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Unicellular organisms contribute more nitrogen to ocean that reported earlier

cting more detailed nitrogen-fixation rate measurements, the researchers will conduct manipulation experiments to determine if phosphorus, iron or some other environmental factor is playing a role in determining the abundance, distribution and activity of these unicells, Montoya explained.

In the South Pacific, Montoya expects to find high rates of nitrogen fixation by unicells, he said. Their measurements already taken in the marginal waters of the South Pacific off the coast of northern Australia yielded the highest recorded rates of nitrogen fixation by unicells to date.

There are still numerous regions of nutrient-poor oceans typically off the continental shelves from the equator north and south to about 40 degrees latitude about which little or nothing is known in regard to unicellular nitrogen-fixing organisms, Montoya noted. "We are still at a very early stage in understanding ocean science and how things work in these enormous pieces of the ocean," he added.

But the researchers anticipate finding that unicells have an even greater impact than they have already discovered. "We haven't even done the measurements yet for the Atlantic and South Pacific oceans, so in aggregate, unicells might account for an even more substantial fraction of the global new production," Montoya said.

Overall, this research effort is increasing scientists' understanding of the fertility of the ocean. "This group of tiny, photosynthetic organisms, whose contribution to the fertility of the ocean is significant, appears to play a critical role in driving the movement of elements through the ocean both in the upper layer of the water and from the atmosphere into the ocean," Montoya added.


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Contact: Jane Sanders
jane.sanders@edi.gatech.edu
404-894-2214
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
25-Aug-2004


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