A global study led by Professor Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, shows that the number of "dead zones"—areas of seafloor with too little oxygen for most marine life—has increased by a third between 1995 and 2007.
Diaz and collaborator Rutger Rosenberg of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden say that dead zones are now "the key stressor on marine ecosystems" and "rank with over-fishing, habitat loss, and harmful algal blooms as global environmental problems."
The study, which appears in the August 15 issue of the journal Science, tallies 405 dead zones in coastal waters worldwide, affecting an area of 95,000 square miles, about the size of New Zealand. The largest dead zone in the U.S., at the mouth of the Mississippi, covers more than 8,500 square miles, roughly the size of New Jersey.
Diaz began studying dead zones in the mid-1980s after seeing their effect on bottom life in a tributary of Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore. His first review of dead zones in 1995 counted 305 worldwide. That was up from his count of 162 in the 1980s, 87 in the 1970s, and 49 in the 1960s. He first found scientific reports of dead zones in the 1910s, when there were 4. Worldwide, the number of dead zones has approximately doubled each decade since the 1960s.
Diaz and Rosenberg write "There is no other variable of such ecological importance to coastal marine ecosystems that has changed so drastically over such a short time as dissolved oxygen."
Dead zones occur when excess nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, enter coastal waters and help fertilize blooms of algae. When these microscopic plants die and sink to the bottom, they provide a rich food source for bacteria, which in the act of decomposition consume dissolved oxygen from surrounding waters. Major nutrient sources include fertilizers and the burning of fossil fuels.
Geologic evidence shows that dead zones were not "a naturally recurring event" in Chesapeake Bay or most other estuarine ecosystems, says Diaz. "Dead zones were once rare. Now they're commonplace. There are more of them in more places." The first dead zone in Chesapeake Bay was reported in the 1930s.
Scientists refer to water with too little oxygen for fish and other active organisms as "hypoxic." Diaz says that many ecosystems experience a progression in which periodic hypoxic events become seasonal and then, if nutrient inputs continue to increase, persistent. Earth's largest dead zone, in the Baltic Sea, experiences hypoxia year-round. Chesapeake Bay experiences seasonal, summertime hypoxia through much of its main channel, occupying about 40% of its area and up to 5% of its volume.
Diaz and Rosenberg note that hypoxia tends to be overlooked until it starts to affect organisms that people eat. A possible indicator of hypoxia's adverse effects on an economically important finfish species in Chesapeake Bay is the purported link between oxygen-poor bottom waters and a chronic outbreak of a bacterial disease among striped bass.
Several Bay researchers, including VIMS fish pathologist Wolfgang Vogelbein, hypothesize that the prevalence of mycobacteriosis among Bay stripers (>75%) is due to the stress they encounter when development of the Bay's summertime dead zone forces them from the cooler bottom waters they prefer into warmer waters near the Bay surface.
Diaz and Rosenberg's also point out a more fundamental effect of hypoxia: the loss of energy from the Bay's food chain. By precluding or stunting the growth of bottom-dwellers such as clams and worms, hypoxia robs their predators of an important source of nutrition.
Diaz and VIMS colleague Linda Schaffner estimate that Chesapeake Bay now loses about 10,000 metric tons of carbon to hypoxia each year, 5% of the Bay's total production of food energy. The Baltic Sea has lost 30% of its food energy—a condition that has contributed to a significant decline in its fisheries yields.
Diaz and Rosenberg say the key to reducing dead zones is "to keep fertilizers on the land and out of the sea." Diaz says that goal is shared by farmers concerned with the high cost of buying and applying nitrogen to their crops. "They certainly don't want to see their dollars flowing off their fields into the Bay," says Diaz. "Scientists and farmers need to continue working together to develop farming methods that minimize the transfer of nutrients from land to sea."
Dr. Bob Diaz | EurekAlert!
Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
International network connects experimental research in European waters
21.03.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
28.03.2017 | Life Sciences
28.03.2017 | Information Technology
28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy