Scientists build new atlas of ocean’s oxygen-starved waters

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oceans and climate

By Jennifer Chu for MIT News

These new 3D maps may help researchers track and predict the ocean’s response to climate change.

Life is teeming nearly everywhere in the oceans, except in certain pockets where oxygen naturally plummets and waters become unlivable for most aerobic organisms. These desolate pools are “oxygen-deficient zones”, or ODZs. And though they make up less than 1 percent of the ocean’s total volume, they are a significant source of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Their boundaries can also limit the extent of fisheries and marine ecosystems.

Now MIT scientists have generated the most detailed, three-dimensional “atlas” of the largest ODZs in the world. The new atlas provides high-resolution maps of the two major, oxygen-starved bodies of water in the tropical Pacific. These maps reveal volume, extent, and varying depths of each ODZ, along with fine-scale features, such a as ribbons of oxygenated water that intrudes into otherwise depleted zones.

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