New research shows that what was once considered a universal constant in oceanography could actually vary in the future – depending on the ecological scenarios that affect competition for resources among microscopic marine plants, which play a role in global climate.
Microscopic image shows clumped cells of blue-green algae, a type of phytoplankton that lives in marine and freshwater environments. Phytoplankton are a rich food source for fish, and they affect global climate by using atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
Photo by Hans Paerl, Courtesy University of North Carolinas Endeavors Magazine.
The future of these plants, called phytoplankton, is important because they exist at the base of the marine food web and represent a large source of food for fish. Also, they affect global climate by using atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
Phytoplankton depend upon nitrogen and phosphorus to grow and, ultimately, replenish the supply of these nutrients in the ocean. Since the 1930s, scientists have known that the average nitrogen-to-phosphorus (N:P) nutrient ratio of phytoplankton closely mirrors the N:P ratio in the ocean – 15:1 for the plants and 16:1 for the water. Scientists accepted this as a constant called the Redfield ratio, named after the late Harvard University scientist Alfred Redfield.
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