Global Iron Connections

Read the report of the Global Iron Connections Workshop, April 18-21, 2004, Norwich, UK

  1. The Scientific Issue

    The role of iron in Earth System Science has risen to prominence in the last decade following the demonstration that addition of the element to ocean waters can lead to dramatic increases in marine productivity. This has substantial implications not only for our understanding of how ocean biogeochemistry operates now and has done in the past, but also how it may change in the future. Alteration in marine production has the potential to affect the amount of carbon dioxide transferring between the atmosphere and the oceans, the flux of carbon into the deep ocean and sediments, as well as the production of a whole range of gases important in atmospheric chemistry and climate. The importance of iron in nitrogen fixation in the ocean has also been recognized recently. In addition, there is commercial interest in and scientific concern over the proposal that purposefully fertilising the oceans with iron could be used as a way of ameliorating increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels due to fossil fuel burning.

    Research on this topic has received a substantial boost in recent years in view of its scientific and societal importance. However, the work has generally been conducted in rather distinct compartments, for example it is pursued in at least XX programme elements of the IGBP. These range from studies of the production of dust (source of the iron) at land surfaces, how it is released into the atmosphere and transformed and transported therein, its deposition onto the ocean surface and effect on surface ocean biogeochemistry and nitrogen fixation, the importance of changes in ocean productivity on air-sea exchange of carbon dioxide and other trace gases, and finally the long-term sequestration of carbon in the deep ocean and sediments. There is a clear need to bring these disparate research efforts together into a global framework.

  2. What Will Be Done?

    A detailed intergrative review will be prepared on the set of processes outlined above, emphasizing impacts of the mobilization of iron on critical global scale biogeochemical and ecosystem processes and their susceptibility to change.

  3. The Product

    The document will be submitted to Science/Nature as a review article, thus reaching a broad interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary audience.

  4. The Process

    A. Developing the Review

    A chair and group members covering the needed areas of expertise will be identified (see 5. below). Individuals selected will be asked to prepare, before a group meeting, an approximately 3 page summary on the topic of their expertise, emphasising the major scientific questions and uncertainties in their topic area. A 2 day meeting will then be held at an appropriate location, considering the home bases of the participants, to develop the review. A draft of the review will be completed at the meeting, and the final version will be submitted for publication within one to two months. If possible, some relevant modeling efforts may be undertaken on some topics.

    B. Obtaining Support

    A proposal will be developed for funding the meeting of a group of about 12 people, and this should include travel support as well as a small amount of support for producing the review. We estimate that the cost per participant would be about US$1500, or US$18,000 in total. We estimate another US$2000 will be required for producing the review, for a total budget of about US$20,000. This proposal will be submitted to IGBP, SCOR, EU, NERC, and possibly others for funding.

  5. Expertise Needed

    Following are the areas of expertise:

    Desertification/climate change
    Dust generation/fluxes
    Atmospheric reactions
    Palaeo records
    Atmospheric transport and its potential change
    Deposition fluxes
    Ocean iron chemistry
    Biological uptake and utilization
    Nutrients/primary production/nutrient dynamics
    N fixation and iron
    Iron, DMS, and other gases
    Integration and synthesis