Fleeting dead zones can muck with seafloor life for decades | Science News

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Fleeting dead zones can muck with seafloor life for decades

Effects of low-oxygen conditions could offset some human-caused warming, but at a price

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3:06pm, February 10, 2017
Black Sea

SUFFOCATING SEA  The effects of low-oxygen conditions on seafloor communities linger even when oxygen returns, suggests a new study comparing oxygen and ecological activity in the Black Sea (shown).

Short bouts of suffocating conditions can desolate swaths of seafloor for decades, new research suggests. That devastation could spread in the future, as rising temperatures and agricultural runoff enlarge oxygen-poor dead zones in the world’s oceans.

Monitoring sections of the Black Sea, researchers discovered that even days-long periods of low oxygen drove out animals and altered microbial communities. Those ecosystem changes slow decomposition that normally recycles plant and animal matter back into the ecosystem after organisms die, resulting in more organic matter accumulating in seafloor sediments, the researchers report February 10 in Science Advances.

Carbon is included among that organic matter. Over a long enough period of time, the increased carbon burial could help offset a small fraction of carbon emitted by human activities such as fossil fuel burning, says study coauthor Antje

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