Greenhouse Gases in Oceans are Altered by Climate Change Impact on Microbes — An Incheon National University Study

Incheon National University
4 min readDec 7, 2023


Researchers investigate how climate change drivers reshape ocean methane and nitrous oxide cycles

Climate change can drastically affect the sensitive marine microbial communities involved in important biogeochemical cycles

The ocean is a global life-support system, and climate change causes such as ocean warming, acidification, deoxygenation, and nitrogen-deposition alter the delicate microbial population in oceans. The marine microbial community plays an important role in the production of greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and methane. Scientists at Incheon National University have explored the climate change impact on marine microbes. Their research helps raise awareness about climate change severity and the importance of ocean resources.

The ocean is a critical life-support system for our planet through its role in global climate regulation. It absorbs most of the carbon emissions and heat trapped in the atmosphere which are a result of human activities. Over the years, this has led to ocean warming (OW), ocean acidification (OA), and ocean deoxygenation (OD). Moreover, increased anthropogenic‑nitrogen-deposition (AND) has largely influenced marine environments. As part of these consequences, the gases nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) are largely controlled by ‘prokaryotes’ or microbial organisms living in the ocean. While several studies have analyzed these processes in detail, their concurrent impact on ocean ecosystems has not been investigated.

In a recent study, a team of researchers led by Prof. Il-Nam Kim, Associate Professor of Marine Science at Incheon National University, evaluated the prokaryotic population changes and metabolic modifications due to the concurrent impact of OW, OA, OD, and AND across the Western North Pacific Ocean. Their findings were published online in Volume 196 of in Marine Pollution Bulletin on November 1, 2023.

“Climate change leads to marine environmental changes and this study can enhance our understanding of their impact on human life,” Prof. Kim says.

The authors simultaneously studied the effects of climate change across the surface layer (SL), intermediate layer (IL), and deep layer (DL) of the ocean. The microbial community and their functional potential in regulating the N2O and CH4 cycles were evaluated using biogeochemical analysis and microbial genome-sequencing.

The results indicated that prokaryotes from SL to DL are closely associated with climate change drivers. During the long-term, the sensitive marine ecosystem in WNPO can be adversely affected by an increase in N2O production with subsequent pH alteration, ultimately increasing CH4 emissions. These findings deviate from the currently assumed potential of prokaryotes and biogeochemical processes related to climate change. It also realigns the focus on how climate change impacts the open ocean ecosystem. Dr. Kim concludes, “This research will contribute to raising the awareness about the severity of climate change and the importance of the ocean resources.”

This pioneer study has the potential to shape future marine ecosystem research. Policies aimed at reducing ocean acidification and warming can help in the stabilization of these vital microbial communities and greenhouse gas cycles.


Title of original paper: Unraveling prokaryotic diversity distribution and functional pattern on nitrogen and methane cycling in the subtropical Western North

Journal: Marine Pollution Bulletin


Authors: Satheeswaran Thangaraj (1,2,3,4), Hyo-Ryeon Kim (1), Jang-Mu Heo (1), Seunghyun Son (5), Jongseong Ryu (6), Jong-Woo Park (7), Ju-Hyoung Kim (8), Seo-Young Kim (1), Hae-Kun Jung (9), and Il-Nam Kim (1*)


  1. Department of Marine Science, Incheon National University
  2. Freddy and Nadine Herrmann Institute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  3. Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences
  4. Department of Physiology, Saveetha Dental College and Hospital, Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences, Saveetha University
  5. Cooperative Institute for Satellite Earth System Studies (CISESS) / Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC), University of Maryland
  6. Department of Marine Biotechnology, Anyang University
  7. Tidal Flat Research Center, National Institute of Fisheries Science
  8. Department of Aquaculture and Aquatic Science, Kunsan National University
  9. Environment and Fisheries Resources Research Division, East Sea Fisheries Institute, National Institute of Fisheries Science

*Corresponding author’s email:

About Incheon National University
Incheon National University (INU) is a comprehensive, student-focused university. It was founded in 1979 and given university status in 1988. One of the largest universities in South Korea, it houses nearly 14,000 students and 500 faculty members. In 2010, INU merged with Incheon City College to expand capacity and open more curricula. With its commitment to academic excellence and an unrelenting devotion to innovative research, INU offers its students real-world internship experiences. INU not only focuses on studying and learning but also strives to provide a supportive environment for students to follow their passion, grow, and, as their slogan says, be INspired.


About the author
Prof. Il-Nam Kim is an Associate Professor of Marine Science at Incheon National University. His research group primarily focuses on investigating marine environmental changes associated with biogeochemical cycles resulting from climate change. In 2012, he received a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of Texas at Austin.



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