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Phytoplankton & Connection to Life on Earth

"A single kind of ocean algae (Prochlorococcus) produces the oxygen in one of every five breaths we take"
~ from "The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One" by Sylvia Earle / National Geographic

Prochlorococcus blue-green.tiny ones.png

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"The Tiny Little Ones - Plankton"
"Ecosystems of the Sea"
Nearly all marine plants are single celled, photosynthetic plankton-algae...
It is estimated that marine plants produce well over 50% percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere...

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Oxygen Production

Photosynthesis <- -> Phytoplankton

Phytoplankton absorb energy from the Sun and nutrients from the water to produce their own food. In the process of photosynthesis, phytoplankton release molecular oxygen (O2) into the water. It is estimated that between 50% — 85% of the world's oxygen is produced via phytoplankton photosynthesis. The rest is produced via photosynthesis on land by plants. (via Wikipedia)

Phytoplankton photosynthesis controls atmospheric CO2/O2 balance.....

Plankton Phytoplankton--'Climate Dance'.jpg

Phytoplankton rapidly disappearing

Loss of mini marine plants at base of food web threatens sea’s ecology .... & production of oxygen

-- Via Science News, February 2016 ...

A rapid loss of phytoplankton threatens to turn the western Indian Ocean into an “ecological desert,” a new study warns. The research reveals that phytoplankton populations in the region fell an alarming 30 percent over the last 16 years.

A decline in ocean mixing due to warming surface waters is to blame for that phytoplankton plummet, researchers propose online January 19 in Geophysical Research Letters. The mixing of the ocean’s layers ferries phytoplankton nutrients from the ocean’s dark depths up into the sunlit layers that the mini plants inhabit.

The loss of these microbes, which form the foundation of the ocean food web, may undermine the region’s ecosystem, warns study coauthor Raghu Murtugudde, an oceanographer at the University of Maryland in College Park.

“If you reduce the bottom of the food chain, it’s going to cascade...”

Beyond threats to the food chain, Phytoplankton are responsible for much of the oxygen present in the Earth’s atmosphere, half the total amount produced by all plant life, in a photosynthesis cycle that takes up CO2 globally. Any precipitous loss of the phytoplankton population carries with it serious impacts on atmospheric conditions and resulting environmental change.

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“NASA satellites are powerful tools,” said Behrenfeld. “Huge portions of the ocean remain largely unsampled, so the satellite view is critical to seeing the big picture that complements the process-oriented understanding we get from work on ships and in laboratories.” -- NASA

Plankton swirl Jan 2015.jpg

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"Charismatic" widely recognized species & the rarely seen "tiny little ones"...

It's essential to recognize the rarely recognized species

GP360: A common approach when looking at threatened species is to focus on well-known larger species, often called "charismatic", the recognizable and often the center of endangered species campaigns.

The "Red List" is widely known for its work to identify species at risk of extinction. Its work forms the basis for many biodiversity preservation efforts. The focus on larger, readily identified animals is the norm and yet these species, often mammals, provide just a small part of the larger picture of our threatened environment.

The large charismatic and 'iconic' species can eclipse recognition of rarely considered species that are not 'known' or known to be in danger... The reality is that much of the extinction in our era is of the small species, the lesser known, unknown and unconsidered species, whether in the rich biospheres of the rainforest or the oceans, the micro-organisms at risk and in peril of collapse.

When we speak of Plankton as a rarely considered micro-organism that is increasingly at risk, we are identifying a profoundly critical keystone species and an essential environmental element in regulating oxygen in the atmosphere.

The food chain of the oceans begins with plankton and the health of the oceans biospheres is directly connected to the health of phytoplankton populations. Yet climate change is disrupting ecosystems and bioregions, atmospheric changes are now being seen as directly related to temperature change in the oceans, and ocean acidification. This in turn, as ocean science is studying and reporting, has great and potentially grave consequences to phytoplankton, flagellates who cannot move with their limited locomotion system... Acidification of the oceans and the increases of heat or strengthened suns rays due to changes in atmospheric conditions and UV radiation can have deadly consequences to the 'least of and smallest of' the species -- and as a result effect the larger systems in ways that science is only now beginning to measure and monitor.

We are, our species is, beginning to understand that as the small animals comprising the foundations of the 'food chain' and biosphere systems are disrupted, endangered and/or destroyed, the rest of the food chain and integral ecological connections between species will be disrupted, endangered, and/or destroyed. This is a great challenge of the era in which we live... loss of biodiversity and a 'ripple effect' over time, a threat environment that demands strategic environmental security as a key goal, as a policy objective beginning with awareness and policies and practices of sustainability.

The role of phytoplankton in photosynthesis that produces approximately one half of the Earth's oxygen in the atmosphere is beginning to be understood and studied. Yet, again, we are late to the appreciation of the vital connection between the role of the Earth's biosystems of the sea, the production of oxygen and the taking up of CO2.

Future generations will look back and ask why our generation did not more quickly come to recognize these integral biospheres -- and act.


Phytoplankton obtain energy through the process of photosynthesis and must therefore live in the well-lit surface layer (termed the euphotic zone) of an ocean, sea, lake, or other water.

