Yesterday, Joe Romm reported :
Nature Stunner: “Global warming blamed for 40% decline in the ocean’s phytoplankton”
“Microscopic life crucial to the marine food chain is dying out. The consequences could be catastrophic.”
That sounds scary. Does it make any sense? Phytoplankton thrive everywhere on the planet from the Arctic to the tropics. One of the primary goals of this year’s Catlin expedition was to study the effect of increased CO2 on phytoplankton in the Arctic. They reported:
Uptake of CO2 by phytoplankton increases as ocean acidity increases
That sounds like good news for Joe! We also know that phytoplankton have been around for billions of years, surviving average global temperatures 10C higher and CO2 levels 20X higher than the present.
Phytoplankton growth/reduction in the tropics correlates closely with ENSO. El Nñio causes populations to reduce, and La Niña causes the populations to increase.
During an El Niño year, warm waters from the Western Pacific Ocean spread out over much of the basin as upwelling subsides in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Upwelling brings cool, nutrient-rich water from the deep ocean up to the surface. So, when upwelling weakens, phytoplankton do not get enough nutrients to maintain their growth. As a result, surface waters turn into “marine deserts” with unusually low populations of phytoplankton and other tiny organisms. With less food, fish cannot survive in the surface water, which then also deprives seabirds of food.
During La Niña conditions, the opposite effect occurs as the easterly trade winds pick up and upwelling intensifies, bringing nutrients to the surface waters, which fuels phytoplankton growth. Sometimes, the growth can take place quickly, developing into what scientists call phytoplankton “blooms.”
The phytoplankton must be loving life now!
The author of this study (Boris Worm) also reported last year “if fishing continued at the same rate, all the world’s seafood stocks would collapse by 2048”
So we know that phytoplankton have survived for billions of years in a vast range of climates, temperatures and CO2 levels. Apparently they have become very sensitive of late – perhaps from all the estrogens being dumped in the oceans? Or maybe they have been watching too much Oprah?
The standard cure for hyperventilation is to increase your CO2 levels by putting a bag over your head.