Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Research article
01 Mar 2016
Research article |  | 01 Mar 2016

Decline of the Black Sea oxygen inventory

Arthur Capet, Emil V. Stanev, Jean-Marie Beckers, James W. Murray, and Marilaure Grégoire

Abstract. We show that from 1955 to 2015, the inventory of oxygen in the Black Sea has decreased by 44 % and the basin-averaged oxygen penetration depth has decreased from 140 m in 1955 to 90 m in 2015, which is the shallowest annual value recorded during that period.

The oxygenated Black Sea surface layer separates the world's largest reservoir of toxic hydrogen sulfide from the atmosphere. The threat of chemocline excursion events led to hot debates in the past decades arguing on the vertical stability of the Black Sea oxic/suboxic interface. In the 1970s and 1980s, when the Black Sea faced severe eutrophication, enhanced respiration rates reduced the thickness of the oxygenated layer. Re-increasing oxygen inventory in 1985–1995 supported arguments in favor of the stability of the oxic layer. Concomitant with a reduction of nutrient loads, it also supported the perception of a Black Sea recovering from eutrophication. More recently, atmospheric warming was shown to reduce the ventilation of the lower oxic layer by lowering cold intermediate layer (CIL) formation rates.

The debate on the vertical migration of the oxic interface also addressed the natural spatial variability affecting Black Sea properties when expressed in terms of depth. Here we show that using isopycnal coordinates does not overcome the significant spatial variability of oxygen penetration depth. By considering this spatial variability, the analysis of a composite historical set of oxygen profiles evidenced a significant shoaling of the oxic layer, and showed that the transient "recovery" of the 1990s was mainly a result of increased CIL formation rates during that period.

As both atmospheric warming and eutrophication are expected to increase in the near future, monitoring the dynamics of the Black Sea oxic layer is urgently required to assess the threat of further shoaling.

Short summary
We show that the Black Sea oxygen inventory has decreased by 44 % from 1955 to 2015, while oxygen penetration depth decreased from 140 to 90 m. A transient increase of the oxygen inventory during 1985–1995 supported the perception of a stable oxic interface and of a general recovery of the Black Sea after a strong eutrophication phase (1970–1990). Instead, we show that ongoing high oxygen consumption was masked by high ventilation rates, which are now limited by atmospheric warming.
Final-revised paper