Nitrogen: when good elements go bad
August 19, 2008 10:31 PM Subscribe
China's Olympic beaches, choked by a plague of green algae.
posted by KokuRyu (11 comments total)
5 users marked this as a favorite
Sez David Suzuki
: This is not an unusual occurrence, but it is a symptom of an underlying problem with potential repercussions far more serious than hampering Olympic events.The blooms -- along with a host of other problems -- are caused by excessive amounts of nitrogen from sources such as road and industrial run-off, untreated sewage, and, most of all, fossil-fuel combustion and agricultural fertilizers.
Excess use of nitrogen is contributing to 400 oceanic dead zones around the globe
, double the number found by the United Nations two years ago... Farmers in Iowa and across the Midwest use tons of nitrogen and phosphorous to make their cornfields more productive, which allows the farmers to take advantage of high corn prices resulting from growing demand from ethanol factories and developing countries. Rain always causes some fertilizer to run off farmland, but this summer's historic flooding caused even more runoff into rivers that flow into the Mississippi.
A review of ocean data records indicates that the low-oxygen events (the so-called 'dead zones') off the Pacific Northwest coast since 2002 are unprecedented
and may be linked to the stronger, persistent winds expected to occur with global warming.
Oxygen-deprived water rose up from the deep ocean two years ago, cutting a deadly swath along the Pacific Northwest coast, say scientists, who watched in awe as fish fled and crabs and worms died en masse creating a rotting carpet on the sea floor
China's algae problems may be part of the so-called "rise of slime
", where rising ocean temperatures and changing chemistry are causing explosions of primitive life, like algae and jellyfish
The Chosun Ilbo reports that, in August, “southern and western beaches in Korea may appear to be nearly half water and half jellyfish.”
The New York Times notes pollution... reduces oxygen levels and visibility in coastal waters. While other fish die in or avoid waters with low oxygen levels, many jellyfish can thrive in them. And while most fish have to see to catch their food, jellyfish, which filter food passively from the water, can dine in total darkness.
Jellyfish, relatives of the sea anemone and coral that for the most part are relatively harmless, in fact are the cockroaches of the open waters, the ultimate maritime survivors who thrive in damaged environments, and that is what they are doing.