Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Ocean Acidification a Threat to Phytoplankton

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Ocean Acidification a Threat to Phytoplankton

Article excerpt

Oceans have absorbed up to 30% of human-made carbon dioxide around the world, storing dissolved carbon for hundreds of years. (See "Ocean Acidification," pp. 41-48). In the last century, acidity of oceans has increased worldwide, with the average pH of the oceans dropping from 8.2 to 8.1.

Projections estimate that by the year 2100, this number will drop to around 7.8, significantly lower than any levels seen in open ocean marine communities today.

Now a team of researchers from MIT, the University of Alabama, and elsewhere has found that such increased ocean acidification will dramatically affect global populations of phytoplankton, the microorganisms on the ocean surface that make up the base of the marine food chain.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers report that by 2100 some phytoplankton species will die out, while others will flourish, changing the balance of plankton species around the world.

The researchers also compared phytoplankton's response to other projected drivers of climate change, such as warming temperatures and lower nutrient supplies. For instance, the team used a numerical model to see how phytoplankton as a whole will migrate significantly, with most populations shifting toward the poles as the planet warms.

"I've always been a total believer in climate change, and I try not to be an alarmist, because it's not good for anyone," says Stephanie Dutkiewicz of MIT, who is the paper's lead author. …

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