Ocean ArtUp

Bringing the “deserts” of the oceans back to life - DNA metabarcoding helps analyze possible consequences

February 2020

Text by Carsten Spisla, GEOMAR Helmholtz Zentrum für Ozeanforschung Kiel, about the project Ocean artUp

Bringing the “deserts” of the oceans back to life - DNA metabarcoding helps analyze possible consequences

The largest part of our oceans make up so-called "ocean deserts", i.e. areas in which there is a lot of light and warm temperatures, but due to the nutrient deficiency of the water only very low biological productivity. Our project "Ocean ArtUp", short for Ocean Artificial Upwelling or artificial buoyancy in the ocean, deals with the question whether these "deserts" through "fertilization" with significantly more nutrient-rich water from the deeper, dark and cold layers of the ocean to productive ecosystems can be transformed. For this purpose, this deep water is to be conveyed to the surface artificially, by means of pumps or the like, and there should be two main effects:

  1. Boost primary marine production to enable / promote fisheries based thereon, and
  2. boost the ocean's biological carbon pump to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

In order to achieve these goals, however, it is crucial to know which plankton communities, i.e. everything from algae, microzooplankton to larger organisms such as oar crabs, are establishing themselves in the newly brought to life deserts. DNA metabarcoding enables us to find out the smallest detail. We can quickly and efficiently determine the exact species composition of the resulting plankton community from various water and cell material samples and, on the other hand, monitor their development over time. In combination with other measurements, we can make very precise statements about what would be expected in nature if the “deserts” of the oceans were transformed into biologically productive systems. This is essential because you want to avoid, for example, toxic algal blooms, massive growth of jellyfish or simply a society that is unsuitable for animal feed for ecologically important species such as fish.

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