Ocean Primary Productivity Shown To Be Vastly Under Reported

Ocean Primary Productivity Shown To Be Vastly Under Reported

Oceans contain far more plant life than land.

The Southern Ocean has for decades been reported as holding the most phytoplankton of all the oceans. Now new research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research (2013), “Three improved satellite chlorophyll algorithms for the Southern Ocean,” has led to the development of an algorithm that produces substantially more accurate and greatly expanded estimates of Southern Ocean phytoplankton populations.

Grossly Flawed View Of Ocean vs. Land Productivity In Terms of CO2

Grossly flawed view Of Ocean vs. Land productivity in terms of CO2 – Correct view moves more than half of the Land value to the Oceans

Prior to these new findings it has been common for decades for reports to state that oceans contained just half of all the world’s phyto-plankton. It is now apparent that countless analyses and reports were based on dramatically flawed, perhaps pathologically influenced, methods used to interpret earth observing satellite data and they missed more than 50% of the phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean.

This brings to light the enormously flawed yet prevailing dogma that oceans and land are about equal in measure with respect to the amount of photosynthesis they perform. Similar methodological errors in the interpretation of ocean net primary productivity are also being found for other oceans.

The result is that ocean primary productivity is now clearly shown to be vastly greater, likely more than double that of terrestrial biomes. This ought to demand wide ranging corrections of the role of oceans vs. forests with regard to CO2 mitigation. Don’t hold your breath.

The research from the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) was led by researcher Rob Johnson and Associate Prof Peter Strutton.

“This new algorithm allows us to detect changes in plankton numbers that have previously gone unnoticed,” said Rob Johnson of Tasmania’s Marine and Antarctic Institute. “This better understanding of the phytoplankton population will, in turn, allow us to show a much more accurate idea of how much carbon this ocean can take up.”

The importance of phytoplankton and their role in our planetary ecosystem cannot be underestimated. They form the base of the marine food chain, and prior to this work were mistakenly reported to produce merely half the oxygen on Earth and be responsible for the ocean uptake of just a third of total human induced CO2 emissions.

So it has been vitally important to understand why Earth Science researchers and pundits using existing ocean colour satellites have for so long systematically and erroneously underestimated the chlorophyll concentration (a proxy for phytoplankton biomass) of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

To get the observations needed to make valid comparisons and develop the algorithm, the researchers used more than 1000 Southern Ocean phytoplankton samples collected over 10 years and compared these to satellite measurements.

The majority of the samples used in this study were collected by the French Antarctic vessel MV L’Astrolabe through a collaborative and long-term monitoring program between the CSIRO, the Australian Antarctic program, and the French Antarctic Program. Once this observational data was collected, the new algorithm was used to process satellite data and make comparisons. It quickly became clear that the new algorithm produced a much closer estimate of phytoplankton numbers than past erroneous reports based on the same satellite measurements.

“Our improved satellite chlorophyll algorithms will be used to produce higher-accuracy observations on the vitally important phytoplankton of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica,” said Assoc Prof Peter Strutton. “This will go a long way towards improving our understanding of how the Southern Ocean works and how the movement of carbon is changing in these remote waters.”

The results of this work as it is reflected in corrections, hopefully to be made,  to a multitude of demonstrably flawed scientific papers and reports will bring the true critical importance of ocean ecosystems, the ocean pastures, into their rightful place as the most important ecosystems on this blue planet with regard to primary productivity and natural management of CO2.

To read more about ocean productivity and it’s value read our post on the Cost Of Collapsing Ocean Pastures.

The improved data will also be made freely available to the global research community through the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS).

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by University of New South Wales.

Journal Reference: Robert Johnson, Peter G. Strutton, Simon W. Wright, Andrew McMinn, Klaus M. Meiners. Three improved satellite chlorophyll algorithms for the Southern Ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 2013; 118 (7): 3694 DOI: 10.1002/jgrc.20270