Ocean Science

Toxic Assets

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Science  10 Apr 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5924, pp. 149
DOI: 10.1126/science.324.5924.149a

Atmospheric aerosols can be important sources of nutrients and trace metals, such as phosphorus and iron, to marine organisms, and have been shown to stimulate productivity under favorable conditions, but they also have the potential to be toxic. Predicting what the effects of aerosol deposition might be on biological activity in the surface ocean depends on a complex array of parameters, such as the specific composition of the aerosols, the chemistry of the ocean, and the types of organisms present. Paytan et al. begin to investigate some of the effects of aerosols on marine phytoplankton with a combination of laboratory experiments and field work, concluding that copper may be a source of the toxic effects that they observe in the northern Red Sea. They show that different plankton respond in different ways to chemically different aerosols, and that aerosol deposition is not always an asset to marine ecosystems. Because dust deposition is likely to increase over the coming century, and anthropogenic pollutants such as copper have increased greatly over the past 150 years (and likely will continue to increase as growing populations continue to use more resources) aerosols could have substantial effects on marine ecosystems. — HJS

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106, 4601 (2009).

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