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Newly-discovered ocean plume reveals 'micronutrient riches'

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, August 20, 2013, 2:37 PM -

Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have discovered a massive ocean plume flowing out of fissures, or hydrothermal vents, on the seabed of the south Atlantic ocean.

The plume -- which is more than 1,000 km in length -- appears to be rich in iron and other micronutirents. Researchers were startled by the finding and say the discovery could have "profound implications", given that iron is a "critical element for ocean life."

"Iron is known to spur the growth of phytoplankton in many marine habitats, especially those important in the ocean’s carbon cycle, which, in turn, impacts atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and Earth’s climate," The institution writes in a statement.


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"Because more than half the world’s seafloor ridges are slow-spreading, the team’s discovery suggests there may be far more iron from these locations than previously estimated."

The paper, which will be published in an upcoming edition of Nature Geoscience, challenges long-held beliefs about the presence of iron in slow-spreading ocean plumes.

In the past it was believed that a low presence of helium, which also flows out of seabed fissures, equated to a low presence of iron.

But this latest plume has a ratio of iron to helium 80 times greater than expected.

"We've assumed that low helium means low iron, and our study finds that's not true," says study lead Mark Saito in a statement.

"There's actually quite a lot of iron coming out of these slow-spreading regions in the Atlantic, where people thought there would be little to none."

Researchers hope that further studies will outline how many micronutrients released by the plume actually make it to the surface, while providing a greater understanding about hydrothermal vents and their impact on the ocean.

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