Industrial Pollution May Be Geoengineering the Oceans

Iron particle pollution falls into the world’s oceans in greater quantities than previously thought, according to new research. The industrial iron particle pollution is also dissolving and accumulating in the ocean more rapidly than previously estimated.

The consequences of iron particle pollution are unclear, but iron is one of the key nutrients that phytoplankton need to thrive. 

In regions where iron levels are limited, adding more to the water can help plankton thrive. This is the basis of “iron fertilization,” a geoengineering strategy some have proposed to address climate change. “Iron fertilization” would add iron to regions of the ocean where iron nutrients are limited. This would promote phytoplankton growth and help to absorb more carbon dioxide.

When phytoplankton die they fall to the bottom of the sea, and become locked away as stored carbon.

Studies on this geoengineering strategy have suggested differing carbon-storing capacities. Some experts have expressed concern about unforeseen consequences and others say more research is necessary.

The study, out of the University of South Florida and led by Tim Conway, investigated the difference between iron inputs from ‘natural sources’ and from human activities.



Photo: “Industry!” by Ralf Steinberger is licensed under CC BY 2.0