pale and beautiful.
Ocean Science: The Power of Plankton
Q & A w/ Paul Falkowski, the Bennett L. Smith Professor in the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University
Do tiny floating microorganisms in the ocean’s surface waters play a massive role in controlling the global climate?
The ocean is teeming with organisms so small you can’t see them, populations of microorganisms called phytoplankton. Tiny they may be, but over recent decades these microscopic plant-like organisms have been shown to help drive the global carbon cycle. Further research by marine biologists is steadily revealing the important role of microorganisms and their genes, and raising new questions about how they evolved. Can we use this knowledge to help us restore balanced carbon cycling?
Colourful tropical fish flit among sea anemones in a coral reef. Anglers pose on deck with giant marlins. Porpoises play. The ocean’s bounty of animal life has long provided people with food, adventure and a sense of awe and wonder. But none of it would be possible without the single-celled organisms called phytoplankton that float by the thousands in every drop of water in the top 100 metres of the sea.
Phytoplankton comprise two main groups: photosynthetic cyanobacteria and the single-celled algae that drift in the sunlit top layers of oceans. They provide food, directly or indirectly, for virtually every other marine creature. They emit much of the oxygen that permeates our atmosphere. Their fossilized remains, buried and compressed by geological forces, are transformed into oil, the dense liquid of carbon that we use to fuel our cars, trucks and buses. In addition, according to research that has only recently come into focus, they play a huge role in the cycling of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the biosphere and back, and this cycling helps to control Earth’s climate…
(read more: Nature)
top image: Lawrence Berkely Nat. Lab./ Science Photo Libr.
bttm image: Falkowski, P. G. & Oliver, M. J. Nature Reviews Microbiology 5, 813-819 (2007).