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Nature. 2000 Nov 16;408(6810):346-9.

Increased marine production of N2O due to intensifying anoxia on the Indian continental shelf.

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National Institute of Oceanography, Dona Paula, Goa, India.


Eutrophication of surface waters and hypoxia in bottom waters has been increasing in many coastal areas, leading to very large depletions of marine life in the affected regions. These areas of high surface productivity and low bottom-water oxygen concentration are caused by increasing runoff of nutrients from land. Although the local ecological and socio-economic effects have received much attention, the potential contribution of increasing hypoxia to global-change phenomena is unknown. Here we report the intensification of one of the largest low-oxygen zones in the ocean, which develops naturally over the western Indian continental shelf during late summer and autumn. We also report the highest accumulations yet observed of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and nitrous oxide (N2O) in open coastal waters. Increased N2O production is probably caused by the addition of anthropogenic nitrate and its subsequent denitrification, which is favoured by hypoxic conditions. We suggest that a global expansion of hypoxic zones may lead to an increase in marine production and emission of N2O, which, as a potent greenhouse gas, could contribute significantly to the accumulation of radiatively active trace gases in the atmosphere.

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