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New study reveals decline of marine phytoplankton over the past century
Date:7/28/2010

that most phytoplankton declines occurred in polar and tropical regions and in the open oceans where most phytoplankton production occurs. Rising sea surface temperatures were negatively correlated with phytoplankton growth over most of the globe, especially close to the equator. Phytoplankton need both sunlight and nutrients to grow; warm oceans are strongly stratified, which limits the amount of nutrients that are delivered from deeper waters to the surface ocean. Rising temperatures may contribute to making the tropical oceans even more stratified, leading to increasing nutrient limitation and phytoplankton declines. The scientists also found that large-scale climate fluctuations, such as the El-Nio Southern Oscillation (ENSO), affect phytoplankton on a year-to-year basis, by changing short-term oceanographic conditions.

The findings contribute to a growing body of scientific evidence indicating that global warming is altering the fundamentals of marine ecosystems. Says co-author Marlon Lewis, "Climate-driven phytoplankton declines are another important dimension of global change in the oceans, which are already stressed by the effects of fishing and pollution. Better observational tools and scientific understanding are needed to enable accurate forecasts of the future health of the ocean." Explains co-author Boris Worm, "Phytoplankton are a critical part of our planetary life support system. They produce half of the oxygen we breathe, draw down surface CO2, and ultimately support all of our fisheries. An ocean with less phytoplankton will function differently, and this has to be accounted for in our management efforts."


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Contact: Charles Crosby
charles.crosby@dal.ca
902-494-1269
Dalhousie University
Source:Eurekalert

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