Iron Seeding of the Pacific Ocean May Have Played a Role in Global Climate Change

From Newswise

Newswise — A Texas A&M University research team has examined a 100,000-year-old ocean core and found that there have been at least eight occurrences of iron penetrating the Pacific Ocean, each likely associated with abrupt global climate change over thousands of years.

Texas A&M scientists Franco Marcantonio, Matthew Loveley and Marilyn Wisler, all in the Department of Geology and Geophysics in the College of Geosciences, and colleagues from the University of Connecticut, Oregon State University and Old Dominion University have had their findings published in Nature Geoscience.

The team examined ocean sediment cores and found that over the past 100,000 years, at least 8 “pulses” of iron have penetrated the eastern equatorial Pacific.  The iron came in the form of dust blown into the ocean during the last glacial period 71,000 to 14,000 years ago.

Each pulse of iron into the Pacific almost certainly resulted in some sort of climate change event that affected temperatures, their findings show.

“Dust was blown into the ocean, and much of this dust contained iron,” explains Marcantonio.

“Some of the dust dissolved and released iron to the surface waters of the ocean.  Each time the dust and iron were added to the surface ocean, we found that there was a corresponding pulse of algae growth. The timing of the pulses is associated with cooler temperatures in the northern hemisphere.

“The connection to carbon dioxide levels is not clear,” he adds, “but we do raise the provocative idea that the last time global carbon dioxide levels were rising in the past, adding iron to the equatorial Pacific Ocean may have acted to lower these levels to some extent.”

He notes that some researchers think that by seeding the ocean with iron, we can capture large amounts of carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas which makes the atmosphere warmer — the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer it is, and the less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the colder it is.

“What does iron have to do with the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?  Plants need trace amounts of iron to photosynthesize,” Marcantonio says.

“So adding iron to the oceans would fertilize the growth of algae. The algae would absorb more atmospheric carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then sink to the seafloor when they die.

“If a lot of atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed and removed from the atmosphere by algae and then transported to the deep ocean, then the atmosphere should theoretically stop warming and get cooler.”

Their research gives us more clues about past climate change events on Earth and the impacts these have had through time.

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Jane and R. Ken Williams ’45 Chair in Ocean Drilling Science, Technology and Education.

HT | Ian H

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179 thoughts on “Iron Seeding of the Pacific Ocean May Have Played a Role in Global Climate Change

  1. First they say that these pulses occur during cold periods.
    Then they say that when CO2 was rising, these iron pulses could have moderated the pulses.
    Then they claim that CO2 is a potent green house gas.

    If CO2 is as potent as they claim, how can it be cooling at the same time CO2 is increasing.

    Secondly, have they bothered trying to correlate CO2 levels with the timing of these iron pulses? If not, there speculations are highly unscientific.

    Thirdly, if they could present some evidence that CO2 is a potent greenhouse gas, I would appreciate it.

    • I think the simplest answer to your rhetorical questions are thus:

      … there’s a narrative.
      … it must be maintained, even tho’ the evidence doesn’t support it.
      … as evidence is found to the contrary, say somewhat misleading “chains of fact”
      … that in turn point ambiguously as to “heating”, “cooling”, “rising CO₂”, dropping, ice ages, blah…

      That’s the answer.
      Researchers that find things, but who belong to departments that get “non-debateable” results contrary to the non-debate.

      Or as I said yesterday in another response, “follow the money”. When SCIENCE is made up of people who take money to achieve colored results, well … then it ain’t exactly science is it?

      GoatGuy

    • They probably had to insert the bit about “potent green house gas” to get it published in Nature Geoscience.

      • Absolutely it makes it easier. You show you belong to the lot by writing it. But. I do agree it is a ghg, even potent in the absence of other ghgs. The real question is, did the algae lower the atmospheric CO2 content and is that measurable from ice cores (or somewhere) or not? Or did the algae just lower the CO2 content of the sea surface level, and how would that work out?

    • Ocean iron fertilization has been demonstrated to be safe and effective at commercial scale.

      It was so good that the person running the project almost ended up in jail. Two part podcast:

      http://russgeorge.net/2017/01/31/podcast-me-with-us-army-ranger-officer/
      http://russgeorge.net/2017/02/15/second-podcast-american-element/

      There isn’t a secret conspiracy against cheap effective solutions to dying oceans and rising atmospheric CO2 levels. The actions were very public. They were just ignored.

      Academic literature on the subject doesn’t acknowledge that this demonstration of the technology ever occurred.

    • Well, they pretty much covered the field with:

      “Each pulse of iron into the Pacific almost certainly resulted in some sort of climate change event that affected temperatures, their findings show.”

      Which way were the temperatures affected? Up or down? If it went differently after each of these “pulses” then the pulses didn’t cause the change and may have merely coincided with some other event that was significant.

      • The direction of causation does seem to pop out as an issue in this paper. When I studied paleoclimatology, the experts claimed that cooling and drought were positively correlated. The decline in precipitation and vegetation allowed more dust to be blown into the oceans, confirmed by the presence of more iron in cores raised by the ocean drilling program.

        China’s loess derives from the freezing and thawing of igneous rocks in the arid … The iron oxide content tends to be about 6%, mainly in the form of yellowish …
        Book ref. Rose Kerr, ‎Joseph Needham, ‎Nigel Wood, Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 5, Chemistry etc. 2004

        Could these researchers have got the causation backwards?

