Hidden behind the fragility
Of a sub-Antarctic archipelago,
A speck of shamrock shimmers
On a sea of turquoise.
Exploding into life this fleck
Becomes a floating forest;
Vacuous blues graffitied with
Organic, dancing tones of green.
Rising white beacons of sediment
Carried on clandestine currents,
Breathing new life into
This aquatic wasteland.
The metallic aftertaste
Tinged with needless shame
By the limitations of
Their oceanic flow.
This poem is inspired by recent research, which has shown that vents in the seafloor may affect life near the ocean’s surface and the global carbon cycle more than previously thought.
Phytoplankton are aquatic photosynthetic microalgae that form the foundation of the marine food chain. Besides their ecological importance, they also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (via photosynthesis) on a scale equivalent to forests and other land plants. However, phytoplankton need iron to thrive, with this iron supplied by hydrothermal vents (openings in the seafloor that emit large amounts of mineral-rich fluid). Traditionally it was thought that this iron only reached areas of the oceans directly above these vents, and that as such phytoplankton could not exist in the vast swaths of ocean where there are no such vents.
This new research has shown that iron from these hydrothermal vents can actually well up, travel across hundreds of miles of open ocean, and allow phytoplankton to thrive in some very unexpected places. Hydrothermal vents are scattered across the seafloor, and knowing more about the pathways that bring their nutrients up to surface waters will help researchers make more accurate calculations about the production of phytoplankton and the flow of carbon in the world’s oceans.
An audio version of this poem can be heard here: