Man made air pollution helps iron deficient ocean

From a University of Leeds Press Release

Acidic clouds nourish world’s oceans

Published Friday 2nd October 09

https://i0.wp.com/ksjtracker.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/planktonblooms.jpg?resize=466%2C240

Algal bloom at sea as seen by satellite

Acidic clouds are feeding bioavailable iron to the oceans – a discovery which sheds light on the natural processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Scientists at the University of Leeds have proved that acid in the atmosphere breaks down large particles of iron found in dust into small and extremely soluble iron nanoparticles, which are more readily used by plankton.

This is an important finding because lack of iron can be a limiting factor for plankton growth in the ocean – especially in the southern oceans and parts of the eastern Pacific. Addition of such iron nanoparticles would trigger increased absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“This could be a very important discovery because there’s only a very small amount of soluble iron in the ocean and if plankton use the iron nanoparticles formed in clouds then the whole flux of bioavailable iron to the oceans needs to be revised,” says Dr Zongbo Shi, lead author of the research from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds.

Water droplets in clouds generally form around dust and other particles. When clouds evaporate, as they often do naturally, the surface of the particle can become very acidic. This is especially true where the air is polluted.

Paradoxically, scientists suggest that large scale industry in countries like China could be combating global warming to some extent by creating more bioavailable iron in the oceans, and therefore increasing carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere.

“Man made pollution adds more acid to the atmosphere and therefore may encourage the formation of more iron nanoparticles,” says Dr Shi.

Scientists carried out the research by simulating clouds in the laboratory to which they added Saharan dust samples.  They were then able to mimic natural conditions in order to monitor the chemical processes happening in the system.  The laboratory experiments have been confirmed in natural samples where such cloud processing is known to have occurred.

The findings highlight the complexity of the pattern of natural iron delivery to the oceans, throwing new light on recent high profile plans to add iron to the southern oceans artificially to stimulate plankton growth.

“This process is happening in clouds all over the world, but there are particularly interesting consequences for the oceans.  What we have uncovered is a previously unknown source of bioavailable iron that is being delivered to the Earth’s surface in precipitation,” says Professor Michael Krom, the principal investigator of the research, also at the University of Leeds.

The research was published in the September issue of Environmental Science and Technology and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

62 thoughts on “Man made air pollution helps iron deficient ocean

  1. So after the recent huge dust storm over Australia and the Tasman Sea should we expect a sudden bloom in Plankton. Some of the dust made it thousands of km to New Zealand, putting a visible coating onto my car (in the South island).

  2. Rob R (15:22:00) :
    Here in the UK we seem to get several events each year where wind rain delivered dust, often attributed to air movement from the Sahara, are distributed across the country.
    So presumably there are deposits into water along the way and that may apply to other wind patterns where more water crossing is involved.
    My reading of the press releases seems to suggest that it is not just the dust being carried into the oceans that is important – it is the process that occurs in the clouds that breaks down the iron particles into something more useful in bioavailability terms by creating more nano particles. Or at leaast that is the claim.
    I would imagine that the hypothesis is quite testable (compared to many hypotheses) up to the point of the effect on CO2 extraction by plankton.

  3. Hold on a moment. Is this good or bad?
    If only there was an enviro-bible that could provide me with all the correct responses. Greenpeace, you are falling down on the job. How do I know if something is good or bad without direction from the enviro-sages

  4. Is carbonic acid strong enough to break down the dust particles? If so this could be another feedback mechanism limiting CO2 in the atmosphere.

  5. So, with this startling, yet very cool, discovery, can we start catapulting “Cash For Clunkers” rejects into the stratosphere and shooting them down with SAM’s loaded with sulfuric acid made from coal-fired power plants’ emissions? It’s a “win-win” situation all around. 😉

  6. One of the suspected reasons for red tide blooms in the Gulf of Mexico is dust from the Sahara. Just a side note, we haven’t had any eastern Atlantic hurricanes cross over into the Gulf for a couple of years and we also haven’t had any large red tide blooms either.

