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Findings overturn old theory of phytoplankton growth, raise concerns for ocean productivity
Date:7/16/2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. A new study concludes that an old, fundamental and widely accepted theory of how and why phytoplankton bloom in the oceans is incorrect.

The findings challenge more than 50 years of conventional wisdom about the growth of phytoplankton, which are the ultimate basis for almost all ocean life and major fisheries. And they also raise concerns that global warming, rather than stimulating ocean productivity, may actually curtail it in some places.

This analysis was published in the journal Ecology by Michael Behrenfeld, a professor of botany at Oregon State University, and one of the world's leading experts in the use of remote sensing technology to examine ocean productivity. The study was supported by NASA.

The new research concludes that a theory first developed in 1953 called the "critical depth hypothesis" offers an incomplete and inaccurate explanation for summer phytoplankton blooms that have been observed since the 1800s in the North Atlantic Ocean. These blooms provide the basis for one of the world's most productive fisheries.

"The old theory made common sense and seemed to explain what people were seeing," Behrenfeld said.

"It was based on the best science and data that were available at the time, most of which was obtained during the calmer seasons of late spring and early summer," he said. "But now we have satellite remote sensing technology that provides us with a much more comprehensive view of the oceans on literally a daily basis. And those data strongly contradict the critical depth hypothesis."

That hypothesis, commonly found in oceanographic textbooks, stated that phytoplankton bloom in temperate oceans in the spring because of improving light conditions longer and brighter days and warming of the surface layer. Warm water is less dense than cold water, so springtime warming creates a surface layer that essentially "floats" on top of the cold water below, slows wind-d
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Contact: Michael Behrenfeld
behrenfm@science.oregonstate.edu
541-737-5289
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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