Scientists Use Volcanic Eruption to Study Iron Fertilization

Written by on August 27, 2014 in Physical Oceanography
Eyjafjallajokull volcano plume photographed by Boaworm on April 17, 2010. Photo CC BY 3.0.

Eyjafjallajokull volcano plume photographed by Boaworm on April 17, 2010. Photo CC BY 3.0.

The 2010 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull was a huge disruption to much of the general public, but scientists at the National Oceanography Centre considered it to be a fantastic research opportunity.

Scientists at NOC studying the relationship between iron levels in the ocean and carbon dioxide levels in the atmospheric used this opportunity to study how the “iron-laden volcanic ash affected the waters of the iron-starved North Atlantic.”

These levels fluctuate along with phytoplankton blooms. Phytoplankton, which form the basis of the marine food web, rely on iron from the water to grow; when there is excess iron, phytoplankton blooms can occur. The phytoplankton then absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and transfer it to the ocean. Scientists have been studying this relationship for years, but results have varied greatly.

The 2010 eruption provided scientists with an opportunity to study the relationship between iron and carbon dioxide in a completely new environment. Large amounts of volcanic ash particles were deposited into the North Atlantic in a very short amount of time. This allowed the scientists to analyze the different factors controlling how iron regulates the climate and to determine if the amount of iron in the water is the most important, or if the method by which the iron reaches the water plays a bigger role.

“This study shows that it’s not just the quantity of iron that controls CO2 removal from the atmosphere by the ocean, but also the timescale over which the iron is added,” Dr. Frédéric Le Moigne, a post-doctoral research associate at NOC explained in a news release. “Large quantities in short periods make the process less efficient, whereas a constant supply appears to be more effective.”

Ash plume from Eyjafjallajokull over the North Atlantic, April 15, 2010. Photo credit: NASA.

Ash plume from Eyjafjallajokull over the North Atlantic, April 15, 2010. Photo credit: NASA.

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Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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