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 Scientists team up on study to save endangered African penguins
16.11.2017 | Florida Atlantic University

nachricht Climate change: Urban trees are growing faster worldwide
13.11.2017 | Technische Universität München

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: Frictional Heat Powers Hydrothermal Activity on Enceladus

Computer simulation shows how the icy moon heats water in a porous rock core

Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Underwater acoustic localization of marine mammals and vehicles

23.11.2017 | Information Technology

Enhancing the quantum sensing capabilities of diamond

23.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Meadows beat out shrubs when it comes to storing carbon

23.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>