The prolonged, extensive emission of greenhouse gases over the next several decades could have significant impacts on ocean life, according to a study by UC Merced marine biologist Michael Beman.
Increases in carbon dioxide emissions — exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities — are making ocean water more acidic, and Beman's study shows that the increased acidity will fundamentally alter the way nitrogen cycles throughout the sea.
Because nitrogen is an important nutrient for all organisms, this could ultimately have significant impacts for all forms of marine life.
"There is growing concern about this issue because human activities are modifying ocean pH so rapidly," Beman said. "While we do not know what the full effects of changing the nitrogen cycle will be, we performed experiments all over the world and believe that these changes will be global in extent."
Beman's study — funded by the National Science Foundation and co-authored by a team of researchers from the University of Hawaii, University of Southern California and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences — will be published this week in the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Beman conducted the studies while at the University of Hawaii, before coming to UC Merced in 2009.
During the study, Beman and his coworkers decreased the pH level of ocean water — making it more acidic — in six total experiments at four different locations in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans: two near Hawaii, one off the coast of Los Angeles, one near Bermuda and two in the Sargasso Sea southeast of Bermuda.
In every instance, when the pH was decreased, the production of the oxidized forms of nitrogen used by phytoplankton and other microorganisms also decreased. That nitrogen is produced through the oxidation of ammonia in seawater by microscopic organisms.
The results showed that when the pH of the water was decreased from 8.1 to 8.0 — roughly the decrease expected over the next 20 to 30 years — ammonia oxidation rates decreased by an average of 21 percent over the six experiments, with a minimum decrease of 3 percent and a maximum of 44 percent.
Such a reduction could lead to a substantial shift in the chemical form of nitrogen supplied to phytoplankton, the single-celled aquatic "plants" that form the base of the ocean's food web. The decrease in nitrogen would likely favor smaller species of phytoplankton over larger ones, possibly creating a domino effect throughout the food web.
This is an important step in furthering science's understanding of how continued increases in greenhouse gas emissions will affect marine life on a global scale and another example of UC Merced researchers addressing society's most challenging problems.
"What makes ocean acidification such a challenging scientific and societal issue is that we're engaged in a global, unreplicated experiment — one that's difficult to study and has many unknown consequences," Beman said.
"Nevertheless, our results can be used to estimate the potential impacts of acidification on the marine nitrogen cycle and on marine life in general. These effects could be substantial and deserve additional study."
Co-authors on the PNAS paper were David A. Hutchins, Cheryl-Emiliane Chow, Andrew L. King, Yuanyuan Feng and Jed A. Fuhrman of the University of Southern California, Andreas Andersson and Nicholas R. Bates of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, and Brian N. Popp of the University of Hawaii.
UC Merced opened Sept. 5, 2005, as the 10th campus in the University of California system and the first American research university of the 21st century. The campus significantly expands access to the UC system for students throughout the state, with a special mission to increase college-going rates among students in the San Joaquin Valley. It also serves as a major base of advanced research and as a stimulus to economic growth and diversification throughout the region. Situated near Yosemite National Park, the university is expected to grow rapidly, topping out at about 25,000 students within 30 years.
James Leonard | EurekAlert!
How does the loss of species alter ecosystems?
18.05.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Excess diesel emissions bring global health & environmental impacts
16.05.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy