Oxygen Is Disappearing From The World Oceans

Posted: Jan 5 2018, 2:13pm CST | by , Updated: Jan 5 2018, 2:20pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Oxygen is Disappearing from the World Oceans
Credit: GO2NE working group.

Data reveals that low-oxygen and no-oxygen sites in oceans have increased in size and number since 1950

Oceans across the globe are rapidly losing oxygen, a new analysis reveals.

Since 1950, oxygen concentrations in both the open ocean and coastal waters continue to decline. Precisely, open ocean regions with zero oxygen has gone up more than fourfold while low-oxygen sites in coastal water bodies have increased more than 10-fold in the past 50 years. Scientists suspect that oxygen will drop even in other parts of the oceans as global temperatures begin to climb.

"Oxygen is fundamental to life in the oceans," said Denise Breitburg, lead author and marine ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. "The decline in ocean oxygen ranks among the most serious effects of human activities on the Earth's environment."

Loss of oxygen in the ocean is a serious consequence of warming atmosphere and it poses a major threat to marine life. A warming climate gradually soaks up a large amount of oxygen from oceans, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe and eventually die. Not only does warming surface water holds less oxygen but it also make it harder for oxygen to reach deeper into the ocean.

For instance, the levels of oxygen in “dead zones” of Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico have reduced to such extent that many animals have suffocated and died. When fish avoid these dead zones and move to other regions, they become more vulnerable to predators or fishing as a result of habitat change. Moreover, decline in oxygen can stunt growth in animals, hinder reproduction and lead to disease or death.

"Approximately half of the oxygen on Earth comes from the ocean," said Vladimir Ryabinin, executive secretary of the International Oceanographic Commission. "However, combined effects of nutrient loading and climate change are greatly increasing the number and size of 'dead zones' in the open ocean and coastal waters, where oxygen is too low to support most marine life."

The new study not only looks at the causes and consequences of low oxygen worldwide but also provides solution to the problem. Researchers believe that the world needs to rein in both climate change and nutrient pollution in order to halt this decline. Howevere, neither issue is simple or easy to tackle.

“Halting climate change requires a global effort, but even local actions can help with nutrient-driven oxygen decline." said Breitburg.

"Tackling climate change may seem more daunting. But doing it is critical for stemming the decline of oxygen in our oceans, and for nearly every aspect of life on our planet."

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