Iron (Fe) fertilization is the intentional introduction of iron to the upper ocean to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom. This is intended to enhance biological productivity, which can benefit the marine food chain and is under investigation in hopes of increasing carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. Iron is a trace element necessary for photosynthesis in all plants. It is highly insoluble in sea water and is often the limiting nutrient for phytoplankton growth. Large algal blooms can be created by supplying iron to iron-deficient ocean waters.
A number of ocean labs, scientists and businesses are exploring fertilization as a means to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide in the deep ocean, and to increase marine biological productivity which is likely in decline as a result of climate change. Since 1993, thirteen international research teams have completed ocean trials demonstrating that phytoplankton blooms can be stimulated by iron addition. However, controversy remains over the effectiveness of atmospheric CO 2 sequestration and ecological effects. The most recent open ocean trials of ocean iron fertilization were in 2009 (January to March) in the South Atlantic by project LOHAFEX, and in July 2012 in the North Pacific off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC). Fertilization also occurs naturally when upwellings bring nutrient-rich water to the surface, as occurs when ocean currents meet an ocean bank or a sea mount.
This form of fertilization produces the world’s largest marine habitats. Fertilization can also occur when weather carries wind blown dust long distances over the ocean, or iron-rich minerals are carried into the ocean by glaciers, rivers and icebergs.Visit our InfoTIP Glossary