The Geritol Solution
What is the basis for Martin’s premise that seeding the ocean with iron would help combat global warming? The idea of stimulating plankton growth with iron grew out of the fertile mind of the late John H. Martin, an oceanographer at Moss Landing. Martin sought originally to explain a long-standing mystery concerning barren waters in the Antarctic, subarctic, and equatorial Pacific Oceans. With the abundant concentrations of nutritious nitrate and phosphorus in all three regions, phytoplankton should thrive. But it doesn't. Martin became convinced in the late 1980s that lack of iron keeps the phytoplankton from making use of the nutrients and that a little extra iron would trigger rapid growth of the plants. He calculated that it would be feasible to fertilize the ocean on a massive scale, eventually drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and deep-sixing the greenhouse gas into the nether reaches of the ocean. Want to slow global warming? Just add iron. He announced this possibility somewhat facetiously in July 1988 at a lecture at the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution. What organisms in the seawater could account for the increase in chlorophyll content and biological productivity that his research group observed? Phytoplankton, and that the iron supplement stimulated plant growth, verifying that at least some phytoplankton species suffered from iron deficiency, Phytoplankton grew so successfully that concentrations of the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll increased by a factor of 30 to 40 in the water, accounting for the green color. Scientists measured a marked decrease in the carbon dioxide concentration of the water. Because this part of the Pacific normally vents carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the experiment reduced the natural flow of the greenhouse gas into the air. Why did martin choose to add iron to the water, rather than some other substance? Martin was among...
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