Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scripps Research Gives Tiny Phytoplankton a Large Role in Earth’s Climate System

07.11.2002


Sam Iacobellis and Robert Frouin


Study, which shows microscopic plants keep planet warm, offers new considerations for iron fertilization efforts in the oceans

The ecological importance of phytoplankton, microscopic plants that free-float through the world’s oceans, is well known. Among their key roles, the one-celled organisms are the major source of sustenance for animal life in the seas.

Now, in a new study conducted by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, our understanding of the significance of phytoplankton has been taken to a new level.



Robert Frouin and Sam Iacobellis have argued in a paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research that phytoplankton exert a significant and previously uncalculated influence on Earth’s climate.

The Frouin-Iacobellis study uses satellite imagery to show that phytoplankton, which are said to inhabit three-quarters of Earth’s surface, hold a fundamental warming influence on the planet by capturing and absorbing the sun’s radiation. The authors show that radiation that otherwise might be reflected back to space is absorbed by phytoplankton and results in a global climate warmer by 0.1 to 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit (compared with an open seawater scenario without phytoplankton).

“Our paper shows that if we did not have phytoplankton in the ocean, we would have a cooler climate. This is a problem that we have to look at more carefully if we want to conduct more accurate predictions of climate change,” said Frouin, a research meteorologist at Scripps. “Certainly the effect we have shown from phytoplankton is not negligible, so we need to look at it closely.”

“Eventually, I hope that incorporating this new information will lead to better predictions of future climate, and that will help policymakers make more far-sighted decisions,” said Iacobellis, a member of the Climate Research Division at Scripps.

Furthermore, in the paper Frouin and Iacobellis argue that the impact of phytoplankton extends beyond its warming influence. Changes in Earth’s surface reflection caused by increases or decreases in phytoplankton concentrations may significantly affect the interactions of the planet’s climate system with human-produced concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols.

They also argue that the climatological significance of phytoplankton is increased or decreased from region to region, since the magnitude of phytoplankton concentrations ultimately will dictate the strength of their warming influence.

The new findings, constructed through modeling designs and satellite imagery data from the Coastal Zone Color Scanner, also hold implications for ongoing discussions of reducing global warming through ocean “fertilization.” Such efforts have held that global warming may be decreased by fertilizing the oceans with iron, which would lead to an increase in the ocean’s biological pump. Through such an increase, the argument holds, phytoplankton would be able to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and therefore reduce global warming.

Frouin and Iacobellis, however, believe their new findings may run counter to those arguments.

“We are saying that if you increase the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean, which would probably be a consequence of this iron fertilization, instead you would contribute to warming the ocean by absorbing more radiation,” said Frouin.

“You would exert a negative feedback because you would go in the opposite direction of the effect that you want, which is to decrease global warming,” said
Iacobellis. “Think about this: If you fertilize the ocean you will take up more carbon dioxide, but you are going to get more phytoplankton. Our numbers at least give a start to rough calculations of how much of your initial decrease in temperature is going to be negated by our increase. We’re not saying that (iron fertilization) idea should be off the table, but this new information is something that should be considered.”

Last year Frouin and Iacobellis published a study detailing the extent to which ocean whitecaps influence climate by reflecting solar radiation from Earth’s surface. They say the consequences from the new phytoplankton study are an order of
magnitude larger.

The results were calculated through average impacts of phytoplankton on a broad, global scale, but the authors say detailed analyses will show varying results due to the fact that various types of phytoplankton species absorb more radiation than others. Some, in fact, reflect the sun’s radiation rather than absorb it. Also to be determined are the complex biological feedback consequences that lead to more or less phytoplankton in certain areas.

“This just shows how intricate the climate system is,” said Iacobellis. “It’s like a ball of yarn all pushed together. It’s difficult to unpiece the climate or put together what might happen in the future when all these things act together. One by itself may not be that important but when thousands of these small things act together, then?”

The research was supported by NASA, the Department of Energy, and the California Space Institute.

Mario Aguilera | Scripps News
Further information:
http://scrippsnews.ucsd.edu/pressreleases/frouin_phytoplankton.html
http://scrippsnews.ucsd.edu/pressreleases/frouin_whitecaps.html
http://www.nasa.gov/

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Bioinvasion on the rise
15.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz

nachricht Litter Levels in the Depths of the Arctic are On the Rise
10.02.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>