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Airdate: Jun 10, 2004
Scientist: Prof. Jorge Sarmiento

Ocean Currents - Sinking Nutrient

Ocean Currents - Sinking Nutrient
Scientists are just beginning to understand how the dynamics of the ocean effect the life within it.

Transcript:
Ocean Currents - Sinking Nutrient

Music; Ambience: ocean

Scientists are just beginning to understand how the dynamics of the ocean affect the life within it. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Virtually all of the life in the world's oceans is directly or indirectly dependent upon the one-celled plants which live at the surface of the ocean. These tiny plants, in turn, feed upon nutrients to survive. Now you'd think that those nutrients would stay on the surface of the ocean - but they don't.

"In fact, the oceans are kind of interesting in the way that they deal with nutrients."

Jorge Sarmiento is a Professor at Princeton University.

"Think about trees growing on land and the leaves falling off the trees. This is organic matter which is lost from the tree, but in the soil the leaves are broken down by bacteria and so on, and then the nutrients that are in those leaves become available again for growth of plants in the future. In the oceans we have a similar sort of thing going on, except that the organic matter that comes sinking out of the surface actually sinks very, very far down into the water column before bacteria are actually able to break it back down into dissolved nutrients that then become available to come back to the surface ocean. And actually this turns out to be very, very difficult in the ocean. Once the organic matter sinks out of the surface, and then it gets broken back down into dissolved form by bacteria, it's really hard for the water that those nutrients are in to come back up to the surface."

We'll find out how those nutrients get back to the surface of the ocean in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.