Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study reveals profound patterns in globally important algae

21.08.2019

New research shows an algae key to the ocean carbon cycle is surprisingly scarce in fertile equatorial waters

A globally important ocean algae is mysteriously scarce in one of the most productive regions of the Atlantic Ocean, according to a new paper in Deep Sea Research I. A massive dataset has revealed patterns in the regions where Atlantic coccolithophores live, illuminating the inner workings of the ocean carbon cycle and raising new questions.


Tiny algae called coccolithophores, such as this Discosphaera tubifera, play a major role in the global carbon cycle. New research shows that coccolithophores are mysteriously scarce in one of the most fertile and productive regions of the Atlantic Ocean.

Credit: William Balch and Colin Fisher/Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

"Understanding these large-scale patterns helps us understand ocean productivity in the entire Atlantic basin," said William Balch, a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and lead author of the paper. "Collecting this dataset has been a superhuman effort for my team that has taken hundreds of days at sea and years of analysis."

The researchers found that coccolithophores both struggle and thrive in unexpected places throughout the Atlantic Ocean. They are most abundant in subpolar and temperate waters and surprisingly scarce around the equator, where an abundance of nutrients and sunlight create one of the most biologically productive regions of the global ocean.

The team also discovered that some coccolithophore species thrive deep below the surface near the farthest reaches of sunlight - within or just above an important water layer called "Sub-Antarctic mode water."

This distinct feature flows north from the Southern Ocean and provides nutrients to much of the global ocean, including the northern hemisphere. Balch suspects that booming coccolithophore populations in the Southern Ocean are depleting the water layer's nutrient supply and altering its chemistry - potentially making it inhospitable for coccolithophores by the time it reaches the equator.

"Sub-Antarctic mode water exerts a staggering level of control on much of the global ocean," Balch said. "If coccolithophores are changing its essential properties, then they could be influencing which species grow in food webs as far away as the equator or even in the northern hemisphere."

Balch and his team built this vast dataset from measurements collected during 10 45-day research cruises through the Atlantic Meridional Transect program, which crosses the Atlantic Ocean between the United Kingdom and the tip of South America.

Their findings also have important applications to observations that rely on NASA ocean color satellites. These powerful oceanographic tools allow scientists to detect coccolithophore populations by measuring the light they reflect back into space, but they require on-the-water measurements to ground-truth the satellite data. NASA was the primary funder of this work.

Coccolithophores build protective crystalline plates from chalk minerals by extracting dissolved inorganic carbon from seawater. The way a species' plates are shaped impacts how those plates scatter light in the surface ocean, especially after they become detached and begin to sink towards the seafloor. The researchers discovered that not all coccolithophores drop their plates, and that the plates found throughout the water column come from just a few species.

This finding vastly simplifies the calculations needed to measure the carbon that coccolithophores contain from satellite reflectance data. Coccolithophores play a major role in the global carbon cycle, and understanding where they live and how they scatter light is essential to quantifying how this important element moves between the surface ocean and seafloor. Ultimately, that carbon is either broken down by deep-sea bacteria or buried in sediment, effectively sequestering it from the atmosphere for thousands of years.

Balch's team, along with an international team of investigators, will continue this research in January, when they embark on a National Science Foundation-funded cruise to answer one of the most important questions raised by this study - how coccolithophores in the Southern Ocean alter Sub-Antarctic mode water before it flows north. Their research will elucidate how these changes may affect productivity further north, and why coccolithophores are so scarce at the equator.

"The grand question remains - what is missing from this equatorial water that makes it not conducive to coccolithophore growth in such a fertile region of the world ocean?" Balch said. "The difference in the amount of coccolithophores at temperate latitudes and the equator is profound, and it has enormous ramifications for the ocean's food webs and the productivity of the entire planet."

###

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences is an independent, nonprofit research institute located in East Boothbay, Maine. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, Bigelow Laboratory scientists use cutting-edge techniques to understand the ocean's mysteries, address its challenges, and unlock its hidden opportunities. Learn more at bigelow.org, and join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Media Contact

Steven Profaizer
sprofaizer@bigelow.org
207-315-2567 x103

 @BigelowLab

http://www.bigelow.org 

Steven Profaizer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
https://www.bigelow.org/news/articles/2019-08-20.html
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr.2019.06.012

Further reports about: Atlantic Ocean NASA Ocean Sub-Antarctic carbon cycle coccolithophores global ocean

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Quality control in immune communication: Chaperones detect immature signaling molecules in the immune system
20.09.2019 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Moderately Common Plants Show Highest Relative Losses
20.09.2019 | Universität Rostock

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: 'Nanochains' could increase battery capacity, cut charging time

How long the battery of your phone or computer lasts depends on how many lithium ions can be stored in the battery's negative electrode material. If the battery runs out of these ions, it can't generate an electrical current to run a device and ultimately fails.

Materials with a higher lithium ion storage capacity are either too heavy or the wrong shape to replace graphite, the electrode material currently used in...

Im Focus: Stevens team closes in on 'holy grail' of room temperature quantum computing chips

Photons interact on chip-based system with unprecedented efficiency

To process information, photons must interact. However, these tiny packets of light want nothing to do with each other, each passing by without altering the...

Im Focus: Happy hour for time-resolved crystallography

Researchers from the Department of Atomically Resolved Dynamics of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg, the University of Hamburg and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) outstation in the city have developed a new method to watch biomolecules at work. This method dramatically simplifies starting enzymatic reactions by mixing a cocktail of small amounts of liquids with protein crystals. Determination of the protein structures at different times after mixing can be assembled into a time-lapse sequence that shows the molecular foundations of biology.

The functions of biomolecules are determined by their motions and structural changes. Yet it is a formidable challenge to understand these dynamic motions.

Im Focus: Modular OLED light strips

At the International Symposium on Automotive Lighting 2019 (ISAL) in Darmstadt from September 23 to 25, 2019, the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, a provider of research and development services in the field of organic electronics, will present OLED light strips of any length with additional functionalities for the first time at booth no. 37.

Almost everyone is familiar with light strips for interior design. LED strips are available by the metre in DIY stores around the corner and are just as often...

Im Focus: Tomorrow´s coolants of choice

Scientists assess the potential of magnetic-cooling materials

Later during this century, around 2060, a paradigm shift in global energy consumption is expected: we will spend more energy for cooling than for heating....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Optical Technologies: International Symposium „Future Optics“ in Hannover

19.09.2019 | Event News

Society 5.0: putting humans at the heart of digitalisation

10.09.2019 | Event News

Interspeech 2019 conference: Alexa and Siri in Graz

04.09.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quality control in immune communication: Chaperones detect immature signaling molecules in the immune system

20.09.2019 | Life Sciences

Moderately Common Plants Show Highest Relative Losses

20.09.2019 | Life Sciences

The Fluid Fingerprint of Hurricanes

20.09.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>