Efficiency of small scale carbon mitigation by patch iron fertilization

Jorge Louis Sarmiento, R. D. Slater, J. Dunne, A. Gnanadesikan, M. R. Hiscock

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43 Scopus citations


While nutrient depletion scenarios have long shown that the high-latitude High Nutrient Low Chlorophyll (HNLC) regions are the most effective for sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide, recent simulations with prognostic biogeochemical models have suggested that only a fraction of the potential drawdown can be realized. We use a global ocean biogeochemical general circulation model developed at GFDL and Princeton to examine this and related issues. We fertilize two patches in the North and Equatorial Pacific, and two additional patches in the Southern Ocean HNLC region north of the biogeochemical divide and in the Ross Sea south of the biogeochemical divide. We evaluate the simulations using observations from both artificial and natural iron fertilization experiments at nearby locations. We obtain by far the greatest response to iron fertilization at the Ross Sea site, where sea ice prevents escape of sequestered CO2 during the wintertime, and the CO 2 removed from the surface ocean by the biological pump is carried into the deep ocean by the circulation. As a consequence, CO2 remains sequestered on century time-scales and the efficiency of fertilization remains almost constant no matter how frequently iron is applied as long as it is confined to the growing season. The second most efficient site is in the Southern Ocean. The North Pacific site has lower initial nutrients and thus a lower efficiency. Fertilization of the Equatorial Pacific leads to an expansion of the suboxic zone and a striking increase in denitrification that causes a sharp reduction in overall surface biological export production and CO 2 uptake. The impacts on the oxygen distribution and surface biological export are less prominent at other sites, but nevertheless still a source of concern. The century time scale retention of iron in this model greatly increases the long-term biological response to iron addition as compared with simulations in which the added iron is rapidly scavenged from the ocean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3593-3624
Number of pages32
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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