  7. For an interesting read on the history of dust and plankton blooms, check out:
    http://www.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/ESD-Gobi-plankton-Bishop.html
    “In the spring of 2001, two robotic Carbon Explorer floats [modified Argo floats] recorded the rapid growth of phytoplankton in the upper layers of the North Pacific Ocean after a passing storm had deposited iron-rich dust from the Gobi Desert. The carbon measurements, reported in the October 25 [2001, presumably] issue of Science, are the first direct observation of wind-blown terrestrial dust fertilizing the growth of aquatic plant life.
    “Three days before the launch of the Carbon Observers on April 10, a NASA satellite recorded a large dust storm originating near the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia; on the day of the launch, the dust cloud was over Japan and heading for the North Pacific. It reached Ocean Station PAPA on April 12, where it kicked up the waves and deposited a large amount of dust.
    “Although high waves temporarily kept the Carbon Observers from reporting by satellite, data collection continued uninterrupted through the storm. Five days after the storm passed, the floats reported rising concentrations of particulate organic carbon; the concentration almost doubled in the next two weeks.
    Great timing on the part of the researchers and nature, eh?

  8. So we already know everything about every factor that affects theClimate and the Carbon Cycle ?. This is another piece of the jigsaw that is totally ignored by those fixated (pun intended) on CO2.

  9. Oh, and as I recall I said something about this a couple of days ago, let me see if I can recall what I wrote.
    I can’t wait to read stories of how the increased levels of CO2 are causing plankton, seaweed, and other life forms in the ocean to explode with growth. It was something like that. Look it up.

  10. You guys are sooooo bad!!!!
    Of the responders here – no one has ever indicated a wish for man to “dirty its nest”. You all, in other threads indicate a sensivity to the enviornment. Use it, yes, but don’t abuse it. Where you part company with many is that you wish to use what we have in efficient ways, not as some demented worship of dirt.
    Yeah, you don’t fool me, you are closet environmentalists – (THE BEST KIND!)
    enjoy all your comments, and thanks Anthony for providing the platform to say them.
    Mike Bentley

  11. Tom in Florida (16:11:52) :
    If you are thinking someone is out to ‘experiment’ with the oceans by introducing lots of iron seeding to make more plankton, the unintended consequence might be this red tide algae. Toxic.
    I was thinking that they are assuming increased plankton is all good news.
    How to clean up one problem while at the same time creating an even worse one.

  12. I can’t wait to read stories of how whale populations are increasing due to the elevated levels of CO2 causing plankton levels to rise.

  13. B.C. (16:08:54) :
    So, with this startling, yet very cool, discovery, can we start catapulting “Cash For Clunkers” rejects into the stratosphere and shooting them down with SAM’s loaded with sulfuric acid made from coal-fired power plants’ emissions? It’s a “win-win” situation all around. 😉
    Hilarious! LOL
    Brent in Calgary

  14. It’s also apropos to dredge up this little gem, which casts, shall we say, some doubt on just how much carbon dioxide absorption those ocean critters and critterettes actually do…..
    The money quote:
    ‘If we thought we have understood photosynthesis, this study proves that there is much to be learned about these basic physiological processes.’

  15. Most of the sheeple surveyed, 98% of them, agree man-made global warming and climate change is not an important issue. I would call these people the agreers not deniers. Why do so few people now deny, man does not cause global warming?

  16. rbateman (16:58:54) :
    “How to clean up one problem while at the same time creating an even worse one.”
    Probably the best response to all of the enviro’s geoengineering proposals. Except they won’t clean up the problem.
    Messing with something that ain’t broke is a good way to break it.

  17. Preusumably the nanoiron that didn’t make it out to sea would be fertilizing the land? As for increased ‘pollution’ increasing the amount of phytoplankton, does this mean we no longer need to feel guilty about the need to ‘pump the bilges’ when we are out on the bay? 🙂

  18. Ah, the poor AGW proponents….. Natural systems are so buggy when trying to run a convenient hypothesis of everything:-)

  19. I think this is what is called a Sea Change. All good climate news all the time, instead of the constant depressing disaster stuff.

  20. It would be ironic, and drive the AGWers crazy, if acid rain combined with particulate pollution (smoke, soot, etc) were neutralizing through ocean absorption, CO2 emissions.
    It would mean the most effective way of mitigating greenhouse gas warming would be to cancel all the clean air acts and similar.
    Which would be doubly ironic, because the supposed warming since 1970 is largely an artifact of those clean air acts reducing particulate pollution and increasing minimum temperatures due to increased early morning sunshine reaching the surface.

