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Oxygen Minimum Zones (OMZs) in the Modern Ocean,

Paulmier A., Ruiz-Pino D.,

Progress in Oceanography, 10.1016/j.pocean.2008.08.001

 

 

In the modern ocean, oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) are potential traces of a primitive ocean in which Archean bacteria lived and reduced chemical anomalies occurred. But OMZs are also keys to understanding the present unbalanced nitrogen cycle and the oceans' role on atmospheric greenhouse control. OMZs are the main areas of nitrogen loss (as N2, N2O) to the atmosphere through denitrification and anammox, and could even indirectly mitigate the oceanic biological sequestration of CO2. It was recently hypothesized that OMZs are going to spread in the coming decades as a consequence of global climate change. Despite an important OMZ role for the origin of marine life and for the biogeochemical cycles of carbon and nitrogen, there are some key questions on the structure of OMZs at a global scale. There is no agreement concerning the threshold in oxygen that defines an OMZ, and the extent of an OMZ is often evaluated by denitrification criteria which, at the same time, are O2-dependent.

Our work deals with the identification of each OMZ, the evaluation of its extent, volume and vertical structure, the determination of its seasonality or permanence and the comparison between OMZs and denitrification zones at a global scale. The co-existence in the OMZ of oxic (in its boundaries) and suboxic (even anoxic, in its core) conditions involves rather complex biogeochemical processes such as strong remineralization of the organic matter, removal of nitrate and release of nitrite. The quantitative OMZ analysis is focused on taking into account the whole water volume under the influence of an OMZ and adapted to the study of the specific low oxygen biogeochemical processes.

A characterization of the entire structure for the main and most intense OMZs (O2 < 20 µM reaching 1 µM in the core) is proposed based on a previously published CRIO criterion from the eastern South Pacific OMZ and including a large range of O2 concentrations. Using the updated global WOA2005 O2 climatology, the four known tropical OMZs in the open ocean have been described: the Eastern South Pacific and Eastern Tropical North Pacific, in the Pacific Ocean; the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, the Eastern Sub-Tropical North Pacific (25-52°N) has been identified as a lesser known permanent deep OMZ. Two additional seasonal OMZs at high latitude have also been identified: the West Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. The total surface of the permanent OMZs is 30.4 millions of km² (~8% of the total oceanic area), and the volume of the OMZ cores (10.3 millions of km³) corresponds to a value ~7 times higher than previous evaluations. The volume of the OMZ cores is about three times larger than that of the associated denitrification zone, here defined as NMZ (ânitrate deficit or NDEF > 10 µM' maximum zone). The larger OMZ, relative to the extent of denitrification zone, suggests that the unbalanced nitrogen cycle on the global scale could be more intense than previously recognized and that evaluation of the OMZ from denitrification could underestimate their extent.

 

 

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