Dear EarthTalk: What are these "ocean deserts" I've been hearing about? Also didn't I read that there was a huge mass of plastic bottles floating around somewhere on the ocean surface?
-- Wally Mattson, Eugene, OR
So-called "ocean deserts" or "dead zones" are oxygen-starved (or "hypoxic") areas of the ocean. They can occur naturally, or be caused by an excess of nitrogen from agricultural fertilizers, sewage effluent and/or emissions from factories, trucks and automobiles. The nitrogen acts as a nutrient that, in turn, triggers an explosion of algae or plankton, which in turn deplete the water's oxygen.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico—where the Mississippi River dumps untold gallons of polluted water every second—has expanded to over 18,000 square kilometers in the last decade. Many other such dead zones have also undergone rapid expansion in recent years.
A recent study by German oceanographer Lothar Stramma and a team of prominent international researchers confirms this phenomenon, and also points the finger at global warming. Their data show that oxygen levels hundreds of feet below the ocean surface have declined over the past 50 years around the world, most likely a result of human activity. And as ocean waters warm due to climate change, they retain less oxygen. Furthermore, warmer upper layers of water stifle the process that brings nutrients up from colder, deeper parts of the ocean to feed a wide range of surface-dwelling marine wildlife.
The expansion of these dead zones is bad news for most marine inhabitants and the ecosystems they thrive in. Thousands of different species already stressed from over fishing and other threats, now must contend with expanding hypoxic areas throughout regions that once constituted healthy habitat.
The accumulation of plastic debris and other trash in the ocean is not necessarily related to hypoxic zones, but is yet another major problem facing the world's fragile marine ecosystems. California-based sea captain and ocean researcher Charles Moore discovered what is now known as the Eastern Garbage Patch—an aggregation of plastic and other marine debris occupying some 700,000 square kilometers in the North Pacific Ocean—during a crossing of the North Pacific in 1997. In a 2003 article in Natural History, Moore reported being astounded that he couldn't be further from land anywhere on Earth, yet he could see plastic bags and other debris coating the ocean's surface as far as the eye could see.
Individuals can help the oceans and their inhabitants by making smart daily choices that can have collective, positive impact. Lowering your carbon footprint—driving less, biking more, donning a sweater instead of turning up the heat—is one way to help stem the spread of hypoxic zones, which is directly related to industrial activity and the amount of greenhouse gases we spew into the atmosphere.
And limiting plastic and plastic bag use is the best way to prevent such litter from ending up swirling around mid-ocean. Some countries, such as China, and many large cities—San Francisco, for example—have banned plastic grocery bags. If your city hasn't yet taken this step, pressure them to do so—and in the meantime bring your own reusable bags to the market and avoid plastic wherever else you can.
Overall, this was a quite an insightful article. I throughly enjoyed reading it the first time, and found myself re-reading it several times. I had such little knowledge about this topic, and was shocked to learn that such a vast area of the Pacific Ocean was covered in garbage. Also, I was amazed that others bodies of water are slowly killing the organisms they contain within them. Great Article.
Yes, I agree that the use of plastic bags and bottles should definitely be reduced, and that think that carpooling and any other way to conserve gas and or minimize any way which has an impact on leaving a carbon-footprint should be enforced. The excess of nitrogen in oceans could potentially permanently diminish marine wildlife. This could turn into a massive world issue in society which could effect multiple aspects of marine biology and it's studies. Everyone needs to work together to administer ideas to decrease industrial activity and the amount of greenhouse gases we spew into the atmosphere.
Time will come when some of us will choose to live the simple life thus reducing our carbon footprint.
But, it is my belief that it would not be sometime soon as we have relied too much on fossil fuels for energy and other damaging products that hurt the environment.
More articles like these should make us more aware of the threat that we pose to the environment. But since most people believe that these are results of a trade-off for us becoming more "progressive", the "future" is being sacrificed for the "now".
Hopefully, somebody comes up with a "win-win" solution for us... then there should not have to be trade-offs. Hopefully...but not until it's too late.
It seems that everything these days is due to global warming, followed closely by, "most likely the result of human activity" however, as I look deeper into climate change and possible causes, it seems less and less likely that it is caused by human activity and more likely by solar activity (or more correctly, lack of solar activity).
The last time there was a lack of sunspots for as long as we've been monitoring them, it was at the beginning of the 'Little Ice Age", a period of time too early in the Industrial Revolution to have CO2 as a cause. Insofar as greenhouse gasses having an effect, the layer of the atmosphere that would trap greenhouse heat simply isn't warming up at all, further casting doubt on the anthropomorphic origin of this (possible) climate change.
Another piece of the puzzle that has come to light (but not highly publicized) is the model used to 'prove' human cause was fault-ridden and discredited. Also, the IPCC report seems not to have had the number of scientists actually signing off on that aspect as was reported; and many of those scientists have asked that their names be removed due to the heart of the report having been changed after they approved it; so that now, the released report is considerably different than what was originally presented for peer review.
