Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Dead zone


The combined effects of anthropogenic and biological CO2 inputs may lead to more rapid acidification in coastal waters compared to the open ocean. It is less clear, however, how redox reactions would contribute to acidification. Here we report estuarine acidification dynamics based on oxygen, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), pH, dissolved inorganic carbon and total alkalinity data from the Chesapeake Bay, where anthropogenic nutrient inputs have led to eutrophication, hypoxia and anoxia, and low pH. We show that a pH minimum occurs in mid-depths where acids are generated as a result of H2S oxidation in waters mixed upward from the anoxic depths. Our analyses also suggest a large synergistic effect from river-ocean mixing, global and local atmospheric CO2 uptake, and CO2 and acid production from respiration and other redox reactions. Together they lead to a poor acid buffering capacity, severe acidification and increased carbonate mineral dissolution in the USA’s largest estuary.The potential contribution of redox reactions to acidification in coastal waters is unclear. Here, using measurements from the Chesapeake Bay, the authors show that pH minimum occurs at mid-depths where acids are produced via hydrogen sulfide oxidation in waters mixed upward from anoxic depths.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Acid, Hydrogen, Carbon, PH, Base, Dead zone


This study uses a multidisciplinary approach to simulate the spatial and temporal patterns of hydrodynamics and water quality in a thermally stratified reservoir in the southern side of the Mediterranean Sea in response to water withdrawal elevation using the 2D water quality and laterally averaged hydrodynamic model CE-QUAL-W2. The withdrawal elevation controls largely the transfer of heat and constituents in the dam in particular during thermal stratification. Fifteen scenarios of withdrawal elevation are possible. To identify the most effective scenarios, a hierarchical clustering technique was performed and only four scenarios were clustered. Deep withdrawals deepen the hypoxia, increase the thickness of the metalimnion, and weaken the stratification stability, which facilitate the vertical transfer of heat and dissolved oxygen mainly. Surface withdrawals, however, shrink the metalimnion and tend to strengthen the stratification, resulting in less transfer of matter from the epilimnion to the hypolimnion. Most of the bottom sediment is overlaid by the hypolimnion. The oxygen depletes significantly and waters become anoxic at a few meters depth. For all scenarios, the reservoir experiences a summer hypolimnetic anoxia, which lasts from 42 to 80 days and seems to decrease as withdrawal elevation increases. At the end of stratification, waters below the withdrawal elevation showed a noticeable release of iron, nutrients, and suspended sediments that increases with depth and near-bottom turbulence. Attention should be drawn to shallower withdrawals because they accumulate nutrients and silts continuously in the reservoir, which may deteriorate water quality. Based on these results, a withdrawal elevation rule is presented. This rule may be adjusted to optimize water withdrawal elevation for dams in the region with similar geometry.

Concepts: Oxygen, Water, Fluid dynamics, Mediterranean Sea, Water pollution, Heat, Dam, Dead zone


Marine regions that have seasonal to long-term low dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations, sometimes called “dead zones,” are increasing in number and severity around the globe with deleterious effects on ecology and economics. One of the largest of these coastal dead zones occurs on the continental shelf of the northern Gulf of Mexico (nGOM), which results from eutrophication-enhanced bacterioplankton respiration and strong seasonal stratification. Previous research in this dead zone revealed the presence of multiple cosmopolitan bacterioplankton lineages that have eluded cultivation, and thus their metabolic roles in this ecosystem remain unknown. We used a coupled shotgun metagenomic and metatranscriptomic approach to determine the metabolic potential of Marine Group II Euryarchaeota, SAR406, and SAR202. We recovered multiple high-quality, nearly complete genomes from all three groups as well as candidate phyla usually associated with anoxic environments-Parcubacteria (OD1) and Peregrinibacteria Two additional groups with putative assignments to ACD39 and PAUC34f supplement the metabolic contributions by uncultivated taxa. Our results indicate active metabolism in all groups, including prevalent aerobic respiration, with concurrent expression of genes for nitrate reduction in SAR406 and SAR202, and dissimilatory nitrite reduction to ammonia and sulfur reduction by SAR406. We also report a variety of active heterotrophic carbon processing mechanisms, including degradation of complex carbohydrate compounds by SAR406, SAR202, ACD39, and PAUC34f. Together, these data help constrain the metabolic contributions from uncultivated groups in the nGOM during periods of low DO and suggest roles for these organisms in the breakdown of complex organic matter.IMPORTANCE Dead zones receive their name primarily from the reduction of eukaryotic macrobiota (demersal fish, shrimp, etc.) that are also key coastal fisheries. Excess nutrients contributed from anthropogenic activity such as fertilizer runoff result in algal blooms and therefore ample new carbon for aerobic microbial metabolism. Combined with strong stratification, microbial respiration reduces oxygen in shelf bottom waters to levels unfit for many animals (termed hypoxia). The nGOM shelf remains one of the largest eutrophication-driven hypoxic zones in the world, yet despite its potential as a model study system, the microbial metabolisms underlying and resulting from this phenomenon-many of which occur in bacterioplankton from poorly understood lineages-have received only preliminary study. Our work details the metabolic potential and gene expression activity for uncultivated lineages across several low DO sites in the nGOM, improving our understanding of the active biogeochemical cycling mediated by these “microbial dark matter” taxa during hypoxia.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Bacteria, Metabolism, Organism, Cellular respiration, Algal bloom, Dead zone


