Modeling dissolved oxygen dynamics and hypoxia

M. A. Peña, S. Katsev, T. Oguz, D. Gilbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Hypoxia conditions are increasing throughout the world, influencing biogeochemical cycles of elements and marine life. Hypoxia results from complex interactions between physical and biogeochemical processes, which can not be understood by observations alone. Models are invaluable tools at studying system dynamics, generalizing discrete observations and predicting future states. They are also useful as management tools for evaluating site-specific responses to management scenarios. Here we review oxygen dynamics models that have significantly contributed to a better understanding of the effects of natural processes and human perturbations on the development of hypoxia, factors controlling the extent and temporal variability of coastal hypoxia, and the effects of oxygen depletion on biogeochemical cycles. Because hypoxia occurs in a variety of environments and can be persistent, periodic or episodic, models differ significantly in their complexity and temporal and spatial resolution. We discuss the progress in developing hypoxia models for benthic and pelagic systems that range from simple box models to three dimensional circulation models. Applications of these models in five major hypoxia regions are presented. In the last decades, substantial progress has been made towards the parameterization of biogeochemical processes in both hypoxic water columns and sediments. In coastal regions, semi-empirical models have been used more frequently than mechanistic models to study nutrient enrichment and hypoxia relationships. Recent advances in three-dimensional coupled physical-ecological- biogeochemical models have allowed a better representation of physical-biological interactions in these systems. We discuss the remaining gaps in process descriptions and suggest directions for improvement. Better process representations in models will help us answer several important questions, such as those about the causes of the observed worldwide increase in hypoxic conditions, and future changes in the intensity and spread of coastal hypoxia. At the same time, quantitative model intercomparison studies suggest that the predictive ability of our models may be adversely affected by their increasing complexity, unless the models are properly constrained by observations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)933-957
Number of pages25
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010


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