Nevertheless, there is so much potential money at risk for many people to openly expose the discredited data that we are going to be coughing up vast sums of tax dollars to combat something that cannot be changed, unless someone finds a way to get the sunspot cycle to restart, that is.
Follow the money and you'll never go wrong when trying to track down political bunk; and this topic has turned into nothing but political bunk - just watch the flame this comment generates and ask yourselves, is this science or is it passion? Why on Earth would anybody believe anything that Al Gore has to say about anything intellectual or scientific? He didn't invent the internet or have anything to do with it. The internet was developed at C.E.R.N. a long time before Al Gore ever heard of it.
The ice caps melt every summer and a thousand years ago there was likely no permanent ice cap (at the north pole) at all! That was when the Vikings colonized Greenland, something that couldn't be done today without massive resupply efforts.
If the Earth is warming up then that's a good thing! It has been too cool for too long now and has been in need of re-stabilizing about (at least) 5 degrees C warmer than it has been. Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, and predicted to go on for at least another twenty, it has cooled and will continue to cool. The average temperature now is back to where it was back at the start of the twentieth century.
Even if the Earth were to heat up several degrees and the sea levels were to rise, that would not be as tragic as we are lead to believe. For one thing, the northern plains and the Steppes of Asia would become huge bread-baskets to feed the displaced people of the world. We would gain far more arable land than we'd lose; and all to the benefit of humanity.
Please, before blasting this with vitriol, do some real research on what I've written. If you do, and do it honestly, you'll see that I have.
Anthropomorphic Global Warming (AGW) is a political scam to get money and power to an elite group at the UN for world control under one-world government. That, people, would not be utopia, no matter haw desirable you might think it. Even if good-willed people initially had that control, eventually some evil-minded people would take over and then it would be all over for humanity.
Eugenics is the goal, dropping the world-wide population to under 2 billion is a target, Global warming is the means. (Why do you think you would be a survivor? More than 2 out of three people would have to go!)
Consensus is not Science, it is politics. That's the first clue that something is wrong here with AGW.
"Eugenics is the goal, dropping the world-wide population to under 2 billion is a target, Global warming is the means. (Why do you think you would be a survivor? More than 2 out of three people would have to go!)"
That's an excerpt from what you've written AWatts....
Hmm.. do you really believe in what you wrote? When every scientific breakthrough out there regarding science and medicine has a purpose of extending human lives even if they have a disease that was incurable "years" ago. If that's the case then something's definitely wrong with the way we're conducting scientific research and experiments. It seems that the view you've taken is that of "resignation" when most of us keep a positive "stance" that we could hopefully change or scientific breakthroughs will hopefully carry us thru every problem that is being caused by us either directly or indirectly.
I am sorry if I don't agree with what you've written and what I've quoted from your post. But that doesn't mean that I hate you either, just that I hope that you join us in "hoping" that all gets better if not now then soon.
As a resident of New Orleans, I can't help but point out that the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the result of corporate mismanagement of resources. Agricultural and pollution runoff from industrial conglomerates in the Northern Mississippi Valley are responsible for this problem. Add to that the damage already destroying America's wetlands perpetrated by the Oil and Gas companies who have dug shortcuts through the wetlands, causing saltwater intrusion and the death of the Mississippi River Delta, home to the spawning grounds of several endangered species including the Canadian Snow Goose. Also, the valuable storm-surge cushion which has protected the City of New Orleans from hurricane surge for centuries is gone and has been destroyed in the name of corporate profiteering. It is no wonder this "Seafood Basket" for the nation is disappearing before our eyes and no one seems to care.
The two issues concerning the health of the Delta and the North Central Gulf of Mexico are tied to one another and are combining to create an economic disaster on the scale of the garbage patch in the Pacific ocean, which is a warning from the planet, enough is enough.
Wow, now that is truly amazing. Well written article.
I remember the massive floods we had this spring, and while they were happening I was thinking about all those peoples' stuff floating down the river to the gulf, and that it was spring, and fertilizers had just been applied to newly tilled fields, all that went down to the gulf too. It's not just industry that's causing the problem, it's everyone in the watershed that is.
Who's going to tell the farmer that he can't grow corn, or that he can't grow it with petro-fertilizers? What about the livestock farmers? I read one article that reported one hog farmer losing his whole, what, flock? 800 pigs down the drain.
What about the bits and pieces of houses swept away, the chemicals generally found around homes, the propane tanks for grills, gas in cars, kids toys, everything.
There will be no end to it until the whole group stands up and pays attention and realizes that each of us have an effect, not always good. People think they can't change anything, and alone they can't, usually, it takes group thought and action, but right now, the group doesn't see itself as a group, so the whole group just keeps the problem going.
Why do we even bother highlighting the problems in articles like this? it's depressing.
