Increasing water temperatures are responsible for the accumulation of a chemical called nitrite in marine environments throughout the world, a symptom of broader changes in normal ocean biochemical pathways that could ultimately disrupt ocean food webs, according to new research from the University of Georgia.
Nitrite is produced when microorganisms consume ammonium in waste products from fertilizers, treated sewage and animal waste. Too much nitrite can alter the kinds and amounts of single-celled plants living in marine environments, potentially affecting the animals that feed on them, said James Hollibaugh, co-author of the study published recently in Environmental Science and Technology. It also could lead to toxic algal blooms and create dead zones where no fish or animals can live.
“Rising ocean temperatures are changing the way coastal ecosystems—and probably terrestrial ecosystems, too—process nitrogen,” said Hollibaugh, Distinguished Research Professor of Marine Sciences in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Much of the global nitrogen cycle takes place in the coastal zone.”
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