Oceans on the edge of anoxia
For the past several hundred million years, oxygen concentrations in Earth's atmosphere have been comparatively high (1, 2). Yet, the oceans seem never to have been far from anoxia (oxygen depletion) and have occasionally suffered major oceanic anoxic events (OAEs), recognized in the rock record through accumulations of dark, organic-rich shales (3). OAEs seem to be promoted by warm climates, and some have been associated with major environmental crises and global-scale disturbances in the carbon cycle. New insights into the causes of OAEs are now emerging (4, 5). Furthermore, ocean oxygen concentrations are declining in the modern ocean (6). A full-scale OAE would take thousands of years to develop, but some of today's processes are reminiscent of those thought to have promoted OAEs in the distant past."
Bottom trawling and oxygen minimum zone influences on continental slope benthic community structure off Vancouver Island (NE Pacific)
"Understanding responses of benthic ecosystems to cumulative impacts of natural stressors, long-term ocean change and increasing resource exploitation is an emerging area of interest for marine ecologists and environmental managers. Few, if any, studies have quantitatively addressed cumulative effects in the deep sea. We report here on a study from the continental slope off Vancouver Island (Canada) in the northeast Pacific Ocean, where the Oxygen Minimum Zone impinges on seabed habitats that are subjected to widespread bottom trawling, primarily by the fishery for thornyhead (Sebastolobus ssp.). We examined how the benthic megafauna in this area was influenced by varying levels of dissolved oxygen and trawling activity, along a depth gradient that was also likely to shape community composition. [...] "
Decline in global oceanic oxygen content during the past five decades
"Ocean models predict a decline in the dissolved oxygen inventory of the global ocean of one to seven per cent by the year 2100, caused by a combination of a warming-induced decline in oxygen solubility and reduced ventilation of the deep ocean. It is thought that such a decline in the oceanic oxygen content could affect ocean nutrient cycles and the marine habitat, with potentially detrimental consequences for fisheries and coastal economies. [...]"
Scientists have just detected a major change to the Earth’s oceans linked to a warming climate
"A large research synthesis, published in one of the world’s most influential scientific journals, has detected a decline in the amount of dissolved oxygen in oceans around the world — a long-predicted result of climate change that could have severe consequences for marine organisms if it continues."
Hypoxia causes preservation of labile organic matter and changes seafloor microbial community composition (Black Sea)
Bottom-water oxygen supply is a key factor governing the biogeochemistry and community composition of marine sediments. Whether it also determines carbon burial rates remains controversial. We investigated the effect of varying oxygen concentrations (170 to 0 μM O2) on microbial remineralization of organic matter in seafloor sediments and on community diversity of the northwestern Crimean shelf break. This study shows that 50% more organic matter is preserved in surface sediments exposed to hypoxia compared to oxic bottom waters. Hypoxic conditions inhibit bioturbation and decreased remineralization rates even within short periods of a few days. These conditions led to the accumulation of threefold more phytodetritus pigments within 40 years compared to the oxic zone. Bacterial community structure also differed between oxic, hypoxic, and anoxic zones. Functional groups relevant in the degradation of particulate organic matter, such as Flavobacteriia, Gammaproteobacteria, and Deltaproteobacteria, changed with decreasing oxygenation, and the microbial community of the hypoxic zone took longer to degrade similar amounts of deposited reactive matter. We conclude that hypoxic bottom-water conditions—even on short time scales—substantially increase the preservation potential of organic matter because of the negative effects on benthic fauna and particle mixing and by favoring anaerobic processes, including sulfurization of matter.
Low bottom-water oxygen leads to more organic matter ending up on the seafloor
Periodic oscillations of bottom-water oxygen concentrations can alter benthic communities and carbon storage for decades, reveals a new study published in Science Advances. This is particularly relevant as low oxygen conditions are on the rise in the world's oceans.
