Monday, 19 August, 2019


Oceans will change color in less than 100 years, scientists warn

Credit NASA Earth Observatory Credit NASA Earth Observatory
Kristine Garrett | 05 February, 2019, 14:25

Climate change is changing populations of small, microscopic algae that float through the water column known as phytoplankton.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, Hickman and colleagues from the United Kingdom and U.S. report how they came to their conclusions by using a computer model that predicts how factors such as temperature, ocean currents and ocean acidity affects the growth and types of phytoplankton in the water, as well as levels of other coloured organic matter and detritus.

Phytoplankton contain chlorophyll, which absorbs blue portions of sunlight and reflects the green, giving their waters a greenish hue.

She continued, "The changes won't appear huge to the naked eye, and the ocean will still look like it has blue regions in the subtropics and greener regions near the equator and poles".

That, the researchers said, was probably down to a number of factors, including that shifts in ocean colour take into account not only changes in the overall amount of phytoplankton - which can vary dramatically, for example with the season - but also changes in the species present, an important consideration since different types of phytoplankton use chlorophyll yet absorb slightly different wavelengths of light. "That basic pattern will still be there".

Oceans will change color by the end of the century, as climate change significantly alters phytoplankton in the world's seas, according to a new study.

As Earth's oceans warm, they will become more blue.

After building their ocean model, which simulated how global warming's effects on temperature, acidification, currents and mixing will impact the metabolism and proliferation of different phytoplankton species, researchers incorporated their spectral analysis to simulate the impacts of shifts in phytoplankton communities on the ocean's color. However, in an important twist to previous studies, they also explored how such changes would affect the absorption and reflection of light at the ocean surface.

As ocean waters continue to warm - killing off vital coral reefs and disrupting ecosystems in the process - the tiny plants that make up phytoplankton will begin to thrive in new areas and die off in others. "We are interested in phytoplankton because they are tiny marine plants, they contribute about half of global photosynthesis, they are the base of the marine food web".

"Without them there wouldn't be any life in the ocean", says MIT's Stephanie Dutkiewicz, lead author on the new study. Regions that are nutrient-rich, including those near the poles, "may turn even deeper green, as warmer temperatures brew up larger blooms of more diverse phytoplankton".

One way to monitor changes on a global scale is through observing the color of the ocean satellite data. While chlorophyll levels could be altered by the effects of global warming, natural events such as El Niño can also cause an uptick in chlorophyll.

The shifting colors of the ocean is tied to the organisms that live in the surface of the water.

The more phytoplankton there are in the water, the greener the colour, the fewer there are the bluer the colour.

Scientists say there will be less of them in the waters in the decades to come. "But the change in the colour of the ocean will be one of early warning signals that we really have changed our planet".

Dutkiewicz observed that this blue or green wave band showed a very clear signal, or shift, due specifically to climate change.

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