Science

Earth's oceans found to be a much greater source of greenhouse gas than previously believed

Earth's oceans found to be a m...
Researchers pictured with one of the sampling devices used to collect readings of the Pacific Ocean
Researchers pictured with one of the sampling devices used to collect readings of the Pacific Ocean
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Researchers pictured with one of the sampling devices used to collect readings of the Pacific Ocean
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Researchers pictured with one of the sampling devices used to collect readings of the Pacific Ocean

A new study by MIT hasrevealed that the quantities of nitrous oxide (N2O),otherwise known as laughing gas, being released by the world's oceanshas been dramatically underestimated. Heightened levels of N2Ohave the potential to seriously influence the health of our planet'sozone layer, as the gas is around 300 times more potent than the moreprevalent menace of carbon dioxide emissions.

N2O iscreated, and subsequently largely destroyed, in the boundary betweenthe oxygen saturated layer of water near an ocean's surface, and theanoxic waters that lie beneath. Nitrogen is initiallyintroduced to the marine environment from a number of sources,including as a runoff from agricultural fertilizer in the form ofammonia. The nitrogen is then consumed by bacteria and marinemicrobes that produce N2O as a byproduct.

“The denitrifying bacteria that produce N2O also consume it, andit was thought that these two processes are pretty tightly coupled,”states Andrew Babbin, MIT postdoc at the Department of Civil andEnvironmental Engineering and lead author of a paper on the study. "But that’s not the case in the suboxiclayer, resulting in leftover N2O that leaksaway to the surface."

Prior to the study, itwas not well understood just how much of the gas was escaping theocean and entering the environment above, and the potential harm thatthis could be inflicting on our planet's fragile atmosphere.

Babbinand his team were able to gain a better understanding by making acomputer analysis of water samples from various depths at threedifferent locations in the eastern tropical North Pacific, in orderto determine denitrification rates for the region.

Results appear to showthat previous estimates on the quantities of N2O escapingthe oceans may have been off by as much as a factor of 10. By makinguse of recent climate models, Babbin and his team estimate that ourworld's oceans could be producing as much as 4 million metric tons ofN2O per year

This output of theharmful gas has the potential to seriously harm Earth's ozone layer,and it is predicted that production will rise as agricultural growthcontinues, introducing ever more nitrogen into Earth's oceans.

Source: MIT

16 comments
Deadpan
Drain the oceans. Fill them with oil.
Fairly Reasoner
No wonder everyone's so happy.
ivan4
Well, well, well, the science is not settled after all. At long last the climate scientists are getting out and doing some actual physical measurements rather than relying on computer models. I also note that the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has just discovered that corral is quite happy in a slightly less basic sea environment as well.
nickyhansard
From this article it sounds like they are working under the assumption that the high N2O production is a result of human activities... How can they know that if this is the first time they have conducted proper tests, perhaps this level is perfectly normal? It seems as though environmental scientists/writers will always evaluate evidence and information with the assumption that the pre-existing theory is correct. That's not science and that's why I have a major problem with many of the theories in regard to global warming, or as they now call it 'climate change' - perhaps because the extreme predictions they were originally making have not come to pass. Before I get roasted, I'll say this. I'm not sure if it's correct or incorrect but bad science is bad science. It's much like the dietary recommendations from half a century ago that had almost no evidence behind them, they relied on correlation and information bias and they had the arrogance to call that science. They are starting to perform actual science to confirm those assumptions that the recommendations are based on and guess what? Some have been incorrect and sometimes completely incorrect.
Skipjack
Those 4 million metric tonnes of N2O have a comparably minor effect on global warming. Yes, N2O has 298 times the effect of CO2, but we are currently producing 35 billion tonnes of CO2 every year. That is billion with a B. The 4 million metric tonnes of N2O only equal about 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2. So less than a 1/30 of the CO2. I would call that negligible.
Milton
@Fairly Reasoner: LOL! @Skipjack: Not negligible, but definitely doesn't mean we shouldn't be cutting back big-time on human-caused CO2 levels. If some people reading this article want to point fingers at the ocean in an attempt to justify their own ignorance, that's their prerogative. Even if it's at the expense of their children's-children's, unborn children. I'm still counting on Space X to get us to Mars (and beyond). Because I imagine each time we humans "jump ship" to another planet we would wise-up as a human race.
JweenyPwee
Simple. Just gotta install a bunch of lithium battery packs at the bottom of the sea and make the ocean a hybrid. Lithium mining, refining, and production doesn't create more CO2 than the system it's implemented into puts out, right? We solved that whole "laws of physics" thing with the Prius, didn't we?
Robert in Vancouver
This is just more proof that the science is not settled. In fact, real science is never settled. We should not be blindly following people and organizations who make big money by saying the science is settled (Al Gore, David Suzuki, Green Peace, etc.).
Lbrewer42
Once again the scientifically dead issuae 0 by their own data - is brought up as being legitimate. And just HOW long has the ocean been doing this? Well.. of course, only since the industrial revolution tight? That way we can let the politicians making money from the AGW farce keep making money and putting in more controls. The only ignorant people on the AGW debate are those who refuse to read the ICC report (the UN's go to for AGW research promotion as "science") which turned out to show there had been no AGW. Google "Game over IPCC quietly concedes defeat" and READ THE DATA YOURSELF. It does not matter what person WANTS to believe, or what they are taught as being true when the initial information is false. Anyone reading the Climategate letters would also have been aware of the ridiculous lie foisted upon us. But instead the people for AGW just believed the media's lies - instead of READING THE DATA THEMSELVES - once again proving modern man is mostly marionette-minded.
MG48
So this explains why dolphins always look like they're smiling.