The color of the oceans is about to undergo some major changes. As a result of ongoing climate change, scientists are predicting that the color of the oceans will slowly become bluer over the next 80 years.
The color difference is directly connected to microbial phytoplankton, which absorb sunlight near the surface of the ocean. As the acidity and temperature of the oceans rise, the number of phytoplankton is expected to decrease in certain regions. Once the phytoplankton populations drop off, the surface will have a harder time reflecting sunlight, which will ultimately change its color.
According to Gizmodo, new research from Nature Communications argues that the subtropical oceans will be most affected by the color change. These regions are particularly susceptible to temperature and pH fluctuations, which will harm phytoplankton populations. Conversely, oceans in the Antarctic and Arctic could become greener, because these areas are not likely to experience significant changes in water temperature.
Scientists have been using satellites to monitor the color of the oceans over the past 20 years. The images taken by the satellites are manipulated by a computer algorithm, resulting in a rough sketch of how much chlorophyll is present in the water. The only issue with this tactic is that climate change is not the only force at work here.
Natural forces, like El Niño, also affect the color of the oceans. This is why scientists are exploring other methods of detection that will isolate the impacts of climate change. This includes measuring food sources for phytoplankton, looking at patterns of ocean circulation and analyzing growth rates of phytoplankton populations around the world.
“Our model can now suggest what such satellites might see in the future world,” MIT scientist Stephanie Dutkiewicz explained.
Experts predict that by 2100, the temperature of the oceans will have risen by at least 3 degrees Celsius. This difference in temperature is expected to change the color of around half of Earth’s oceans, though the color difference will not be detectable by human sight.
Image via NOAA