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Spreading dead zones and consequences for marine ecosystems.

Science (New York, N.Y.)

chemistry, Seawater, Seasons, Oxygen, Marine Biology, Fishes, Eutrophication, Ecosystem, Climate, Biomass, Animals, Anaerobiosis

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      Abstract

      Dead zones in the coastal oceans have spread exponentially since the 1960s and have serious consequences for ecosystem functioning. The formation of dead zones has been exacerbated by the increase in primary production and consequent worldwide coastal eutrophication fueled by riverine runoff of fertilizers and the burning of fossil fuels. Enhanced primary production results in an accumulation of particulate organic matter, which encourages microbial activity and the consumption of dissolved oxygen in bottom waters. Dead zones have now been reported from more than 400 systems, affecting a total area of more than 245,000 square kilometers, and are probably a key stressor on marine ecosystems.

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      Transformation of the nitrogen cycle: recent trends, questions, and potential solutions.

      Humans continue to transform the global nitrogen cycle at a record pace, reflecting an increased combustion of fossil fuels, growing demand for nitrogen in agriculture and industry, and pervasive inefficiencies in its use. Much anthropogenic nitrogen is lost to air, water, and land to cause a cascade of environmental and human health problems. Simultaneously, food production in some parts of the world is nitrogen-deficient, highlighting inequities in the distribution of nitrogen-containing fertilizers. Optimizing the need for a key human resource while minimizing its negative consequences requires an integrated interdisciplinary approach and the development of strategies to decrease nitrogen-containing waste.
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        Forecasting agriculturally driven global environmental change.

        During the next 50 years, which is likely to be the final period of rapid agricultural expansion, demand for food by a wealthier and 50% larger global population will be a major driver of global environmental change. Should past dependences of the global environmental impacts of agriculture on human population and consumption continue, 10(9) hectares of natural ecosystems would be converted to agriculture by 2050. This would be accompanied by 2.4- to 2.7-fold increases in nitrogen- and phosphorus-driven eutrophication of terrestrial, freshwater, and near-shore marine ecosystems, and comparable increases in pesticide use. This eutrophication and habitat destruction would cause unprecedented ecosystem simplification, loss of ecosystem services, and species extinctions. Significant scientific advances and regulatory, technological, and policy changes are needed to control the environmental impacts of agricultural expansion.
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          Impacts of atmospheric anthropogenic nitrogen on the open ocean.

          Increasing quantities of atmospheric anthropogenic fixed nitrogen entering the open ocean could account for up to about a third of the ocean's external (nonrecycled) nitrogen supply and up to approximately 3% of the annual new marine biological production, approximately 0.3 petagram of carbon per year. This input could account for the production of up to approximately 1.6 teragrams of nitrous oxide (N2O) per year. Although approximately 10% of the ocean's drawdown of atmospheric anthropogenic carbon dioxide may result from this atmospheric nitrogen fertilization, leading to a decrease in radiative forcing, up to about two-thirds of this amount may be offset by the increase in N2O emissions. The effects of increasing atmospheric nitrogen deposition are expected to continue to grow in the future.
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            Author and article information

            Journal
            10.1126/science.1156401
            18703733

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