The Hot Zone

Oceans away

Posted by Alison Hawkes on September 7, 2010
Category : The Oceans

One of the most disturbing aspects of climate change is the impact on the oceans, which are a tremendous source of nutrients for life on land. Acidification, ice melt, and surface temperature increases are impacting sea life in a myriad of ways.

How much can the ecosystems take?

An editorial in the September 2010 edition of the  journal Nature Geoscience points out that the oceans may be floundering at their most basic level of the food chain: phytoplankton. The microscopic, photosynthesizing basis of ocean life accounts for half the production of organic matter on Earth. One estimate, published in the August edition of Nature, indicates a 1 percent decline of the global median of phytoplankton, based on observations dating back to 1899, in eight out of 10 ocean regions due to sea temperature rise.

Phytoplankton comprise the most level of the food chain in the oceans.

The reason? The editorial points out that with higher temperatures, the ocean becomes more stagnant. Less mixing of nutrient -rich deep water occurs, cutting off phytoplankton food supplies. With the concentrations of phytoplankton dropping, it’s easy to imagine what happens to the rest of the food chain.

A decade-long Census of Marine Life, put out by researchers from more than 80 nations, will be released Oct. 4 in London. It aims to create a “roll call” of species in 25 “biologically representative” regions, from polar waters to tropical seas, in an effort to get a handle on what’s left out there.

The Pacific Ocean from space. Photo on Flickr by Blueforce4116

With phytoplankton declines and other climate related impacts forcing change on the sea of life, we’ll finally have a baseline to track where our oceans are headed.

-Alison Hawkes

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