Scientists have found an unprecedented spike in the population of the small microscopic marine organism plankton and to the surprise of many they are linking it to the rising carbon dioxide levels in the oceans.
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Plankton thrives in the North Atlantic Ocean and is a major source of food for large marine animals such as fish and whales. Scientists believe that carbon dioxide emissions acidify oceans and should have a negative impact on various species living in them. But the rapid plankton rise is opposite to what has been predicted by scientists.
Using data of Continuous Plankton Recorder, researchers have found a tenfold increase in single-cell coccolithophores’ population between 1965 and 2010. The rise is more evident after late 1990s.
“Something strange is happening here, and it’s happening much more quickly than we thought it should.” Anand Gnanadesikan, associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins and one of the authors of the study, said.
Researchers are yet to determine whether it’s a good or news for the planet. May be good for animals that eat coccolithophores but what negative effects are associated with it, researchers are unable to find as of right now. Researchers examined many factors that could drive to climate change and it lead them to hypothesize that higher CO2 levels are encouraging their growth. Scientists expected that higher carbon dioxide will suppress these flagellates but something reverse is happening instead.
“Our statistical analysis on field data from CPR point to carbon dioxide as the best predictor of the increase” in coccolithophores,” said Sara Rivero-Calle, a Johns Hopkins doctoral student and lead author of the study. “The consequences of releasing tons of CO2 over the years are already here and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
William M. Balch, the co-author of the study, the increasing abundance in coccolithophores is consistent with another event which took place in the history earlier and is a marker of environmental change.
“Coccolithophores have been typically more abundant during Earth’s warm interglacial and high CO2 periods. The results presented here are consistent with this or may portend, like the ‘canary in coal mine’ where we headed to climatologically.”
Coccolithophores are made of calcium carbonate, a chemical compound formed by carbon and other elemets. The organism removes carbon dioxide in the air and restricts it to the deep ocean and this process may take hundreds of thousands of years to occur. With this ability, coccolithophores can help understand changes in carbon dioxide levels in oceans as well as significant shifts in environment.
“These clearly represent major shifts in ecosystem type," said Gnanadesikan. "But unless we understand what drives coccolithophore abundance, we can't understand what is driving such shifts. Is it carbon dioxide?"
The study was published in journal Science.
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