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When it comes to tackling the enormous challenge of curbing climate change, we humans may need to look to some very small organisms for help. A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has found large amount of particulate iron runoff from glacial melt in Greenland. The iron could possibly spur the growth of marine algae, which could then in turn absorb C02, one of the major greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.
Only recently have scientists begun to take a look at what makes up the runoff of glacial melt. They have observed that the amount of water is currently contributing to a sea level of rise of about 3mm each year. The study examined the water at the base of three glaciers in Greenland, and they found both dissolved and particulate iron. They measured more particulate than dissolved iron, and about half of the amount they saw could be used by marine plants and animals. In all, the glaciers have been releasing 0.3Tg of iron every year, which is near the equivalent the amount of nutrient iron that is already carried into the Atlantic by the wind in the form of dust.
The scientists suggest that a lot of the iron could spur the growth of algae, much of which would eventually die and sink to the ocean floor, effectively sequestering the CO2 they had consumed while living. While this may help create a slowing in the rate of global warming, researchers note that algae need more than just iron to survive such as an increase in levels of phosphates and nitrates. They have yet to investigate how much of the iron reaches the open ocean or whether or not the iron has in fact increased the amount of living algae. While they cannot yet conclude that the metal is encouraging the organisms to flourish, it is a comforting thought to know that the earth has ways of balancing itself in response to human activity.
Images via Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution