The Good Phyto
Global warming affects ocean’s tiny plants, which could affect global warming
Proving that big things do come in small packages, researchers say global warming could hobble the teeniest marine organisms, phytoplankton — which could, in turn, lead to more warming. Whuh-huh? Well, these wee plants not only make a tasty sea snack, they provide a vital piece of climate-change resistance by absorbing carbon dioxide — more than 100 million metric tons a day, accounting for about half of the photosynthesis occurring on the planet. But a decade worth of satellite data analyzed by a team from Oregon State University shows that the plants’ productivity slows when sea temperatures rise. The data, said lead author Michael Behrenfeld, “clearly showed that overall ocean productivity decreases when the climate warms.” Besides worrying about the food chain, researchers fear a vicious climate cycle: warming leads to less carbon-sucking, which leaves more carbon in the air, which leads to more warming, which leads to … less carbon-sucking. O phytoplankton, we hardly knew ye.