Iron Fertilisation And Algal Blooms Essay

1653 words - 7 pages

Phytoplankton are the basis of nearly all the Ocean’s ecosystems, and require a wide range of inorganic nutrients in order to grow; notably Carbon, Nitrogen and Phosphorous. They take up these nutrient elements according to the Redfield Ratio of C : N : P = 106 : 16 : 1. But phytoplankton also require less obvious nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. These are often in plentiful supply in the worlds Oceans, and other factors such as the micronutrient Iron can be the limiting Phytoplankton growth factor. Iron is not required by Phytoplankton in large amounts, but the Oceans are deficient of this micronutrient, and without it Phytoplankton cannot grow and reproduce as readily. ...view middle of the document...

So, what is Iron Fertilisation? One definition is a geoengineering biosequestration technique where Iron is added to the upper ocean to cause a phytoplankton bloom. Firstly, Iron is added to the surface layers of water that is High Nutrient Low Chlorophyll. This then stimulates an algal bloom (along with increasing the amount of chlorophyll within each diatom), of which these algae absorb Carbon Dioxide dissolved in the ocean (when they grow and photosynthesize), which in turn draws the gas out of the atmosphere. When the phytoplankton die (along with the zooplankton that feed on them), this Carbon is sequestered to the depths as organic Carbon, where it is decomposed by aerobically respiring bacteria.
Decomposition by the aerobic bacteria can have the negative effect of depleting deeper waters of oxygen, which can cause significant die-offs of marine life because of the anoxic conditions created. A consequential effect of these anoxic conditions is Methanogenesis. This is the formation of Methane through biological pathways, in this case by archaebacteria which thrive in anoxic conditions. Methane production could increase significantly as a result of Iron Fertilisation, and as Methane is a Greenhouse Gas, its production could negate the main purpose of Iron Fertilisation. Another potential unwanted effect of this anoxia is invasive competitive species such as jellyfish, which out-compete the original native species present in the ecosystem. Jellyfish thrive in the anoxic zones caused by eutrophication which can be caused by the phytoplankton blooms, but also because of the lack of predators/competition this eutrophication creates. Jellyfish are able to tolerate these anoxic conditions much more successfully than species that make up the usual food chains and so rapidly overpopulate these zones, causing problems for the fisheries industry as their huge numbers can burst nets and clog trawl lines.
Further to the creation of the problem of anoxic conditions, fertilising the ocean with Iron would also speed up the cycling of Nitrogen in the Nitrogen cycle between oxidised and reduced states (due to the increase in exportation of nitrogen from the Euphotic Zone where the stimulated blooms would be occurring, to the deeper layers where regeneration processes take place cycling the Nitrogen back up to the Euphotic Zone), one intermediate state of this process is Nitrous Oxide. During the cycle some of this Nitrous Oxide leaks out naturally, but increasing the rate at which the Nitrogen cycling occurs increases how much Nitrous Oxide leaks into the atmosphere. Nitrous Oxide is a potent Greenhouse Gas due to its residence time in the atmosphere and the fact that it destroys Ozone. Enhanced release of this gas could cancel out any potential benefits intended by Iron Fertilisation. Lastly comes the problem of harmful algal blooms, notably red tides (which are composed of species of algae that produce toxins). In the case of Iron stimulated blooms,...

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