Scientists recently determined the planet has an unlikely ally in the battle against climate change–undersea volcanoes. A group of Australian and French scientists found that a vast network of underwater volcanoes in the Southern Ocean pump out nutrient-rich water, promoting phytoplankton growth. That phytoplankton plays a crucial role in sucking carbon dioxide out of the air.
Researchers have known for awhile that the world’s oceans absorb about one-quarter of mankind’s carbon emissions, but they never understood exactly what role underwater volcanoes played in creating these carbon sinks. As the volcanoes pump out iron-rich water between Australia and Antarctica, phytoplankton blooms. The phytoplankton acts much like trees do, absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen, creating an all-natural carbon sink.
The Southern Ocean is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. Scientists estimate that iron from deep sea volcanoes is responsible for anywhere between five and 15 percent of the Southern Ocean’s carbon storage, up to 30 percent in some regions.
While this study is interesting in its own right, the finding is also a step forward in the fight against climate change. The more we know about how the world absorbs carbon, the more equipped people can be to curb greenhouse gas emissions.