Science

Climate change will dramatically alter colour of Earth's oceans

Climate change will dramatically alter colour of Earth's oceans”

Phytoplankton contain chlorophyll, which absorbs blue portions of sunlight and reflects the green, giving their waters a greenish hue.

Hickman said: "Crudely speaking, where the water is now quite blue because the phytoplankton [have a] relatively low biomass, you are going to see the water getting more blue, and where the ocean is relatively more green because the biomass is higher, you are going to see [it] getting [greener]".

Dr Anna Hickman, the co-author of the research from the school of the ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton, stated, "In the same way that plants on land are green, phytoplankton are green as well, so the amount and different types of phytoplankton affect the colour of the ocean surface".

That, the researchers said, was probably down to a number of factors, including that shifts in ocean colour take into account not only changes in the overall amount of phytoplankton - which can vary dramatically, for example with the season - but also changes in the species present, an important consideration since different types of phytoplankton use chlorophyll yet absorb slightly different wavelengths of light.

"The basic pattern will still be there", said Research Scientist Stephanie Dutkiewicz in a press release from MIT.

As the delicate ecosystems of the world's oceans become altered in the face of climate change, so too will their colour. Water molecules alone absorb nearly all sunlight except for the blue part of the spectrum, which is reflected back out. Researchers from MIT developed a model to simulate the growth and interaction of different types of phytoplankton and algae, observing how changing temperatures of the ocean over the coming decades will influence the mixing of those species.

The colour of the oceans could be about to change.

Regions where there are a lot of nutrients, like in the Southern Ocean or parts of the North Atlantic, will see even faster-growing phytoplankton because those waters are warming with climate change. The subtropics-which include California, Texas and Florida-will become more blue, while areas near the poles, where warmer temperatures will lead to more diverse phytoplankton, will become greener. "We are interested in phytoplankton because they are tiny marine plants, they contribute about half of global photosynthesis, they are the base of the marine food web".

What the new hues will essentially reflect is life in those regions.

The ocean looks blue or green to us because of a combination of how sunlight interacts with water molecules and with whatever else lives in that water.

In total, climate change will alter at least 30 percent of the ocean's color by 2100 and perhaps more than 60 percent, the researchers say.

"Sunlight will come into the ocean, and anything that's in the ocean will absorb it, like chlorophyll", Dutkiewicz said. Phytoplankton are mostly single-celled microscopic organisms that live in watery environments.

Dutkiewicz observed that this blue or green wave band showed a very clear signal, or shift, due specifically to climate change. Under the assumption that climate change will continue at its expected rate throughout the 21st century, they then cranked up the ocean temperatures in their model by three degrees Celsius, which is what most scientists predict will happen under a scenario in which there's relatively no action taken to reduce greenhouse gases. "But they're important because they tell us a lot about what's changing in the ocean".



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