Ocean phytoplankton are the lungs of Earth, our suffering blue planet becomes an ever bluer desert.
Phytoplankton natural dispersal over globe in the course of a decade once insured that ocean plankton could re-seed themselves and restore depleted ocean pastures.
But today whether an ocean pasture thrives or not depends on local mineral nutrient, dust, conditions found, and dust that once nourished the distant oceans far from shore has been rapidly disappearing turning our oceans into vast blue deserts.
We must heal them.
According to a new report in the Journal Nature phytoplankton, as represented in a computer model, are able to move anywhere on the ocean’s surface within about 10 years. This might suggest that the tiny plants, the foundation of all marine ecosystems and the oxygen producing lungs of Earth should be well able to survive climate change by being ‘native species’ everywhere on this blue planet. But dramatic changes in ocean ecology wrought by CO2 are working against Nature.
Phytoplankton that are found in all of the worlds ocean pastures are very much like the grasses that make pastures on land green and productive. Both the grasses of land and phytoplankton of the seas can, if need be, lie dormant to endure long periods of drought and ‘climate change’. As well they both have ‘seeds’ that are easily and widely dispersed, but require very specific conditions to thrive. CO2 and climate change are now dramatically reducing vital mineral nutrients in the oceans as well as altering water temperature and salinity.
As vast regions of the world’s ocean pastures become inhospitable to plankton the report provides supporting evidence that the ten-year circulation rate it reveals is being overwhelmed by large-scale desertification of the oceans into new ecological regimes expected to last thousands of years. Under such conditions regardless of the mobility of phytoplankton it may simply take too long for plankton to end up in ever shrinking hospitable regions where they can survive our CO2 and climate change impacts on today’s environment.
Phytoplankton have been disappearing at the incredible rate of 1% every year! To put this in a terrestrial context we have been losing the vital ocean plant life that provides 85% of our oxygen at a rate equivalent to clear-cutting an entire Amazon Rainforest every five years… for the past 50 years!
Imagine the news story if just one Amazon Rainforest were to be utterly destroyed. Why is it there almost any concern over losing 10 rainforests worth of global plant life?
“Some argue that, due to limited dispersal and isolation, plankton communities and their evolution are at the mercy of changing environmental conditions,” the authors said in a press release.
The new reports computer model, however, suggests that different surface ocean regions are all connected within a time frame of about 10 years. This should mean plankton might manage to migrate and survive as their current environment takes a turn for the worse.
“We wanted to find the fastest connection,” the “Google Maps for plankton,” explains Dr. Bror Jönsson.
“If you want to drive to New York City from Boston, you wouldn’t take I-95 the whole way. Instead, Google Maps would find the fastest route, utilizing smaller roads,” he says. “And that’s the same kind of synthetic computer algorithm we’ve used for the plankton.”
Because phytoplankton can’t control their movement or direction, ocean connectivity is especially important for their survival. In fact the word plankton comes from the Greek word for “wander” or “drift.” So while phytoplankton may not consciously identify newly inhospitable habitats, Jönsson and his colleague Dr. James Watson, from Stockholm University, say phytoplankton have a chance to prevail in the face of climate change implications because at least some populations will reach hospitable regions in a reasonable time-frame.
To explain the difference between his study and previous predictions of ocean connectivity, Jönsson compares his ‘computerized’ ocean to a swimming pool of water with a drop of food dye added. Other studies say total ocean movement around the globe could take hundreds of thousands of years, because they are measuring the travel time to get to every corner of the pool.
Jönsson and Dr. Watson, by contrast, put a drop of food dye in the pool and focus on the dispersal time for the colored water specifically. In other words, says Jönsson, their recent study predicted the fastest time phytoplankton (or the colored food dye) could move between two points, not the mean time.
But with other more charismatic species such as manatees, coral reefs and orcas also suffering from climate change, why focus on tiny, brainless, floating bacteria?
“They are the most important organisms that exist. They are the building block of all marine ecosystems everywhere,” explains Jönsson. “We never think about grass; that’s a boring thing. But we would never get beef or anything else without it.”
Not only are plankton the base of the oceanic food chain, but they also act as a carbon sink. Like plants, they use photosynthesis, meaning they consume carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. And when plankton die, after spending their life absorbing human-induced CO2 from the atmosphere, they sink to the bottom of the ocean. By bringing some 50 percent of the world’s CO2 to the deep ocean, plankton have a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gas and slowing climate change.
“People say the Amazon is the lung of the Earth, but that’s actually not really true,” says Jönsson. “It’s really the phytoplankton in the ocean.”
We must do domething to save the plankton and ourselves
Everywhere on this blog you can find out how we are working to take care of, restore, and revive the lungs of earth, our ocean pastures!