An international consortium has been formed to study the potential effects of adding iron to the ocean to promote the growth of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and ocean fertilization might therefore be a way of mitigating the effects of global warming. When phytoplankton die, organic carbon sinks to the seafloor where it may remain for decades, centuries or even longer – we still do not now much about the time-line.

Iron fertilization of the ocean is far from uncontroversial, since it is very difficult to foresee the long term effects of such a project. The international consortium, which has been named In-Situ Iron Studies (ISIS) consortium , will carry out iron fertilization experiments in the open ocean in an effort in to answer some of the questions regarding how iron affects the ocean’s capacity for dragging carbon dioxide from the air and into the water. All experiments will adhere to the London Convention/London Protocol regarding ocean iron fertilization research.

“A great deal remains to be learned about ocean iron fertilization and how effective it could be in storing carbon dioxide in the oceans, and the formation of this consortium is an important first step,” says Lewis Rothstein, professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. “This is not a call for climate engineering; on the contrary this is a research consortium. It is premature to advocate for large-scale ocean iron fertilization, but it is time to conduct a focused research experiment that will examine the concept as comprehensively as we can. We want to make sure that it doesn’t generate harmful side effects that might negatively affect the marine ecosystem.”

The twelve ISIS-members are the following:
University of Rhode Island, USA
University of Hawaii, USA
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
University of Maine, USA
University of Massachusetts Boston, USA
University of Plymouth, UK
Xiamen University, Fujian, China
The Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Australia
Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, The Netherlands
The National Oceanography Centre, UK
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, California, USA
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts, USA