Phytoplankton account for half of all photosynthetic activity on Earth...

Phytoplankton are responsible for much of the oxygen present in the Earth’s atmosphere – half of the total amount produced by all plant life...

Tiny Plankton Species --

Marine Biodiversity Strongly Linked to Ocean Temperature

ScienceDaily / 2010 — In an unprecedented effort published online by the international journal Nature, a team of scientists mapped and analyzed global biodiversity patterns for over 11,000 marine species ranging from tiny plankton to sharks and whales.

The researchers found striking similarities among the distribution patterns, with temperature strongly linked to biodiversity for all thirteen groups studied. These results imply that future changes in ocean temperature, such as those due to climate change, may greatly affect the distribution of life in the sea.


2015 - Big Trouble Ahead for Ocean Plankton

Sobering news: Ocean acidification will likely kill off some phytoplankton species and let others thrive, while warming waters will likely cause mass phytoplankton migrations toward the poles. In short: The base of the marine food web could be in for some serious upheaval in the coming decades. Here’s more from MIT News:

“I’ve always been a total believer in climate change, and I try not to be an alarmist, because it’s not good for anyone,” says (Dr. Stephanie) Dutkiewicz, who is the paper’s lead author. “But I was actually quite shocked by the results. The fact that there are so many different possible changes, that different phytoplankton respond differently, means there might be some quite traumatic changes in the communities over the course of the 21st century. A whole rearrangement of the communities means something to both the food web further up, but also for things like cycling of carbon.”

Dutkiewicz and her colleagues studied 154 published experiments...

Phytoplankton Dutkiewicz article avail via 'Nature Climate Change' scientific journal publ.png

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Ocean acidification may cause dramatic changes to phytoplankton / July 2015

Study finds many species may die out and others may migrate significantly as ocean acidification intensifies...

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Marine Biodiversity Strongly Linked to Ocean Temperature

Ocean Temperatures: Are our oceans dying?

"Phytoplankton have declined 40% in 60 years as figures reveal Earth has been getting hotter since the Eighties and much of the heat has been absorbed by oceans...

Microscopic marine algae form the basis of the ocean food chain are dying at a "terrifying rate"...

Phytoplankton, described as the 'fuel' on which marine ecosystems run, are experiencing declines of about 1 per cent of the average total a year...

According to researchers, a 40 per cent drop in phytoplankton since 1950...

Marine diatom cells (Rhizosolenia setigera), an important group of phytoplankton in the oceans are now in massive decline...

The reduction in the amount of algae in the pceams could have an impact on a wide range of species, from tiny zooplankton to marine mammals, seabirds, fish and humans...

The decline of the phytoplankton would be a more dramatic change than the loss of the tropical rainforests, scientist say...

The research, published in the journal Nature, says plankton declines are linked to rising sea-surface temperatures and changes in the conditions of the ocean, particularly close to the equator...

Most of the declines are seen in tropical regions, polar and in the open ocean, where most phytoplankton are produced...

Scientists suggest that in warmer oceans there is less movement between layers of the sea, reducing the amount of nutrients delivered from deep water to the surface ocean. As phytoplankton need both sunlight and nutrients to grow, the limits on the amount of nutrients in the upper layer of the sea affects production of the algae...

Other scientists speak of acidification of the oceans and its impact on plankton, and ozone depletion and UV impact on plankton, and ocean temperatures...

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Marine food chains at risk of collapse, extensive study of world's oceans finds

Important ecosystems could be massively damaged by 2050 unless greenhouse gas emissions and localised pollution is drastically reduced, researchers say

The food chains of the world’s oceans are at risk of collapse due to the release of greenhouse gases, overfishing and localised pollution, a stark new analysis shows.

A study of 632 published experiments of the world’s oceans, from tropical to arctic waters, spanning coral reefs and the open seas, found that climate change is whittling away the diversity and abundance of marine species.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found there was “limited scope” for animals to deal with warming waters and acidification, with very few species escaping the negative impact of increasing carbon dioxide dissolution in the oceans.

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Phytoplankton Oxygen Factories in the Southern Ocean

NASA Earth Observatory

Phytoplankton are the grass of the sea. They are floating, drifting, plant-like organisms that harness the energy of the Sun, mix it with carbon dioxide that they take from the atmosphere, and turn it into carbohydrates and oxygen.

Phytoplankton are critical to the marine food web, being the primary producers of food for the oceanic food web, from zooplankton to fish and shellfish to whales.

Like plants and trees on land, phytoplankton give us a lot more than food. It is estimated that 50 to 80 percent of the oxygen in our atmosphere has been produced by phytoplankton. At the same time, they are responsible for drawing down significant portions of the carbon dioxide from the air. The tiniest of living organisms exert an outsized influence on the planet.


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-- Photosynthesis

-- Plankton

-- Phytoplankton

-- Prochlorococcus

-- Diatom

Phytoplankton - the foundation of the oceanic food chain m.jpg

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current22:51, 30 October 2015Thumbnail for version as of 22:51, 30 October 2015600 × 600 (97 KB)Siterunner (Talk | contribs)

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