[ASC-media] media release: caution urged on iron fertilisation

Jess Tyler jtyler at scibizmedia.com.au
Wed Sep 26 01:37:31 CEST 2007

Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre


26 September 2007

Caution urged on ocean fertlisation

Fertilising large areas of the ocean with iron, to boost CO2- 
consuming plant life, is an unproven climate change remedy, according  
to leading Australian scientists.

Speaking ahead of Greenhouse 2007 next month and on the day of the  
international ‘Exploring Iron Fertilisation Symposium’ beginning  
today in the United States, Professor Tom Trull from the Antarctic  
Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) said that  
it was too early to tell the ultimate implications of recent  
proposals to add iron over large areas of the ocean as a climate  
change mitigation strategy.

Companies are investigating the potential to boost phytoplankton –  
microscopic CO2 consuming organisms in the sea – in a bid to combat  
global warming.

Professor Trull said that iron-seeding has been shown to ramp up  
phytoplankton levels in small areas and draw CO2 into the surface  
water, but its application to wider areas and in drawing CO2 into the  
deep ocean was unproven.

“There’s no doubt that iron plays an important role in the natural  
ocean carbon cycle,” he said. “but it is not clear that boosting  
the plant life artificially with iron  is an effective way to remove  
large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere and to sequester it in  
the deep ocean.”

“Up until recently, the role of iron in carbon cycling has only been  
assessed using short-term experiments. It is difficult to extend  
these findings to the long term and over very large areas without  
more information.”

Professor Trull pointed to recent studies in the Southern Ocean,  
which revealed that it was not only the levels of iron, but also the  
cycle of the iron input ,which affected CO2 drawdown.

ACE CRC was involved in a 2005 study of the natural iron inputs at  
the Kerguelen plateau 3000 km southwest of Australia.

The internationally collaborative study focused on a recurring  
phytoplankton ‘bloom’ to determine the factors influencing CO2  

The results, published in the respected scientific journal Nature  
earlier this year, found that naturally iron-rich water, seasonally  
circulating from deep within the ocean, was far more effective in  
ultimately influencing CO2 absorption, compared with surface waters  
that had been artificially boosted with iron.

“We need to remain cautious,” he stressed. “We don’t know yet  
how well artificially fertilising the ocean can mimic the natural  

“It is impossible to tell yet the full ecological effects without  
more research. It would be very risky to proceed with large-scale  
iron fertilisation without reasonable certainty that it will not have  
undesirable ecological impacts which could counteract any CO2  
absorption benefits – we simply don’t have that knowledge yet.”

For more information contact:
Jess Tyler, Media Officer
Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
Tel: +61 3 6226 2265
Mob: 0408 298 292
Email: media at acecrc.org.au


Information about ACE CRC’s work in iron fertilisation will be  
presented at Greenhouse 2007: www.greenhouse2007.com

Exploring Ocean Iron Fertilization: the scientific, economic, legal  
and political basis will be webcast at 8:45 am on September 26, 2007:  


About the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre

The Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE  
CRC) is a collaborative partnership dedicated to the study of  
atmospheric and oceanic processes of the Southern Ocean, their role  
in global and regional climate change, and their impact on  
sustainable management of Antarctic marine ecosystems.

The ACE CRC’s core partners are the Australian Antarctic Division,  
the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric  
Research, and the University of Tasmania.

Supporting partners are the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and  
Marine Research (Germany), the Australian Greenhouse Office, the  
Australian National University, the National Institute of Water and  
Atmospheric Research (New Zealand), Silicon Graphics International,  
and the Tasmanian Department of Economic Development.

Established and supported under the Australian Government’s  
Cooperative Research Centre Programme

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