Friday, April 17, 2009

Increasing carbon dioxide and decreasing oxygen in the oceans will make it harder for deep-sea animals to 'breathe'

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute: New calculations made by marine chemists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) suggest that low-oxygen "dead zones" in the ocean could expand significantly over the next century. These predictions are based on the fact that, as more and more carbon dioxide dissolves from the atmosphere into the ocean, marine animals will need more oxygen to survive.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide are increasing rapidly in the Earth's atmosphere, primarily because of human activities. About one third of the carbon dioxide that humans produce by burning fossil fuels is being absorbed by the world's oceans, gradually causing seawater to become more acidic.

However, such "ocean acidification" is not the only way that carbon dioxide can harm marine animals. In a "Perspective" published today in the journal Science, Peter Brewer and Edward Peltzer combine published data on rising levels of carbon dioxide and declining levels of oxygen in the ocean in a set of new and thermodynamically rigorous calculations. They show that increases in carbon dioxide can make marine animals more susceptible to low concentrations of oxygen, and thus exacerbate the effects of low-oxygen "dead zones" in the ocean.

Brewer and Peltzer's calculations also show that the partial pressure of dissolved carbon dioxide gas (pCO2) in low-oxygen zones will rise much higher than previously thought. This could have significant consequences for marine life in these zones.

…Currently, deep-sea life is threatened by a combination of increasing carbon dioxide and decreasing oxygen concentrations. The amount of dissolved carbon dioxide is increasing because the oceans are taking up more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. At the same time, ocean surface waters are warming and becoming more stable, which allows less oxygen to be carried from the surface down into the depths.

In trying to quantify the impacts of this "double whammy" on marine organisms, Brewer and Peltzer came up with the concept of a "respiration index." This index is based on the ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide gas in a given sample of seawater. The lower the respiration index, the harder it is for marine animals to respire….

A new study by marine chemists at MBARI suggests that deep-ocean animals such as this owlfish (Bathylagus milleri) may suffer as carbon dioxide increases and oxygen concentrations decline in the deep sea. Image: © 2001 MBARI

1 comment:

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