Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Phytoplankton as Carbon Pumps

24.10.2014

When we talk about global carbon fixation – pumping carbon out of the atmosphere and “fixing” it into organic molecules by photosynthesis – proper measurement is key to understanding the process.

By some estimates, almost half of the world’s organic carbon is fixed by marine organisms called phytoplankton – single-celled photosynthetic organisms that account for less than one percent of the total photosynthetic biomass on Earth.


Satellite image showing a patch of bright waters associated with a bloom of phytoplankton in the Barents Sea off Norway. Image courtesy of Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Group at Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA

Dr. Assaf Vardi, a marine microbiologist in the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Plant Sciences, and Prof. Ilan Koren, a cloud physicist, and Dr. Yoav Lehahn, an oceanographer, both from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, realized that by combining their interests, they might be able to start uncovering the role that these minuscule organisms play in regulating the carbon content of the atmosphere.

Tiny as they are, phytoplankton can actually be seen from space: They multiply in blooms that can reach thousands of kilometers in area, coloring patches of the ocean that can then be tracked and measured by satellites. These blooms have a tendency to grow quickly and disappear suddenly. How much carbon does such a bloom fix, and what happens to that carbon when the bloom dies out?

The answer depends, in part on what kills the bloom. If, for example, it is mostly eaten by other marine life, its carbon will be passed up the food chain. If the phytoplankton are starved or infected with viruses, however, the process is more complicated. Dead organisms that sink may take their carbon to the ocean floor with them. But others may be scavenged by certain bacteria in the surface waters; these remove the organic carbon and release it back into the atmosphere through their respiration.

Dr. Vardi, Prof. Koren, and Dr. Lehahn asked whether it was possible to use satellite data to detect signs of a bloom’s demise due to viral infection, an occurrence that Dr. Vardi has investigated in natural oceanic blooms and in the lab. During a recent research cruise near Iceland with colleagues from Rutgers University (New Jersey) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (Massachusetts), the researchers were able to collect data on the algal-virus interactions and their effect on carbon cycles in the ocean.

By combining satellite data with their field measurements, they were able, for the first time, to measure the effect of viruses on phytoplankton blooms on large, open ocean areas. To do this, the scientists first had to identify a special subset of ocean patches in which such physical processes as currents did not affect the blooms, so that they could observe just the biological effects.

Then, following a bloom in one of these patches, they managed to trace its whole life cycle. This enabled them to quantify the role of viruses in the demise of this particular bloom. Their conclusions were verified in data collected in a North Atlantic research expedition.

The scientists estimated that an algal patch of around 1,000 sq km (386 sq mi) – which forms within a week or two – can fix around 24,000 tons of organic carbon. This is equivalent to a similar area of rain forest. Since a viral infection can rapidly wipe out an entire bloom, the ability to observe and measure this process from space may greatly contribute to understanding and quantifying the turnover of carbon cycle and its sensitivity to environmental stress conditions, including marine viruses.

Prof. Ilan Koren’s research is supported by the J&R Center for Scientific Research; the Scholl Center for Water and Climate Research; and the estate of Raymond Lapon.

Dr. Assaf Vardi’s research is supported by Roberto and Renata Ruhman, Brazil; Selmo Nussenbaum, Brazil; the Brazil-Israel Energy Fund; the Lord Sieff of Brimpton Memorial Fund; the European Research Council; and the estate of Samuel and Alwyn J. Weber. Dr. Vardi is the incumbent of the Edith and Nathan Goldenberg Career Development Chair.

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world’s top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. The Institute’s 3,800-strong scientific community engages in research addressing crucial problems in medicine and health, energy, technology, agriculture, and the environment. Outstanding young scientists from around the world pursue advanced degrees at the Weizmann Institute’s Feinberg Graduate School. The discoveries and theories of Weizmann Institute scientists have had a major impact on the wider scientific community, as well as on the quality of life of millions of people worldwide.

Contact Information

Jennifer Manning
Director, Science Content
jennifer@acwis.org
Phone: 212-895-7952

Jennifer Manning | newswise
Further information:
http://www.weizmann-usa.org/news-media/news-releases.aspx

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht One step closer to reality
20.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie

nachricht The dark side of cichlid fish: from cannibal to caregiver
20.04.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Magnetic nano-imaging on a table top

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Start of work for the world's largest electric truck

20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research

Atoms may hum a tune from grand cosmic symphony

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>