  21. Let’s assume this might be bad news. Naughty humans are causing more plankton.
    OK, some whales who prefer plankton to a nice boef bourgignon might be pleased. Fair enough, each whale to his own is what I say. But what about the swathes of plankton the whales don’t gobble-up? What will happen to them? What effect will they have on the perfectly balanced and unchanging natural world that existed before Adam rubbed two sticks together and warned Eve about the effect of second-hand smoke on a delicately-placed fig leaf?
    The answer, of course, is that we haven’t the faintest idea what an increase in plankton will mean. Most likely, I’d guess, is that it will mean nothing more than an increase in plankton. And that is where this study is so interesting.
    No one can say what causative effect it will have, if any, because there is nothing against which it can be measured. Rather like increases in atmospheric CO2, some might say.

  22. The relative contribution of polluting particles versus the normal VAST quanties of plain ol’ dirt particles has not been determined. My response to this article? Meh. I already knew about dust being fish food. Drought cycles occur about every 30 to 60 years in large enough quantities to replenish fish populations as measured by fish tonnage at port. The PDO was discovered in just such a cycle of fish tonnage records.

  23. Histograd (15:52:14) :
    No it is not beyond you. You just find all this BS hard to believe. You are right. It is not believable. Therefore, it is beyond you. Actually, it is beyond belief that these “scientists” can persist with this BS in the face of all evidence.

  24. rbateman (16:58:54) to Tom in Florida (16:11:52) :
    “If you are thinking someone is out to ‘experiment’ with the oceans by introducing lots of iron seeding to make more plankton, the unintended consequence might be this red tide algae. Toxic.”
    Actually I wasn’t, just stating that Sahara dust carried by winds can reach the Gulf of Mexico, especially with large storms that have their beginnings off the coast of Africa and that is thought by some to increase red tide. Iron seeding is a different subject but I agree that there will always be unintended consequences whenever we try to manipulate our environment.
    It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.

  25. Brian Baumgaertel (18:13:09) :
    Wait… real science where they did a real lab experiment? Without computer models?
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
    I KNOW!!! Absolutely SCANDALOUS !!!! How dare they break from norm and actually
    perform an EXPERIMENT…..and one that is repeatable and falsifiable at that…… humpff, the very idea. I nearly had a coronary when I read the words laboratory,
    and experiment in the same article.

  26. My vote for the meaning of this article would be that they are referring only to the old-school traditional pollutants, like SO2 leading to sulfuric acid (acid rain).
    They aren’t referring to CO2 leading to carbonic acid; because China was mentioned, but not the USA. And CO2 isn’t yet generally classified with the old-school ‘pollutants’. Some may try, for regulatory purposes. But others think that CO2 is the greater risk.
    One old story on geo-engineering iron fertilization (from several months ago) was that the experiment failed…because they simultaneously increased the population of immediate predators.
    The new story (from Nature) counters the current interest in iron fertilization (partly as a way to produce carbon credits, for sale).
    “Adding (geo-engineering) iron to the ocean is not an effective way to fight climate change…
    “One such strategy–fertilizing the oceans with iron to stimulate phytoplankton blooms, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and export carbon to the deep sea–should be abandoned.”
    Strong et al, Nature, Sep 2009, abhstract

  27. Our knowledge of what we dont know keeps on expanding – As we learn more about the climate, the less we realise we know!
    Of course, they can use this to claim for scare mongering i.e:
    Due to the development of cleaner burning technologies, reducing aerosols will now not only reduce the level of global dimming that had protected us from the full strength of dangerous warming, but now it will also increase the rate co2 acculates in the atmosphere. It’s worse than we thought!!!!
    ;0)

  28. Oh beautiful.
    I cannot describe the delight of driving through the red, iron oxide rich, desert rock walls to Sedona, AZ and back to Western Colorado this week in a howling 50mph wind.
    It just helps put the pieces together of man as part of nature.
    The winds are SCREAMING, the dust is so thick and so red/yellow/white we had to pull over many times. Several humans died in a wreck caused by the wind at Four Corners. We had to turn back and go north through Utah. The desert is littered with our important papers, like receipts, that were sucked out of the car when we cracked a door.
    The rock that is being stripped, turning back to dust to nourish the oceans, is very ancient, Jurassic sandstone. It was pink upon the Colorado snows this spring, and will slowly make its way back to the oceans.
    Just the experience of the winds was enough to make me see how small mans contribution could possibly be.
    There is new snow all over the West Elks.