        As for the relationship between the iron and CO2, if the cooling caused desertification, was the mechanism of vegetation decline only lack of rainfall or also lack of CO2, because the ocean was absorbing more CO2 in the higher latitudes?

        The tropics were affected by drought (and possibly CO2 starvation), because beneath part of the Congo Basin there are sand dunes.
        Book Ref: The inland waters of tropical Africa by L. C. Beadle. 2nd ed. 1981.

  2. Its nice to read that … the world is a complicated place.

    FeSO4 (Iron (II)) is a great and almost free resource (its a waste product created by the titanium-dioxide refining industry). The question is, can we responsibly use it as such?

    It sure would be nice.

    • Not sure that dumping massive amounts of ferrous sulfate (FeSO4) in the ocean would be a good idea. As the salt of a weak base and a strong acid, ferrous sulfate would tend to acidify the oceans much more than CO2 ever could.

      Aqueous solutions of ferrous sulfate are more dense than water, so that the ferrous sulfate would tend to sink and not be absorbed by phytoplankton near the surface, which need sunlight to grow.

      • Not only that, but do we really, REALLY want to dump a lot of primary plant food onto the ocean floor? Remember, the last ice age almost managed to kill off plant life with extremely low levels of CO2.

      • Sea water is highly buffered with respect to the ppb concentration of iron sulfate needed for eutrophication. Any excess is oxidized to iron III which drops out of solution.

        Iron was a primary nutrient in the Pre-Cambrian oceans which resulted in the oxygen catastrophe.

      • REALLY want to dump a lot of primary plant food onto the ocean floor

        Not before we are desperate. And that takes more than 50 years at the current pace of increasing fossil carbon use.

      • Want to make sure 50 years is my lower estimate. The upper estimate has many zeroes more. We may never need such a method.

    • GoatGuy,
      Ferrous sulfate, despite being relatively inexpensive, may not be the best choice for fertilizing. Most natural iron compounds are oxides. Ferrous sulfate (melanterite) is relatively rare in Nature, primarily being a secondary mineral created from the acidic decomposition of iron sulfide (pyrite/marcasite). I think that we need to know more about the kind and quantity of iron compounds were presumably blown into the oceans. Incidentally, it still happens today with dust storms from Africa. Also, there is a constant rain of meteoric iron. There may be more to this than meets the eye, other than someone getting their thesis published.

      • “…iron compounds …blown into the oceans. …still happens today with dust storms from Africa.”

        Even though on most days, you cannot see more than a short distance, the present-day khamsīns of North Africa are probably feeble imitations of the sandstorms during glacial periods.

        The windstorms occur in Spring and last for fifty days or so. Windstorms in Spring because warming increases the temperature difference between the Sahara Desert and the North Pole.

    • Russ George of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation conducted an iron seeding experiment in 2012 using Iron Sulfide. He had observed that volcanic eruptions in the Aleutian Islands were almost always followed by large salmon runs a few years later. He postulated that iron in the volcanic ash was fertilizing the iron depleted photic zone and producing phytoplankton blooms. Dramatic increases in phytoplankton (the bottom of the food chain) resulted in increased populations of everything above that ultimately depends on phytoplankton. Two years after conducting his experiment, salmon runs were up 400%:

      http://www.planetexperts.com/two-years-russ-george-illegally-dumped-iron-pacific-salmon-catches-400/

      He was obviously correct, but he has been demonized ever since.

  3. In Newfoundlandese is the only way I can respond: Large E’s bye these f*@kers are screwed in the head!!!!

  4. ” the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer it is, and the less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the colder it is.”

    Causality the wrong way around, bozos !!

    • Nah… its much better as “the warmer it is, the more often it is correlated to higher CO₂ levels. However, Science has never unambiguously shown which is the dog, and which is the tail. So… all we know is that primary statement”. Just saying. GoatGuy

      • It becomes cold and dry, desertification becomes the norm and iron dust is blown about, drawing down CO2. Its the 800 year lag.

      • It becomes cold and dry, desertification becomes the norm and iron dust is blown about, drawing down CO2. Its the 800 year lag.

        Very good point. And the lowering CO2 worsens the tipping point, turning the glaciation on. There is no reason to believe there is a tipping point ahead. The tipping point is behind. We are almost out of the ice age. There is only a lot of ice in Greenland and Antarctica. Which is freaking good and will keep that way for thousands of years to come!

    • For most of the past 400,000-plus years, CO2 was a positive feedback for temperature changes initiated by something else. That was when the sun of carbon in the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere was roughly constant. That changed when we started transferring carbon from the lithosphere to the atmosphere. Now we have nature as a net removing carbon from the atmosphere and atmospheric CO2 increasing year over year.

      • And to think, all we REALLY need to do is spread a bit of FeSO₄ ferrous sulfate into the “near desert” blue north Pacific (and for that matter South Pacific) oceans. Plenty of Fish will be created along with trillions of kilograms of CO₂ absorbing plankton. Where is the lose-lose part of that? GoatGuy

      • It should not be spread where there is little life, it should be spread where there is a shortage of available iron. One such area is the zone where El Ninos appear. There are many others where iron is the limitation on growth.

      • (4×10^5) / (4×10^9) = 1×10^-4 = 0.01% That is, you are cherry picking an extremely small slice of time to make a general case about the role of CO2 and anthropogenic influences. Every time there is orogenic uplift and previously sequestered CO2 in the form of limestone is exposed to water and air, it is un-sequestered. When orogeny exposes coal beds, they oxidize (sometimes actually burn!). The only real difference is the rate at which humans are releasing CO2 from the lithosphere, versus that released by weathering. However, it has been postulated that, previously, magma intrusions have degraded coal deposits, releasing CO2 at high rates. Also, kimberlites and carbonatites have released substantial CO2 during past volcanic events. So, again, release from the lithosphere is not confined to the pre-anthropogenic era.

