Science

Sargassum seaweed staying on our beaches - indefinitely, study says

Sargassum seaweed staying on our beaches - indefinitely, study says”

A floating mass of seaweed stretching from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico is now the biggest seaweed bloom in the world, according to satellite observations. This occurred previous year when more than 20 million tons of it-more massive than 200 loaded plane carriers-floated in surface waters and a few of which wreaked havoc on shorelines lining the tropical Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and east coast of Florida.

The prospect, the team says, could be strengthened by the finding that increasing levels of nutrients are being flushed into the ocean via the Amazon in the spring and summer each year, as a result of human activities including deforestation and fertiliser use. The natural cause has to do with nutrients from deep beneath the ocean along the African Coast rising to the surface where Sargassum grows.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Chuanmin Hu of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, said: "The ocean's chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand".

"Our measurements of nutrient concentrations in surface waters of the Western Tropical North Atlantic showed greater nitrate and phosphate availability in spring 2018 than in spring 2010, a pattern consistent with increased inputs from the Amazon River due to land use changes in the drainage basin", said Georgia Institute of Technology's Professor Joseph Montoya.

Historical data of the seaweed bloom from 2011 to 2018. The enormous belt of seaweed is composed of floating, photosynthetic brown algae, called Sargassum.

The trigger for the 2011 event seems to have been an alignment of circumstances, with conducive sea-surface temperatures and salinity combining with an increase in nutrients - in part from the upwards movement of cool, nutrient-rich water in the eastern Atlantic and an increase in discharge from the Amazon in the preceding years. Barbados went so far as to declare a national emergency when troves of the microalgae threatened its valuable tourism industry. "They are always there, but once the ocean conditions are right they just develop into blooms and then large amounts of sargassum are transported to the Caribbean", said Hu.

Copernicus Sentinel-2 image of mouth of the Amazon River running into the Atlantic Ocean. No bloom occurred in 2013 because the seed populations measured during winter of 2012 were unusually low, Wang said.

2011 appeared to be a tipping point, when the algae arrived en mass on shorelines.

"They are probably here to stay".

In general, predicting future blooms is difficult, Hu said, because the blooms depend on a wide-ranging spectrum of factors that are hard to predict. Since then, there have been major blooms nearly every year, and there's no sign of that trend changing - the latest spread stretched all the way from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. They'd also like to know if the Sargassum is somehow affecting fisheries. "It's another record year", said Hu, adding that the frequent recurrence of the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt raises the possibility that the phenomenon may be the new status quo. Then please consider donating today to ensure that Eurasia Review can continue to be able to provide similar content.



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