icebergs turn ocean pastures green

Iceberg Dust Turns Gigantic Ocean Pastures Green

Ice sheets in the Antarctic and Arctic patiently collect wind blown dust over the course of millenia then provides that dust to sustain ocean pastures over months to years once it breaks free and melts as nourishing drifting icebergs.

Giant Antarctic icebergs are now shown to be playing an important role in how much carbon the Oceans absorbs.

Become the iceberg or if you prefer become a piece of winter pack ice, a frozen life sustaining plankton popsicle.

Giant icebergs from Antarctica and their iceberg dust account for a vast amount of carbon dioxide captured and stored in the Southern Ocean, far more than was previously believed say a paper published this week in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience.


Penguins hitch rides with Iceberg ocean pasture shepherds creating lush green ocean pastures full of krill and fish.

The research from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography studied the slow melting of giant icebergs, which contains an accumulation of aeolian, wind blown, dust that contains iron and other nutrients vital to ocean pasture health and productivity. As the icebergs, both large and small, drift and melt in the seas around the frozen continent they leave broad green swaths of healthy vigorously growing ocean pasture phyto-plankton.

These vital ocean pastures often stretch for 1000 kilometers in length and 200 km across in the Southern Ocean. The iceberg-dust fed ocean pastures from single icebergs cover areas of 200,000 sq. km. or more. These verdant ocean pastures in turn sustain the rich ocean ecosystem feeding tiny krill, fish, great whales, and of course penguins.

Even in the world’s least dusty region wind blown dust sustains ocean pastures

giant icebergs

Giant iceberg shepherds slowly release millenia of stored dust to nourish and sustain ocean pastures

The bounty of ice berg dust that sustains these vast and vital ocean pastures has accumulated while the ice from Antarctica has slowly over the course of centuries accumulated a tiny amount of dust every year. Antarctica while a continent of snow that becomes ice is actually one of the dryest deserts in Earth, annual snowfall over most of the continent is equal to just a few centimeters per year and as for dustfall it is the farthest place on Earth from sources of windblown dust so it’s dustfall is the least of anywhere.

While the rate of accumulation is very slow ice and dust accumulate as time passes slowly. The age of the ice in giant icebergs is counted in millenia. Some parts of the Antarctic coastal ice is more than 2 million years old!

The researchers point out that of course these rich iceberg dust fed plankton blooms are responsible, via their photosynthesis, for absorbing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that sustains the Southern Ocean ocean pasture ecosystem, feeds all of ocean life, and locks the ‘left overs’ for millenia into the frigid ocean abyss.


Colored areas show plankton growth around and near a giant iceberg with highest amounts of ocean pasture standing biomass in yellow and red!

Satellite Images Give A Wide View

CALIPSO Earth Observatory

CALIPSO Earth Observatory

Researchers examined 175 satellite photos and accompanying data of giant icebergs in the Southern Ocean which surrounds Antarctica. They report of  discovering green plumes stretching 1,000km behind them. With single iceberg-dust feeding ocean pastures covered areas of 200,000 sq. km. or more, the hundreds of giant icebergs adrift produce many millions of sq. km. of verdant Southern Ocean pastures.

Keep in mind the “giant” icebergs in this report represent only the ‘little toe’ or tip of Antarctic ice. While the authors suggest their ‘giants’ account for 50% of the floating ice during the low ice season when their observations were made in reality they account for more like 10% of total ice with ocean pasture sustaining stored dust that melts in the seas each year.

The team found that the presence of giant icebergs increased ocean iron levels, the most vital of the dust minerals, for a sustained period of time. Even a month after a giant iceberg has passed through a region, the level of chlorophyll is at least 10 times higher than normal. This level of chlorophyll enhancement is highest around 50-200 km from the iceberg. But the elevated chlorophyll typically extends 500 km from the iceberg, and sometimes as far as 1,000 km.

