Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cutoff switch may limit spread, duration of oxygen minimum zones

19.05.2014

A new study examining the impact of iron released from continental margin sediments has documented a natural limiting switch that may keep these ocean systems from developing a runaway feedback loop that could lead to unchecked hypoxic areas, or persistent "dead zones."

The findings are particularly important, scientists say, because as the climate warms oxygen minimum zones are expected to expand in coming decades and could affect coastal fisheries as well as the global carbon cycle. But the study, which was led by researchers at Oregon State University, suggests that there may be a limit to the expansion of these OMZs.

The results are being published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

It is well-documented that iron is a crucial catalyst for fueling biological productivity in the oceans. When there is an insufficient amount of iron in the water column, microscopic plants called phytoplankton cannot fully consume nitrates and phosphates, limiting their growth. There are several potential sources of iron – including river sediments, windblown dust and continental margin sediments – but to be useful to plankton, the iron must be dissolved rather than locked up in sediments.

Oxygen may be a key that unlocks the storehouse of iron.

In high-oxygen environments, most of the iron that is dissolved in the water precipitates – turning into iron oxide coatings (similar to rust) on particles, which sink to the seafloor. Organic remains of plants and animals also sink to the seafloor and their rotting remains consume the oxygen dissolved in seawater. As oxygen lowers, a hypoxic dead zone may form. When it does the iron oxides dissolve and may diffuse back into the water column where the iron again becomes available to fertilize plankton growth, as long as other major nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate are available.

"When this moderate hypoxic state occurs, the iron release fuels more biological productivity and the organic particles fall to the sea floor where they decay and consume more oxygen, making hypoxia worse," said Florian Scholz, a postdoctoral researcher in OSU's College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and lead author on the Nature Geoscience study. "That leads to this feedback loop of more iron release triggering more productivity, triggering more iron release.

"But we found that when the oxygen approaches zero a new group of minerals, iron sulfides, are formed," Scholz added. "This is the key to the limit switch because when the iron gets locked up in sulfides, it is no longer dissolved and thus not available to the plankton. The runaway hypoxia stops and the hypoxic region is limited."

An important part of the study was the development of indicators for sedimentary iron release during past periods of ocean deoxygenation, the researchers said. Scholz and his colleagues investigated a sediment core from the upwelling area of Peru, where the subsurface water column has one of the lowest ongoing oxygen levels on Earth.

In their study, the researchers looked at concentrations of iron, uranium and molybdenum in ocean sediments dating back 140,000 years.

The key to the discovery, they say, was determining whether sediments buried during a past period of ocean deoxygenation had an iron deficit. Sediment with an iron deficit suggests that the iron was removed and potentially transported offshore into iron-limited ocean regions. Conversely, when the sediments held a lot of iron, it likely was retained and thus not available for fertilization.

"Florian found that there are two states in which iron is locked up and unavailable to fuel plant growth," said Alan Mix, an Oregon State geochemist and co-author on the study. "When there is a lot of iron in the sediment, but no molybdenum, the iron is stored in oxide minerals.

"This happens when oxygen is abundant," Mix added. "But if there is iron and molybdenum, then the iron is stored in sulfide minerals like pyrite, meaning the system has little or no oxygen available.

What the researchers discovered in the Peru system "is a window for iron release, which could be a key to the biological productivity in this iron-limited ocean region," Scholz said.

The near-anoxic Peru system differs from the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States, which has experienced several hypoxic events over the past decade. The Northwest waters are not yet as low in oxygen or iron as Peru.

"These basic reactions have been known for a while," Mix said, "but documenting them in the real world on a large scale – and associating them with climate change – is quite significant and especially important given projections of growing hypoxia in a warming climate."

###

The study was supported by the European Union, the German Research Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

Other researchers on the study include James McManus of the University of Akron (a former Oregon State faculty member); Christian Hensen of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany; and Ralph Schneider, Kiel University.

Florian Scholz | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.oregonstate.edu

Further reports about: Earth Geoscience Ocean Oregon Sediment environments productivity

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Marine carbon sinking rates confirm importance of polar oceans
26.07.2016 | University of Washington

nachricht Oceans may be large, overlooked source of hydrogen gas
21.07.2016 | Duke University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Self-assembling nano inks form conductive and transparent grids during imprint

Transparent electronics devices are present in today’s thin film displays, solar cells, and touchscreens. The future will bring flexible versions of such devices. Their production requires printable materials that are transparent and remain highly conductive even when deformed. Researchers at INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials have combined a new self-assembling nano ink with an imprint process to create flexible conductive grids with a resolution below one micrometer.

To print the grids, an ink of gold nanowires is applied to a substrate. A structured stamp is pressed on the substrate and forces the ink into a pattern. “The...

Im Focus: The Glowing Brain

A new Fraunhofer MEVIS method conveys medical interrelationships quickly and intuitively with innovative visualization technology

On the monitor, a brain spins slowly and can be examined from every angle. Suddenly, some sections start glowing, first on the side and then the entire back of...

Im Focus: Newly discovered material property may lead to high temp superconductivity

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Ames Laboratory have discovered an unusual property of purple bronze that may point to new ways to achieve high temperature superconductivity.

While studying purple bronze, a molybdenum oxide, researchers discovered an unconventional charge density wave on its surface.

Im Focus: Mapping electromagnetic waveforms

Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.

Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...

Im Focus: Continental tug-of-war - until the rope snaps

Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases

Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

GROWING IN CITIES - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Gardening

15.07.2016 | Event News

SIGGRAPH2016 Computer Graphics Interactive Techniques, 24-28 July, Anaheim, California

15.07.2016 | Event News

Partner countries of FAIR accelerator meet in Darmstadt and approve developments

11.07.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

New movie screen allows for glasses-free 3-D

26.07.2016 | Information Technology

Scientists develop painless and inexpensive microneedle system to monitor drugs

26.07.2016 | Health and Medicine

Astronomers discover dizzying spin of the Milky Way galaxy's 'halo'

26.07.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>