Rapid plankton growth in ocean seen as sign of carbon dioxide loading

November 26, 2015
Increased carbon dioxide enhances plankton growth, opposite of what was expected
45 years of data show coccolothiphores growth is enhanced with increasing ocean acidification. Credit: Ocean Ecology Laboratory, Ocean Biology Processing Group NASA Goddard Space Center

A microscopic marine alga is thriving in the North Atlantic to an extent that defies scientific predictions, suggesting swift environmental change as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the ocean, a study led a by Johns Hopkins University scientist has found.

What these findings mean remains to be seen, however, as does whether the rapid growth in the tiny plankton's population is good or bad news for the planet.

Published Thursday in the journal Science, the study details a tenfold increase in the abundance of single-cell between 1965 and 2010, and a particularly sharp spike since the late 1990s in the population of these pale-shelled floating phytoplankton.

"Something strange is happening here, and it's happening much more quickly than we thought it should," said Anand Gnanadesikan, associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins and one of the study's five authors.

Gnanadesikan said the Science report certainly is good news for creatures that eat coccolithophores, but it's not clear what those are. "What is worrisome," he said, "is that our result points out how little we know about how complex ecosystems function." The result highlights the possibility of rapid ecosystem change, suggesting that prevalent models of how these systems respond to climate change may be too conservative, he said.

The team's analysis of Continuous Plankton Recorder survey data from the North Atlantic Ocean and North Sea since the mid-1960s suggests rising carbon dioxide in the ocean is causing the coccolithophore population spike, said Sara Rivero-Calle, a Johns Hopkins doctoral student and lead author of the study. A stack of laboratory studies supports the hypothesis, she said. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas already fingered by scientific consensus as one of the triggers of global warming.

A ferry crewman works with gear used in the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey, an ongoing study of plankton in the North Atlantic and North Sea launched by a British marine biologist in the early 1930s. Credit: Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science

"Our statistical analyses on field data from the CPR point to carbon dioxide as the best predictor of the increase" in coccolithophores, Rivero-Calle said. "The consequences of releasing tons of CO2 over the years are already here and this is just the tip of the iceberg."

The CPR survey is a continuing study of plankton, floating organisms that form a vital part of the marine food chain. The project was launched by a British marine biologist in the North Atlantic and North Sea in the early 1930s. It is conducted by commercial ships trailing mechanical plankton-gathering contraptions through the water as they sail their regular routes.

William M. Balch of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, a co-author of the study, said scientists might have expected that ocean acidity due to higher carbon dioxide would suppress these chalk-shelled organisms. It didn't. On the other hand, their increasing abundance is consistent with a history as a marker of environmental change.

"Coccolithophores have been typically more abundant during Earth's warm interglacial and high CO2 periods," said Balch, an authority on the algae. "The results presented here are consistent with this and may portend, like the 'canary in the coal mine,' where we are headed climatologically."

Rapid plankton growth in ocean seen as sign of carbon dioxide loading
Scanning electron microscope image of a coccolithophore, which can measure from 5 to 15 microns across, less than a fifth the width of a human hair. Credit: Amy Wyeth, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

Coccolithophores are single-cell algae that cloak themselves in a distinctive cluster of pale disks made of calcium carbonate, or chalk. They play a role in cycling calcium carbonate, a factor in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. In the short term they make it more difficult to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but in the long term - tens and hundreds of thousands of years - they help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and oceans and confine it in the deep ocean.

In vast numbers and over eons, coccolithophores have left their mark on the planet, helping to show significant environmental shifts. The White Cliffs of Dover are white because of massive deposits of coccolithophores. But closer examination shows the white deposits interrupted by slender, dark bands of flint, a product of organisms that have glassy shells made of silicon, Gnanadesikan said.

"These clearly represent major shifts in ecosystem type," Gnanadesikan said. "But unless we understand what drives coccolithophore abundance, we can't understand what is driving such shifts. Is it ?"

Explore further: Carbon-eaters on the Black sea

More information: "Multidecadal increase in North Atlantic coccolithophores and the potential role of rising CO2," Science, www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/ … 1126/science.aaa8026

Related Stories

Carbon-eaters on the Black sea

August 3, 2012

(Phys.org) -- This brilliant cyan pattern scattered across the surface of the Black Sea is a bloom of microscopic phytoplankton. The multitude of single-celled algae in this image are most likely coccolithophores, one of ...

