Scientists confirm effects of air pollution on marine life

2011-09-26 1,306

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An international team of scientists led by a Korean professor said Friday that a rise in air-borne contaminants causes pollution levels in the ocean to go up, which eventually will affect marine life.

According to Lee Ki-taek, a professor of environmental science and engineering from the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), the level of nitrate in South Korean waters has soared as much as eight-fold in less than two decades.

The nitrate level in waters off the country’s southern island of Jeju jumped from 2 parts per million (ppm) in the 1980s to 8 ppm in 2000, while that of waters in the East Sea rose from 1 ppm to 8 ppm.

“A rise in the concentration level of nitrate may have caused a change in the types of phytoplankton that live in the seas around the Korean Peninsula,” the POSTECH professor was quoted as saying by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which partly funded the research.

“There needs to be additional studies, but a change in the type of phytoplankton, which makes up the lowest bracket of the marine ecosystem, will inevitably be followed by changes in the types of zooplankton, fish that are present and in the entire marine ecosystem,” he said.

The team, including Prof. Raymond G. Najjar of the Pennsylvania State University, also confirmed a link between an increase in air pollution levels and similar rises in the ocean by analyzing related data from South Korea’s National Fisheries Research & Development Institute and Japan’s state meteorological agency.

“There have been studies that showed air pollution led to a rise of nitrate levels in lakes, but it is the first time to confirm a link between air pollution and a rise of nitrate levels over time in such a vast area,” Lee said, according to the ministry.

A paper, “Increasing abundance in the northwestern Pacific Ocean due to atmospheric nitrogen deposition,” containing the result of the research will be published in the international journal, Science, early next month, with Kim Tae-wook, a doctoral student at POSTECH, as its main author. (Yonhap)