Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Migrating animals' pee affects ocean chemistry

10.10.2014

The largest migration on the planet is the movement of small animals from the surface of the open ocean, where they feed on plants under cover of darkness, to the sunless depths where they hide from predators during the day.

University of Washington researchers have found that this regular migration helps shape our oceans. During the daylight hours below the surface the animals release ammonia, the equivalent of our urine, that turns out to play a significant role in marine chemistry, particularly in low-oxygen zones. Results are published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"I'm very fascinated by these massive migrations," said lead author Daniele Bianchi, a postdoctoral researcher in the UW School of Oceanography. "To me, it's exciting to think about the effects of animal behavior on a large scale in the ocean."

One might not think that peeing into the vastness of the oceans could have an effect. But the animals – which include tiny zooplankton, crustaceans such as krill, and fish such as lanternfish up to a few inches long – compensate for their small size with huge abundance throughout the world's oceans.

After a nighttime feast near the surface, these small creatures take a couple of hours to swim about 650 to 2,000 feet (200 to 600 meters) deep. Solid waste falls as pellets. The liquid waste is emitted more gradually.

In earlier work, Bianchi made the surprising finding that the animals spend most of their day in low-oxygen water. Marine bacteria consume oxygen as they decompose sinking dead material, creating low-oxygen zones a few hundred feet below the surface.

"The animals really seem to stop in low-oxygen regions, which is sort of puzzling," Bianchi said. Some speculated these zones might protect them from larger predators.

The earlier study also showed that animals actually contribute to these low-oxygen zones by using the little remaining oxygen to breathe.

Researchers next wondered about their other bodily functions.

For the new study, authors mined data from underwater sonar surveys to calculate how many animals are migrating to which depths, and where. Next they gauged the combined effect of their daytime digestion.

Results show that in certain parts of the ocean, ammonia released from animals drives a big part of the oxygen-free conversion of ammonium and other molecules to nitrogen gas, a key chemical transition.

"We still think bacteria do most of the job, but the effect of animals is enough to alter the rates of these reactions and maybe help explain some of the measurements," Bianchi said.

Inside low-oxygen zones, it's still mysterious how bacteria turn so much nitrogen-based ammonia into tight pairs of nitrogen atoms, like those found in air, which cannot be used by plants or animals. The conversion is important because it determines how much nitrogen-based fertilizer remains to support life in the world's oceans.

Researchers typically model low-oxygen zones using factors such as ocean currents, weather and bacterial growth. The new paper, Bianchi said, shows that diving animals, though more difficult to model, also play a role in marine chemistry.

The ocean's low-oxygen zones are projected to expand under climate change, as warmer waters hold less oxygen and decrease oxygen content below the surface. Understanding these zones is thus important for predicting what might happen to the oceans under climate change.

###

The research was funded by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the U.S. National Science Foundation. Co-authors are Andrew Babbin at Princeton University and Eric Galbraith at Canada's McGill University.

For more information, contact Bianchi at 206-221-4402 or danbian@uw.edu

Hannah Hickey | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>