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Breakthrough made in assessing marine phytoplankton health
Date:5/28/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. Researchers from Oregon State University, NASA and other organizations said today that they have succeeded for the first time in measuring the physiology of marine phytoplankton through satellite measurements of its fluorescence an accomplishment that had been elusive for years.

With this new tool and the continued use of the MODIS Aqua satellite, scientists will now be able to gain a reasonably accurate picture of the ocean's health and productivity about every week, all over the planet.

Data such as this will be critically important in evaluating the effect on oceans of global warming, climate change, desertification and other changes, the researchers said. It will also be a key to determining which areas of the ocean are limited in their productivity by iron deficiency as this study just showed the Indian Ocean was.

"Until now we've really struggled to make this technology work and give us the information we need," said Michael Behrenfeld, an OSU professor of botany. "The fluorescence measurements allow us to see from outer space the faint red glow of tiny marine plants, all over the world, and tell whether or not they are healthy. That's pretty cool."

Ocean phytoplankton are single-celled organisms that are responsible for half of the photosynthetic productivity on Earth. They fuel nearly all marine ocean ecosystems and are the base of the marine food chain.

Measurements of phytoplankton are an important way to understand the broader health and productivity of the ocean, researchers say. Some of the measurements available prior to this, such as phytoplankton biomass or their carbon-to-chlorophyll ratio, provided part of the picture, but were often only available for tiny portions of the ocean at a time.

To grow, however, these phytoplankton absorb energy from the sun, and then allow some of that energy to escape as red light that is called fluorescence. The new measurements of fluore
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Contact: Michael Behrenfeld
behrenfm@science.oregonstate.edu
541-737-5289
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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