Recommended for you

Diamonds show Earth still capable of 'superhot' surprises

September 22, 2017

Diamonds may be 'forever,' but some may have formed more recently than geologists thought. A study of 26 diamonds, formed under extreme melting conditions in the Earth's mantle, found two populations, one of which has geologically ...

22 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Eddy Courant
2.5 / 5 (8) Nov 26, 2015
The polar bears will be fine. Who knew?
Mike_Massen
3.5 / 5 (8) Nov 26, 2015
Article says
"A microscopic marine alga is thriving.."
Doh, expected higher CO2 will result in some plant species incl algae to have more growth, simple. Issue is not so short term Eddy Courant, tell us please how this is related to Polar Bears ?

Unless (green) algae reduces albido as storms wash it up onto ice etc & melt more ?

In Australia we've had wild fires, people killed, major property loss & expected heat waves re El nino etc.

Well known fact some (food) plant species use the extra CO2 to shift their equilibria to produce more poisons such as cyanogens which make them inedible, not just human foods such as Cassava but also food for cattle such as Clover.

Suggested issue re structural materials for plants & trees ie Lignin may also be subject to a similar issue in that greater availability of CO2 makes the lignin less dense as it grows faster, this makes it easier to burn, similar may be re cellulose...

ie. High CO2 not normal last few hundred yrs !
RealityCheck
3.2 / 5 (9) Nov 26, 2015
Hi Eddy. :)
The polar bears will be fine. Who knew?
No they won't, Eddy. They now have to scavenge what meagre morsels they can get on land because their Arctic Sea Ice hunting territory disappears more frequently/extensively due to AGW; see...

http://phys.org/n...chi.html

Their Alaskan island's 'skirt' of protective sea-ice buffer against rising levels/storm surges disappears and they get swamped/eroded. But I'm sure those villagers on Kivalina are happy that YOU and your beloved NYC haven't yet been affected like they have.

Stop being so selfish and insensitive, Eddy. Time to start contributing to solution rather than continuing to add to the peoblem and procrastination, hey? :)

PS: You still don't know that Freeman Dyson acknowledges AGW, and is only unsure what to do about it? Not good for your credibility/usefulness to anyone in this matter, Eddy. Do better. :)
antigoracle
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2015
Hey, it's Mutterin' Mike, still pretending to know science.
What's the deal Mike? No links to your alma mater, Wikipedia.
No links to explain how the warming ocean is absorbing more CO2.
RealityCheck
3 / 5 (8) Nov 26, 2015
Hi antigoracle. :)

You've had all that explained to you before. Even with the warming 'averaged' overall, certain parts have temps during winter and within vortices and other 'solitonic systems/bodies' of ocean water which are still within the range where they absorb more CO2. Even warmed waters absorb more CO2 when the atmos concentration is higher. The release en masse of absorbed CO2 when the temps all over become higher is what we have to worry about when the 'tipping point' is reached. Stop demonstrating your own ignorance and malice, and start contributing to action/solutions not add your own silliness to the situation which is now beyond models/opinions/politics. It's real, mate. Wake up! :)
RealityCheck
2.7 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2015
Hi Eddy. :)
The polar bears will be fine. Who knew?
No they won't, Eddy. They now have to scavenge what meagre morsels they can get on land because their Arctic Sea Ice hunting territory disappears more frequently/extensively due to AGW; see...

http://phys.org/n...chi.html

Also see...

http://www.abc.ne.../6975994

That island village is no longer protected by sea-ice 'skirt'. But I'm sure those villagers on Kivalina are happy that YOU and your beloved NYC haven't yet been affected like they have.

Stop being so selfish and insensitive, Eddy. Time to start contributing to solution rather than continuing to add to the peoblem and procrastination, hey? :)

PS: You still don't know that Freeman Dyson acknowledges AGW, and is only unsure what to do about it? Not good for your credibility/usefulness to anyone in this matter, Eddy. Do better. :)
antigoracle
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2015
RealityCheck, you obviously haven't taken the hint, as I've repeatedly had to inform you of the hogwash you spew. I know you don't even read what you write, but at least try to read the article.
sharp spike since the late 1990s

Corresponding to the global warming pause and cooling.