      • What is your evidence for positive feedback? And if higher temperature causes carbonaceous residue to decompose and melt into higher CO2, and higher CO2 causes higher temperature, why is the earth still coated in carbonaceous residue? What caused the positive feedback to stop?

      • “Donald L. Klipstein September 27, 2017 at 2:16 pm
        For most of the past 400,000-plus years, CO2 was a positive feedback for temperature changes initiated by something else. That was when the sun of carbon in the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere was roughly constant. That changed when we started transferring carbon from the lithosphere to the atmosphere. Now we have nature as a net removing carbon from the atmosphere and atmospheric CO2 increasing year over year.”

        Baseless assumptions with specious claims.

        Carbon has been in a very slow accumulation into geologic deposits over many millennia.
        Yet those same deposits return massive amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere when mineral deposits are subducted deep enough, or fall into magma chambers, or are adjacent to magmatic influences.

      • Geologically, high atmospheric CO2 episodes created limestone. CO2 and calcium makes calcite. Warm episodes and an ancient brighter sun made more calcite, on the orders of miles thick. This is your regulator. Oolites nucleate and accrete on shrimp fecal pellets today in shallow lagoons like Bahia, Mexico and the Great Salt Lake, UT. You can dig oolitic limestone beds in Colorado.

      • It should not be spread where there is little life, it should be spread where there is a shortage of available iron. One such area is the zone where El Ninos appear. There are many others where iron is the limitation on growth.

        It is nice to read sensible comments. But, as I said, we’re not desperate. The only reason to do that now would be to get more fish from the sea.

    • Their advice is about as good at this – you know that ‘Painless Potter’ received for the gunfight……

  5. “If a lot of atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed and removed from the atmosphere ”

    The world food supply will collapse !!

    • Only if you change your / their statement to “if too much CO₂ is absorbed… then plant growth will be stunted and we’ll all die of a great worldwide famine”.

      GoatGuy

    • Indeed. We do not have the luxury to be able to lower the CO2 content. It would be detrimental now. When the population is growing, it is hard to see how the CO2 content could we lowered without doing serious harm before there is observable problems with ‘greenhouse’ warming. Which is not happening with Irma and Harvey. It is not going to happen during my lifetime, and I’m not so sure there will be any serious problem ever that humanity wouldn’t just solve, when the time comes. Not afraid for my children, not at all.

    • You just can’t make this stuff up. Remind yourself tho’, that the article’s post-composition journalistic summarizing was done by a person who couldn’t quite make all the facts fit, so used a bit (ho, ho, ho) of journalistic license to slap out a bunch of oxymoronic canards.

      Abrupt. Thousands of years. Yep.
      At some level we need to encourage them.
      Because the more stupid it gets, the less anyone believes it.

      GoatGuy

    • Indeed, that one is what is known in scientific circles as a walloping great doozey.
      I mean to say, imagine having to adapt abrupt to climate change over thousands of years. How awful. (snigger, snort)

    • The problem might be that too much of what goes into the oceans stays in the oceans. Nutrients carried into the deep ocean floor might be in near-balance now.
      I agree it’s worth looking into, but let’s look closely before we leap into it.
      I don’t think mankind has the capability yet to do too much damage in the short-term though. Depletion of CO2 isn’t likely in the lifetime of anyone alive today.

    • After reading the article I found it quite informative that every goal of the environmentalist were achieved with the exception of the deduction of fossil fuel usage. Thus their true aims are revealed. The failure of this method to allow for the reduction in the use of fossil fuels seemed to be their main objection to the actions taken.

    • Relax, At high enough CO2 levels, calcite spontaneously precipitates in shallow ocean shelves. This is your regulator. Aided by reducing conditions, slightly brackish water, say from organic decay in sea floor ooze.

    • People who write university press releases often don’t understand what the research actually says.

      The sediment core covers 100,000 years, obviously. The whole thing isn’t that old. It includes sediment only 14,000 years old.

    • I you checked the link to the journal article, paywalled though it is, the abstract notes:

      Here we present a 100,000-year sediment core from the eastern equatorial Pacific,

      I interpret this to mean it’s a core sampled from sediments that accumulated over the last 100,000 years. /sarc

    • The only problem is that you cannot date cores unless you have basalt. But basalt is not affected by blowing dust. The iron source would be basaltic eruptions. Mafic or iron is the definition of a basalt. Needing a source of iron around vents and spreading centers is like being desperate for water in the ocean to explain things.

      • Donald Kasper – There are other dating techniques besides whole-rock methods. Depending on the suspected relative age of the sediments 14C methods can be used for more “recent” dates (up to maybe 60K years but usually areounf 40K or less), paleomagnetic analysis is a common technique with good results for those sediments around 1MY or older (this uses magnetic field reversals). There are other more exotic methods to get at “younger” ages (cosmogenic) that can evaluate the initial detrital source age(s). I haven’t read the paper (paywall?) so I don’t really know what they used. A good analysis would use alternative methods to determine relative age, not just one technique.

    • Maybe in the end it wouldn’t be approved for wholesale roll-out. But it sure would be interesting, instructive and good science to perform a few hundred experiments around the globe. Every year. For 20 years.

