Scientists have found a sharp increase in the population of a tiny ocean organism: phytoplankton. This is peculiar because, previously, theories suggested that many species would suffer a decline given the increased acidity levels in the ocean. Instead, their populations have grown tenfold. The experts don’t really understand why the coccolithophores are taking over, but they think – maybe – it has something to do with the rising levels of CO2. In other words, it’s possible that the same thing contributing to global warming is also having an impact on which organisms flourish and which perish. That’s a startling thought.
A study just published in Science Express details the multi-decade rise in the population of coccolithophores, single-celled algae with a limestone shell, that are found throughout the planet’s oceans. The study looks at the period between 1965 and 2010, and the results show a big spike since the late 1990s. The research, which was led by Johns Hopkins University, has scientists a bit dumbfounded.
“Something strange is happening here, and it’s happening much more quickly than we thought it should,” Anand Gnanadesikan, associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins, said in a statement.
What does the sharp rise in this type of phytoplankton mean? Well, nobody is sure. Gnanadesikan, one of the study’s five authors, goes on to say that this finding “points out how little we know about how complex ecosystems function.”
During their lifespan, phytoplankton float in the upper portion of the ocean waters. When they die, they sink to the bottom. This could mean that they will help to trap CO2 and carry it to the bottom of the ocean, where it essentially can’t hurt anyone anymore. However, that’s a wild speculation and even the researchers who participated in the study aren’t willing to put it forth as a theory. At this point, they are only willing to report what is happening and what might be causing it, while calling for more research into the phenomenon to discover possible implications for the environment.
Via Business Insider