Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, human activities have greatly increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations, leading to global warming and indicating an urgent need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The Martin (or iron) hypothesis suggests that ocean iron fertilization (OIF) could be a low-cost effective method for reducing atmospheric CO2 levels by stimulating carbon sequestration via the biological pump in iron-limited, high-nutrient, low-chlorophyll (HNLC) ocean regions. Given increasing global political, social, and economic concerns associated with climate change, it is necessary to examine the validity and usefulness of artificial OIF (aOIF) experimentation as a geoengineering solution.A review paper published in Biogeosciences on aOIF experiments provides a thorough overview of 13 scientific artificial OIF experiments conducted in HNLC regions over the last 25 years. These aOIF experiments have demonstrated that iron addition stimulates substantial increases in phytoplankton biomass and primary production, resulting in drawdown of macro-nutrients and dissolved inorganic carbon (Figure 1). Many of the aOIF experiments have also precipitated community shifts from smaller (pico- and nano-) to larger (micro) phytoplankton. However, the impact on the net transfer of CO2 from the atmosphere to below the winter mixed layer via the biological pump is not yet fully understood or quantified and appears to vary with environmental conditions, export flux measurement techniques, and other unknown factors. These results, including possible side effects, have been debated among those who support and oppose aOIF experimentation, and many questions remain about the effectiveness of scientific aOIF, possible side effects, and international aOIF law frameworks. Therefore, it is important to continue undertaking small-scale, scientifically controlled studies to better understand natural processes in the HNLC regions, assess the associated risks, and lay the groundwork for evaluating the potential effectiveness and impacts of large-scale aOIF as a geoengineering solution to anthropogenic climate change. Additionally, this paper suggests considerations for the design of future aOIF experiments to maximize the effectiveness of the technique and begin to answer open questions under international aOIF regulations.
Joo-Eun Yoon (Incheon National University)
Il-Nam Kim (Incheon National University)
Alison M. Macdonald (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)