A research ship is about to begin a project around the Galapagos Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, that will highlight the importance of marine plankton in the fight against global warming and climate change.
Waterbird II, the research ship of an eco-restoration organisation called Planktos, is on a "voyage of recovery" to "seed" the oceans with the iron in the hope of stimulating blooms of phytoplankton, the microscopic marine plants that soak up the energy of the Sun to convert carbon dioxide into organic matter.
The organisers of the venture hope to shine a spotlight on the critical role that plankton plays in maintaining the carbon dioxide balance of the oceans and the atmosphere with the help of several tons of iron dust.
Scientists have long postulated that it may be possible to speed up the rate at which the oceans soak up atmospheric CO2 by stimulating the growth of plankton in the oceans with added iron - an essential nutrient for photosynthesis.
The research ship has a crew of 17, including eight scientists, and is scheduled to sail to the Galapagos, Tahiti, the coast of South America, and the South Pacific. Noel Brown, a former director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said that the pilot project to fertilise the oceans with iron filings is important in terms of raising awareness of the huge potential the oceans have in mitigating rising levels of atmospheric CO2.
"I cannot overstate the importance of these Planktos pilot projects. If their applied science works as well as the early research indicates, this work will both help restore the neglected oceans and give everyone concerned about global warming truly meaningful hope," Dr Brown said.
Normally plankton forms vast blooms at certain times of the year that can be seen from space. But this occurs only under certain conditions, such as adequate mineral availability - iron is often the limiting factor. …