Professor Martin Kennedy from the University of Adelaide (School of Earth & Environmental Sciences) and Professor Thomas Wagner from Newcastle University (Civil Engineering and Geosciences) have been studying 'greenhouse oceans' – oceans that have been depleted of oxygen and suffered from increases in carbon dioxide and temperature.
Using core samples drilled from the ocean bed off the coast of western Africa, the researchers studied layers of sediment from the Late Cretaceous Period (85 million years ago) across a 400,000-year timespan. They found a significant amount of organic material – marine life – buried within deoxygenated layers of the sediment.
"Our research points to a mass mortality in the oceans at a time when the Earth was going through a greenhouse effect, with high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and rising temperatures, leading to a severe lack of oxygen (hypoxia) in the water that marine animals are dependent on," Professor Kennedy says.
"What's alarming to us as scientists is that there were only very slight natural changes that resulted in the onset of hypoxia in the deep ocean. This occurred relatively rapidly – in periods of hundreds of years, or possibly even less – not gradually over longer, geological time scales, which suggests that the Earth's oceans are in a much more delicate balance during greenhouse conditions than originally thought, and may respond in a more abrupt fashion to even subtle changes in temperature and CO2 levels than previously thought."
Professor Wagner says the results of their research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), have relevance for our modern world: "We know that 'dead zones' are rapidly growing in size and number in seas and oceans across the globe. These are areas of water that are lacking in oxygen and are suffering from increases of CO2, rising temperatures, nutrient run-off from agriculture and other factors."
Professor Kennedy says: "If you consider that the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has doubled over the past 50 years, this is like hitting our ecosystem with a sledge-hammer compared to the very small changes in incoming solar energy (radiation) which was capable of triggering these events in the past. This could have a catastrophic, profound impact on the sustainability of life in our oceans, which in turn is likely to impact on the sustainability of life for many land-based species, including humankind."
Professor Kennedy says the geological record offers a glimmer of hope thanks to a naturally occurring response to greenhouse conditions.
"After a hypoxic phase, oxygen concentration in the ocean seems to improve, and marine life returns. Our results show that natural processes of carbon burial kick in. Importantly, this rescue comes from the land, with soil-formed minerals acting to collect and bury excess dissolved organic matter in seawater. Burial of that excess carbon ultimately contributes to CO2 removal from the atmosphere, cooling the planet and the ocean.
"This is nature's solution to the greenhouse effect and it could offer a possible solution for us. If we are able to learn more about this effect and its feedbacks, we may be able to manage it, and reduce the present rate of warming threatening our oceans."
Media contacts:Professor Martin Kennedy
Global study of world's beaches shows threat to protected areas
19.07.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
NSF-supported researchers to present new results on hurricanes and other extreme events
19.07.2018 | National Science Foundation
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
19.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.07.2018 | Earth Sciences
19.07.2018 | Life Sciences