Floating robots reveal just how much airborne dust fertilises the Southern Ocean – a key climate ‘shock absorber’ | Science & Technology

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The Southern Ocean, a region critical to Earth’s climate, hosts vast blooms of microscopic ocean plants known as phytoplankton. They form the very basis of the Antarctic food web.

Using a fleet of robotic floats, our study published in Nature today reveals that windblown dust delivers enough iron to support a third of the Southern Ocean’s phytoplankton growth. Knowing this will help us understand how global warming will affect key climate processes phytoplankton are involved in.

The Southern Ocean acts as a climate “shock absorber”. Its cold waters and vast area capture up to 40% of human-generated carbon dioxide (CO₂) absorbed by the planet’s oceans each year.

Human-generated CO₂ mainly enters the ocean as it dissolves at the surface. However, biological processes that transfer vast quantities of CO₂ from the surface to the deep ocean play a critical role in the ocean’s natural carbon cycle.

Even slight changes to these processes in the Southern Ocean could weaken or strengthen the climate shock absorber. This is where phytoplankton play a key role…

Source theconversation.com

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