      THEN (if one’s following the sub-rosa point of this site that “well, it might not be as bad as anyone thinks”) who knows. Maybe global warming doesn’t materialize. Maybe the people with their hair on fire will start to see that well, not much is happening, and moreover, the Great Savannas of the planet are getting greener. All by themselves.

      But the experiments definitely should be embraced and funded.

      GoatGuy

      • GoatGuy,

        that’s like saying two wrongs make a right.

        “Lets [snip] the planet by burning too much shit” Oh!……..That didn’t go well, did it.

        “OK, lets repair our [snip] planet by doing something else equally insane, only this time we’ll practise first”.

        [Not that I believe we did anything wrong in the first place].

    • jvcstone
      Iron fertilization and other geoengineering techniques are always out there to be used. However, there is no rush. If it turns out that the problem is as claimed by the alarmists, and we are wrong, those techniques will be available to use. I think that we need to wait a little longer before we start purposely mucking around with climate alteration. After all, what could go wrong? /sarc

      • Yup, as I understand it huge algal blooms have their own problems. I note the lack of concern about this in the article, just the ‘good’ news bits.

    • All the Fe is gone in days.

      I like this a lot as it would replace the Fe removed due to fishing and fish stocks will recover a lot.

      Read about the Zebra Mussels in the great lakes.

      Profitable mitigation I would suggest.

      • Sea water is highly buffered with respect to the ppb concentration of iron sulfate needed for eutrophication. Any excess is oxidized to iron III which drops out of solution.

        Iron was a primary nutrient in the Pre-Cambrian oceans which resulted in the oxygen catastrophe.

  6. What I noticed is that they found an interesting correlation (maybe) between iron in ocean cores and Earth’s climate over time. Then, instead of saying hmmm. what’s the connection — they immediately jump to CO2. It’s entirely possible they’ve completely missed whatever real connection there might be.

  7. Remember awhile back an article published here discussing dust initiating the end of glaciation? The theory was as more and more water was locked into glaciers, the land became more and more dry. Eventually, dust blew all over, landing on the glaciers and decreasing their albedo. Then next time the earth was in a favorable orbital pattern, the glaciation would end.

    This seems similar. As it gets really cold, dust (with it’s iron) starts blowing around. I think that they have inadvertently supported the theory.

    • That is a reasonable theory comsidered logically geologically. What it mostly misses is the time lag between ice core temp and CO2, about 800 years, about the thermohaline circulation period. Ignoring oceans is IMO a big mistake in any theory of climate. Last I checked, Earth was a blue planet comprised of 71% ocean surface.

  8. Nothing really new here in my opinion besides the core data. Ocean productivity and land productivity are inverse. When land productivity goes down due to lower temperatures, lower precipitations, and lower CO2, deserts expand, and the wind brings more minerals to the sea that becomes more productive.

    The size of large whales really shoot up during the Quaternary Ice Age being allowed by a higher ocean productivity.

    • And at the Pliocene/Pleistocene boundary, Megalodon went extinct, so the bigger whales had to contend with smaller sharks. A win-win.

    • we will soon see as the amo drops in to the cooler phase after a prolonged spell of negative nao.the north east atlantic is currently at a similar point to the pre gadoid outburst phase . this is the stage where the prey fish like whiting, herring,scad,sprat and many other small species see huge increases in recruitment off the back of an increase in certain species of plankton.

      this is needed to support the following increase in biomass of larger predators like cod, pollack,coalfish and the fast giants like blue fin tuna. further increases in zooplankton , notably calanus finmarchicus again due to favourable phase of amo and nao support increased recruitment of the gadoids.

      i can’t get access to recent years data from the continuous plankton recorder project run in the uk,i think the data is free with a five year lag, but i suspect it will support the above as cod recruitment is on the up and the numbers of blue fin around the uk are at the highest level i know of since i was born in 1970. this is based on anglers catches and physical sightings for the tuna and reports from commercial fishermen fishing offshore cod stocks. unfortunately marine science ,particularly in the uk and eu seems to be at least 3 years,sometimes more , behind the curve in relation to what is actually happening in the marine environment.politicization and lack of funding appear to be the main problems. at least the uk recently sent a delegation to norway to learn of the methods employed in managing one of the most successful fisheries in the world. whether lessons will be learned is another story.

  9. There may be another explanation for these iron “pulses” rather than dust blowing off the land (for presumably selective and unknown reasons that only operated at inexplicable – or at least unexplained – reasons.

    Passing through trails of cometary or other solar debris seems to me to be equally plausible. Anyone can do the trick of passing a magnet over UN disturbed roof gutters or ground and with selective careful filtering stands a fair chance of finding a micro iron meteorite.

    All that said, I am totally against screwing around with daft experiments on altering the Earth’s CO2 levels until we know a great deal more than the current half-witted climate alarmism and can be confident we need to (which may be never if we are smart).

    • According to the climate alarmists, we unwittingly screwed around with our climate system, now they wan’t to do it deliberately.

      This cannot end well.

    • Moderately – If there was significant cosmological dust in the sediments chemical analysis of the metals in the sediments would show a non-normal (not Earth) chemical “signature”. I haven’t read the paper so I can only speculate that that work was or has been done.

    • i would second that thought . i also think intensity of rainfall has an effect .flash floods wash lots of soil deposits carrying iron into the oceans . even a year with average annual rainfall can have that effect if it falls in short heavy bursts.

