found that a significant portion of the carbon dioxide algal blooms remove from the atmosphere indeed reaches the bottom of the ocean.
Other studies, such as the 2009 LOHAFEX, found that this was not the case. However, researchers behind the EIFEX investigation determined that the microorganisms are indeed very effective at trapping atmospheric CO2, and then storing it at the bottom of the sea.
Iron fertilization has been proposed as a geoengineering approach towards reducing the amount of carbon currently present in Earth's atmosphere. Under this approach, airplanes would spray thousands of tons of iron particles over the waters.
This would lead to massive algal and phytoplankton blooms, which would then grow and grow until they reach the limits of their resources. All these organisms need carbon dioxide and sunlight to conduct photosynthesis, so their growth will be accompanied by atmospheric CO2 removal.
“Such controlled iron fertilization experiments in the ocean enable us to test hypotheses and quantify processes that cannot be studied in laboratory experiments. The results improve our understanding of processes in the ocean relevant to climate change,” explains Dr. Victor Smetacek.
“The controversy surrounding iron fertilization experiments has led to a thorough evaluation of our results before publication,” he says, referring to why it took 8 years for the research group to publish its results.
Dr Smetacek holds an appointment as a professor at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
, in the Helmholtz Association. He concludes by saying that more than 50 percent of all surveyed microorganisms stored CO2 more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) below the surface.