Periodic hypoxia in the deep sea with long-term consequences
Low bottom-water oxygen leads to more organic matter ending up on the seafloor
Periodic oscillations of bottom-water oxygen concentrations can alter benthic communities and carbon storage for decades, reveals a new study published in Science Advances. This is particularly relevant as low oxygen conditions are on the rise in the world’s oceans.
Redox chemistry changes in the Panthalassic Ocean linked to the end-Permian mass extinction and delayed Early Triassic biotic recovery
The end-Permian mass extinction represents the most severe biotic crisis for the last 540 million years, and the marine ecosystem recovery from this extinction was protracted, spanning the entirety of the Early Triassic and possibly longer. Numerous studies from the low-latitude Paleotethys and high-latitude Boreal oceans have examined the possible link between ocean chemistry changes and the end-Permian mass extinction. However, redox chemistry changes in the Panthalassic Ocean, comprising ∼85–90% of the global ocean area, remain under debate. Here, we report multiple S-isotopic data of pyrite from Upper Permian–Lower Triassic deep-sea sediments of the Panthalassic Ocean, now present in outcrops of western Canada and Japan. [...]
Metagenomic Binning Recovers a Transcriptionally Active Gammaproteobacterium Linking Methanotrophy to Partial Denitrification in an Anoxic OMZ
Diverse planktonic microorganisms play a crucial role in mediating methane flux from the ocean to the atmosphere. The distribution and composition of the marine methanotroph community is determined partly by oxygen availability. The low oxygen conditions of oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) may select for methanotrophs that oxidize methane using inorganic nitrogen compounds (e.g., nitrate, nitrite) in place of oxygen. However, environmental evidence for methane-nitrogen linkages in OMZs remains sparse, as does our knowledge of the genomic content and metabolic capacity of organisms catalyzing OMZ methane oxidation. Here, binning of metagenome sequences from a coastal anoxic OMZ recovered the first near complete (95%) draft genome representing the methanotroph clade OPU3. Phylogenetic reconstruction of concatenated single copy marker genes confirmed the OPU3-like bacterium as a divergent member of the type Ia methanotrophs, with an estimated genome size half that of other sequenced taxa in this group. The proportional abundance of this bacterium peaked at 4% of the total microbial community at the top of the anoxic zone in areas of nitrite and nitrate availability but low methane concentrations. Genes mediating dissimilatory nitrate and nitrite reduction were identified in the OPU3 genome, and transcribed in conjunction with key enzymes catalyzing methane oxidation to formaldehyde and the ribulose monophosphate (RuMP) pathway for formaldehyde assimilation, suggesting partial denitrification linked to methane oxidation. Together, these data provide the first field-based evidence for methanotrophic partial denitrification by the OPU3 cluster under anoxic conditions, supporting a role for OMZs as key sites in pelagic methane turnover.
N2 production rates limited by nitrite availability in the Bay of Bengal oxygen minimum zone
A third or more of the fixed nitrogen lost from the oceans as N2 is removed by anaerobic microbial processes in open ocean oxygen minimum zones. These zones have expanded over the past decades, and further anthropogenically induced expansion could accelerate nitrogen loss. However, in the Bay of Bengal there has been no indication of nitrogen loss, although oxygen levels are below the detection level of conventional methods (1 to 2 μM). Here we quantify the abundance of microbial genes associated with N2 production, measure nitrogen transformations in incubations of sampled seawater with isotopically labelled nitrogen compounds and analyse geochemical signatures of these processes in the water column. We find that the Bay of Bengal supports denitrifier and anammox microbial populations, mediating low, but significant N loss. Yet, unlike other oxygen minimum zones, our measurements using a highly sensitive oxygen sensor demonstrate that the Bay of Bengal has persistent concentrations of oxygen in the 10 to 200 nM range. We propose that this oxygen supports nitrite oxidation, thereby restricting the nitrite available for anammox or denitrification. If these traces of oxygen were removed, nitrogen loss in the Bay of Bengal oxygen minimum zone waters could accelerate to global significance.