  10. How about the dust obscuring the sun’s warming effect? Could enough dust have caused some cooling in this manner?

  11. The OP includes this conventional wisdom:

    So adding iron to the oceans would fertilize the growth of algae. The algae would absorb more atmospheric carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then sink to the seafloor when they die.

    However, that was upset by an actual experiment, as reported in https://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/03/27/ocean-iron-fertilization-experiment-a-blooming-failure/ :

    Earlier this month, the controversial Indian-German Lohafex expedition fertilised 300 square kilometres of the Southern Atlantic with six tonnes of dissolved iron.

    This triggered a bloom of phytoplankton, which doubled their biomass within two weeks by taking in carbon dioxide from the seawater. The dead phytoplankton were then expected to sink to the ocean bed, dragging carbon along with them. Instead, the experiment turned into an example o f how the food chain works, as the bloom was eaten by a swarm of hungry copepods.

    The huge swarm of copepods were in turn eaten by larger crustaceans called amphipods, which are often eaten by squid and whales. “I think we are seeing the last gasps of ocean iron fertilization as a carbon storage strategy,” says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University.

    While the experiment failed to show ocean fertilization as a viable carbon storage strategy, it has pushed the old “My dog ate my homework” excuse to an unprecedented level.

    • Can two good outcomes not happen contemporaneously. There will always be a quantity of material falling to the ocean floor.
      The material may in fact require several food chain steps to be trodden for this to be completed.

    • They did sequester a lot of CO2…in biomass. It just wasn’t how they thought it would happen.
      What did they think would happen to algae that sank to the sea floor? Were they thinking that once it sinks deep enough it turns into coal? Why wouldn’t it simply be consumed by something else, like bacteria?

      • Rocket- Bacterial (and other biotoic) decomposition in marine sediments is (mostly) promoted by oxygenation of the water. Generally active circulation is a primary action that keeps water bodies oxygenated and “deep” ocean waters tend to anoxic (low oxygen) conditions in part to poor mixing circulation (often deep ocean bottoms are biological “desert”).. Biomass in the anoxic zones would more likely be buried and preserved and, in this case, the carbon in that biomass removed from the carbon cycle.

    • It was a huge success in stimulating biological productivity. Crazy that it is not being pursued to bring more food to the planet. It could undue some of the damage we’ve caused by over-fishing. Seafood has gotten too expensive!

    • there was never a truer adage than “not much dies of old age in the marine environment” . told to me by a very good friend that happens to be a commercial skipper and a top class all round sailor. he reminds me of willis with a scottish accent.

  12. An earlier paper claims

    Here we present meridional transects of dust (derived from the 232Th proxy), phytoplankton productivity (using opal, 231Pa/230Th and excess Ba), and the degree of nitrate consumption (using foraminifera-bound δ15N) from six cores in the central equatorial Pacific for the Holocene (0–10,000 years ago) and the LGP [Last Glacial Period] (17,000–27,000 years ago). We find that, although dust deposition in the central equatorial Pacific was two to three times greater in the LGP than in the Holocene, productivity was the same or lower, and the degree of nitrate consumption was the same. These biogeochemical findings suggest that the relatively greater ice-age dust fluxes were not large enough to provide substantial iron fertilization to the central equatorial Pacific. This may have been because the absolute rate of dust deposition in the LGP (although greater than the Holocene rate) was very low.

    See https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v529/n7587/full/nature16453.html for all of the abstract.

    Perhaps the science isn’t settled.

  13. Thanks CTM. Interesting post. Useful potential lesson for all WUWT readers.
    1. Never trust the paper PR or PR broadcaster, in this case newswise. Proof:
    2. Went to your second link, to the actual paper abstract (paper is of course paywalled and not worth reading). There we learn that this analysis of a single (unspecified location/type sediment core in the abstract) relies mainly on a new 232Th isotope proxy (thorium 232).
    3. I have read a lot of paleoproxy papers–but hardly all. Trashed Shakun 2012 (essay Cause and Effect) and Markott 2013 (essay A High Stick Foul) as just two examples in ebook Blowing Smoke, see the footnotes for selected relevant papers just for those two essays. Have NEVER before seen a 232Th proxy. (OTH, not a paleoproxy pro like Steve McIntyre. So just checked his blog and he has never commented on 232Th either.) So this paper’s conclusions based on a ‘new’ proxy are unsupported by any other research–so dubious from first principles.
    OTH, iron fertilization of ocean phytoplankton is very well established in the literature. Indisputable, just not measured by 232Th proxy. Problem is, the oceans rapidly run into secondary trace nutrient constraints with any iron fertilization that then further shift phytoplankton species mix and potential carbon sequestration (mainly by calcification). See essay Good Bad News for some specific examples illustrated by species of phytoplankton, again distorted by paper PR (the main point of that essay’s title). In short for those not inclined to read the longer laymen essay book versions, ocean iron up, calcifying species up (coccolithophorids being a classic genus), fixed nitrogen down, then nitrogen fixers up– except those ocean cyanobacteria do not calcify so do not nearly as efficiently sequester dissolved carbon dioxide.
    4. Ocean fertilization is a Classic example of a self regulated biological system, no different than the old college predator/ prey equations in ecology 101 between oscillating populations between rabbits and foxes. Yet neither ever goes extinct. Ma Nature learned the hard way her magnificent stuff.

    Isn’t nature grand? This paper isn’t.

