Big Changes Coming to Planetary Phytoplankton Distribution, & Colors of Oceans

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 09 February 2019


Big Phytoplankton Bloom, South Africa, Nov 2018
Bloom of phytoplankton off the south coast of South Africa. NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.
Get Ready for Superblooms. NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.


Big Changes Coming to Planetary Phytoplankton Distribution

Study: Much of the surface ocean will shift in color by end of 21st century,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, February 4, 2019.


Significant Phytoplankton Changes
“Climate change is causing significant changes to phytoplankton in the world’s oceans...”

“...over the coming decades these changes will affect the ocean’s color, intensifying its blue regions and its green ones.”

The Basic Pattern

Blue Water
“Water molecules alone absorb almost all sunlight except for the blue part of the spectrum, which is reflected back out.”

Green Water
“Phytoplankton...contain chlorophyll...which absorbs mostly in the blue portions of sunlight to produce carbon for photosynthesis...As a result, more green light is reflected back out of the ocean, giving algae-rich regions a greenish hue.”

“The researchers ran the model through the end of the 21st century and found that, by the year 2100, more than 50 percent of the world’s oceans will shift in color, due to climate change.”

Bluer Blues
“...the subtropics, will become even more blue, reflecting even less phytoplankton -- and life in general -- in those waters, compared with today.”

Greener Greens
“Some regions that are greener today, such as near the poles, may turn even deeper green, as warmer temperatures brew up larger blooms of more diverse phytoplankton. ”

Food Chain Modifications Coming
“...the ocean will still look like it has blue regions in the subtropics and greener regions near the equator and poles.”

“That basic pattern will still be there. But it'll be enough different that it will affect the rest of the food web that phytoplankton supports."

Big Changes Coming
“There will be a noticeable difference in the color of 50 percent of the ocean by the end of the 21st century...It could be potentially quite serious.”



Spring Bloom for South Africa,
NASA, November 14, 2018.



Earlier Plankton Research

Global Warming Killing Phytoplankton, Breaking the Planatary Engines of Life


Phytoplankton and zooplankton biomass will decrease 6 percent and 11 percent by 2100 due to climate change


Climate changes may lead to more poisonous mercury in plankton


Temperature, not predatory pressures, drives plankton abundance


Potentially Deadly Plankton Consequences
Climate Models Underestimating Scale of Change: Twice What Climate Models Predict?



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