Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

El Niño and La Niña Mix Up Plankton Populations

24.06.2005


El Niño and La Niña play with the populations of microscopic ocean plants called phytoplankton. That’s what scientists have found using NASA satellite data and a computer model.



Phytoplankton are the base of the marine food chain, providing food for little sea animals called zooplankton, which in turn feed fish and other creatures. Any change in phytoplankton numbers alters the ocean food chain.

The computer model showed that during El Niño periods, warm waters from the Western Pacific Ocean spread out over much of the ocean basin as upwelling weakens in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Upwelling brings cool, nutrient-rich water from the deep ocean up to the surface. When the upwelling is weakened, there are less phytoplankton, making food more scarce for zooplankton that eat the ocean plants.


During La Niña conditions as in 1998, the opposite effect occurs as the easterly trade winds pick up and upwelling intensifies bringing nutrients like iron to the surface waters, which increases phytoplankton growth. Sometimes, the growth can take place quickly, developing into what scientists call phytoplankton "blooms."

In a study published in the January 2005 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, Wendy Wang and colleagues at the University of Maryland Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, College Park, Md., found that changes in phytoplankton amounts due to El Niño and La Niña not only affect the food chain, but also influence Earth’s climate.

As phytoplankton flourish during La Niña years, a large amount of carbon is used to build their cells during photosynthesis. The plants get carbon from carbon dioxide in surface waters. In the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas. When marine organisms die, they carry carbon in their cells to the deep ocean. Surprisingly, this study found that this transfer of carbon to the deep ocean increased by a factor of eight due to the large phytoplankton blooms that can occur during a La Niña. At the same time, the effects of El Niños can reduce phytoplankton numbers, and decrease the impacts of this "biological carbon pump."

Using a computer model and NASA’s Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) satellite, Wang examined marine biological changes associated with El Niño and La Niña, and found the mechanisms responsible for such phytoplankton blooms. SeaWiFS measures the amount of light coming out of the ocean at different wavelengths on the spectrum, and can determine the strength of the greenness coming from the tiny plants’ cells.

When the El Niño of 1997-1998 became a La Niña beginning in mid-1998, SeaWiFS imagery showed extremely dark greenness along the equator. "[At that time SeaWifs showed] chlorophyll concentrations increasing by more than 500 percent, a level not previously observed," said Wang. The study found that because most microscopic animals called zooplankton died off during the El Niño there were less around to eat phytoplankton. That led to large phytoplankton blooms.

Besides influencing the marine food web, phytoplankton also help regulate the Earth’s climate by accounting for about half of the carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, absorbed annually from the atmosphere by plants.

Rob Gutro | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/plankton_elnino.html
http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon
16.07.2018 | University of California - Santa Cruz

nachricht Scientists discover Earth's youngest banded iron formation in western China
12.07.2018 | University of Alberta

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino

16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Barium ruthenate: A high-yield, easy-to-handle perovskite catalyst for the oxidation of sulfides

16.07.2018 | Life Sciences

New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon

16.07.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>