Here read about Kivalina, a summer camp that the ignorant US government forced to natives to take up as a permanent village.
http://wattsupwit...covered/

Now f off.
RealityCheck
2.7 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2015
Hi antigoracle.:)

Still insults in lieu of comprehension of reality being discovered before your very eyes, mate?

The spike in that type of phytoplankton is indicative of spike in CO2. Water temps can be within range which that phytoplankton can mulltiply unusually quickly in those waters; which was not seen before CO2 spike.

Please once and for all disabuse yourself of that pause/hiatus misunderstanding. While parts of the globe (land/underground/water/underwater) can cool/heat up transiently above a certain trending average, it still means it is warming overall, not cooling overall.

Above article about that part of ocean and its planktonic phenomena/behavior. That plankton is unusually plentiful for that part of ocean, which may be cooler/warmer temporarily within the range for those plankton. The point is the unusual proliferation of that type of plankton may be because of the higher absorbed CO2 in ocean water.

Capish? Now you can
f off
...to use your words. :)
RealityCheck
2.7 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2015
PS @ antigoracle: Mate, it doesn't matter how anyone got where they are; it matters what is changing that now threatens their existence there. That is the whole point. These islanders have lost their erstwhile sea-ice 'skirt' which previously buffered the effects of ocean waves/storm surges. Now their sea-ice buffer is absent due to AGW in the Arctic. That is the point now. Forget the politics/rationalizations/excuses for denial, mate. It's getting beyond all that now. Time to stand up and show you are intelligent objective observer of the reality and the science re same as regards what is happening NOW re climate change. Go on, stop your campaign of trivialities and rationalizations for denial and procrastination while these people lose their island home. Prove you are actually human and not just some mercenary Lobbyist's Troll Factory goon. The reality is out there, mate. Join in. Constructively. Good luck to us all. :)
antigoracle
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2015
There you go again Reality, spewing hogwash like a sewer pipe. Please try and read the shite you spew before you click submit.
A tiny sandbank is eroding and it's Global Warming, but a spike in CO2 consuming plankton, corresponding to the global warming pause, is irrelevant. Was there a spike in atmospheric CO2 in the late 1990s? Is the entire Atlantic cooling? Hint: See AMO

Capish? :)
RealityCheck
3 / 5 (8) Nov 26, 2015
Hi antigoracle. :)

What 'pause'. You haven't caught up with the latest state of knowledge/reports re that alleged 'pause'. Local 'pauses' in warming trend occur as chaotic steps in parts, but overall trend on average is still warming. Those local conditions for plankton of that type in that part of the ocean is what the point was, irrespective of any alleged 'pause' in warming or not. Get that? It's the CO2 increase which affects plankton proliferation there, not temps. You can't have increased plankton without that increased absorbed CO2. Have you capished that yet?

And that 'sandbank' was a safe and stable home for those villagers until AGW destroyed their protective buffer of sea-ice 'skirt'. Capish that as well yet?

There are many island homes all over the world; also large coastal deltas/cities which may eventually be affected likewise by some effect(s) or other of AGW. Have you also capished that yet, on top of the rest of the points you've been missing so far? :)

antigoracle
2.3 / 5 (6) Nov 27, 2015
Here you go hogwash spewer.
http://wattsupwit...tegrity/
antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 27, 2015
Gnanadesikan said the Science report certainly is good news for creatures that eat coccolithophores, but it's not clear what those are. "What is worrisome," he said, "is that our result points out how little we know about how complex ecosystems function."

...which is a sentiment that should give us pause when we consider geoengineering 'solutions' to global warming.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (5) Nov 27, 2015
Realitycheck,
You're correct, but I would like to specify that the "pause" has been caused energy being stored in the Indian ocean.

Antigoracle,
Wikipedia is a fine resource for pages that are regularly edited, climate change is pretty mundane science that has a lot of contributors globally, there is no reason it should be horribly inaccurate.
antigoracle
2 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2015
What 'pause'. You haven't caught up with the latest state of knowledge/reports re that alleged 'pause'.

