Model Simulations of Carbon Sequestration in the Northwest Pacific by Patch Fertilization

Iron fertilization of nutrient-rich surface waters of the ocean is one possible way to help slow the rising levels of atmospheric CO2 by sequestering it in the oceans via biological carbon export. Here, I use an ocean general circulation model to simulate a patch of nutrient depletion in the subpolar northwest Pacific under various scenarios. Model results confirm that surface fertilization is an inefficient way to sequester carbon from the atmosphere (Gnanadesikan et al., 2003), since only about 20% of the exported carbon comes initially from the atmosphere. Fertilization reduces future production and thus CO2 uptake by utilizing nutrients that would otherwise be available later. Effectively, this can be considered as leakage when compared to a control run. This “effective” leakage and the actual leakage of sequestered CO2 cause a significant, rapid decrease in carbon retention (only 30-45% retained after 10 years and less than 20% after 50 years). This contrasts markedly with the almost 100% retention efficiency for the same duration using the same model, when carbon is disposed directly into the northwest Pacific (Matsumoto and Mignone, 2005). As a consequence, the economic effectiveness of patch fertilization is poor in two limiting cases of the future price path of carbon. Sequestered carbon in patch fertilization is lost to the atmosphere at increasingly remote places as time passes, which would make monitoring exceedingly difficult. If all organic carbon from one-time fertilization reached the ocean bottom and remineralized there, acidification would be about -0.05 pH unit with O2 depletion about -20 mmol kg-1. These anomalies are probably too small to seriously threaten deep sea biota, but they are underestimated in the model because of its large grid size. The results from this study offer little to advocate purposeful surface fertilization as a serious means to address the anthropogenic carbon problem.

Matsumoto M., 2006. Model Simulations of Carbon Sequestration in the Northwest Pacific by Patch Fertilization. Journal of Oceanography, 62(6):887-902. Article.

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