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Could dumping iron in the oceans slow global warming?

Using iron fertilizer to create algae blooms could help our oceans absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, say researchers.

This species of diatom, Corethron pennatum, bloomed during the iron fertilization.

Marina Montresor, SZN / Alfred Wegener Institute

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Some hope fertilizing tiny, floating plants in the ocean, prompting them to suck carbon dioxide out of the air, could help solve global warming.

A new experiment confirms this controversial idea has some merit, although important questions remain.

Using an eddy in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, researchers used iron fertilizer — the sort used to improve lawns — to create a man-made algal bloom. In the weeks that followed, researchers say, this bloom funneled a significant amount of Earth-warming carbon down into the ocean's depths, where it will remain sequestered for some time, unable to contribute to global warming.

This experiment provides some important insight into this potential approach to combating climate change, said Ken Buesseler, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, writing in Thursday's (July 19) issue of the journal Nature.

A potential solution?

This general approach, modifying the planet to address climate change, is known as geoengineering, and, geoengineering proposals like iron fertilization tend to raise many uncertainties and risks. Other geoengineering ideas have included pumping aerosols into the atmosphere to block out solar radiation or tucking away excess carbon in underground reservoirs. [Top 10 Craziest Environmental Ideas]


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