Phytoplankton which lives at the surface of the oceans is responsible of half of the Earth oxygen production, through photosynthesis. In addition, it is fixing dissolved carbon (CO2) of atmospheric origin as solid particles which, when dying, are falling as detritus in the abyss and the sediment. This mechanism called the “Biological Carbon Pump” is an important sink for the anthropogenic CO2. Understanding the processes leading to phytoplankton development is thus a major issue for present-day climate modelling and the prediction of our future climate.
Iron (as other trace metals) is essential for the photosynthesis success of most of the phytoplanktonic species. However, its abundance in the marine waters is extremely low and its absence is limiting the phytoplankton development in roughly half of the world’s oceans. This led to the development of studies of artificial ocean iron fertilization, the hypothesis being that stimulating photosynthesis will improve the capacity of the ocean to absorb CO2. However, thanks to studies on the iron distribution and fate it is now proved that artificial ocean iron fertilization will never produce the expected result as photosynthesis continues to be limited due to the complexity of processes at play in surface waters. Such results prevent wasting money in useless operations.
Thus, to understand the carbon pump functioning or to test geoengineer’s hypothesis, studying the oceanic iron cycle is essential. This includes: understanding the iron sources to the ocean, its sinks, its distribution, etc. GEOTRACES is elucidating these questions, as well as, producing high-quality data and representing it on an electronic Atlas that helps to easily convey the information.
Find below a summary of main GEOTRACES findings and products on iron research:
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3D scenes showing the distribution of dissolved iron in the Atlantic and the Pacific. In warm colours (red, orange, etc.) you can view high concentrations of dissolved iron. The diversity of hydrothermal iron inputs is identified along Mid Oceanic Ridges in the two basins. Important release of dissolved iron from the sediments are indicated along the African, South American, Asian and Peruvian coasts.
Data is available to download after registration here: https://geotraces.webodv.awi.de/login
Below you can find a list of science highlights of main GEOTRACES discoveries on iron research:
The Tonga arc, an iron boundary in the South West Pacific Ocean
As part of the TONGA GEOTRACES process study, Tilliette and colleagues identified high dissolved iron concentrations in the west of the Tonga arc.
Machine learning approach led to the first iron climatology
Huang and co-workers propose the first data-driven surface-to-seafloor dissolved iron climatology.
Distributions, boundary inputs, and scavenging processes of trace metals in the East Sea (Japan Sea)
Seo and his colleagues show pronounced atmospheric and shelf inputs of trace elements in the Japan Sea.
New trace metal data in the Seas of Japan and Okhotsk
Nakaguchi and colleagues realized full-depth and section distributions of traces metals collected from the Seas of Japan and Okhotsk.
Confrontation of two models to constrain the hydrothermal iron contribution to the Southern Ocean export production
Tagliabue and his co-workers compare the hydrothermal dissolved iron simulated by both models.
Dust deposition rates extracted from a data-assimilation model of the aluminium oceanic cycle
Xu and Weber developed a data-assimilation model of the aluminum oceanic cycle.
List of publications
Scroll down to view the list of GEOTRACES publications on dissolved iron: