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Review article, 2020

Ocean deoxygenation: a primer

Limburg, Karin; Breitburg, Denise; Swaney, Dennis P.; Jacinto, Gil S.


Earth’s ocean is losing oxygen; since the mid-20th century, 1%–2% of the global ocean oxygen inventory has been lost, and over 700 coastal sites have reported new or worsening low-oxygen conditions. This “ocean deoxygenation” is increasing and of great concern because of the potential magnitude of adverse changes to both global and local marine ecosystems. Oxygen is fundamental for life and biogeochemical processes in the ocean. In coastal and shelf regions and semi-enclosed seas, over-fertilization of waters largely from agriculture, sewage, and airborne sources creates algal blooms that die and decay, consuming oxygen. Globally, climate warming both exacerbates the problems from eutrophication and reduces the introduction of oxygen to the interior of the ocean. We discuss mechanisms, scale, assessments, projections, and impacts, including impacts to human well-being, at the individual, community, and ecosystem levels. Deoxygenation together with other stressors presents a major environmental challenge to sustainability and human use of the ocean.

Published in

One Earth
2020, volume: 2, number: 1, pages: 24-29

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Resources
Breitburg, Denise
Smithsonian Institution
Swaney, Dennis P.
Cornell University
Jacinto, Gil S.
University of the Philippines Diliman

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences
Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources
Climate Research

Publication Identifiers


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