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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hypoxia (environmental),Bog chemistry, Oxygen depletion,phytoplankton blooms

Hypoxia or oxygen depletion is a phenomenon that occurs in aquatic environments as dissolved oxygen (DO; molecular oxygen dissolved in the water) becomes reduced in concentration to a point detrimental to aquatic organisms living in the system. Dissolved oxygen is typically expressed as a percentage of the oxygen that would dissolve in the water at the prevailing temperature and salinity (both of which affect the solubility of oxygen in water; see oxygen saturation and underwater). An aquatic system lacking dissolved oxygen (0% saturation) is termed anaerobic, reducing, or anoxic; a system with low DO concentration—in the range between 1 and 30% DO saturation—is called hypoxic. Most fish cannot live below 30% DO saturation. A "healthy" aquatic environment should seldom experience DO less than 80%.

Causes of hypoxia

Oxygen depletion can be the result of a number of factors including natural ones, but is of most concern as a consequence of pollution and eutrophication in which plant nutrients enter a river, lake, or ocean, phytoplankton blooms are encouraged. While phytoplankton, through photosynthesis, will raise DO saturation during daylight hours, the dense population of a bloom reduces DO saturation during the night by respiration. When phytoplankton cells die, they sink towards the bottom and are decomposed by bacteria, a process that further reduces DO in the water column. If oxygen depletion progresses to hypoxia, fish kills can occur and invertebrates like worms and clams on the bottom may be killed as well.
Still frame from an underwater video of the sea floor. The floor is covered with crabs, fish, and clams apparently dead or dying from oxygen depletion.

Natural occurrences of hypoxia have been observed. Water flowing from a river into the sea is less dense than salt water. When this water does not mix with the underlying saline water, the oxygen concentration in the bottom layer may become low enough for hypoxia to occur. Hypoxia is particularly problematic in shallow waters of semi-enclosed bodies of water like the Waddenzee or the Gulf of Mexico where land runoff is substantial. In these areas, a so-called "dead zone" can be created. The World Resources Institute has identified 375 hypoxic coastal zones around the world, concentrated in coastal areas in Western Europe, the Eastern and Southern coasts of the US, and East Asia, particularly in Japan.
Jubilee photo from Mobile Bay

Hypoxia may also be the explanation for periodic phenomena such as the Mobile Bay jubilee, where aquatic life suddenly rushes to the shallows, perhaps trying to escape oxygen-depleted water. Recent widespread shellfish kills near the coasts of Oregon and Washington are also blamed on cyclic dead zone ecology.


To combat hypoxia, it is essential to reduce the amount of land-derived nutrients reaching rivers in runoff. Defensively this can be done by improving sewage treatment and by reducing the amount of fertilizers leaching into the rivers. Offensively this can be done by restoring natural environments along a river; marshes are particularly effective in reducing the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen (nutrients) in water.

Technological solutions are also possible, such as that used in the redeveloped Salford Docks area of the Manchester Ship Canal in England, where years of runoff from sewers and roads had accumulated in the slow running waters. In 2001 a compressed air injection system was introduced, which raised the oxygen levels in the water by up to 300%. The resulting improvement in water quality led to an increase in the number of invertebrate species, such as freshwater shrimp, to more than 30. Spawning and growth rates of fish species such as roach and perch also increased to such an extent that they are now amongst the highest in England.
Graphs of oxygen and salinity levels at Kiel Fjord in September 1998.

In a very short time the oxygen saturation can drop to zero when offshore blowing winds drive surface water out and anoxic depthwater rises up. At the same time a decline in temperature and a rise in salinity is observed (from the longterm ecological observatory in the seas at Kiel Fjord, Germany). New approaches of long-term monitoring of oxygen regime in the ocean observe online the behavior of fish and zooplankton, which changes drastically under reduced oxygen saturations (ecoSCOPE) and already at very low levels of water pollution.

Bog chemistry

In certain northern European sphagnum acidic bogs, a condition of hypoxia arises that prevents tissue decay by impeding micro-organisms in the soil and groundwater. Remarkable preservation of human mummies has occurred in some cases such as the discovery of Haraldskær Woman and Tollund Man in Jutland, Denmark and Lindow man in Cheshire, England.

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