Warmer Oceans Could Bring Planktons Out Earlier

By Rodney Rafols , Oct 21, 2016 05:10 AM EDT

Global warming and climate change have contributed to make the oceans warm. With this change, many species of marine life are affecte, and can have unknown consequences on some of them. One of those affected are planktons which are necessary in the marine life food chain.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has been making a study on a phytoplankton species for years, according to Phys Org. This species is Synechococcus which is a type of plankton essential in many marine ecosystems. Researchers have found that this phytoplankton has been coming out four weeks earlier than usual, as a warmer ocean make their cells divide faster.

Marine life could change as these phytoplankton continue to divide faster, said WHOI biologist Heidi Sosik. She has been instrumental in starting the study. She has said that as the phytoplankton species continue multiply at a fast rate, the marine ecosystem balance could shift and affect larger marine life.

Having the phytoplankton increase in number doesn't necessarily mean that their size has increased much. During the study the team saw that protozoa, viruses, and other small organisms have also consumed them much faster, Science News reports. Sosik said that the predators were still able to keep up with the increase the number of phytoplankton.

The question is how stable would the balance continue, and this is what lead author Kristen Hunter-Cevera, a graduate of the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography has wondered. The balance is delicate as other creatures feeding on them would then leave little for others who also rely on the plankton for nourishment.

Earlier studies have also followed phytoplankton, but Sosik said that satellite tracking follow large general populations and don't concentrate on specific ones. Another method, that of taking actual plankton in hand to study them, has limitations as well. Large ocean observatories are being built off the coasts of the U.S. both in the Pacific and Atlantic to study marine ecosystems that can make similar studies made by Sosik and her team.

A report earlier has also noted that the oceans have vast carbon residue deposits.

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