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Issue 3, 2007
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Interactive effects of solar UV radiation and climate change on biogeochemical cycling

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This report assesses research on the interactions of UV radiation (280–400 nm) and global climate change with global biogeochemical cycles at the Earth's surface. The effects of UV-B (280–315 nm), which are dependent on the stratospheric ozone layer, on biogeochemical cycles are often linked to concurrent exposure to UV-A radiation (315–400 nm), which is influenced by global climate change. These interactions involving UV radiation (the combination of UV-B and UV-A) are central to the prediction and evaluation of future Earth environmental conditions. There is increasing evidence that elevated UV-B radiation has significant effects on the terrestrial biosphere with implications for the cycling of carbon, nitrogen and other elements. The cycling of carbon and inorganic nutrients such as nitrogen can be affected by UV-B-mediated changes in communities of soil organisms, probably due to the effects of UV-B radiation on plant root exudation and/or the chemistry of dead plant material falling to the soil. In arid environments direct photodegradation can play a major role in the decay of plant litter, and UV-B radiation is responsible for a significant part of this photodegradation. UV-B radiation strongly influences aquatic carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and metals cycling that affect a wide range of life processes. UV-B radiation changes the biological availability of dissolved organic matter to microorganisms, and accelerates its transformation into dissolved inorganic carbon and nitrogen, including carbon dioxide and ammonium. The coloured part of dissolved organic matter (CDOM) controls the penetration of UV radiation into water bodies, but CDOM is also photodegraded by solar UV radiation. Changes in CDOM influence the penetration of UV radiation into water bodies with major consequences for aquatic biogeochemical processes. Changes in aquatic primary productivity and decomposition due to climate-related changes in circulation and nutrient supply occur concurrently with exposure to increased UV-B radiation, and have synergistic effects on the penetration of light into aquatic ecosystems. Future changes in climate will enhance stratification of lakes and the ocean, which will intensify photodegradation of CDOM by UV radiation. The resultant increase in the transparency of water bodies may increase UV-B effects on aquatic biogeochemistry in the surface layer. Changing solar UV radiation and climate also interact to influence exchanges of trace gases, such as halocarbons (e.g., methyl bromide) which influence ozone depletion, and sulfur gases (e.g., dimethylsulfide) that oxidize to produce sulfate aerosols that cool the marine atmosphere. UV radiation affects the biological availability of iron, copper and other trace metals in aquatic environments thus potentially affecting metal toxicity and the growth of phytoplankton and other microorganisms that are involved in carbon and nitrogen cycling. Future changes in ecosystem distribution due to alterations in the physical and chemical climate interact with ozone-modulated changes in UV-B radiation. These interactions between the effects of climate change and UV-B radiation on biogeochemical cycles in terrestrial and aquatic systems may partially offset the beneficial effects of an ozone recovery.

Graphical abstract: Interactive effects of solar UV radiation and climate change on biogeochemical cycling

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Publication details

The article was received on 02 Jan 2007, accepted on 02 Jan 2007 and first published on 06 Feb 2007

Article type: Perspective
DOI: 10.1039/B700021A
Citation: Photochem. Photobiol. Sci., 2007,6, 286-300

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    Interactive effects of solar UV radiation and climate change on biogeochemical cycling

    R. G. Zepp, D. J. Erickson III, N. D. Paul and B. Sulzberger, Photochem. Photobiol. Sci., 2007, 6, 286
    DOI: 10.1039/B700021A

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