Measurements show that anaerobic ammonium oxidation with nitrite (anammox) is a major pathway of fixed nitrogen removal in the anoxic zones of the open ocean. Anammox requires a source of ammonium, which under anoxic conditions could be supplied by the breakdown of sinking organic matter via heterotrophic denitrification. However, at many locations where anammox is measured, denitrification rates are small or undetectable. Alternative sources of ammonium have been proposed to explain this paradox, for example through dissimilatory reduction of nitrate to ammonium and transport from anoxic sediments. However, the relevance of these sources in open-ocean anoxic zones is debated. Here, we bring to attention an additional source of ammonium, namely, the daytime excretion by zooplankton and micronekton migrating from the surface to anoxic waters. We use a synthesis of acoustic data to show that, where anoxic waters occur within the water column, most migrators spend the daytime within them. Although migrators export only a small fraction of primary production from the surface, they focus excretion within a confined depth range of anoxic water where particle input is small. Using a simple biogeochemical model, we suggest that, at those depths, the source of ammonium from organisms undergoing diel vertical migrations could exceed the release from particle remineralization, enhancing in situ anammox rates. The contribution of this previously overlooked process, and the numerous uncertainties surrounding it, call for further efforts to evaluate the role of animals in oxygen minimum zone biogeochemistry.

Concepts: Redox, Nitrogen, Aquatic ecology, Denitrification, Chemical oceanography, Dead zone, Anoxic event, Anoxic waters


After oil spills and dispersant applications the formation of red tides or harmful algal blooms (HABs) has been observed, which can cause additional negative impacts in areas affected by oil spills. However, the link between oil spills and HABs is still unknown. Here, we present experimental evidence that demonstrates a connection between oil spills and HABs. We determined the effects of oil, dispersant-treated oil and dispersant alone on the structure of natural plankton assemblages in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. In coastal waters, large tintinnids and oligotrich ciliates, major grazers of phytoplankton, were negatively affected by the exposure to oil and dispersant, whereas bloom-forming dinoflagellates (Prorocentrum texanum, P. triestinum and Scrippsiella trochoidea) notably increased their concentration. The removal of key grazers due to oil and dispersant disrupts the predator-prey controls (“top-down controls”) that normally function in plankton food webs. This disruption of grazing pressure opens a “loophole” that allows certain dinoflagellates with higher tolerance to oil and dispersants than their grazers to grow and form blooms when there are not growth limiting factors (e.g. nutrients). Therefore, oil spills and dispersants can act as disrupters of predator-prey controls in plankton food webs and as indirect inducers of potentially harmful dinoflagellate blooms.

Concepts: Algae, Algal bloom, Phytoplankton, Dinoflagellate, Ciliate, Paralytic shellfish poisoning, Dead zone, Ciguatera


The nature of emerging patterns concerning water quality stressors and the evolution of hypoxia within sub-estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay has been an important unresolved question among the Chesapeake Bay community. Elucidation of the nature of hypoxia in the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay has important ramifications to the successful restoration of the Bay, since much of Bay states population lives within the watersheds of the tributaries. Very little to date, is known about the small sub-estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay due to limited resources and the difficulties in resolving both space and time dimensions on scales that are adequate to resolve this question. We resolve the spatio-temporal domain dilemma by setting up an intense monitoring program of water quality stressors in the Severn and South Rivers, MD. Volume rendered models were constructed to allow for a visual dissection of the water quality times series which illustrates the life cycle of hypoxia and anoxia at the mid to upper portions of the tidal tributaries. The model also shows that unlike their larger Virginian tributary counterparts, there is little to no evidence of severe hypoxic water intrusions from the main-stem of the Chesapeake Bay into these sub-estuaries.