    • Th232 has a t1/2 of about 14.5 billion years, if I remember correctly (good food and a few beers tends to befuddle my last two brain cells). Is it actually good for precise dating? Can dating using Th232 be reliable?

      • Your comment, if true (I have not checked) proves conclusively that this paper is BS. 8 detectible intervals in 100000 years given a half life of 14 billion years would all be literally undetectible by any means including the most sophisticated mass spec. Come on, just figure requisite order of magnitude detection sensitivity comparing claimed <2*E^4 (20000, hint count zeros to the exponent) years to asserted Th half life of 1.4*E^10 (14 billion), Hello, missed by E^6 (hint, in logs multiplications and subtractions become simple plus minus arithmetic, which is why used in stuff like this or celestial navigation) million fold sensitivity, for those here that do not know scientific notation. Very dubious paper. QED.

    • Problem is, the oceans rapidly run into secondary trace nutrient constraints with any iron fertilization < bingo!….usually in the open ocean it's phos

  14. This idea has been around for a long time. Wasn’t there some fellow that actually tried to do some iron seeding experiments?

    • Yeah. But not a lot of oxygen or water. So will not work. Photosynthesis requires (1) O2 oxygen, (2) H2O water, and (3) carbon dioxide CO2. Less than appropriate ratios of all three do not work.

      • Right, not. O2 is technically a photosynthetic byproduct per your kindergarten criticism understanding. Except in all of metabolism including plant O2 it is also an essential further metabolism synthesis ingredient. You need to read up more on evolved earthly metabolism as it presently exists. Start with photosynthetic C3 Krebs cycle diagrams. And have a nice day.

      • Yes but all plant cells need oxygen to live, they can’t perform aerobic respiration without it. When a plant doesn’t have access to light, it burns sugar to make energy. So (Dark + No oxygen) = dead plant which is a major problem in trying to terraform a planet that has night.

      • Rud says: “it is also an essential further metabolism synthesis ingredient.”

        What a dope. The oxygen is released from the disassociation of H2O using the energy from sunlight. Please spare me the sophomoric comments, as you reveal your lack of scientific acumen.

      • Mark,

        Sorry, but it is you who are displaying sophomoric understanding, or lack thereof.

        Plants need oxygen for aerobic respiration. Although photosynthesis produces oxygen as a waste product, and this oxygen is used for aerobic respiration, plants still need oxygen to survive, as the oxygen produced as a waste product of photosynthesis is not always sufficient to supply the plant with all the oxygen it needs.

        As your scientific betters, including a lawyer, have correctly pointed out, plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen during the day, but they do the opposite at night. However, plants don’t need a lot of oxygen.

        Photosynthesis has light and dark reactions. In the light reaction, a photon splits a water molecule into an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms, actually protons, ie positive ions. The latter combine with CO2 in the dark reactions to make the sugar glucose, ie plant food. In land plants, the water comes from the ground via roots and the CO2 from the air, via stomata in leaves.

        Hence more CO2 is better and less is bad, up to about 1300 ppm, the level maintained in commercial greenhouses. Earth has a long way to go to get back to where its CO2 levels should be.

      • Pete says: ” not always sufficient to supply the plant with all the oxygen it needs.”

        WRONG

        Plants are net producers of oxygen. They produce more oxygen than then need to survive.
        ….
        Do you understand the meaning of the word “net?” in this context?

      • PPS Pete, oxygen is not necessary to make sugar. The naked protons released from the disassociation of H2O are combined with the CO2 to make the sugar. No oxygen necessary.

      • Mark,

        You fail to grasp simple English. Of course plants are net producers of O2. But that doesn’t mean that at every moment they have a surplus of oxygen when they need it.

        These are not controversial assertions. These are basic facts of land plant physiology.

      • Mark,

        You keep intentionally missing the point. Relative amount of photosynthesis on land or by sea is totally irrelevant.

        The incontrovertible, scientifically observed fact is that plants use oxygen at night. Why is this simple fact so hard for you to accept?

        Here is the science. D*ny it if your religion so requires. But reality is as it is.

        http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/174/4/2261

        Variation in Leaf Respiration Rates at Night Correlates with Carbohydrate and Amino Acid Supply

      • Pete says: “Relative amount of photosynthesis on land or by sea is totally irrelevant.”
        ..
        Seriously, since more than 50% of ALL photosynthesis occurs in the ocean, your focus on LAND plants is a qualified cherry pick.

      • I know I can’t convince you, so lets let science do it for you. Here’s the experiment. Take any average house plant, and place it in a 100% CO2 environment. Make sure there is no O2 in the container. The plant will not die as long as it gets a suitable amount of sunlight.

      • Mark,

        The plant will die if for whatever reason it doesn’t have O2 at night. Since it makes O2 during the day, there should be some in its environment.

        Why is it so hard for you to grasp elementary plant physiology, despite your betters showing your repeatedly from the best scientists’ experiments how it works?

        Your straw man about land v ocean photosynthesis is a total red herring.

      • No Pete, the residual O2 remaining from the day’s photosynthesis will keep the plant alive during the night. I suggest you do the experiment. Like I said, I can’t convince you, but the results of the experiment will.

      • Mark,

        To any rational person, it would be obvious that it’s a red herring as to the question of whether land plants use oxygen at night.

        Your are clearly incapable of learning and admitting laughable error.

        IOW, a typical Warmunista.

      • Pete, focusing on 30% of the surface of the planet (land) some of which doesn’t support any degree of “plant” life, and extrapolating it to the entire surface of the Earth shows you haven’t a clue about our biosphere.

