Saturday, July 13, 2024

Scientists Have Made A New Atlas of the Ocean’s Oxygen-Starved Waters


Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have generated the most detailed, three-dimensional “atlas” of the largest oxygen-deficient zones in the Pacific Ocean.

The new atlas provides high-resolution maps of the two major, oxygen-starved bodies of water in the tropical Pacific. The maps reveal the volume, extent, and varying depths of each ODZ, along with fine-scale features, such as ribbons of oxygenated water that intrude into otherwise depleted areas.

Oxygen-deficient zone off South America
Oxygen deficient zone intensity across the eastern Pacific Ocean, where copper colors represent the locations of consistently lowest oxygen concentrations and deep teal indicates regions without sufficiently low dissolved oxygen. (Image Credit: Jarek Kwiecinski and Andrew Babbin)

The first zone off the South American coast measures about 600,000 cubic kilometers, pretty much the amount of water that would fill 240 billion Olympic-sized swimming pools. The second zone, off the Central American coast, is about three times bigger.

The atlas serves as a reference for where ODZs lie today. The team that made the atlas hopes scientists can add to it with more measurements, to better monitor changes in these areas and predict how they may move and change as the climate heats up.

According to MIT researcher Jarek Kwiecinski, who developed the atlas along with Professor Andrew Babbin:

“It’s broadly expected that the oceans will lose oxygen as the climate gets warmer. But the situation is more complicated in the tropics where there are large oxygen-deficient zones. It’s important to create a detailed map of these zones so we have a point of comparison for future change.”

John Liang
John Liang
John Liang is the News Editor at He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.