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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950: Scientific American

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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950
Researchers find trouble among phytoplankton, the base of the food chain, which has implications for the marine food web and the world's carbon cycle By Lauren Morello and ClimateWire | July 29, 2010 | 48 Share Email Print

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The microscopic plants that form the foundation of the ocean's food web are declining, reports a study published July 29 in Nature. The tiny organisms, known as phytoplankton, also gobble up carbon dioxide to produce half the world's oxygen output—equaling that Image: Photo courtesy of Nikon Small World of trees and plants on land. Supplemental Material But their numbers have dwindled since the dawn of the 20th century, with unknown consequences for ocean ecosystems and the Overview planet's carbon cycle. Tiny

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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950: Scientific American

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planet's carbon cycle.

Researchers at Canada's Dalhousie University say the global population of phytoplankton has fallen about 40 percent since 1950. That translates to an annual drop of about 1 percent of the average plankton population between 1899 and 2008. The scientists believe that rising sea surface temperatures are to blame. "It's very disturbing to think about the potential implications of a century-long decline of the base of the food chain," said lead author Daniel Boyce, a marine ecologist. They include disruption to the marine food web and effects on the world's carbon cycle. In addition to consuming CO2, phytoplankton can influence how much heat is absorbed by the world's oceans, and some species emit sulfate molecules that promote cloud formation. A continuing mystery story "In some respect, these findings are the beginning of the story, not the end," Boyce said. "The first question is what will happen in the future. We looked at these trends over the past century but don't know what will happen 10 years down the road." The study "makes a sorely needed contribution to our knowledge of historical changes in the ocean biosphere," said David Siegel of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Bryan Franz of NASA in an essay, also published in Nature. "Their identification of a connection between long-term global declines in phytoplankton biomass and increasing ocean temperatures does not portend well for [ocean] ecosystems in a world that is likely to be warmer," they wrote. "Phytoplankton productivity is the base of the food web, and all life in the sea depends on it." Boyce said he and his co-authors began their study in an attempt to get a clearer picture of how phytoplankton were faring, given that earlier studies that relied on satellite measurements produced conflicting results. Biggest declines at the poles

Overview Tiny Organisms Provide Power To Move Oceans

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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950: Scientific American

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Biggest declines at the poles The scientists dug back into the historical record, well past 1997, the year continuous satellite measurements began. They examined a half-million data points collected using a tool called a Secchi disk, as well as measurements of chlorophyll—a pigment produced by the plankton. The Secchi disk was developed in the 19th century by a Jesuit astronomer, Father Pietro Angelo Secchi, when the Papal navy asked him to map the transparency of the Mediterranean Sea. What Secchi produced was a dinner plate-sized white disk that is lowered into ocean water until it cannot be seen anymore. The depth it reaches before disappearing gives a measure of water clarity. That can be used as a proxy for phytoplankton population in a given area, since the tiny organisms live close to the ocean's surface, where they are exposed to sunlight they use to produce energy. Data gathered with a Secchi disk are roughly as accurate as observations collected by satellites, Boyce said, although satellites have greater global reach. The researchers found the most notable phytoplankton declines in waters near the poles and in the tropics, as well as the open ocean. They believe that rising sea temperatures are driving the decline. As surface water warms, it tends to form a distinct layer that does not mix well with cooler, nutrient-rich water below, depriving phytoplankton of some of the materials they need to turn CO2 and sunlight into energy. Post a Comment | Read Comments (48) Reprints and Permissions » 0 Articles You Might Also Like Share 652 652

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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950: Scientific American

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48 Comments Add Comment Show All | Jump To: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21View Oldest to Newest 30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | Next The way I read this article they used 1. drafter 02:41 PM 7/29/10 a Secchi disk to compare a half million satellite points. If thats all they did then how did they determine plankton levels presatillite days, mathmatical interpretation won't do that. I find the Secchi disk to require a lot of personal interpretation because there are far more factors than just plankton affecting it's visibility. maybe the original report explains all that and this article is just way to abridged to convince me of it's decline. Is there a link to the original findings. Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this I tried the Nature article this is 2. quincykim 03:42 PM 7/29/10 based on, but there's a paywall so couldn't find references or links available. Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this drafter - They used Secchi disk 3. strngr12 03:53 PM 7/29/10 records since the late 1800s until satellite measurements became available. In other words, they have satellite measurements since the 1990s and used recorded Secchi disk records to fill the gap back to the late 1800s. The article also stated that it has been shown that Secchi disk measurements are roughly as accurate as satellite measurements.
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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950: Scientific American

