Salter, Ian, Zubkov, Mikhail V., Warwick, Phil E. and Burkill, Peter H.
Marine bacterioplankton can increase evaporation and gas transfer by metabolizing insoluble surfactants from the
FEMS Microbiology Letters, 294, (2), . (doi:10.1111/j.1574-6968.2009.01572.x).
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Hydrophobic surfactants at the air–sea interface can retard evaporative and gaseous exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean. While numerous studies have examined the metabolic role of bacterioneuston at the air–sea interface, the interactions between hydrophobic surfactants and bacterioplankton are not well constrained. A novel experimental design was developed, using Vibrio natriegens and 3H-labelled hexadecanoic acid tracer, to determine how the bacterial metabolism of fatty acids affects evaporative fluxes. In abiotic systems, >92% of the added hexadecanoic acid remained at the air–water interface. In contrast, the presence of V. natriegens cells draws down insoluble hexadecanoic acid from the air–water interface as an exponential function of time. The exponents characterizing the removal of hexadecanoic acid from the interface co-vary with the concentration of V. natriegens cells in the underlying water, with the largest exponent corresponding to the highest cell abundance. Radiochemical budgets show that evaporative fluxes from the system are linearly proportional to the quantity of hexadecanoic acid at the interface. Thus, bacterioplankton could influence the rate of evaporation and gas transfer in the ocean through the metabolism of otherwise insoluble surfactants.
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