A recent study published in the Science journal on November 26th brings a little understood phenomenon to the table: rising levels of carbon dioxide feed ocean plankton in North Atlantic.
Spanning data collected over the past 45 years through the Continuous Plankton Recorder program supported by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation (SAHFOS), the study indicates a rapid increase in coccolithophores levels in the North Atlantic linked to the spike in carbon dioxide levels. Acting as a carbon sink, the ocean absorbs a large quantity of dioxide carbon. Plankton or coccolithophores – a bundle of calcifying plants which provide a wide swath of the marine food web – seem to have largely benefited from the increased carbon dioxide levels over this period of time.
The finding comes in contradiction with what scientists estimated. Coccolithophores create the plates of calcium carbonate. As the ocean becomes more acidic, calcium carbonate is increasingly more difficult to form. As such, plankton should be left without resources to feed on, decreasing the levels. However, the abundance of plankton has increased 10 fold over the past 45 years.
In the recently published study, the authors describe how rising levels of carbon dioxide feed ocean plankton.
The long-time observations are crucial in underlining how the marine microscopic communities are affected by climate change and changing the ocean in turn. Doctor William Balch of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and one of the authors on the study stated that it was surprising to observe the 10 fold increase in coccolithophores levels over just half a century. And in a counter intuitive manner.
According to the scientists, the findings are timely as the Climate Conference in Paris is about to begin. Ocean acidification is directly linked to the increased levels of the carbon dioxide emissions. With an increase by an order of magnitude, the plankton offers an insightful perspective on how climate change affects ocean life and marine food webs.
Anand Gnanadesikan with the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences of John Hopkins University, also author on the study declared that while the finding is strange, the accelerated rate at which plankton abundance is increasing is at least surprising. Yet, that’s good news for marine wildlife feeding on the plankton.
However, the finding also raises questions on the functioning of complex ecosystems such as the ocean ecosystem and how much is really known about it. It took 50 years almost for these finding to come to light. Rapid ecosystem change might be happening without anyone noticing it until it may be too late.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia