Researchers from Incheon National University in South Korea have investigated how climate change drivers reshape ocean methane and nitrous oxide cycles – and have found that greenhouse gases in oceans are altered by climate change’s impact on microbes.
The researchers highlight that the ocean is a global life-support system, and climate change causes such as ocean warming, acidification, deoxygenation and nitrogen deposition alter the delicate microbial population in oceans. The marine microbial community plays an important role in the production of greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and methane.
The ocean absorbs most of the carbon emissions and heat trapped in the atmosphere which are a result of human activities. Over the years, this has led to ocean warming (OW), ocean acidification (OA) and ocean deoxygenation (OD). Moreover, increased anthropogenic nitrogen deposition has also influenced marine environments. The gases nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) are largely controlled by ‘prokaryotes’, or microbial organisms, living in the ocean. While several studies have analyzed these processes in detail, their concurrent impact on ocean ecosystems has not been investigated.
In the Incheon National University’s study, a team of researchers led by Prof. Il-Nam Kim, associate professor of Marine Science at Incheon National University, evaluated the prokaryotic population changes and metabolic modifications due to the concurrent impact of OW, OA, OD and across the Western North Pacific Ocean. Their findings were published online in Volume 196 of in Marine Pollution Bulletin on November 1, 2023.
“Climate change leads to marine environmental changes and this study can enhance our understanding of their impact on human life,” Prof. Kim said. The authors simultaneously studied the effects of climate change across the surface layer (SL), intermediate layer (IL) and deep layer (DL) of the ocean. The microbial community and their functional potential in regulating the N2O and CH4 cycles were evaluated using biogeochemical analysis and microbial genome sequencing.
The results indicated that prokaryotes from SL to DL are closely associated with climate change drivers. During the long term, the sensitive marine ecosystem in WNPO can be adversely affected by an increase in N2O production with subsequent pH alteration, ultimately increasing CH4 emissions.
These findings deviate from the currently assumed potential of prokaryotes and biogeochemical processes related to climate change. It also realigns the focus on how climate change affects the open ocean ecosystem. Dr Kim concluded, “This research will contribute to raising the awareness about the severity of climate change and the importance of the ocean resources.”
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