Research highlight

Oceanography: Ocean biology pumps pollutants from the air

Nature Communications

May 30, 2012

Phytoplankton - microscopic marine plants - help draw down organic atmospheric pollutants in the Arctic Ocean, suggests a study published in Nature Communications this week. This could have implications for reducing the transport of pollutants to pristine environments like the Arctic Ocean.

The impact of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), transported through the atmosphere, on the Arctic Ocean ecosystem is of concern as there is thought to be greater bioaccumulation of POPs in cold environments. Jordi Dachs and colleagues studied a process known as the biological pump. As plants do on land, their oceanic counterparts - the phytoplankton - photosynthesize in the surface waters and then eventually settle to the sea bed as organic particles. This transport and conversion of gases from the air to the deep ocean also removes POPs. The researchers showed in a field study from the Greenland current and the Arctic Ocean that the transport of the pollutants is strongly retarded by the biological pump. This process may therefore help reduce the accumulation of pollutants in environments like the Arctic Ocean.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1858

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