  29. I’m pretty sure it was on this blog some time ago that there was mention of researchers fertilizing the ocean somewhere with iron sulfate to trigger a plankton bloom. The intent was to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
    As I recall, they got their bloom, which was then consumed by predators of plankton, and these predators became prey, and so on, according to the great Circle of Life (cue the music), and it ended up being a big disappointment.

  30. The production of dimethylsulfide in the ocean is said to produce a strong negative feedback for global temperatures.
    http://www.co2science.org/articles/V4/N12/B2.php
    This claim has been given rather little attention. There should be more attention to the good work by the Idso group as well. They have collected a lot of information about the MWP, for example.

  31. I have personally witnessed in the past week or so, the Blog Stream Media (BSM) come of age right here before my very eyes at WUWT.
    It seems, the creditability of the BSM is now an par if not more so than the MSM.
    From the blogs I read I can tell you, they are so much more accurate than what comes out of the main stream media.

  32. Breaking news:
    Federal Trade Commission will try to regulate blogging for the first time, requiring writers on the Web to disclose possible conflicts of interest or face fines of up to $11,000.
    To that I say: Thank God I’m a country boy.
    I ain’t got affiliation with Jack.
    Just your average everyday Joe Observer.

  33. Google “Ocean seeding”. This subject of iron as ocean nutrient has a fairly long history. Plankton is the base of the ocean food chain, and increasing the amount is reflected all the way up. The CO2 uptake seems to be classified as not important since the CO2 doesn’t seem to be sequestered. Others claim dire consequences such as poisoning the ocean in some way or other. One company experimented with using ocean seeding as a way to sell carbon credits, and, had they been able to demonstrate sequestration they certainly would be richer for it.

  34. Michael (17:57:25) :
    Who Agrees with me Man-Made global warming and Man-Made climate change are a myth?

    Myth is too grand a term – might I suggest “Delusional Superstitions” instead.
    I would certainly agree with that.

  35. Michael J. Bentley (16:57:08) :
    You guys are sooooo bad!!!!
    Of the responders here – no one has ever indicated a wish for man to “dirty its nest”. You all, in other threads indicate a sensivity to the enviornment. Use it, yes, but don’t abuse it. Where you part company with many is that you wish to use what we have in efficient ways, not as some demented worship of dirt.
    Yeah, you don’t fool me, you are closet environmentalists – (THE BEST KIND!)
    enjoy all your comments, and thanks Anthony for providing the platform to say them.
    Mike Bentley

    Are you suggesting we should be water closet environmentalists?

  36. “The proof is in the pudding.”
    Actually Jim Cross, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I agree that it would be useful to know what level of pollution would be optimal. Of course, that would hinge on how often and under what conditions clouds evaporate.
    John M Reynolds

  37. wayne findley (17:35:41) :
    It’s also apropos to dredge up this little gem, which casts, shall we say, some doubt on just how much carbon dioxide absorption those ocean critters and critterettes actually do…..
    The money quote:
    ‘If we thought we have understood photosynthesis, this study proves that there is much to be learned about these basic physiological processes.’

    Wayne, you know better. Press releases are often prejudiced toward AGW. What the paper actually says:
    A photosynthetic strategy for coping in a high-light, low-nutrient environment
    Mackey, Katherine R. M., Adina Paytan, Arthur R. Grossman, and Shaun Bailey
    Limnol. Oceanogr., 53(3), 2008, 900–913
    Phytoplankton in high-light, low-nutrient ocean environments are challenged with maintaining high photosynthetic efficiency and simultaneously preventing photodamage that results from low levels of electron acceptors downstream of photosystem II (PSII). Here, we identify a process in open ocean picophytoplankton that preserves PSII activity by diverting electrons from the photosystem I (PSI) complex–mediated carbon assimilation to oxygen via a propyl gallate–sensitive oxidase associated with the photosynthetic electron transport chain. This process stabilizes diel photochemical efficiency of PSII, despite midday photoinhibition, by maintaining oxidized PSII reaction centers. Although measurements of the maximum photochemical efficiency of PSII, Fv : Fm show midday photoinhibition, midday CO2 fixation is not depressed. Moreover, CO2 fixation saturates at low irradiances even though PSII electron flow is not saturated at irradiances of 1,985 mmol photons m-2 s-1. This disparity between PSII fluorescence and CO2 fixation is consistent with the activity of an oxidase that serves as a terminal electron acceptor, maintaining oxidized PSII reaction centers even when CO2 fixation has saturated and the total number of functional reaction centers decreases because of photoinhibition (reflected in lower midday Fv : Fm values). This phenomenon is less apparent in coastal phytoplankton populations, suggesting that it is a strategy particularly distinctive of phytoplankton in the oligotrophic ocean. Spatial variability in features of photosynthetic electron flow could explain biogeographical differences in productivity throughout the ocean and should be represented in models that use empirical photosynthesis and chlorophyll fluorescence measurements from a limited number of ocean sites to estimate the productivity of the entire ocean.

