Iron brings element of life to Pacific

10.06.36: THE EQUIVALENT of more than 50% of America's CO2 emissions is being converted into oxygen by algae in the seas surrounding the republic of the Marshall Islands.

What is more, this tiny archipelago in the Pacific - land area 181sq km; population 60,000 - is getting rich in the process.

The key to the republic's success lies in the 1.28m sq km of sea it owns. No one else wanted it because, devoid of plankton and other microscopic marine life, it was virtually barren. But not any more. The Marshall Islands' thriving fishing industry has nudged it on to the list of the world's 20 wealthiest nations.

The transformation was brought about by Michael Markels, the late American entrepreneur, with his vision of "fertilising" the sea with iron. He had been impressed by research done in the 1990s which showed that lifeless seas such as those around the Marshall Islands could be made to blossom with algae and plankton by adding specially prepared iron.

Markels acquired rights to several hundred thousand square kilometres of sea and set about fertilising the ocean. The fish came to feed on the vast new fields of plankton, while the algae began absorbing CO2 from the air, like plants on land.

The tonnage removed from the atmosphere is expected to grow steadily as Markels's technique is copied around the world. JB