Ross Sea blooms

Iron rich dust freed from the ice in the Ross Sea produces tremedous plankton blooms

It is clear that the findings offer vital evidence that will require major changes for climate change predictions, as more far carbon is ‘sequestered’ or locked away by the phytoplankton via this ocean pasture dust fertilization mechanism than has been previously accounted for. This CO2 activity, known as carbon sequestration, contributes to a massive long-term carbon capture and storage (CCS) of atmospheric carbon dioxide, therefore helping to regulate atmospheric CO2 and slow global warming aka climate change.

“If giant iceberg calving increases this century as expected, this negative feedback on the carbon cycle may become more important than we previously thought,” said Professor Grant Bigg at the University of Sheffield, who led the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Here’s a stunning new documentary video about Krill near Antarctica

There is a half an hour of frozen videoscapes to begin but if you jump ahead to minute ~29:00 in the video there for a few minutes the stunning HD videography will amaze and astonish as you are able to see Nature in her most mysterious glory!

Winter Sea Ice, Pack Ice, is a nourishing phyto-plankton popsicle for Krill.

The scientists in the video make a good case for a second vital role of floating ice, not ice bergs but pack ice, in the Antarctic seas. It acts as a giant deep freezen preserving some of the plankton abundance formed during the summer blooms. During the winter months floating sea ice is melting a bit on the underside and in doing so slowly gives up its precious summer phyto-plankton crop. As it turns out the krill are able to survive the long frozen winter by grazing on the sea ice frozen plankton-popsicles!

A plausible hypothesis of the krill scientists is that collapse of krill populations closely correllates with the changing timing of when sea ice forms and the change in the time of that ice formation. Because of the potency of warming ocean waters the sea ice is forming much later each year, and it lasts for not so long in the spring. The effect is the sea-water from late fall has much less plankton for what are to become not so nourishing plankton popsicles to sustain the wintering krill.

The Krill Crisis is clear, as today they are reduced by 80% over what the oceans and all of oceans life depended only 30 years ago.

Great geoscience science, but too much political science aka climate changed spin

In the Iceberg paper which focuses exclusively on ‘Giant Icebergs’, defined as greater than 18km in length, the authors note they make up half the ice floating in the Southern Ocean, with dozens present during the low ice season. The researchers calculated that the dust fertilisation effect of the icebergs in the normally iron-poor waters contributes up to 20% of all the carbon buried in the Southern Ocean, which itself contributes about 10% of the global total.

However, the authors delve into dangerous political science territory when they write that in their opinion “there is no salvation here” saying  “although it seems to be real, the giant iceberg feedback is relatively small in the grand scheme of things. The Southern Ocean overall sequesters about 0.75 gigatons of CO2 every year out of about 10 gigatons  of mankind’s emitted carbon annually.”

To understand how this great piece of science has derailed itself into Political Science nonsense take note that these authors use an extraordinary metric in their ‘politically motivated’ description of CO2 management. Their strange and unusual climate politics metric assumes an absurd definition  for ‘sequestered carbon’. By their minimalist definition only particulate carbon that sinks to the seabed is allowed and counted as sequestered. This number is widely reported in ocean science as being in the neighbourhood of 2% of the amount of CO2 that is fixed as standing biomass by healthy ocean pastures.

Real World Carbon Capture and Storage Metrics

The very conventional and globally accepted metric for carbon capture and storage (sequestration) in living ecosystems is far greater than what this paper uses. Think of an ocean pasture as being like a forest on land. Everyone in the world accepts and uses ‘standing sustained biomass’ as the metric for calculating and crediting the amount of CO2 that is taken from the air and repurposed into trees!  Here’s a link to a paper on forest carbon. Trees are living carbon and indeed live in a very thin skin of life on earth, from their topmost twig to deepest root being on average less than 50 meters thick.

From some points of view there is almost no land at all.

From some points of view there is almost no land at all on our Blue Planet!

