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!
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)
The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...
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...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences
29.05.2017 | Life Sciences
29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy