Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Trade Winds ventilate the Tropical Oceans

19.12.2014

Kiel marine scientists find explanation for increasing oxygen deficiency

Long-term observations indicate that the oxygen minimum zones in the tropical oceans have expanded in recent decades. The reason is still unknown. Now scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the Collaborative Research Centre 754 "Climate – Biogeochemical Interactions in the Tropical Ocean" have found an explanation with the help of model simulations: a natural fluctuation of the trade winds. The study has been published in the international journal Geophysical Research Letters.


Scheme of the tropical Pacific: Strong growth of plankton (1) leads to a high oxygen consumption and extended oxygen minimum zones (2). Ocean currents (3) at a few hundred meters depth provide an influx of oxygenated water from the subtropics (4). Fluctuations of the trade winds (5) influence the strength of these currents. Graphics: Claus Böning, Markus Scheinert, GEOMAR

The changes can be measured, but their reasons were unknown. For several decades, scientists have carefully observed that the oxygen minimum zones (OMZ) in the tropical oceans are expanding. These zones are a paradise for some specially adapted microorganisms, but for all larger marine organisms such as fish and marine mammals they are uninhabitable. Thus, their expansion has already narrowed down the habitat of some fish species.

Marine scientists from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the Kiel Collaborative Research Centre (Sonderforschungsbereich, SFB) 754 "Climate – Biogeochemical Interactions in the Tropical Ocean" now have found a possible reason for these changes by using a model simulation of climate and biological processes. As their study shows, the trade winds north and south of the Equator play a crucial role in the supply of oxygen to tropical sea water. "So fluctuations in the trade winds could also be responsible for the observed enlargement of the oxygen minimum zones in recent years," explains Dr. Olaf Duteil, lead author of the study, which has now been published in the international journal Geophysical Research Letters.

OMZs exist in different intensities at the eastern edges of all tropical oceans. Because nutrient-rich water from the depths reaches the surface in these areas plankton thrives particularly well. Therefore large amounts of plankton organisms die there, too. After their death they sink down to the ocean floor. On the way down bacteria start to decompose the biomass. In doing so they consume the oxygen. The largest of these OMZs stretches from the coasts of Chile and Peru far into the Pacific ocean.

At the same time currents at a few hundred meters depth transport oxygen-rich water from the subtropics towards the tropics, where the oxygen minimum zones lie. "One can think of the tropical Pacific Ocean as a bathtub. When I open the tap, I fill the bathtub with water or 'oxygen', respectively. When the siphon is open, too, we lose oxygen at the same time. We then have an instable equilibrium between input and output," explains Dr. Duteil, “If I turn off the tap a little, the tub empties slowly.”

As the researchers were able to determine in a computer simulation of the oxygen balance now, the strength of the currents and thus the oxygen flow to the tropics is directly related to the strength of the trade winds. "It is well known that they vary on a decadal time scale," says co-author Prof. Dr. Claus Böning from GEOMAR, "but these variations haven never been investigated in relation to the oxygen budget of tropical oceans. "

Since the trade winds have been in a weak phase since the mid-1970s, this could be the explanation for the observed enlargement of the oxygen minimum zones. "The oxygen bathtub of the tropical oceans is emptying," says Dr. Duteil. Once the trade winds come back into a stronger phase, the process will be reversed.

This does not mean that external processes such as the general global warming have no influence on the oxygen concentrations in the tropical oceans. "There is evidence that global change affects the major wind systems of the Earth. That would have a direct impact on the oxygen transport in the subtropical and tropical ocean," explains Prof. Andreas Oschlies, co-author and speaker of the SFB 754. "But it is important that according to this study the trade winds in any case as must be considered as a factor for long-term development of tropical oxygen minimum zones," Oschlies adds.

Reference:
Duteil, O., C. W. Böning, A. Oschlies (2014): Variability in subtropical-tropical cells drives oxygen levels in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Geophysical Research Letters,  http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2014GL061774

Background information: The SFB 754
The Collaborative Research Center (SFB 754) addresses the relatively newly recognized threat of ocean deoxygenation, its possible impact on tropical oxygen minimum zones and implications for the global climate-biogeochemistry system. The overall goal of the SFB 754 is to improve understanding of the coupling of tropical climate variability and circulation with the ocean's oxygen and nutrient balance, to quantitatively evaluate the nature of oxygen-sensitive tipping points, as well as to assess consequences for the Ocean's future. It is funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG) at Kiel University, at GEOMAR and at the Max-Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology Bremen.

Contact:
Dr. Olaf Duteil (GEOMAR, RD1 – Theory and Modeling), oduteil@geomar.de
Jan Steffen (GEOMAR, Communication & Media), Phone: (+49) 0431 600-2811, jsteffen@geomar.de

Olaf Duteil | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA eyes Pineapple Express soaking California
24.02.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht 'Quartz' crystals at the Earth's core power its magnetic field
23.02.2017 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>