Milky, turquoise-colored "dead zones," some as large as the U.S. State of New Jersey, that are appearing repeatedly off the coast of southwest Africa, may be a sign of things to come for other areas of the coastlines of the eastern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Toxic gas eruptions, bubbling up from the ocean floor, kill sea life, annoy human seaside residents, and may even intensify global warming. But the simple sardine may save the day, according to a study from the Pew Institute for Ocean Science.
In an article published in the November issue of Ecology Letters, authors Andrew Bakun and Scarla Weeks compare several areas around the world where strong offshore winds cause an upwelling of nutrients in the ocean and thus a population explosion of phytoplankton, the microscopic plant life that drifts through the ocean. Studying the waters off the coast of Namibia, the scientists found the resulting overproduction of phytoplankton died and sank to the bottom, and the decaying organic matter released copious amounts of methane and poisonous "rotten egg" smelling hydrogen sulfide gas.
As methane is 21 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, the resulting climate change may intensify this upwelling process and the possibility of even larger and more plentiful eruptions.
One key that may keep this situation from worsening, the authors say, is to prevent the overfishing of sardines, which can devour large quantities of phytoplankton.
"The region in question formerly hosted a large population of sardines that have been overfished," says Bakun, a member of the Pew Institute and professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "It is at least encouraging that a minor resurgence of sardine abundance coincided with a noticeable temporary hiatus in eruption frequency off Namibia in 2002."
Bakun and Weeks also warn that the arePage: 1 2 Related biology news :1
Contact: Lynne Miller
Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
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