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Asian dust storm causes plankton to bloom in the North Pacific

In the spring of 2001, two robotic Carbon Explorer floats recorded the rapid growth of phytoplankton in the upper layers of the North Pacific Ocean after a passing storm had deposited iron-rich dust from the Gobi Desert. The carbon measurements, reported in the October 25 issue of Science, are the first direct observation of wind-blown terrestrial dust fertilizing the growth of aquatic plant life.

A group of scientists led by oceanographer James K. Bishop of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Earth Sciences Division engineered the deep-diving Carbon Explorers to measure particulate carbon in the upper thousand meters of the ocean. The Carbon Explorers are modified SOLO floats (Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangian Observers), originally designed by Russ Davis of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to measure temperature and salinity at various depths. A growing number of SOLOs are now adrift in ocean currents around the world, as part of the international Project Argo to study ocean climate variability.

Two of the specially modified Carbon Explorers were launched April 10, 2001, from the U.S. Coast Guard's icebreaker Polar Star near Ocean Station PAPA, in subarctic waters a thousand miles west of Vancouver Island. The Carbon Observers were programmed to sample the depths and return to the surface three times every two days, regularly sending data to satellites overhead. The two floats, controlled from shore, returned a virtually unbroken stream of information for the next eight months, through December, 2001.

Ocean Station PAPA, at 50 degrees north latitude, 145 degrees west longitude, is one of the few sites in the world whose waters have been studied for decades using shipboard instruments. PAPA thus provides an excellent baseline for observing variations in the carbon products of photosynthesis at different depths.

"The plants that fix carbon in the ocean typically live, reproduce, and die on day-to-week time scales,"
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Contact: Paul Preuss
paul_preuss@lbl.gov
510-486-6249
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
24-Oct-2002


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