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Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this drafter - They used Secchi disk 4. strngr12 03:54 PM 7/29/10 records since the late 1800s until satellite measurements became available. In other words, they have satellite measurements since the 1990s and used recorded Secchi disk records to fill the gap back to the late 1800s. The article also stated that it has been shown that Secchi disk measurements are roughly as accurate as satellite measurements. Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this You are not considering the impact 5. scientific of fishing. earthling 08:47 PM 7/29/10 Phytoplankton are eaten by other larger micro-organisms, which in turn are eaten by fish, which are eaten by larger fish. We take the large fish, the population of the small fish sky-rockets, they eat all the food available lower down the chain. Take out the top predator and everything down the food chain goes extinct - no population control. Same rules apply to us. The bees are also going, whose going to fertilise every flower to get a grain of wheat or whatever. Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this There were times the oceans were 6. eogord 11:02 PM 7/29/10 warmer than now, and life on this planet was thriving, plentiful and evolving. Why is it more of a problem now, as it seems to be, Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this I'm a little skeptical of the proposed 7. fffff 12:09 AM 7/30/10explanation. Ocean temperatures have risen by what, 1C? If the plankton are so delicately finetuned for a particular temperature, how come seasonal temperature variations don't wipe them out? And what happened to their population during other times of seasonal flux (e.g. the so-called
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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950: Scientific American

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seasonal flux (e.g. the so-called "Little Ice Age"?) Could it be something else that people are doing to the ocean (everyone's favorite Pacific garbage patch, or agricultural runoff) instead? Other poorly-understood ocean cycles? (Not trying to grind an axe here; explanations as to why my understanding and instincts on the matter are wrong would be welcome.) Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this fffff, doesn't the 1 C rise refer to 8. Sunkahetanka average ocean temperatures 03:38 AM 7/30/10worldwide? So seasonal variations are subsumed within the average rise. Didn't the Little Ice Age affect only the north Atlantic, the North Sea, and maybe the Baltic Sea and western continental Europe? Maybe plankton populations did drop in those areas then. Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this eogord, fffff - I'm also skeptical 9. jtdwyer about ocean temperature being the in reply to fffff 03:39 AM 7/30/10principle cause here. While the average temperature may have risen slightly, that change probably doesn't approach the normal daily and seasonal variability around the Earth. Are there regular summertime plankton die-offs as a result of rising temperatures? Curiously, the article states: "Researchers at Canada's Dalhousie University say the global population of phytoplankton has fallen about 40 percent since 1950. That translates to an annual drop of about 1 percent of the average plankton population between 1899 and 2008." By what method of 'translation' does a 40% population reduction since 1950 infer an annual drop of
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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950: Scientific American

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since 1950 infer an annual drop of 'about 1 percent' since 1899 straight line interpolation, rounded to the nearest percent annualized? Why not simply determine the actual population decline since 1899 from the data? Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this @jtdwyer 10. Dimitris 06:27 AM 7/30/10 If you have a 1% annual drop, you have the sequence 100%, 99%, 98.1%, 97.1% etc. So, even though you have a small, annual decline of 1%, over the years it builds up. If you do the math, the figures are quite right. Reply | Report Abuse | Link to this | Jump To: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | Add a Comment You must log in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment. Ads by Google Baltimore Coupons 1 ridiculously huge coupon a day. Like doing Baltimore at 90% off! www.Groupon.com/Baltimore Want Monster Drives? This 1 Simple Trick will Add 30 Yards. Watch Free Video Now! www.PerfectConnectionGolfSwing.com Courtyard by Marriott Book at Courtyard's Official Site. Enjoy Free WiFi & Plush
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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950: Scientific American

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Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950: Scientific American

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