      • I will even put it in simpler terms so that even you can understand. More than 50% of all photosynthesis occurs in the oceans. I do not doubt that plants on land consume O2 at night. But as you well know anything greater than 50% constitutes the majority, so your focus on the minority makes your position tenuous.

      • Not a lot of free O2 on mars, but a lot tied up in CO2. What mars actually lacks is H2. No hydrogen…no water. Speculation is that there may be ice tucked away beneath the surface, but so far no luck.

  15. Every experiment I’ve heard of has resulted in large increases in biological productivity. That is the reason it should be done. To correct depletion’s from over fishing.

    Why this isn’t being adopted is a mystery to me? Malthusians can’t stand the thought of abundance. They are the only group I can think of that would be opposed to this. If it has happened naturally in the past I don’t see a downside to more life being fed.

      • Latitude

        Although the mix might change, it doesn’t alter the fact that iron is a limiting factor in photosynthesis. Iron fertilization dramatically increases productivity. See the link to the Haida experiment at the top of the thread. It’s not a zero sum game. More life results than would otherwise be present. Just because limits of other nutrients come into play with the increased productivity, it doesn’t change the fact that more productivity happens.

      • G1, Latitude made a different point I have published elsewhere, and which you can experiment with yourself. Eliminate a limiting nutrient, the next most limiting its nutrient rears its head. ALWAYS.

      • ristvan
        September 27, 2017 at 5:54 pm

        “G1, Latitude made a different point I have published elsewhere, and which you can experiment with yourself. Eliminate a limiting nutrient, the next most limiting its nutrient rears its head. ALWAYS.”

        -At a higher level of productivity. The experiments that have been done show this. Are you saying productivity doesn’t increase to the new limit?

      • ristvan
        September 27, 2017 at 3:29 pm

        “4. Ocean fertilization is a Classic example of a self regulated biological system, no different than the old college predator/ prey equations in ecology 101 between oscillating populations between rabbits and foxes.”

        It’s nothing like rabbits and foxes. Phytoplankton are the base of the food chain benefiting hundreds of species when productivity increases.

      • ristvan, true that the next most limiting will rear its head. But it’s also true that biological activity has to increase before the next limit can be reached.

  16. yes but more is produced and the deeper ocean nutrients may pass by the surface then sink again without the Fe present.
    I think you are correct to predict that the outcome may be more complex than some simple sprinkle and behold process but an intelligent process could alter fish stocks and CO2 saturation levels in the ocean.

    The cod fishery in the grand banks etc is potentially a casualty of the Fe depletion in the St L river region.

  17. Well known cyclical event off the coast of Africa into the Atlantic. Makes sense that it happens in the Pacific.

    • you can actually see the dust blowing into the atlantic from africa when on the canary islands. quite a sight.

  18. Just speculation. “almost certainly resulted in some sort of climate change event”. Maybe. No significant evidence this isn’t just correlation (assuming that’s true). Who pays for this schist?

  19. –“Some of the dust dissolved and released iron to the surface waters of the ocean. Each time the dust and iron were added to the surface ocean, we found that there was a corresponding pulse of algae growth. The timing of the pulses is associated with cooler temperatures in the northern hemisphere.–

    The open oceans are basically sterile and very transparent.
    If you add plant food then waters become murky and the oceans near tropics absorb less sunlight and the long term affect is global cooling- because only a few meters get warm rather more than 100 meters.
    Or if you want to seed ocean, don’t do it in or near tropics, instead do above 40 degrees latitude.

  20. A core. One core.
    From one core using an unknown dating technique.

    Eight pulses of iron containing dust.
    Source unidentified.
    Area of dust unknown.

    Some of the dust dissolved and released iron to the surface waters of the ocean. Each time the dust and iron were added to the surface ocean, we found that there was a corresponding pulse of algae growth
    Some dust dissolved. Gross assumption.

    Corresponding algae growth pulses are more gross assumptions. Or have they somehow managed to identify algae growth pulses in the core sample? Then proven that iron in the algae samples is identical to the iron dust.

    The connection to carbon dioxide levels is not clear,” he adds, “but we do raise the provocative idea that the last time global carbon dioxide levels were rising in the past, adding iron to the equatorial Pacific Ocean may have acted to lower these levels to some extent.
    “provocative idea”? As in another gross assumption? Because it fits their confirmation bias?
    NB the nebulous waffle words that form the basis of their claims.

    Their research gives us more clues about past climate change events on Earth and the impacts these have had through time.
    Another amazing feat sowing confusion. Claim success in spite of sheer lack of evidence for their claims.

    Our wasted tax dollars, in action. Sending researchers on East Pacific vacation trips.

  21. Iron seeding is perfectly natural and there are ways to quantify the rate.

    Iron is everywhere, it is most often iron oxide, practically worthless biologically. When there is a large volcanic eruption, sulfur dioxide injection into the stratosphere creates sulfur trioxide via UV driven oxidation. This creates iron sulfate which then fertilizes oceans.

    How much? Pinatubo 1991 released 22 million tons of sulfur dioxide. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels dropped a few ppm for the following months.

    Dr Martin scared the CAGW acolytes when he claimed “give me a tanker of iron and I will give you an ice age”. We now know iron has a very short lifespan in the ocean. Vertical migration transports it to the sea floor far faster than natural sedimentation rate.

  22. This is an interesting paper that illustrates that there are always additional factors that might have an effect on the climate that few have considered previously or are figuring into their climate models.

