Hypoxia, a condition of low dissolved oxygen concentration, is a widespread problem in marine and freshwater ecosystems. To date, prevention and mitigation of hypoxia has centered on nutrient reduction to prevent eutrophication. However, nutrient reduction is often slow and sometimes insufficient to remedy hypoxia. We investigate the utility of a complementary strategy of pumping oxygenated surface water to depth, termed induced downwelling, as a technique to remedy hypoxia in the bottom water of marine and freshwater ecosystems. We introduce simple energy-based models and apply them to depth profiles in hypoxic estuaries, lakes, and freshwater reservoirs. Our models indicate that induced downwelling may be ~3 to 102 times more efficient than bubbling air, and 104 to 106 times more efficient than fountain aerators, at oxygenating hypoxic bottom waters. A proof-of-concept downwelling field experiment highlighted potential advantages and shortcomings. We estimate that regional-scale downwelling for continual hypoxia avoidance would require 0.4 to 4 megawatts per cubic kilometer of water (depending on local conditions), or 50 to 500 US dollars per hour per cubic kilometer of water (assuming 125 USD MWh−1 of electricity). Many potential side effects of downwelling are discussed, each of which would need to be explored and assessed before implementation. Downwelling does not replace nutrient management strategies, but under some circumstances may provide an efficient means to augment these strategies.
- Dissolved oxygen
- Environmental engineering