Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hello, Vicious Cycle


The SF Chronicle reports that new research shows that the warming atmosphere and oceans are leading to a drop off in the population of phytoplankton in the oceans. Big hooforaw, you may say. However, phytoplankton are apparently responsible for removing a huge amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Because of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, the climate and oceans are warming. Because of the warming, phytoplankton are dying, and thus, less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. Welcome to our descent towards a dead planet:
When the climate warms, there is a drop in the abundance of the ocean's phytoplankton, the tiny plants that feed krill, fish and whales, according to scientists who say new research offers the first clues to the future of marine life under global warming.

Ocean temperatures have generally risen over the last 50 years as the atmosphere warms. And now nine years of NASA satellite data published today in the journal Nature show that the growth rate and abundance of phytoplankton around the world decreases in warm ocean years and increases in cooler ocean years.

The findings are crucial because they show a consequence of the changing global climate at the most fundamental level. Scientists estimate that phytoplankton is responsible for about half of Earth's photosynthesis, a process that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it into organic carbon and oxygen that feeds nearly every ocean ecosystem.

Fewer phytoplankton consume less carbon dioxide, aggravating a cycle that can lead to even more warming.
See also New Scientist.

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