Vital chemical cycles in the ocean are negatively affected by warming waters. New research suggests "natural cycles" of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorous will be disrupted by climate change.
Damage to these cycles could be catastrophic. Plankton stores CO2 (which is believed to play a huge role in climate change) during photosynthesis. The tiny aquatic life isolates the carbon from the atmosphere, a University of East Anglia press release reported
A new study suggests rising ocean temperatures could be bad news for the delicate plankton, and a decline in their species may result in a "vicious cycle" of global warming.
"Phytoplankton, including micro-algae, are responsible for half of the carbon dioxide that is naturally removed from the atmosphere. As well as being vital to climate control, it also creates enough oxygen for every other breath we take, and forms the base of the food chain for fisheries so it is incredibly important for food security," Lead researcher Dr. Thomas Mock, said.
"Previous studies have shown that phytoplankton communities respond to global warming by changes in diversity and productivity. But with our study we show that warmer temperatures directly impact the chemical cycles in plankton, which has not been shown before," he said.
The research team created digital climate models that took ocean temperatures into account. They also included the DNA sequences of at least 1.5 million plankton, and "biochemical data."
The models suggested the ocean's temperature dramatically affected vital ecosystems and chemical cycles. The correlation was similar to what would be seen with nutrients and light.
"Under warmer temperatures, marine micro-algae do not seem to produce as many ribosomes as under lower temperatures. Ribosomes join up the building blocks of proteins in cells. They are rich in phosphorous and if they are being reduced, this will produce higher ratios of nitrogen compared to phosphorous, increasing the demand for nitrogen in the oceans," Mock said.
"This will eventually lead to a greater prevalence of blue-green algae called cyanobacteria which fix atmospheric nitrogen," he said.