Eyjafjallajokull's iron-rich ash fertilized North Atlantic Ocean

Mar 12, 2013

In about a third of the global ocean, the abundance of life is limited by a dearth of biologically available iron. The supply of iron to a region that is depleted in this important nutrient can stimulate algal productivity, and can result in a temporary boom in biological activity. For much of the surface ocean, the wind-borne transport of iron-rich dust and the upwelling of nutrient-filled water are the major sources of iron.

Another potentially important source is the deposition of the iron-rich ash produced by volcanic eruptions. Though satellite observations and modeling work suggest that could seed life in such a way, there have been only a limited number of direct observations of the effects of ash deposition on waters.

Thanks to a bit of serendipitous scheduling, Achterberg et al. conducted a series of research cruises in the Iceland Basin region of the both during and after the month-long eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano in the spring of 2010. Three cruises allowed the authors to undertake measurements of surface ocean iron concentration before, during, and after the eruption in a region directly affected by the towering . Beneath the plume, the authors found peak dissolved iron concentrations up to 10.2 nanomolar, compared to 0.23 to 0.45 nanomolar detected before ash deposition.

Using a model of the ash plume trajectory and ash deposition rates, along with measurements of iron dissolution, the authors calculated that up to 570,000 square kilometers (220,000 square miles) of North Atlantic waters could have been seeded with at least 0.2 nanomolar of iron. In controlled biological incubation experiments, the authors added volcanic ash collected under the plume to sea water, and find that iron leached from the ash could drive an increase in and a draw-down of nutrient levels.

Explore further: Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

More information: Natural iron fertilisation by the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruptionGeophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/grl.50221, 2013

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Improving forecasts of volcanic ash concentrations

Feb 14, 2012

Volcanic ash can severely damage airplanes, and eruptions such as the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption may result in major disruption to air travel. Improved forecasting of ash cloud locations and concentrations could benefit ...

Image: Phytoplankton Bloom in the North Atlantic

May 26, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Late May 2010 brought peacock-hued swirls of blue and green to the North Atlantic. The iridescent waters formed a giant arc hundreds of kilometers across, extending from west of Ireland to ...

Volcano fuels massive phytoplankton bloom

Oct 06, 2010

Advocates for seeding regions of the ocean with iron to combat global warming should be interested in a new study published today in Geophysical Research Letters.

Recommended for you

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

Apr 18, 2014

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

katesisco
1 / 5 (4) Mar 13, 2013
So the Sahara had to die so that the oceans could live?
Howhot
5 / 5 (4) Mar 13, 2013
Only if the Sahara is rich in iron.

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...