    My grandparents property was taken by eminent domain to build a school. They moved across the street. The city used the property for the city dump instead. A few years later our well water became fouled. Part of the problem was additional iron got into the water and caused excessive algae growth. So I have seen in my own personal experience that adding iron to water definitely promotes algae growth.

    Whether this would have much of an effect on the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is unknown. Whether this would have much of an effect on worldwide or even local weather conditions is extremely questionable. I am surprised that the authors of the paper would come to the conclusion that they know with some level of certainty what the measurable effects would be. This kind of sloppiness makes the entire paper much less credible.

  23. Wow, several episodes of subaerial basaltic eruptions, radiolarian blooms, and iron. You don’t say. Then the bloom ended, the rads fell to the sea bottom makes siliceous rad ooze. Iron reducing bacteria decomposed them. Big climate change bro. BTW, red silica rock is called jasper.

  24. Thank you Donald:

    Iron does not cause algae growth. Iron reducing bacteria is another issue.

    …and this is what I’ve been ranting on about round here since t=0 – bacteria and ‘a particular chemical’

    Would I be correct in saying that should a vote be taken of the contributors here that chemical fertilisation a(with iron) of the ocean is a bad idea. It would be A geo-engineering experiment that ‘may go wrong’
    The ocean is too big and too important for The Climate

    (Good progress, climate always seems to be someplace about 5 or 6 feet above the dirt, where climate measuring thermometers are usually placed)
    btw, just how does that downwelling radiation heat the water?

    Yet there is one humongous elephant in this room – an elephant that weighs in at probably circa 500 megatons. Annually. And growing
    A chemical agent that affects bacteria. Bacteria that are feeding on (mostly) cellulose. That are producing carbon dioxide from doing that.
    That are changing the very fabric of the dirt we stand upon.
    Changing the dirt that creates upwelling radiation, dirt that holds water (so much better than bare rock, gravel, rubble or sand might do. Water that determines The Weather.
    Water that determines temperature via its epic thermal/mechanical properties
    Everything about weather (hence climate) evolves from what water is getting up to. Especially how much of it there is at any given location.

    Yet ALWAYS when a vote for this particular chemical might be taken, the result is 100% in favour of its continued (and expanded) use.

    The real killer is that Emotional Blackmail forces the 100% vote – how could anyone (other than Malthus or Prince Chuckles) vote against something that seemingly and magically grows food?
    No-one simply cannot – it is “Food From Air” as its early proponents described it.
    (That the ‘food’ being grown is nutrient free tasteless mush that slowly yet completely destroys human minds, bodies and brains is another matter)

    That geo-engineering is being done with nitrogen.

    (I got my 500M tons from 200M tons of ‘artificial’ fertiliser, typically ammonium nitrate, a similar amount from manures and maybe 100M ton from NOx coming from our inbuilt urge (desperation) to burn everything.
    And we burn ever more in the safe and sure knowledge that doing so will somehow save us from Climate Change. There is the damage that carbohydrate food does to people – it destroys minds & thinking and perfectly exemplified by the current ‘rage’ about Climate Change)

    • Carbohydrates are not bad, it is just they have become too easy to acquire, leading to over consumption. Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel for animals.

  25. Study of sub Milankovic cycles. Aka natural cycles. All the other info is fluff.

    I guess it’s what you have to do to get published these days.

  26. I just wonder how much iron is dumped is the water by ships, through corrosion of their hull (that happens notwithstanding actions to prevent it)

    • Next to nothing. Even a sunken ship contributes nil due to the oxidation state of +3 which is not available to plankton.

      The limiting factor is sulfate anion. Before sulfur scrubbers were mandated on coal burning furnaces, sulfate emissions helped in iron fertilization by reacting with iron dust blown from deserts. Of course damage from acid rain is far worse but sulfate scrubbers have reduced iron fertilization which has reduced carbon sequestration.

      • hum … One sure thing about life is, if something turns into a limiting factor when other are plenty, then a living being or another will work a way to bypass the limitation. So if Fe+3 is there, and Fe is all that is needed, then some plankton would turn Fe+3 into Fe and thrive. Beside, i bet most of the Fe in dust also comes in the +3 oxidation state.
        Now, if it is the sulfate that is the limiting factor, it will be harder to bypass.

  27. Or ! perhaps , it got warmer and lots of dust was blown in to the ocean and then it got colder and more rain happened and washed more dust (mud) into the ocean. perhaps natural climate change happened and the iron sulfate compounds did nothing or very little.

  28. I can’t see the paper but it appears they took some sediment cores in the Eastern Pacific and then dreamed up a tory about them. Good they took data.

  29. “The connection to carbon dioxide levels is not clear,”

    The first time ever I heard that voiced by an AGW fanatic.

  30. “… the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer it is, and the less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the colder it is.”
    Neglects to mention which is chicken and which is egg.

  31. So the bottom line is that the Chinese now have a road map to the Paris Agreement by seeding the Pacific with iron starting in the 2025 in order to cool the earth and lower CO2 by the 2030 deadline for them. The Australians can do their part by diverting the conveyor belts of iron ore into the sea instead of the ore carriers. The other hapless countries can shiver in the dark.

  32. Consider: if the supposed link between atmospheric carbon dioxide content and global warming is invalid, so are the conclusions of this report. This general statement could be applied to hundreds, if not thousands, of such research papers. Small wonder that there’s so much resistance to the idea that there could be anything wrong with the CO2/warming link. Food for thought.

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