Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ocean acidification changes nitrogen cycling in world seas

Terra Daily: Increasing acidity in the sea's waters may fundamentally change how nitrogen is cycled in them, say marine scientists who published their findings in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients in the oceans. All organisms, from tiny microbes to blue whales, use nitrogen to make proteins and other important compounds.

… "Ocean acidification will have widespread effects on marine ecosystems, but most of those effects are still unknown," says David Garrison, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Biological Oceanography Program, which funded the research along with NSF's Chemical Oceanography Program.

"This report that ocean acidification decreases nitrification (the amount of nitrogen) is extremely important," says Garrison, "because of the crucial role of the nitrogen cycle in biogeochemical processes-processes that take place throughout the oceans." Very little is known about how ocean acidification may affect critical microbial groups like the ammonia oxidizers, "key players in the ocean's nitrogen cycle," says Michael Beman of the University of Hawaii and lead author of the PNAS paper.

…Oceanic nitrification is a major natural component of production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. From the seas, nitrous oxide then enters the atmosphere, says Beman. "All else being equal, decreases in nitrification rates therefore have the potential to reduce nitrous oxide emissions to the atmosphere."…

The Sargasso Sea, shot by NOAA

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