Concepts: Estuary, Stream, Maryland, Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, Turbidity, Dead zone, River Severn


A seasonally occurring summer hypoxic (low oxygen) zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico is the second largest in the world. Reductions in nutrients from agricultural cropland in its watershed are needed to reduce the hypoxic zone size to the national policy goal of 5,000 km(2) (as a 5-y running average) set by the national Gulf of Mexico Task Force’s Action Plan. We develop an integrated assessment model linking the water quality effects of cropland conservation investment decisions on the more than 550 agricultural subwatersheds that deliver nutrients into the Gulf with a hypoxic zone model. We use this integrated assessment model to identify the most cost-effective subwatersheds to target for cropland conservation investments. We consider targeting of the location (which subwatersheds to treat) and the extent of conservation investment to undertake (how much cropland within a subwatershed to treat). We use process models to simulate the dynamics of the effects of cropland conservation investments on nutrient delivery to the Gulf and use an evolutionary algorithm to solve the optimization problem. Model results suggest that by targeting cropland conservation investments to the most cost-effective location and extent of coverage, the Action Plan goal of 5,000 km(2) can be achieved at a cost of $2.7 billion annually. A large set of cost-hypoxia tradeoffs is developed, ranging from the baseline to the nontargeted adoption of the most aggressive cropland conservation investments in all subwatersheds (estimated to reduce the hypoxic zone to less than 3,000 km(2) at a cost of $5.6 billion annually).

Concepts: Evolution, Ecology, Eutrophication, Water pollution, Nitrogen, Mexico, Gulf of Mexico, Dead zone


There are increasing concerns about the impact of worsened physical condition on hypoxia in a variety of coastal systems, especially considering the influence of changing climate. In this study, an EOF analysis of the DO data for 1985-2012, a long-term numerical simulation of vertical exchange, and statistical analysis were applied to understand the underlying mechanisms for the variation of DO condition in Chesapeake Bay. Three types of analysis consistently demonstrated that both biological and physical conditions contribute equally to seasonal and interannual variations of the hypoxic condition in Chesapeake Bay. We found the physical condition (vertical exchange+temperature) determines the spatial and seasonal pattern of the hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay. The EOF analysis showed that the first mode, which was highly related to the physical forcings and correlated with the summer hypoxia volume, can be well explained by seasonal and interannual variations of physical variables and biological activities, while the second mode is significantly correlated with the estuarine circulation and river discharge. The weakened vertical exchange and increased water temperature since the 1980s demonstrated a worsened physical condition over the past few decades. Under changing climate (e.g., warming, accelerated sea-level rise, altered precipitation and wind patterns), Chesapeake Bay is likely to experience a worsened physical condition, which will amplify the negative impact of anthropogenic inputs on eutrophication and consequently require more efforts for nutrient reduction to improve the water quality condition in Chesapeake Bay.

Concepts: Water, Climate, Water pollution, Climate change, Estuary, Global warming, Chesapeake Bay, Dead zone


Multicellular tumor spheroids models are of increasing interest in preclinical studies and pharmacological evaluation. However, their storage and transport is often a limitation because it requires adapted and expensive procedures. Here, we propose a very simple method to store 3D spheroids, using a procedure based on oxygen absorber-induced anoxia. We report that oxygen absorbers allow generating an anoxic environment for spheroid storage in culture plates. Oxygen absorber-induced anoxia fully and reversibly arrests spheroid growth for 4 days at 37°C and up to 18 days at 4°C. We then show that the response to etoposide is comparable in spheroids preserved in conditions of absorber-induced anoxia at 4°C and spheroids kept in normoxia at 37°C. These results represent a major improvement that should simplify the storage, transport and use of 3D spheroids.

Concepts: Pre-clinical development, Method, Storage, Arrest, Spheroid, Dead zone, Law enforcement agency powers, Anoxia


The Florida red tide dinoflagellate, Karenia brevis, is the major harmful algal bloom dinoflagellate of the Gulf of Mexico and plays a destructive role in the region. Blooms of K. brevis can produce brevetoxins: ladder-shaped polyether (LSP) compounds, which can lead to adverse human health effects, such as reduced respiratory function through inhalation exposure, or neurotoxic shellfish poisoning through consumption of contaminated shellfish. The endogenous role of the brevetoxins remains uncertain. Recent work has shown that some forms of NADPH dependent thioredoxin reductase (NTR) are inhibited by brevetoxin-2 (PbTx-2). The study presented herein reveals that high toxin and low toxin K. brevis, which have a ten-fold difference in toxin content, also show a significant difference in their ability, not only to produce brevetoxin, but also in their cellular redox status and distribution of xanthophyll cycle pigments. These differences are likely due to the inhibition of NTR by brevetoxin. The work could shed light on the physiological role that brevetoxin fills for K. brevis.

Concepts: Algae, Algal bloom, Karenia brevis, Brevetoxin, Dinoflagellate, Cyanotoxin, Paralytic shellfish poisoning, Dead zone