    It’s basically an “idle” mechanism to protect the normal photosynthetic apparatus (enzymes) when saturated. Wait until we see some efficiency numbers before ascribing too much to this (article behind a paywall). In other species (most are capable in one form or another) that “idle” similar to this, the net fixation is less than 10% of the normal CO2 pathway. Often, it results in negative net energy fixation.

  38. “Michael J. Bentley (16:57:08) :
    ……
    Yeah, you don’t fool me, you are closet environmentalists – …..”
    We are so far back in the closet we’re in Narnia!
    cheers David

  39. Water droplets in clouds generally form around dust and other particles. When clouds evaporate, as they often do naturally, the surface of the particle can become very acidic. This is especially true where the air is polluted.
    To someone who might know more, does one of these “other particles” include cosmic ray nucleation?

  40. What is the chemistry of these iron-nanoparticles? I did not see that anywhere. Anyone know?
    Ben

  41. Here’s an interesting post regarding a link between Cyanobacteria, CO2 and SSTs:
    http://landshape.org/enm/oceanic-cayanobacteria-in-the-modern-global-cycle/
    Also, for those who would like a primer on the ocean carbon cycle, I think this is a fairly clear representation.
    http://www.glencoe.com/sec/science/chemistry/mc/pow/chapter18.shtml
    re: Histograd (15:52:14) :
    The one key fact that these press releases seem to neglect is that the ocean is still BASIC! Under basic conditions, the equilibrium of dissolved CO2/carbonic acid/carbonate shifts toward the carbonate side of the equation. In other words, the carbonic acid doesn’t remain as carbonic acid for very long, but changes to carbonate when its protons are lured away by free hydroxy ions. Therefore, as long as the ocean remains basic, carbonate will be available for carbonate fixers such as corals and molluscs. Their shells will not be dissolved unless one of two things occur: 1) all CO2 input stops, or 2) the pH of the ocean drops below 7.0. The worst prediction I have seen for ocean pH is a drop to 7.8 (see http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/un_3_sept_09_ocean_acidification_4.doc)
    The fear arises from the belief that the anthropogenic induced rise in CO2 has occurred too rapidly for the natural equilibrium to compensate, despite the fact that ocean pH was probably about the same as it is now millions of years ago when CO2 was 10 times more concentrated.

  42. Michael J. Bentley (16:57:08) :
    Of the responders here – no one has ever indicated a wish for man to “dirty its nest”.
    You got me thinking there (eventually). I wonder how many socialists formed their immutable ideas at an age before they started nesting?
    I’ve also heard it said that one of the reasons for the high divorce rate nowadays is the obsession with cleanliness and artificial odours – it confuses our normal methods of choosing a mate. Probably speculation though, the whole thing being, like climate, an example of P2C2E.

  43. Algal blooms aren’t necessarily good for ocean life:
    “Algal bloom is the common name of a large and sudden increase in the concentration of algae. Algal blooms are closely related to eutrophication and emissions of nutrients. Some algal blooms can produce algae that are toxic.
    When the algae die, they sink to the bottom where they are decomposed by bacteria. In this process oxygen from the bottom water is consumed. If the oxygen content in the bottom water decreases to less than 2 mg/l, many benthic animals will die. This is usually referred to as anoxic sediments.
    Lack of oxygen in the bottom water also causes nutrients to leak from the bottom sediments more than in oxic conditions. In this way anoxic sediments cause a negative feed-back that will further increase the eutrophication.”
    http://www.geo.uu.se/miljoanalys/eng/algbot.asp

  44. Can you say me what is mean by sea age.Thanks for sharing this information. I am very glad to see such information which I was searching for a long time.Its really an informative stuff.

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