The effect of vertical and horizontal dilution on fertilized patch experiments

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Ianson, D. , Völker, C. , Denman, K. L. , Kunze, E. and Steiner, N. (2012): The effect of vertical and horizontal dilution on fertilized patch experiments , Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 26 , GB3002:1-14 . doi: 10.1029/2010GB004008
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A great deal of attention, both negative and positive, has been directed at the potential of large-scale iron fertilization schemes to sequester carbon by inducing phytoplankton blooms that would, in theory, result in significant export of organic carbon to the deep ocean in high nitrogen - low chlorophyll regions. A suite of iron manipulation or `patch' experiments have been performed over length-scales of 10s of km. Here, we use a physical-ecological-chemical model, with prognostic nitrogen, silica and iron dynamics, to study one of the most successful of these experiments,the Subarctic Ecosystem Response to Iron Enrichment Study (SERIES), focusing on the vertical export of organic material, which is difficult to observe in the field. The implications of large-scale fertilization, i.e. increasing patch size, are investigated. Our results agree with the general conclusions obtained from the field experiments. Only a modest export of organic carbon occurs (less than 25% of carbon uptake by phytoplankton) at the base of the mixed layer. Furthermore, we show that lateral and vertical supply of silicic acid is necessary to fuel a sustained phytoplankton bloom. Increasing patch size results in less lateral nutrient supply relative to patch area and so a decrease, not only in total production (per unit area), but in the contribution by large phytoplankton due to silica limitation. Most importantly, the export of organic carbon (per unit area) decreases substantially, by nearly an order of magnitude as scales of 1000 km are approached.

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