Melting icebergs, so long the iconic image of global warming, are triggering a natural process that could delay or even end climate change, British scientists have found.
A team working on board the Royal Navys HMS Endurance off the coast of Antarctica have discovered tiny particles of iron are released into the sea as the ice melts.
The iron feeds algae, which blooms and sucks up damaging carbon dioxide (CO2), then sinks, locking away the harmful greenhouse gas for hundreds of years.
British scientists have discovered that green algae could bury CO2 omissions at the bottom of the ocean
The team think the process could hold the key to staving off globally rising temperatures.
Lead researcher Professor Rob Raiswell, from Leeds University, said: The Earth itself seems to want to save us.
As a result of the findings, a ground-breaking experiment will be held this month off the British island of South Georgia, 800 miles south east of the Falklands. It will see if the phenomenon could be harnessed to contain rising
Researchers will use several tons of iron sulphate to create an artificial bloom of algae. The patch will be so large it
will be visible from space.
Scientists already knew that releasing iron into the sea stimulates the growth of algae. But environmentalists had warned that to do so artificially might damage the planets fragile ecosystem.
Last year, the UN banned iron fertilisation in the Great Southern Ocean.
The team working on board HMS Endurance off the coast of Antartica have discovered tiny particles of iron are released into the sea as ice melts
However, the new findings show the mechanism has actually been operating naturally for millions of years within the isolated southern waters. And it has led to the researchers being granted permission by the UN to move ahead with the experiment.
The scientist who will lead the next stage of the study, Professor Victor Smetacek, said: The gas is sure to
be out of the Earths atmosphere for several hundred years.
The aim is to discover whether artificially fertilising the area will create more algae in the Great Southern Ocean. That ocean is an untapped resource for soaking up CO2 because it doesnt have much iron, unlike other seas.
It covers 20million square miles, and scientists say that if this could all be treated with iron, the resulting algae would remove three-and-a-half gigatons of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to one eighth of all emissions annually created by burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.
It would also be equal to removing all carbon dioxide emitted from every power plant, chimney and car exhaust in the rapidly expanding industries of India and Japan.
However, the experts warn it is too early to say whether it will work