Ah yes, the rationalization of the indoctrinated moron that willfully allowed itself to be duped, not just once but 66 times. So what a surprise, that it takes just one more lie to wash away the previous 66.

http://hockeyscht...-26.html
RealityCheck
2 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2015
Hi Steve 200mph Cruiz. :)

Thanks for your response. Yes, that too. I also pointed out in the past some other 'temporary sink' factors that models were missing where the heat flows were transiently cycling through until these 'sinks' were 'saturated' and the generally observed global warming became once again obvious. I tried in the past to explain to antigoracle et al that all these transient swings and steps in the chaotic systemic dynamics from increased heat can mislead one to think 'global pause' when in fact they are 'local sink effects' which when taken into account will show that heat is building in the system and that many transient effects/reservoirs play their 'local' part in the overall 'chaotic' global average dynamics/warming trend. Thanks again for your thinking attention to a serious crisis which some still think is a subject for trivial bickering despite it now having gone beyond modeling/opinion/politics or other denialist/procrastinatory excuses. Cheers. :)
SuperThunder
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 27, 2015
Here is what is always predictable :

Headline : Something Happens Slower Than Predicted.
Howlers : AroooooooooooooooooooooooooHATEHATEHATE!!!!

Headline : Something Happens Faster Than Predicted.
Howlers : AroooooooooooooooooooooooooHATEHATEHATE!!!!

Headline : Words Form Sentence With Paragraphs Below
Howlers : AroooooooooooooooooooooooooHATEHATEHATE!!!!

This is what is known as polite discourse on the Internet.
antigoracle
2 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2015
I also pointed out in the past some other 'temporary sink' factors that models were missing where the heat flows were transiently cycling through until these 'sinks' were 'saturated' and the generally observed global warming became once again obvious. I tried in the past to explain to antigoracle et al that all these transient swings and steps in the chaotic systemic dynamics from increased heat can mislead one to think 'global pause' when in fact they are 'local sink effects' which when taken into account will show that heat is building in the system and that many transient effects/reservoirs play their 'local' part in the overall 'chaotic' global average dynamics/warming trend. Thanks again for your thinking attention to a serious crisis which some still think is a subject for trivial bickering despite it now having gone beyond modeling/opinion/politics or other denialist/procrastinatory excuses. Cheers. :)

Now say it with me. HOG/WASH.
Cheers. :)
RealityCheck
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 27, 2015
Hi antigoracle. :)

That's what your much vaunted counter-arguments/propaganda tactics boil down to now that you realize Freeman Dyson does acknowledge AGW and the planetary records confirm hottest years on record? Well, if you are determined to continue 'doing a Stumpy' and just put your fingers in your ears and blinkers over your eyes in order to continue denying the reality, then I can only hope you will not suffer too much from the effects of cognitive dissonance while others get on with the facing reality and start doing something about it. Oh, and good luck to you and your "HOG/WASH" tactic; you'll need it if this is all you can do with your life/intellect so far. :)
jeffensley
1 / 5 (3) Nov 27, 2015
Good job, Earth. Keep up the good work.
jeffensley
1 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2015
"What is worrisome," he said, "is that our result points out how little we know about how complex ecosystems function."


Worrisome? Why? While it's nice to see scientists admit their limitations, Is comfort and safety really dependent on a God-like ability to predict the future? This is the crux of the "climate change" issue. Science (the religion, not the practice) and its most dogmatic followers seem dependent on the illusion that man can understand all and thus, control all. It's a fragile raft they are floating on. No wonder they are always afraid.

Read more at: http://phys.org/n...html#jCp
jeffensley
1 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2015
The release en masse of absorbed CO2 when the temps all over become higher is what we have to worry about when the 'tipping point' is reached. Stop demonstrating your own ignorance and malice, and start contributing to action/solutions not add your own silliness to the situation which is now beyond models/opinions/politics. It's real, mate. Wake up! :)


"Tipping points" have been referenced many times by alarmists, sometimes along with the presumption that we've already passed them. Unfortunately for their fear-based arguments, the Earth continues to respond in the way that it needs to WITHOUT OUR HELP... and perhaps that's the real issue. News that should be met with relief for people concerned about the effect of high CO2 concentrations is instead met with dismay or ignored by alarmists who want to believe only WE hold the power to save the Earth via regulation. The ocean's waters are absorbing CO2 via chemistry and biology. It's beautiful how well the system works.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.