Why Dump Iron in the Ocean?


In the late 1980's, the late John Martin advanced the idea that carbon uptake during plankton photosynthesis in many regions of the world's surface ocean was limited not by light or the major nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, but rather by a lack of the trace metal iron. Correlations between dust input to the ocean (which is the major source of iron) and past climate changes and CO2 levels, led Martin's to exclaim "Give me half a tanker of iron and I'll give you the next ice age". Over the past decade, scientists have been looking at the ocean iron cycle in more detail to better understand these links. At the same time, in light of increasing greenhouse gas CO2, there has been commercial interest in fertilizing the ocean with iron as a possible mitigation strategy to reduce atmospheric CO2. Our group has been focused on the export of C, or flux of sinking particles that would be associated with waters either artificially enriched with iron, or such as might be found naturally in association with dust inputs or for example in melt waters surrounding Antarctica.

General Information

April 2004 WHOI News Release: Effects of Ocean Fertilization with Iron to Remove Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere Reported

Fertilizing the Ocean with Iron Short article from WHOI 1999 Annual Report




Selected Scientific Publications

Charette, M. A. and K. O. Buesseler (2000). Does iron fertilization lead to rapid carbon export in the Southern Ocean? Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 1, Paper 2000GC000069.

Buesseler, K.O., Boyd, P. W., (2003), Will Ocean Fertilization Work? Science, 300, 67-68. (Article available online: see reference #77).

Buesseler, K.O.,     J.E. Andrews, S.M. Pike and M.A. Charette (2004). The effects of iron fertilization on carbon sequestration in the Southern Ocean. Science, 304: 414-417.

Conference presentations and posters

PowerPoint Presentation: Why dump iron in the oceans? Lessons learned from ocean iron fertiliztion experiments

PowerPoint Presentation: USCG Polar Star overview and SOFeX export results

Photo Gallery

1. USCG Ice Breaker Polar Star- SOFeX team & captain
(photo: Leah Houghton)

2. Arrival at McMurdo Station Antarctica to join Polar Star cruise
(photo: Peter Croot)

3. McMurdo
(photo: Leah Houghton)


Related Links

Southern Ocean Iron Experiment- Jan/Feb 2002- cruise web site http://www.mbari.org/education/cruises/SOFeX2002/index.htm

ASLO Ocean Fertilization Symposium, April 2001 http://www.aslo.org/meetings/carbon2001/index.html

Choose Climate.org web site http://www.chooseclimate.org/mf.html

SCOPE Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment http://www.icsu-scope.org/