Acceleration of oxygen decline in the tropical Pacific over the past decades by aerosol pollutants

T. Ito, A. Nenes, M. S. Johnson, N. Meskhidze, C. Deutsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Dissolved oxygen in the mid-depth tropical Pacific Ocean has declined in the past several decades. The resulting expansion of the oxygen minimum zone has consequences for the region's ecosystem and biogeochemical cycles, but the causes of the oxygen decline are not yet fully understood. Here we combine models of atmospheric chemistry, ocean circulation and biogeochemical cycling to test the hypothesis that atmospheric pollution over the Pacific Ocean contributed to the redistribution of oxygen in deeper waters. We simulate the pollution-induced enhancement of atmospheric soluble iron and fixed nitrogen deposition, as well as its impacts on ocean productivity and biogeochemical cycling for the late twentieth century. The model reproduces the magnitude and large-scale pattern of the observed oxygen changes from the 1970s to the 1990s, and the sensitivity experiments reveal the reinforcing effects of pollution-enhanced iron deposition and natural climate variability. Despite the aerosol deposition being the largest in mid-latitudes, its effect on oceanic oxygen is most pronounced in the tropics, where ocean circulation transports added iron to the tropics, leading to an increased regional productivity, respiration and subsurface oxygen depletion. These results suggest that anthropogenic pollution can interact and amplify climate-driven impacts on ocean biogeochemistry, even in remote ocean biomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-447
Number of pages5
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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