This article was very interesting and many things I read surprised me. I had heard the term “ocean deserts” before but didn’t know what they were. I had no idea about this phenomenon and I believe more people should become aware that this is happening as a result of global warming and pollution. I agree completely that an individual’s efforts to lower their carbon footprint in their daily life could make a large impact on these environmental issues. I didn’t know that China and San Francisco had banned plastic grocery bags, but I think more cities should take that step, especially in this age of environmental awareness.
There is a reason for this global movement to “go green”: it’s a real issue with real consequences we will be paying for later. If everyone made a small effort to make our world environmentally friendly, the difference would be remarkable.
"Why on Earth would anybody believe anything that Al Gore has to say about anything intellectual or scientific? He didn't invent the internet or have anything to do with it. The internet was developed at C.E.R.N. a long time before Al Gore ever heard of it."
First off, ad hominem. Second, Internet brought to you by DARPA, WWW brought to you by CERN. They are not the same beastie.
Time flies like the wind,
Fruit flies like bananas.
Good article. Did not know about the dead zones. I did know about the garbage in the Pacific from a previous article and a little from tv.
I went to cancun, in mexico...and was amazed at the ammounts of trash....the beach was covered in quite literally everything imaginable.... from needles to shoes.....beacuse of all the trash dumped into the oceans...also, some friends i had in texas told me about a very large barge that would leave around once a week loaded down with barrels, and return empty from dumping them into the gulf......well it turns out thoose barrels were loaded with radioactive waste and biohazardous materials......
I have designed a perpetual motion machine that is a mechanical device. One of the by-products is oxygen which can be stored or discarded. There are so many ways to help ourselves which are not easily visible. Cleaning up is not the problem that humanity faces. Humanity has created a greater problem than the individual persons trash and production waste from factories etc...
The main problem:
Many years ago people would see a piece of trash and think to themselves >that< belongs somewhere rather than on the ground leading to their picking it up and finding a place for the trash such as in a trash can etc... Now when people see trash there is no telling what they think or if they think unless they can find a way to get a dollar out of every action they make. Priorities have changed and they are learned priorities.
I have designed systems for the wind and ocean to collect energy far more economical than what I see out there and I keep seeing new ideas which I prototype. I have not had time to stop for the purpose of making money and have gone broke investing in my ideas. I am also not currently looking to get involved with the vultures I mean venture capitalists as their >needs< would prevent me from focusing on the new ideas I keep finding. And do not worry I am also not soliciting as everyone who hears of an inventor is intimidated. If everyone or anyone would stop relating every action of their life to how much cost is involved the world would become involved in cleaning up once again one piece at a time. That will not happen. I hope for the future and see the ways to a better future. But I have no hope for humanity as greed has become the replacement for people who use to know what a dime was worth long ago at a corner store but still had time to help their neighbor.
There is no Global Warming or Climate Change of any significance that humans cause or effect. This is a fact. The Earth can handle any human waste even the most hazardous of waste is no problem for the Planet. But humans are caused to feel and live through the effects caused by other humans along with animals, fish, trees, water, etc... All living organisms rely on each other to survive. Planet Earth had no problem for the first 4 billion years without life. The problem becomes self-inflicted for humans by humans. Four million more years is just a breath of time for the Earth.
I have no fear of cutting down the trees as there is plenty of CO2, H2O, and other places where the oxygen attaches itself for future use. BUT. First there must be the capability of what trees do for humans before all the trees are cut down. A friend of mine was telling me of his friend in Peru who's father had left her 7000hectares in the Brazilian Amazon which she was looking to sell for 31 Million Dollars. Uninhabitable. Hmmm.... who would be interested? and for what.
Environmentalists need to explain themselves better to those who can oppose anything with facts as there will always be those who say "Anthropomorphic Global Warming (AGW) is a political scam". That is just someone who does not want the money taken out of his pocket. While he is right that many environmentalists are fortune hunters in a money grab free for the taking he still adds as we all do to the trash on this ball of dirt called a Planet when we drink from any gallon of milk or water bottle made with plastics etc... But remember that at any time that any trash is made it can be returned to it's elemental form through heat or it can be recycled. Plastics are great for mankind while they are hazardous waste when burned for humans etc... Forget about the Planet Earth. Think of humans and the animals which are food for humans. Once the animals are gone humans will start to eat each other and that will not be as healthy.
And every one continues... to do and see only what is in their best self-interest. There are a few who really do care past their own self-interest. No one takes them seriously as there is no way anyone can possibly leave their self-interest behind. No one takes me serious either and yes I did say perpetual motion as in more energy out than put in and no it is not measured with a little voltmeter. And there is no way to make this a three words or less or pithy comment so I will leave it at that.
have designed a perpetual motion machine that is a mechanical device. One of the by-products is oxygen which can be stored or discarded. There are so many ways to help ourselves which are not easily visible. Cleaning up is not the problem that humanity faces. Humanity has created a greater problem than the individual persons trash and production waste from factories etc.
Great ideas are often met with violent opposition from mediocre minds
Simply put, ocean deserts need no longer exist.