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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Marine Phytoplankton

Marine Phytoplankton

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, February 2, 2016/Categories: natural history, marine life, sustainability, environment, plants

       North Atlantic Research Vessel off Newfoundland, November 2015  (credit: NASA)

Ocean phytoplankton is responsible for generating 70% or more of the oxygen on Earth. These photosynthetic algae may be the Earth's most important organisms and form the base for all marine food webs from the tropics to the poles.


     Blue-green Algae with Chlorophyll (credit EPA)               Marine Algae Bloom 9-23-15 (credit: NASA Suomi IR)

According to investigators at NASA's Goddard Space Center: "much of what we don’t know about ocean ecology has to do with the difficulty of sampling whether it is from a storm-tossed ship or from a cloud-obstructed satellite.”    

Understanding these photosynthetic oceanic algae, their productivity, and the influence of climate change on their ecology is critical. Interdiciplinary research by NASA and others is combining ship, aircraft, satellite, and biological measurements along with "big data" from ocean sensors to help clarify the annual cycles of marine plankton and their relationship with the atmosphere. Increasing CO2 adds another influence as the gas converts to carbonic acid when it rains into ocean environments. Acids disolve carbonate, an essential building block for many marine organisms.

A clip from a documentary film offers some insights:

Biological interactions under all these influences on oceanic phytoplankton are still not well understood regarding long-term affects. However, new geo-chemical research, on meltwater from the Greenland ice-cap, shows that a "Mississippi River's" worth of phosphorus is now being dumped into the north Atlantic Ocean. Phosphorus, along with nitrogen and potassium, are three of the essential elements for plant growth. Some nutrients are good but too much creates algal "blooms" that can become dead-zones where oxygen has been removed from the water.

We have much more to learn and appreciate about the oceans and their biological cycles if we are serious about their sustainability.




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