Ocean pastures on the other hand have a comparable thickness of more like 100 meters and in fact typically contain far more areal biomass than a forest. Ocean pastures, like forests and grasslands recycle assiduously their biomass to sustain the maximum standing biomass possible from season to season. Don’t forget the oceans and their pastures cover 72% of this blue planet where terrestrial vegetation covers less than 18%, forests are less than 9%!

So when calculating the amount of CO2 (3.67xC) that is taken from the atmosphere and fixed into a living ocean pasture standing biomass, especially those helped by iceberg mineral dust fertilization, the true number is not the 0.75 billion tonnes per year the authors of this paper suggest for god knows what political science reason but much closer to 10 times that number, or 7.5 billion tonnes annually. Add to this the multiplier factor that the “giant iceberg” contribution to ocean pasture fertility and carbon capture and storage is ten times more again and the real number for Southern Ocean CO2 fixation must be higher than 75 billion tonnes each year.

Consider this in the context of the problematic portion of human emissions of CO2 at some 10 billion tonnes too much being emitted each year that is accumulating as a surplus and producing ‘global warming’ and climate change according to climate change models.  One immediately sees that ocean pastures in the Southern Ocean that are fertilized by “giant icebergs alone” are responsible for a substantial part of the natural management of global CO2! As the researchers in this report note correctly the amount of ocean pasture plankton CO2 management in the Southern Ocean is a small fraction of warmer waters to the north! After all the entire Southern Ocean covers less than ~10% of the world’s total ocean area.

Call To Action – Imitating Mother Nature – Become The Iceberg

With the crisis in the world’s ocean wrought by our high and rising CO2 and that CO2 effect also on global warming and climate change it is clear that the oceans being harmed first and foremost by our CO2 are where we should also be acting first and foremost to mitigate our deadly impact. The amount of dust circulating in the world’s air is today greatly diminished by the global greening effect of CO2 in supporting more growth of plants on land, read more “ground cover.” More grass growing means less dust blowing! Here’s a link to a report on a recent scientific paper confirming the cataclysmic decline in global dust.

The most immediate and practical means to help the oceans is to replenish the dust we are denying them and our dust, just like the iceberg dust will nourish and sustain ocean pasture plankton. That phyto-plankton will repurpose our menacing CO2 into new ocean life. This is no sailors dream it is a proven safe, sustainable, low cost, and immediately deployable methodology as seen in my 2012 demonstration in the North Pacific. There my small 50,000 sq. km. dust fed ocean pasture, by iceberg comparison, restored and revived a dying ocean pasture.

sitka news salmon story

2012 ocean pasture replenishment and restoration work in the NE Pacific returned the ocean to life as seen in the largest catch of salmon in all of history in Alaska the next year. – click to read more

Extensive scientific data collected at and under the sea and via satellite over months of monitoring the ocean pasture before, during, and after, its bloom cycle confirmed It Just Worked! But the best evidence by far was when the very next year in Alaska where fishers were expected to have a good year and catch 50 million Pink Salmon instead they caught 226 million Pinks, that swam into their nets from their lovingly restored ocean pasture, the largest catch in all of history!

In the Southern Ocean if a single of my ocean dusting ships is deployed each summer to act in tandem with the giant icebergs billions of tonnes of our CO2 would be repurposed into new ocean life. The cost would be a few million dollars per year but the effect would be, as the icebergs have shown us, marvellous and effective. Compared to the cost in new climate taxes approved by 195 nations at the recent Paris Climate Summit collecting many TRILLIONS of dollars each year of climate/carbon taxes to accomplish less at some time in the distant future I think this is a far better idea! Join me.

We simply have to choose do we want our CO2 to menace the ocean with ocean acidification and ocean death or do we choose ocean life. Worried if verdant ocean pastures and their plankton blooms will harm instead of help ocean life… ask a penguin!

Krill under Iceberg

Krill under Iceberg

Adelie penguins leaping into the ocean from an iceberg.

Adelie penguins leaping into the ocean from an iceberg.

minke whales

Minke Whales Frederique Olivier, Australian Antarctic Division